Making a Murderer – Season 1

Three episodes in and I am finding that it’s really hard for me to get invested in the new season of Serial. Last year I came to the party a little late. I started listening when the show was already more than halfway through, but I am so glad that it worked out that way because I listened to the show in the car on a long trip and by the time I reached my destination I was completely caught up, but furthermore I was completely absorbed in the case of Adnan Syed. I couldn’t wait to talk about it, I convinced others to listen, I was a fan. The second started just a few short weeks ago but I guess I am just not the target demographic for this story. The reporting is still top notch, I just don’t find the story that compelling and I have yet to be given a real reason to care about Bowe Bergdhal. Homeland has spoiled me, and so this particular story is simply not so gripping. I’ll keep listening, but it’s not the type of appointment podcast last year was. For those who feel the same way I do about Serial and are ready for a rollercoaster of emotion and heaping amounts of rage and dismay enter Netflix’s docuseries Making a Murderer.

Just this week the show (which debuted on the site a few weeks ago) has begun to receive an incredible amount of media attention. I noticed its addition, but didn’t begin watching the show until new year’s day. Three days later I was finished with it. Most reviewers stated that once begun most viewers would not be able to stop watching. One even stated that he watched all in one go. Some of the contents provoked such strong emotions out of me and even made me sick that I needed breaks between episodes and had to clear my head with a walk or some cooking, which is why it took me three days to get through this very well constructed and told documentary series.

The first episode tells the story that by now anyone slightly aware of the show’s existence has heard. A Wisconsin man named Steven Avery was convicted of rape only to be exonerated 18 years later thanks to DNA evidence for the crime, which, it turned out, he did not commit. His case was singular because the police appeared to significantly mismanage the investigation (to put it extremely lightly) and a bias against the suspect resulted in Avery having to sacrifice nearly two decades of his life. Two years later and in the process of a damaging lawsuit issued against the Manitowoc County police force and legal system Avery finds himself in a familiar predicament, accused this time of murdering a young woman.

The first few episodes are the hardest to watch because they are infuriating and almost unbearable with the amount of injustice shown on screen. It’s almost as if the viewer is expected to scream at the screen, for no breaks or catharses are offered. Minute after minute more evidence is presented that forces one’s blood to boil and pace, disgusted and sickened that such horrors can occur in the definition of Anywhere, USA. When the trial begins the viewer can sigh just slightly in relief for the fact that at that point one is aware of the evidence and while hearing it all a second time is no less easy at least emotions can be controlled just slightly more. Regardless of how much anyone has heard about the show and the real events depicted, it doesn’t matter – the series needs to be watched, because there is so much information that can only be gained by viewing it oneself. If this were not a documentary it would simply be too unbelievable and unrealistic. Even the most crazy cakes drama out there (Scandal, for example) would be laughed at for attempting the real life mayhem showcased by this story, the very definition of stranger than fiction. Sadder too.

Because this story ultimately is sad. So many lives have been touched, ruined, and annihilated by what has happened, and respite is really not allowed to anyone. The worst part? An honest viewer will have a very hard time handling what is portrayed. A world in which things easily fit into black and white categories would be fantastic. Good guys vs. bad guys. Faith in the criminal justice system. Infallibility of the police force. Unfortunately, ideologies make us blind. If one believes that the law is in its pure essence ultimately just, then one works to make it so. If a police officer believes that they have the right suspect, how far will s/he go to apprehend the criminal? If we don’t have faith in law or police, for whatever reason, will we become blind to certain pieces of evidence to believe someone innocent? The system appears to be inefficient, if not utterly broken, though. And yet more questions arise, especially concerning how to address the myriad of issues that so clearly are problems with our country and the rights of the individual, even if said individual has possibly committed a heinous crime. All I know is that change does not come easily, something of great magnitude is needed in order to affect it, and even then it’s an uphill climb against obstacles of all kinds. It’s as discouraging as it is terrifying.

Steven Avery and his family belong to the lowest of income brackets and the family business revolves mostly around the auto salvage they oversee and live on. Anytime Avery’s voice appears on screen (recorded phone calls from jail) it is played over images of the salvage and the carcasses of cars nobody cares about anymore. No metaphor is more perfect that this. In a world in which we abide by the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, we take comfort in locking someone up and throwing away the key, not giving second thoughts to the wreckage that may have been left in the wake of such behavior and mentality. It’s especially easy to not care so much about lives we may deem inferior. Class, race, education level, mental or physical abilities are all just categories that make up internalized hierarchies within our society. The cars in the salvage are anything but pretty to look at, and they’re there purposefully because they are deemed useless. Do we treat people the same way? How does that sit with us? What does that say about us?

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3 thoughts on “Making a Murderer – Season 1

    1. Scrutiny is a big word, but yes, the documentary has been accused of not including some alleged misbehavior on Avery’s part. I didn’t explicitly discuss that in this post, but I alluded to it and it informed my reaction. It doesn’t change my overall feelings, nor does it really ultimately affect the power of the documentary, in my opinion at least.

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