America in late May 2020 turned into a dystopian hellscape of grief, loss, and rage. A relentless global pandemic has killed over 100,000 U.S. citizens just since March; 40 million are on unemployment; a nation has been tense, restless and confused in shutdown, and 75 cities were plunged into chaos and violence this past weekend as thousands protested racial inequality and police brutality – including looting, rioting and death in Davenport late Sunday night.

So, it is oddly comforting to find calm, methodical distraction in a new Netflix documentary that recalls a different kind of terror and heartbreak.

“Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” is a simultaneously fascinating and repellent four-part series – each episode about an hour long – that showcases a dogged, determined pursuit of justice. Several survivors (they’re never called victims) of Epstein courageously come forward to recount the humiliations and horrors they endured, and stoically seek some kind of redemption and closure.

We already may know the resolution of the case of this perpetually smug, cold, globetrotting financier, but it’s no less riveting – because I for one had never seen any film of Epstein or the women he assaulted. You’ll want to binge it one sitting.

Eleven years after serving a ridiculous 13-month sentence (for which he was allowed out six days a week, 12 hours a day, to “work”), Epstein was finally   arrested and charged with sex trafficking of girls and young women by federal prosecutors in July 2019. At age 66, he reportedly took his own life in his Manhattan jail cell the following month.

Director Lisa Bryant started working on “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” in 2018, before his arrest. The scope of the often-beautiful filming locations (from Spain to Australia to the Caribbean) and the incredible bravery and strength of the interview subjects, are as impressive as the decades-long investigation by law enforcement nationwide.

“I just think that it is just baffling how he manipulated and lied his way through his entire life,” Bryant told “CBS This Morning.” “This pyramid scheme, it just — the scope was unbelievable. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of girls, we learned.”

The stellar, meticulously-made series is based on the 2016 book “Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal That Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein,” by James Patterson, the best-selling Palm Beach author who specializes in fiction thrillers. He’s on camera here and that insists Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, possibly the highest-profile of all Epstein’s celebrity friends, didn’t know about Epstein’s interest in underage girls.

One mystery that’s never fully explained is how Epstein made his boatloads of money, that allows him to have lavish homes from Palm Beach, Fla., to New York City, to New Albany, Ohio, to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he owned his own island (fleetingly named “Pedophile Island” in the series). We learn he was a top money manager and loved to meet with the country’s best and brightest minds.

Formerly working at Bear Stearns and apparently brilliant, Epstein met Leslie Wexner in the 1980s, head of the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, who gave Epstein sweeping powers over his finances, philanthropy and private life, according to a 2019 New York Times piece.

One of the survivors of Epstein’s abuse, featured in the film.

Wexner’s friends and colleagues “were mystified as to why a renowned businessman in the prime of his career would place such trust in an outsider with a thin résumé and scant financial experience,” the story said.

Becoming “filthy rich” and influential gave Epstein unwarranted, unimaginable power over nearly everyone in his path, we see from the chilling, creepy Netflix doc.

Epstein relied on a “sexual pyramid scheme” to find girls as young as 14. The series painfully reflects accounts from many survivors of Epstein’s abuse, including those who were hired to give him massages at his Palm Beach mansion.

One of his victims, Haley Robson, describes being recruited by another girl when she was 16 to give Epstein a massage for $200. After she rebuffed his advances, she says, he offered her money to recruit new girls to come to his home. All told, she says she recruited about 24 young girls.

There’s just a sickening sense of entitlement on behalf of this scumbag, who shatters the lives of these women who dared stand up to him. Epstein offers to help mostly vulnerable girls, many who come from broken homes and hard times of their own. He offers to help pay for their education or simply pay for massages and then coerces, abuses and/or rapes them.

One of the many deeply affecting interviews is with Michelle Licata, who was just with Epstein one time, but tearfully recounts what he stole from her and how she’s been thoroughly damaged.

Epstein seemingly never has to answer for his perverted crimes, as we see in some clips from a 2016 deposition.

Rolling Stone recently pointed out some of the most revolting moments in the documentary are seeing him bat away several questions from law-enforcement officials, blithely asserting constitutional rights when asked direct questions about his sexual abuse of young girls. (And what rights do the women have?)

