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This Carlos is no jackal. He's a deeply irritating jerk

Game seven then. Millions watching, glued to it. A rare moment of national unity. An end to an ongoing crisis of nagging national need. Or not. Somebody has to step up. Somebody has to have his game face on. Somebody needs to get more shots and get traffic in front of the net. Somebody really needs to play a full 60 minutes while remembering to take it one shift at a time.

Not to mention, score early, establish the forecheck and stay out of the penalty box. Somebody needs to know that it is no longer possible to put it all in the past and focus on the next game. There isn't one. Wednesday night might climax in a moment of national hysteria or be a moment for connoisseurs of human misery.

It's a pity that another truly great TV drama airs on Wednesday night, but, thanks to technology, you can catch it now or later on the various channels of SuperChannel

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Carlos (SuperChannel, 10 p.m.) has been shown, in its shorter, movie-length version, to great acclaim at various film festivals. It was originally made as a three-part, six-hour miniseries for French TV and that's how we get to see it here, in its original, utterly compelling form.

It's a docudrama about the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal. Who he? As the publicity material describes him, "For two decades he was the most wanted man on the planet. Governments hunted him, women adored him, and criminals idolized him." The tagline for the movie version is: "The man who hijacked the world." In the 1970s, he was a ubiquitous figure, transcending media notoriety to become one of those astonishing people who is much known but not really known at all. Yes, children, before there was the Internet or even cellphones, there were truly notorious people in the world.

Directed by Olivier Assayas, the series has a mesmerizing quality. Remember, this isn't a Hollywood or a U.S. cable production – it's European. And the director approaches his topic with a particular stylistic stance. There is always a slight distance from the central figure, allowing the viewer to assess what's happening without being entirely sucked in to the ceaselessly unfolding action. Essentially, what we get is the terrorist superstar as self-absorbed twerp. This Carlos is no jackal. He's a deeply irritating jerk.

And yet, of course, he's essentially successful at what he does. Carlos (portrayed by Edgar Ramirez, who is fabulous) has an instinctive sense of the terrorist act as media moment. He wants to be a star, to be a somebody in the world, and murder, kidnappings and bombings are the quickest route to that level of fame.

When we first meet him, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez is a smooth-talking zealot who volunteers to act for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He's a keener, anxious to prove his worth, and he flits around Europe (there are multiple languages used in the series: English, French, Spanish, German) doing small but brazen attacks on supporters of Israel.

Handsome, well-dressed and confident, he's also a ladies man. He spouts clichés about revolution and the need to destroy imperialism, and our first hint of his essential fatuity happens when a woman challenges his pompous opinions. The gist of his reply is that she'll be sorry because he's going to be famous. Way famous.

There follows a long series of shooting, bombings and scenes of Carlos, as he has decided to call himself, dallying with women. Many women seem to adore him, attracted by his ego, ceaseless patter about revolution and connection to violence. He preens for them, although most of the time he seems to be little more than a courier, lugging bags and suitcases of weapons from one young woman's apartment to another. "Weapons are an extension of my body," he says to one young woman in an act of seduction and, somehow, both of them seem ridiculous.

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Mind you, there is nothing ridiculous about the events he instigates. Guns blaze, rocket launchers fire at planes, innocent bystanders and police officers die. Throughout, Carlos becomes more and more impatient with the leaders of the revolutionary groups for which he acts. Eventually, he's a one-man breakaway army, a killer for hire – if the money's good and the fame is forthcoming.

At the core of the excellent series is an emphasis on the banality of the terrorist's aims. Some men want to be rock stars for the fame and the adoring female fans. Carlos the Jackal wanted to be a terrorist for exactly the same reasons. The series is very fine, a reason to seek out SuperChannel as a source of good movies and sometimes great television.

As for the hockey game – more shots and traffic in front of the net. You know how it goes.

However, on the remote chance that the hockey doesn't interest you, one of the great events of world soccer starts on Wednesday night: the two-part final of the Copa Libertadores, the Champions League for club soccer in South America, is live on TV here. CA Peñarol of Uruguay versus Santos FC of Brazil is on Fox Sports World Canada at 8:30 p.m. Just in case you need to know. Never mind.



Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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