What happens when misinformation runs rampant and people start to think they’re smarter than experts? That’s what happens through the four episode run of Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel. I might have said that Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer was true crime perfection earlier this year. It didn’t take Netflix long to top their previous high mark. This show, is the best true-crime experience I’ve watched. Over the course of four episodes, not only did it fully immerse you into the investigation and outcome of Elisa Lam’s disappearance, but it does a fantastic job of throwing you off the trail. It does so, multiple times, and by the end of it, the most reasonable and logical explanation was seemingly the one that you couldn’t guess.
Through testimony of the people involved and even some of the so-called “web sleuths”, you get the entire picture of the circumstances and so much more. It has one of the most gripping and emotionally riveting conclusions out of any piece of media I’ve watched this year. For one person that was barely involved in the proceedings, their life is changed forever. There are parallels here between Night Stalker and Crime Scene. So let’s dig in, because there’s a lot to get to.
The Cecil Hotel, Los Angeles, And Skid Row Are All Characters On Display
The Cecil Hotel, as the docu-series points out, was at one point a very upstanding place. As the years rolled on, it became less and less prestigious. The area around the hotel in Los Angeles eroded into poverty and became Skid Row. For a couple travelers interviewed by the series, it was a jarring juxtaposition of the glitzy image of Los Angeles to outsiders. At the heart of it all is The Cecil. This whole story plays out around this Hotel and it’s image.
At the time of the incident, the hotel was undergoing an “image reconstruction” of sorts. There was the normal Cecil Hotel with it’s cheap rooms, long-term residents, and then there was Stay On Main, in the same building. So the cheap cover by the operators of the hotel couldn’t cover up the horror going on. To understand how bad this place could get, you need to get a lesson in how the area around the hotel decayed. Thanks to the series, that gap is filled in for the viewer. The Skid Row and Los Angeles historians that they have on the show do a great job of painting the picture of what the Cecil used to be, and what it is now.
What happens at the Cecil is bred and born of the area around it. Once you and the show recognize that, you can get on with the investigation.
The “Internet Sleuths” Are The Most Maddening Part Of The Show
We live in a time of disinformation. Whether that’s disinformation about the election, COVID-19, vaccines, or just some BS website printing lies about Star Wars. The people on this show that are the experts, are incredibly well thought, they’re experienced in the field, and they present the facts, and nothing but the facts. The “internet sleuths” on the show are the exact opposite. They chose some of the most aggravating and annoying people to present on this subject. It’s a group of armchair investigators that think they know more than the experts investigating the incident. Sound familiar to something these days?
However maddening these people might be, the show uses them to such a great advantage in the second and third episodes of the show. I was watching along believing, “oh my god, there might actually be something more to this incident with Elisa Lam”. By the time the show reaches it’s full on conspiracy theory section, I might have been swayed. Whoever edited the show deserves awards for this, because by the fourth and final episode, they slam the door shut on everything.
You might get a bunch of crap theories and conspiracies on the way there, but the evidence provided by the investigators, coroner, and other experts in cognitive science are foolproof. It’s a masterclass in how to push the story along in a series while guiding the audience down the path that the creators wanted them to.
Besides The Disappearance, The Most Heartbreaking Scenes Are In The Last Episode
The case of the internet mob coming after someone is a regular occurrence these days. Sometimes it’s warranted, a lot of times, it’s not. But what happened to Morbid, or Pablo Vergara, is horrifying. I don’t want to spoil the fourth episode and the emotional weight of his testimony, but it’s the absolute highlight (and lowlight) of the series.
As someone who absolutely loves heavy metal, this felt very personal to me. Vergara was persecuted by the internet mob because he had a certain image. His “alter ego” of Morbid comes from the culture of Black Metal. It’s a “scary” looking genre to the outside viewer, but from the inside, it’s just another genre of metal. They didn’t pay attention to the details and went in on this person’s life and ruined it. His interview in the fourth episode is heartbreaking. It hurts the soul. The series did a great job of showing the type of abuse he withstood from the internet, and gave him his moment to show his side of the story.
Their actions went unpunished, and he has to live with the scars of them for the rest of his life.
The Twists And Turns Make This One Of The Best True-Crime Series
The story takes so many different turns in this series. You go from thinking you know something, to definitely knowing something, to being completely bewildered, to an outcome and conclusion that makes more sense and is based more in reality than you think. Each episode provides some sort of conclusion that could be possible for the incident, but it really ends on the most logical one.
Throughout the series, the audience is left guessing as to what the grand plot for the death of Elisa Lam could be. Through excellent editing and framing of the interviews with people involved in the case, you’re tricked multiple times. So for that, this is truly one of the best true-crime series out there. It’s fantastic, gripping, and it keeps you strung along just long enough to get you to the end. Through various filmmaking and editing techniques, you’re taken on the ride through what could have, and what actually happened at the Cecil Hotel.
As for the future of Crime Scene, I really hope they continue with this as a series. It’s a fantastic premise and this is a great jumping off point into other cases that could be similar. It felt like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries (the old one), stretched out over four episodes.
Netflix deserves high praise for their string of excellent true-crime docu-series and Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel continues that level of excellence. It’s must-watch for any fans of true-crime.
For more on Netflix, stay tuned to That Hashtag Show.