Elisa Lam, the subject of the docuseries, was a 21 year old Canadian student traveling across California by herself on holiday. She had Bipolar Disorder Type 1 and was prescribed four different pills to treat it. She was not taking her medication in the days leading up to her death.
A manic episode is a period of up to two weeks where someone with Bipolar Type 1 loses all ability to reason logically, has severe paranoia, delusional thoughts, possible hallucinations, and is a huge risk to oneself and the people around them.
Elisa Lam was tragically found dead in one of the four water tanks on the roof of the Cecil Hotel in downtown LA some staggering 18 days after her disappearance.
1. The Misleading Nature of the Plot
Throughout the show, Hotel Cecil is built up to be a plagued, haunted entity which has a paranormal effect on its guests and inevitably produces the dark, twisted events that have occurred in the hotel’s rooms for close to a century. The hotel is located in Skid Row — an area of downtown LA with some of the highest levels of homelessness in the United States. The Cecil, now under new ownership, would attract some of these low-income residents by providing cheap monthly rates. The high levels of crime in the area, unfortunately, can be attributed as a byproduct of the resident’s harsh socioeconomic reality.
The trailer and large chunks of the docuseries suggest that it is indeed the twisted nature of the hotel to cause such unrest to its guests, however, the death of Elisa Lam is the tragic tale of a young woman struggling with severe mental health issues and lacking an immediate support network.
2. The YouTubers
There are 5–6 YouTubers interviewed and huge amounts of ‘web sleuth’ footage used, whilst no one with Bipolar Disorder is interviewed to give an account of what experiencing a manic episode is actually like. Moreover, only one expert in the field, Dr. Judy Yo, is included as an interviewee.
The YouTubers and web sleuths are the very people who accused death metal musician Pablo Vergara, a talking head on the docuseries, of Elisa’s death. The cyber bullying he endured led to an attempt to take his own life. He hasn’t written any new music since he was accused and claims to no longer be the same person. The ordeal has most certainly broken him as a human being.
The YouTubers obviously did not have all the evidence and facts, however, this did not stop them from jumping to huge conclusions. The phenomena of the ‘synchronicities’ they apply to Elisa Lam’s disappearance in episode three is truly laughable. They are glorified conspiracy theorists at best.
Why on earth is Netflix giving these people a platform? As Vergara poignantly says, he never received an apology from the YouTubers when his name was cleared. Their lives went on, however, their actions bore consequences — something the YouTubers themselves conveniently never acknowledge as they are too busy being self-righteous.
3. The Gross Incompetence of the LAPD
An 18 strong LAPD team with search dogs missed the body in the tank when the roof of the Cecil hotel was searched the first time and multiple others.
A spokesperson for the LAPD told the media that the hatchet to the tank was shut when her body was found. This was not the case. This led the public to speculate for months that Elisa’s disappearance was due to homicide because there was no way that Elisa could have managed to shut the hatchet in on herself whilst in the tank.
This miscommunication to the media, to put it mildly, had the effect of continuing an incessant manhunt for a killer that never existed and which may have cost yet another life in the form of Pablo Vergara.
How did the LAPD not come out and disclaim what was said previously to the media about the hatchet being shut?
The actions of the LAPD were never questioned throughout the documentary. They are portrayed to have done nothing wrong. Had the LAPD done their jobs properly, there would be no docuseries.
4. The Four Themes of the Doc Makes for An Incoherent Viewing
The docuseries tries to tackle four themes in a rather incoherent manner, those being: Skid Row — the incredibly troubled area where the Cecil Hotel is located, the dark and twisted nature and history of the Cecil Hotel, the possible homicide of Elisa Lam, and Elisa Lam’s cause of death — her manic episode.
The docuseries ambitiously tries to recount every element surrounding Elisa’s disappearance whilst glossing over the driving force behind what actually happened. The doc often goes off on tangents following dead leads and conspiracies put forward by the YouTubers, repeating itself along the way. The insistence of the show’s producers to keep mentioning her inconsequential trip to ‘The Last Bookstore’ is a prime example.
5. The Show Does a Disservice to Elisa Lam and Bipolar Patients Alike
The show’s producers had a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the hardships Bipolar patients endure by accurately telling Elia’s story. Instead of deconstructing what Elisa must have been going through and educating viewers on how to support these vulnerable people, the show’s producers chose to spin the story of a murder mystery and haunted hotel.
At the very end of the docuseries, the producers try to absolve themselves of using Elisa’s story by including this five second viewer’s support message:
Ultimately, this is a tragedy about the death of a young woman suffering from severe mental health issues who did not have the support network necessary that may well have saved her. For Netflix and the show’s producers to draw the audience in with a murder mystery type docuseries and spin it that way until the very end, leaves a very bitter taste in our mouths.
Written by Maximilian Berger & Anthony Parrinello