SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “Tiger King 2” on Netflix.
It has been a year and a half since “Tiger King” mania took over the newly-locked down world, and now Netflix is hoping to recapture that magic with “Tiger King” Season 2. This time around, though, the focus is much heavier on Carole Baskin and her missing former husband, Don Lewis.
The original docuseries — centering on a feud between big cat zoo owners and the tumultuous personal life and fame seeking of Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage — first premiered on Netflix in March 2020, right when the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing people inside. A content consumption frenzy ensued, leading to directors Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode filming enough additional footage to fill five more episodes.
There were several questions lingering at the end of “Tiger King” — most obviously, “Was Joe Exotic framed and will he get out of jail?” (Exotic was convicted on multiple charges of animal abuse and two counts of attempted murder for a plot to kill his rival zoo owner, Baskin, in 2019) and “Did Carole Baskin kill her husband?” (Lewis went missing in 1997 and Exotic perpetuated the rumor that she was behind that disappearance.) “Tiger King” Season 2 does what it can to address what the audience was left wondering, focusing primarily on the Baskin and Lewis of it all, but it also brings itself into the discussion, unable to ignore how much was affected by the overnight fame the series granted so many of its subjects.
Here, Variety breaks down the biggest takeaways from “Tiger King” Season 2.
The Joe Exotic of It All — Including His Law Enforcement Background
With Exotic conducting interviews from behind prison glass, there is only so much left to say. The first episode of Season 2 dives a bit deeper into his past to reveal his time spent as a cop and more details about his first marriage (to Brian Rhyne), including how friends thought he changed after Rhyne passed away. But it also looks at the movement to get him out of jail, including the push to get former President Trump to pardon him, which surprisingly included a private jet chartered trip to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 where Trump supporters told them they had no place being there and that cat-killers would not gain any sympathy from that crowd. They managed to pack up their banner and leave before the storming of the Capitol, though. Exotic’s personal issues are given a light touch this time around, with the directors using footage where he expresses feelings that his current husband, Dillon Passage, isn’t doing enough to get him out of jail. Passage is also interviewed, commenting on how he no longer knows if he and Exotic will “stay married forever” and then later shown via a social media clip saying he “relieved himself of Joe.”
An Alleged Plan to Decapitate Joe Exotic
In the first season of “Tiger King,” a big “gotcha” moment was that Exotic allegedly paid Allen Glover $3,000 to kill Baskin. Exotic claimed that was not true — more specifically that others in the big cat world, James Garretson and Jeff Lowe, set him up — and Glover said he never had any intention of harming Baskin either. Former G.W. Zoo employee Ashley Webster tells filmmakers she believes Lowe was behind the murder-for-hire plot and Exotic just “took the fall” for everyone. (It was her call to Baskin tipping her off to the hit that started the investigation into it.) Audio recordings with a government agent have Lowe suggesting setting up Exotic by presenting him with the leading question of, “Where did you get $3,000 to pay Allen to go kill Carole Baskin?” Glover also tells the filmmakers that he believes Exotic was framed and that the idea of cutting someone’s head off was not just said about Baskin, but also about Exotic: Glover alleges that Lowe wanted him to carry out a decapitation hit on Exotic so Lowe could take over his business. He also claims he ”wouldn’t have to work no more” if the plan succeeded, implying the amount of money Lowe would give him for doing it would set him up.
Is Don Lewis Actually Alive?
Lewis was declared dead by absentia in 2002, five years after he initially disappeared. His now-adult children have not seen him since the late 1990s, yet Season 2 considers that Lewis may not be dead after all– but instead living under a new identity. Don Fritz, Lewis’ former attorney, sits down for an interview with Chaiklin and Goode’s team and promptly reveals that after the first docuseries came out, he received a call from a detective who told him “that there were federal reports of [Lewis] alive and well in Costa Rica.” A little more digging turned up a Homeland Security report that stated this as well, although the name of the person who learned this so-called truth about Lewis is redacted due to the nature of the report. Lewis had many associates in Costa Rica from the time he spent there preparing a place for a big cat sanctuary, allegedly hiding money and also allegedly sleeping with underage girls. A few of these associates, from his chauffeur to his farmhand to the manager of the hotel in which he stayed, appear in the season to speak to Lewis’ desire to leave Baskin but not have to give her any of his money, as well as the procedure for getting a fake passport in Costa Rica and Lewis’ history of flying small planes into the country. (Baskin only appears via footage from her YouTube channel and other public recordings, such as clips of her time on “Dancing with the Stars.”) However, due to the dangerous activity these associates describe Lewis as being involved in, the possibility that he was killed down in Costa Rica by someone he wronged is raised as well. In the end, “Tiger King” Season 2 doesn’t deliver an answer as to what truly happened to Lewis, but it does look beyond just Baskin for the answers this time.
A Different Kind of Predator
One new allegation Exotic tosses at Lowe is being a predator of vulnerable young women who came to the zoo. The first season exposed harsh working conditions, but in this case it was sexual in nature. Former G.W. Zoo employees also spoke about this, including the “code 69” calls that would come over the radios whenever a pretty woman or “bait” would walk onto the ground. Lowe and his wife Lauren did not deny this, instead consenting to be filmed suggestively cozied up on a couch with another woman as well as getting into bed with her. Lowe also riffed on drugs molly and ecstasy, although it is hard to know what specifically prompted that line of discussion.
The Next Tiger King?
Tim Stark, formerly of Wildlife in Need, takes the spotlight in the last two episodes of the season, with cameras following the September 2020 court order for him to leave his property and turn over his animals. He later was accused of hiding animals, held in contempt of court and eventually also ordered to pay more than $750,000 to PETA in legal fees. His insistence that he has been targeted the way Exotic says he has been set up — and the timing of his story at the end of the doc — almost makes it feel like the filmmakers are testing the waters to see if there’s enough interest in Stark to come back with a deeper dive on him in a third installment. Then again, there is certainly still more unfolding with Lowe and Exotic, who are reportedly teaming up again, despite the feud portrayed in this series.
The Cats Still Get the Short End of the Stick
Some new animal allegations are thrown around, primarily against Lewis, who is said to have been importing big cats into the United States from Costa Rica. Stark is also discussed as part of a pattern of “wildlife exploitation,” as Brittany Peet from PETA puts it in the series. Meanwhile, Exotic laments his new prison life is akin to his former cats being kept in cages. But the docuseries itself pivots so far away from the animals that hearing of the health problems they experience from being declawed in these zoos is presented as an aside to a story about greed and egos in the zoos. Those who follow the news know Baskin bought and sold Exotic’s former zoo, banning the new owners from doing anything related to “Tiger King” with it. Lowe and his wife went the opposite route and capitalized on the success of the series by installing a giant “TK” display on their land; they also had dozens of big cats taken from their property by the fish and wildlife service. The animals are and always have been the real victims here, but they are the ones still without the major platform.