(CNN)Mixing the tense international situation with the qualities of a spy thriller, "Frontline's" latest documentary, "North Korea's Deadly Dictator," provides what's described as "a rare glimpse" inside Kim Jong Un's regime, as well as the bizarre circumstances surrounding the assassination of his half-brother in a Malaysian airport.
Frontline examines 'North Korea's Deadly Dictator'
Framed by President Trump's U.N. speech in which he belittled the North Korean leader as "Rocket Man," the PBS program explores Kim's ruthlessness through the murder of Kim Jong Nam, but also offers dimension regarding his nuclear ambitions while expressing skepticism that Kim is irrational or suicidal.
The New Yorker's Evan Osnos, meanwhile, who recently reported extensively from inside North Korea, notes that officials there are "mystified" by Trump's threat to unleash "fire and fury," underscoring the inherent risks of employing what President Nixon called the "madman theory" as a means of gaining leverage against rogue states.
Much of the hour is devoted to the killing of Kim Jong Nam, who had lived in the west and was killed in February when he was poisoned with VX nerve agent. The strange mechanics included enlisting two women who claim they were duped into carrying out the brazen plot in plain view. The women pleaded not guilty in a Malaysian court on Monday.
Beyond the strange details, the murder highlights both the family's longstanding grip on the country and just how thorny it is seeking to understand North Korea through the prism of more conventional nuclear powers. As Ken Gause, the director of CNA's International Affairs Group, puts it, this is a country "ruled by individuals; it's not ruled by institutions."
Experts interviewed for "North Korea's Deadly Dictator" reiterate the warning that dealing with the regime -- as it presses ahead to fulfill its nuclear ambitions -- presents only bad options.
As is so often true, it also reinforces Frontline's value as a venue that impassively lays out a framework for such discussions. Other hot-button topics on the docket for this month include "War on the EPA" (Oct. 11) and the two-part "Putin's Revenge," beginning Oct. 25.
That is, admittedly, a lot of sobering material to absorb; still, Frontline earns its stripes by reflecting the benefit of soberly addressing a complicated world, one unsettling crisis at a time.
"Frontline: North Korea's Deadly Dictator" premieres Oct. 4 at 10 p.m. on PBS.