But one can always learn more. And, for this U.S.-based observer, this look at Pistorius' rise and fall from a more South African context was certainly enlightening.
Part one of the four-part series documents the well-known rise of Oscar Pistorius, from double-amputee as a toddler to Paralympic star that successfully challenged the contention that his prosthesis gave him an unfair advantage in able-bodied competition. He went on to be a face of London 2012, becoming the first person to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics. This propelled him to fame across the globe, but particularly in South Africa., as he became a celebrity fixture. This first episode of the series sticks pretty well to the (manufactured?) script of his background - hard luck child never accepting the suggestion of disadvantage and rising by his unique drive and talent to athletic and cultural fame, and a favored son of South Africa. At quick glance, he had it all - athletic fame, good lucks, wealth, and a model girlfriend.
All of that sets up the rest of the series for a riveting watch. About six months removed from his London 2012 exploits, he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of February 14, 2013 at his home in Pretoria. Anyone cursorily following the case - received with great attention globally - knows the general details of the subsequent case. Was he convinced there was an intruder and opened fire in mistaken identity, or was he really in the midst of a possible argument and allowed his temper to take control?
"Pistorius" does an excellent job of presenting the evidence shown from both defense and prosecution. Particularly shining is the presentation of the case in the context of when and where in South Africa it was taking place. With a notorious epidemic of home invasions in the city, maybe Pistorius legitimately feared an intruder. Or, was this another example of a women's life not mattering in South African society, an existing theme of protest at the time. The nuances of those argumentative distractions - nor the assorted cast of characters ranging from possibly publicity-seeking women's activists to possibly shady outer-circle thugs - didn't make it to the overseas headlines as well as shown here.
The procedural elements of the Pretoria High Court were fascinating as well. To witness another nation's courtroom drama at work was revelatory, including the background on non-juried trials and the appeals process. Keep an eye on the charming honorific "My Lady", the equivalent of "Your Honor" here, used even when not directly speaking to the judge.
In the end, Pistorius was sentenced to 15 years of prison, and he is not eligible for parole until 2023. I certainly learned an appreciation for the drama and emotion of the case, and I found myself changed a bit those original 2013 headline impressions. Whether you accept his actions as self-defense against a perceived intruder (presented here as done with either reckless bravado or as an involuntary panicked lapse in control), or believe he was really an ill-tempered "brat" (actually a term used in the film) with a quick trigger, it's an epic story of a hero's fall. You can not escape the humility of seeing Pistorius broken on the stand, or, worse, head down as he is presented to the courtroom without his prosthesis in an effort to emphasize fragility.
As journalist Toby Shapshak says in the film, "Because his life story was so extraordinary, his fall from grace was just as extraordinary."
Oscar Pistorius has eight Paralympic medals (including six gold), and a silver medal from the 2011 IAAF World Championships (able-bodied) as part of the South African 4x400 meter relay team. At the London 2012 Olympics, he reached the individual 400 meters semi-final and raced in the final of the 4x400 relay.