Love & Hate Crime is an upcoming three-part documentary airing on Investigation Discovery. The series looks at hate crime and prejudice in the United States through murders.
Part One scrutinizes the case that eventually becomes the first-ever hate crime conviction arising from the murder of a transsexual woman in Mississippi.
Part Two will explore another Mississippi murder, this time of a gay black man seemingly for kicks, and the consequences to a white girl who was in the truck that mowed him down. Part Three studies the mind of a man who falls for his victim, discovers she's a married lesbian and sets out to end her life.
Each part of the series features film-like quality, and part of that can be attributed to director Ben Steele, known for his Emmy-nominated work on Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia.
Nothing about the murders is easy to understand. That's especially true of the first two parts, which might even hit a little close to home depending on where you grew up.
What is a hate crime? It's not something I think I'm ready to answer yet, but it's not because I'm an evil person or don't understand the fundamentals of what makes a hate crime.
There are so many nuances to love and hate and everything in between, and the series does a good job examining what it means to be a human being in this world at this very moment. Steele frames Part One in an unexpected and thought-provoking way.
It's the case of Mercedes Williamson, tragically murdered by Joshua Vallum.
During the hour-long Justice for Mercedes, Josh had not yet been charged with a hate crime and hadn't revealed his full involvement with Mercedes. It is easy to read the story from the outside, though, even if he uses the much-maligned "trans panic" defense.
If you don't know what that is, the short arc is Josh was dating Mercedes, and after two months, he finally talks her into sex, reaches down "there" and finds a penis. In the heat of the moment, he stabs her multiple times and crushes her head with a claw hammer.
It's filmed to bring you into Josh's story, specifically, to try to make you feel some sympathy for him. And it works, sort of, if you don't mind murder. I'll try to use myself as a guinea pig.
There are things in my life that I panic over every time they happen; so I can understand trans panic to a degree. Not that degree. Pushing them out of your life in the heat of the moment is one thing, killing them is quite another.
That's especially true since Josh seems like a manly man. As a member of the Latin Kings gang, the idea he might be treating his new girlfriend with kid gloves and not having sex seems ridiculous.
The episode does a particularly good job of playing on our senses by not revealing Mercedes' transsexual status for the first half of the hour. We are finally told that when the body was discovered, the authorities thought it to be Michael Christopher Wilkins.
Michael Christopher Wilkins is Mercedes' birth name.
The transsexual hate crime came to light when Sun Herald reporter Margaret Baker got a tip about Mercedes and her identity as a woman. She is responsible for keeping the case alive and fighting for justice for Mercedes.
Mercedes' best friend refers Mercedes as Michael throughout the show, even sharing how close "Michael" and Josh were, the amount of sex they had, etc., blowing the "trans panic" theory out of the water.
It also adds to the confusion. Why does she insist on calling Mercedes Micheal?
Baker discovers the tie to The Latin Kings gang Josh belongs to puts him into jeopardy. The gang is against homosexuality and could be why Josh uses the "transphobia" defense even if he knew earlier that Mercedes was transsexual.
Loving Mercedes never comes into question. Everyone involved with the case, including Josh, agrees that Josh loved Mercedes.
It seems a perfect example of a case for a show titled Love & Hate Crime.
It's also evident Josh is struggling with his sexuality and when faced with being outed (and killed), he murders the woman he loves to save his own skin.
In theory, Josh kills Mercedes for being transsexual. But does he kill her because he hates that she is transsexual? No. It's later revealed he always knew she was transsexual. He killed her because he was going to be killed.
In the eyes of the law, though, the circumstances surrounding the murder qualify as a hate crime no matter the reason.
Josh made a series of decisions in his life that found him torn in several different directions, and none of them allowed him an easy way out. He was ultimately ensnared in a cage of his own making.
Seventeen-year-old girl Mercedes couldn't possibly understand what was happening with a 28-year-old man, and she lost her life because of it.
And if this topic seems difficult to grasp, many will be equally challenged when they're faced with the murder of James Craig Anderson on Part Two of Love & Hate Crime.
Watch and judge for yourself.
Love & Hate Crime premieres on Investigation Discovery Sunday, February 25 at 8/7c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.