“I’d like to answer that question,” Epstein nauseatingly says at one point, as if he’s just dying to defend his honor. “But today I’m gonna have to assert my Sixth Amendment rights, my Fifth Amendment rights.”

“Is it true that you forced Virgina Roberts to have sex with numerous friends of yours?” an official asks. “Are you kidding?,” he confidently fires back. It’s also repulsive to see Mr. Brilliant asking for the spelling of “Virginia Roberts.” Really? And he’s humiliated for once, as he’s asked if he has “an egg-shaped” penis.

Equally as disheartening is to hear some comments from his partner bully-in-crime, longtime confidante Ghislaine Maxwell – another sorry example of a human, and rich bitch, whose father (Robert Maxwell) was a publishing titan who mysteriously drowned off the coast of the Canary Islands, Spain, in 1991.

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In the series, Maria Farmer said for years after she came forward with her allegations against Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell called her to threaten her.

“She told me I needed to watch my back, that ‘I know you like to go running on the West Side Highway, and that’s not going to be a safe place for you anymore, because there are a lot of ways to die on the West Side Highway,’” Farmer recalled. These unbelievable threats continued for years, prompting her to go into hiding in the North Carolina hills and change her name.

Echoing Epstein’s one-time pal and fellow sex abuser Harvey Weinstein (referenced in the doc), Maxwell and Epstein inhumanely wield their rabid power and have the audacity to intimidate anyone who dares call them on their behavior?

Maxwell, 58, hasn’t been criminally charged and denies all allegations against her. And of course, no one has even been able to find her in recent months.

Outrage over plea deal, then a job with Trump

Among the first women to come out against Epstein were sisters Maria and Annie Farmer, who allege they were both abused by Epstein and Maxwell in 1996.

In “Filthy Rich,” the women say they took their allegations to the NYPD and the FBI, only for them to get nowhere; they also claim that they came forward to Vanity Fair journalist Vicky Ford with their allegations in 2003, only to be cut from the story at the last minute.

Ward implies that the allegations were cut from the final story due to pressure from Epstein, as well as ominous threats such as a severed cat’s head being left on then-editor-in-chief Graydon Carter’s stoop. (In a statement to the film’s producers, Carter said: “Ms. Ward’s reporting on this aspect of her story came in as we were going to press and simply did not meet our legal threshold.”)

A severed cat’s head? You can’t make this stuff up. Neither, unfortunately, the first plea agreement prosecutors came to with Epstein in 2008, without prior knowledge of any of his victims or their attorneys.

The 2008 deal ended a federal investigation that could have landed Epstein in prison for life. Instead, he was allowed to plead guilty to lesser state charges – just one count of soliciting prostitution — that resulted in a 13-month jail sentence (originally 18 months) and required financial settlements to dozens of his victims. He also had to register as a sex offender.

The agreement was overseen by former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who naturally later became President Trump’s labor secretary. In the face of intense criticism, Acosta defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances.

He doesn’t appear in any interview in the Netflix series, though it’s mentioned the agreement was made to ensure Epstein served some time, even though one source called the prison (where he could freely come and go) basically a “crappy Holiday Inn.”

In early August 2019, before Epstein’s death, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a state criminal investigation into the “non-prosecution agreement” that allowed Epstein to avoid federal prosecution.

In addition to the pain of survivors, the plea deal haunted Acosta’s career, forcing him to resign as labor secretary in July 2019. He faced similar questions and criticism in his 2017 Senate confirmation hearings, over the Epstein case. He got the Administration job starting April 28 that year.

“He felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation,” the president wrote on Twitter last year. Trump, one-time friend of Epstein, has faced many of his own accusations of sexual misconduct from women over the years.

“This was him, not me,” the president then said of Acosta’s decision to resign, adding that Acosta was a “great, great secretary” and a “tremendous talent.”

Trump said 11 months ago that he cut ties with Epstein around 2004 after a falling-out.

