Making a Murderer is extremely difficult to watch. But that really shouldn’t discourage anyone from experiencing the haunting tale of Steven Avery. It’s the sort of show that will leave you, one minute, sat there in quiet disbelief as you try and fathom exactly why things are happening, to another, where you are inches from throwing your remote through the TV at statements such as, ‘reasonable doubt is only for the innocent.’ It’s a rollercoaster, to say the least, but it’s mostly spin chilling to see exactly how fucked up the Criminal Justice System actually is.
This ten-part documentary seemed like a daunting task to start with, leaving me asking friends, ‘how exactly can it be this long?’ I would be lying to say that at times the pace didn’t feel slow, yet, upon its completion, I still felt like there was more that I wasn’t shown. The pace comes at no fault of the documentary, though, merely the ridiculous song and dance that is the Criminal Justice System pulling you back and forth from bullshitter to bullshitter.
To continue any further, I will have to delve into the first couple of episode to lay out some context. Steven Avery was imprisoned for the first-degree sexual assault of Penny Beerntsen at the age of 23. Avery pleaded innocent with large amounts of evidence, such as strong alibis and witness statements, placing him nowhere near the crime scene. He served 18 years until DNA evidence proved his innocence in 2003, causing widespread media attention. This also resulted in Avery filing a $36 million civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County and a handful of officials affiliated with the arrest. Shortly after, in 2005, Avery is arrested yet again, this time for the alleged murder of Teresa Halbach, who was supposedly last seen around the Avery residence.
What follows is the painstaking task of sifting through all the statements, then the witnesses and then the evidence, which is that engrossing that you’ll spend a large amount of time trying to make sense of it in your spare time. Especially moments that point towards, yet more, police misconduct, really adds dramatic twists and turns.
This is not a murder mystery documentary. Do not go into this expecting the story to conclude with a pretty bow placed on it, because you just won’t get that. It’s more the story of Steven Avery and injustices that are placed upon him due to his class, grievances and the mistakes of higher powers. Watching law enforcers go to the lengths that they do to get confessions, not the truth, is disgusting. As they take advantage of teenagers with poor intellect by planting words in their mouth, saying that the state will help them if they confess, is both infuriating and heart-breaking.
Throughout the story are moments where we only hear Avery’s voice over panning shots of the local environment. The voice over is haunting as we are left with Avery questioning why he is in this situation again and pondering what he will do if he is convicted. The tone of his voice gives these fleeting moments that if he does, that he won’t put himself through the time. The prosecution bang on about the destroyed reputation of the police department and how much pain the Halbach family is subjected too, but all you need to do is look at the Avery residence to see the same. Every shot of Steven’s family is lifeless. It’s a ghost town, as they sit and ponder the exact same questions that Steven is.
The show also does a fantastic job of breaking down the technical law jargon, courtesy of the dream team that is Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, Avery’s defence lawyers. This ensures that anyone not familiar with how cases normally play out can still understand and enjoy every little detail. Towards the start of the show, there was plenty of use of graphics showing you exactly how people were related in the chain of command that really helped see who was whose higher ranking officer. Unfortunately, these weren’t utilised later on, especially in the trail, to help the audience better follow the evidence links, unmatching witness timelines and proximity of people’s alibis to the Avery residence. This didn’t make the show unfollowable but made the muddled plot even more so at times.
Special mention has to go the theme of the show, which is a gorgeous sombre piece that has its roots in the location yet still reflects the isolation and torment that Avery is exposed to.
Making a Murder is, yet again, another fantastic show that Netflix has pulled out the bag. It’s a big, confusing story that I challenge anyone to get their head around, but it’s incredibly engrossing. The first few episodes set up the show and make you really understand Avery’s character. You really care about his story and you’ll stick with him even after the final credits roll. Seeing the toll it takes on those around him is hard and the lack of ethical conduct throughout will make you scream. I personally think Avery is innocent, with all the evidence feeling like the prosecutors are determined to complete a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle for the wrong fucking image. But, at the end of the day, as Strang states, ‘To be accused is to lose.’