If you didn’t catch the first two seasons of National Geographic’s Trafficked with Mariana Van Zeller, you have missed some of the most compelling television in history. Do yourself a favor and catch-up on Hulu as you witness this recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award and the duPont Award dig deep into the shadow economy which is alarmingly closer than you may think. The third season will premiere Wednesday, January 18, at 9/8c on National Geographic with episodes appearing next day on Hulu.
This season Mariana is digging into the illegal trade of organs, LSD, ghost guns, cyber pirates, MDMA, gangs, terrorist oil, crypto scams, fight clubs, and black market babies.Through her work, she gains an understanding of both the sellers and the buyers that create these shadow markets. And while it may be easy to dismiss these markets that occur somewhere else, Mariana mentioned the scariest moment of filming season 3 occurred in Los Angeles.
While working on the episode on ghost guns, They were filming a cartel who was selling guns to a buyer. As she tells it, “it was a very intense moment, because even though the buyer knew we were there filming, he got very angry when he saw the cameras, for some reason. He was not happy. He started threatening us and threatening, in particular, my cameraman, who had the camera. And it was not an easy moment. He actually went out that same night and actually used that gun that he bought and ended up being arrested. So, for us, it was sort of one of those moments that we reassessed the situation, because, obviously, no story is worth a life.”
You would think that situations like that would result in the production having a large security detail. But as it turns out they do not travel with security most of the time in an effort to gain her subjects' trust. “The most important thing is for me to show them ‘I'm here. I trust you. I'm here to understand you.’ Again, the idea of empathy before judgment, always I think that goes much farther along. It's one thing that really sort of reporting on this world has taught me, is usually if you trust and respect people, they will trust and respect you back. Not always, but usually that goes a long way.”
It would be easy to believe that reporting on very dark subjects would cause a negative world view. But Mariana Van Zeller says it has actually made her more optimistic as she sees that those engaged in these illicit activities are more like us then we may realize. By realizing that the “bad guys” still love and care about their families and sometimes even have regrets, it makes the darkest corners relatable.
The show does have a heartwarming moment this season. Ukraine is a popular place for surrogate mothers. We meet a couple who started the process, but due to the war, were unable to be present during the pregnancy. The couple then enters the war-impacted country and we get to witness them meeting their child for the first time. No downside, just pure parental joy and a nice respite from black market organs.
Season 3 of Trafficked with Mariana Van Zeller premieres Wednesday, January 18, at 9/8c on National Geographic with episodes appearing next day on Hulu.