Plot: After a suspicious fire claimed the lives of his three children, Todd Willingham was arrested and eventually executed, but doubts lingered about his role in the fire. His actions in the wake of the fire raised the suspicions of even those close to him, but the evidence didn’t seem to support Willingham’s guilt or even that a crime had been committed whatsoever. The story remained in the public eye even after his execution, with investigations into the fire and his potentially wrongful execution, so Frontline takes us inside this tragic, mysterious event.
Entertainment Value: This is another excellent investigation from Frontline, giving us a wide scope of interviews, evidence, and insights into the kind of story that proves that as always, real life can be stranger than fiction. The evidence in this case doesn’t seem to be that substantial, but because Todd Willingham was seen as a “bad man” by others, his guilt in this specific crime wasn’t often even considered. Even Texas Governor Rick Perry seemed to discount the need to prove his guilt, claiming that people were focusing on the wrong aspects of Willingham’s story. This piece runs about an hour and includes a number of perspectives and theories, mostly via a host of interviews with some of the people actually involved in the case or local to where the fire happened. I should note that a few years later, Frontline did a follow up with new information, so don’t expect a tidy resolution. Even so, the story is remarkable and I think this Frontline episode is well crafted, so this earns a solid recommendation.