Show caption A wealth of wayward theories … Gerald Cotten. Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix Television More like this please! The wild, conspiracy-filled Netflix documentary that you can’t resist Was he murdered? Did he fake his own death? Or did he just die? Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King is a fresh, exciting look at a cryptocurrency superstar’s death Stuart Heritage @stuheritage Thu 31 Mar 2022 12.35 BST Share on Facebook
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I seem to have spent most of 2022 ragging on all the terrible true-crime shows that have suddenly flooded streaming services, so it is only right that I should use this space to point out ones that are actually good. So allow me to present Netflix’s Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King.
Trust No One tells the story of QuadrigaCX, a cryptocurrency exchange that collapsed spectacularly without warning. Quadriga’s founder – an amiable goofball named Gerald Cotten – died without warning in India, and his death blocked people from accessing their money, which totalled hundreds of millions of dollars. Investors were angry, lives were ruined and so much was left unclear that a wealth of wayward theories about Cotten erupted. Was he murdered? Did he steal the money and fake his own death? Is he out there now, surgically altered and living on a private island?
This makes great television. Once Trust No One hits its stride, it becomes a web of intrigue. It’s about cryptocurrency, a subject that is still cloudy enough to baffle most people. It’s about clearheaded investigation; the diligent checking of accounts to slowly piece together a complicated mystery. And it’s about the dangers of internet conspiracy, as evidenced by one of the talking heads: a man wearing a geometric fox mask to conceal his identity.
Trust No One gets a lot of things right. The first is in picking its subject. Cotten died at the end of 2018, and this is a story so truly extraordinary that it has already caused something of a feeding frenzy. There have been countless news reports and magazine profiles on the subject. Last year, it was turned into the documentary Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto Mystery, which aired on CBC in Canada and Discovery+ in the US, while Cotten’s death was also mined for the six-part podcast series A Death in Cryptoland.
The dangers of internet conspiracy … one of the talking heads in Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King. Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix
Yet everything still seems exciting and fresh. This could be because plenty of strands are still left dangling at the end. The worst true-crime documentaries (which is to say 75% of all true-crime documentaries) fail to set out their stall in any meaningful way. All the information they contain already exists elsewhere, which means they can be completely undone by 15 seconds of vigorous Googling. But, although the Quadriga case has reached some form of resolution, those who lost their money are still ruined, and many won’t be happy until Cotten’s grave is exhumed.
One of the smartest decisions made by the producers is in showing you how easy it is to fall into this sort of magical thinking. In the moments it shows bitcoin going nuts for the first time, taking a few speculative investors and transforming them into overnight millionaires, the thrill is vicarious. When it temporarily crashes shortly afterwards, not only can you feel what a teetering house of cards the whole system is, but you can understand the desperate dives into rabbit holes that went on in a doomed attempt to recover what was theirs. The show is best summed up by one investor whose life savings were wiped out by Quadriga. Sitting in a room much smaller than the one he assumed he would have by now, he sighs: “Nobody has the patience to get rich.”
The second big thing that Trust No One gets right is its length. Although producers must have thought about following prevailing trends and bulking Cotten’s story out into a formless multipart series, they kept the whole thing to a tight 90 minutes. The story is told at such a brisk pace that you can’t help but be swept up in it. It is a model of economy in a genre prone to excess. More like this please.