True Crime Docuseries Review: The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman

 The year is still very young, and Netflix has managed to drop a true crime docuseries that feels like it could be one of my favourites when the calendar year is over.  A British show, The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman is a narrative driven account of the evil doings of sociopath conman, Robert Hendy-Freegard.

This three episode series is directed by Sam Benstead and Gareth Johnson, two people whose work I had not yet come across.  They both have a history of documentaries and docuseries, and their work in The Puppet Master comes across as studied and competent.  There is little to this series that doesn't belong, there are no unnecessary tangents, and it lacks bloat.  In an age when content is needed every single week for streamers, a lean docuseries is a very rare beast.

As with many docuseries, there are elements that are constructed as reenactments.  So often, these moments are over dramatized and are distracting from the actual content.  Here, they are almost unnoticeable, just something that takes place while the intriguing story unfolds.  Reenactments are best when you don't notice them, when they play in front of you but you are so engrossed in what you are learning that they barely register.

The docuseries follows two timelines, one from the nineties and the other from the past decade.  We are told the story by the victims of this conman, as well as those close to the victims.  The interviews are engaging, and the language used is true to what they are experiencing at the time, and not from present day hindsight.  This may seem like a small detail, but when a docuseries is focused so heavily on the narrative it can really bring the viewer more directly into the story that is being told.

I won't go into too much detail about what Hendy-Freegard did, as I don't want to spoil anything.  What I will say is that he pretended to be working for MI-5, the domestic intelligence and security agency in the UK.  Convincing his victims of this allowed him a level of authority, giving him direct control over the unfortunate people he is manipulating.  He weaves his story in a persuasive way to be able to begin fleecing people for money.

Some people may have a hard time with how this docuseries ends.  There is no closure, as some of what Hendy-Freedard has done is ongoing.  It can feel abrupt, but that's just the nature of the beast when the story is still continuing past completion of the project.  For myself, the conclusion wasn't too distracting from the overall experience, but I do recognize that some will have a harder time with how it ends.

I had never heard of Henry-Freegard before, so this made for an interesting experience.  Sometimes it feels like docuseries are stretching as they try and find a subject that people wouldn't have known about.  A lot of times this makes these series feel weak, as they are trying to elevate something above the inherent interest that can be found in the case.  With The Puppet Master, I felt like it was a tale worthy of being told, a story that should remind us all of just how easy it can be to fall victim to a convincing psychopath.

Rating - 3.5 out of 4 stars