Even though Acosta felt the plea agreement was the best way under the circumstances to ensure that Epstein would face jail time, why wasn’t it agreed to with the accused’s victims? The shock of those survivors is another painful moment in “Filthy Rich,” and the post-Weinstein, “Me Too” movement giving more credence to the veracity of the survivors’ claims.

Why should it take the allegations and criminal charges against another serial predator (and a social movement) to make Epstein’s gross personality and behavior any more worthy of investigation and prosecution? Evil is evil, whenever and wherever it happens, you would think.

A true royal pain

Epstein’s monumental crimes, and cowardly escape, aren’t the only concern of this densely-packed doc.

 Virginia Roberts Giuffre also accuses sexual abuse at the hands of England’s Prince Andrew in London in 2001, and Epstein attorney Alan Dershowitz multiple times. In “Filthy Rich,” both men steadfastly deny the claims (with the prince even saying he doesn’t remember meeting her). Dershowitz angrily challenges Giuffre to come on camera to make the claim, which she does.

“I was trafficked to Alan Dershowitz from Epstein,” she said, adding Epstein “forced me to have sex” with his attorney along with a number of other men.

“He’s denied being with me. Is one of us telling the truth? Yes. Is that person me? Yes,” she concluded.

Giuffre also says that Maxwell told her, “you’re going to have to do for [Prince Andrew] what you do for Jeffrey” prior to the abuse.

And even though it’s revealed that former president Bill Clinton (with his own dark and checkered sexual history) traveled on Epstein’s private plane a total of 26 times, there’s no suggestion that Clinton preyed on young girls.

“Filthy Rich” also provides some nuggets for conspiracy theorists who believe that Epstein did not hang himself in his jail cell before facing trial, but may have been murdered.

FILTHY RICH: (L to R) Prince Andrew; Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell in episode 4 of FILTHY RICH. Cr. NETFLIX © 2020 Netflix

It presents forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht (an associate of Michael Baden, hired by Epstein’s brother to conduct an investigation into his death) saying there is “no evidence at all” that Epstein had jumped or leaped from his bunk. Wecht points out Epstein had three fractures, and you would not get those fractures with a suicidal hanging of someone leaning forward,” he says, adding he’s never seen such fractures in his history of doing autopsies.

“Honestly, I felt so devastated that once again he had managed to escape any kind of accountability,” Annie Farmer, one of Epstein’s accusers, says about his death.

“There is no justice in this,” Shawna Rivera, another accuser, says.

The numbing sadness of the doc follows Epstein’s death, as the survivors are angry they didn’t get to face him in court, and that two days before his death, the ultimate manipulator transferred the entirety of his $577-million estate to the U.S. Virgin Islands, making it all the more difficult for his victims to seek restitution.

“In my view, it sort of underscored his evilness, his venality, that he basically showed no remorse,” Fox Business correspondent Charlie Gasparino says in the film. “He didn’t think he did anything wrong. It was a ‘fuck you’ to the victims.”

The women get their last say, not only with this fantastic document, but as we see them gather in court for a cathartic hearing following Epstein’s death. Some of them had never met each other before and now they’re forever members of a club they never wanted to join.

It’s impossible to not imagine a further link between Epstein and Trump, even if they weren’t buddies. They made their name as insanely rich, entitled, morally dubious New Yorkers, one of whom has the most important job in the world. They both seemingly get away with a lot.

This spot-on assessment of our dear leader, recently made by Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, could also apply to Epstein:

“Donald Trump thinks he is immune from any consequences, violent or otherwise, that may stem from his Twitter feed because he has never for even a moment in his life been asked to imagine the harm his words can do to others. The world has seemingly never asked him to do so, and it has never burdened him with accountability for such harms. As F. Scott Fitzgerald observed a century ago, the very wealthy in America are stunningly free from consequence: ‘[T]hey smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.’

“And Donald Trump has constructed an entire theory of personal and presidential immunity around the proposition that he cannot be held responsible for anything he says, or does, or initiates, or incites, because he doesn’t care to be. If we are foolish enough to seek meaning, or impute logic, or lash history and context to his words, well, we’re the real suckers.”

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.