I watched Making A Murder Season 2 on Netflix, so you don’t have to. It is a shining example of a good TV idea gone bad. Well, not bad, exactly, but definitely smelling a bit “off.”
The first season’s serialized documentary analyzing the arrests of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey was edgy, compelling, and provocative. It suggested flaws in the police procedures without being vindictive, and it acknowledged the shortcomings of the Avery family without being cruel. Season two goes in the opposite direction.
The problem, I think, was in trying to fill out the new season to make ten episodes. As such, it was about four episodes too long. We see multiple showings of the same parts of Brendan Dassey’s interrogation, unnecessarily drawn out observations of Steven Avery’s lawyer’s dubious research, and embarrassingly long documentation of his parent’s domestic situation.
The lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, consults with a number of forensic experts and sometimes inserts herself into their research methods. The most cringe-worthy of these is when they use a mannequin to try to replicate blood spatter evidence. They throw that mannequin around in ways that would be funny if the situation they were mimicking weren’t so awful. I hoped that none of the victim’s loved ones saw that.
Just as disconcerting, though, were the scenes showing the senior Avery’s in their home and car as their hearing and health decline over the years. We see them struggling to walk while obviously in pain, and we watch them fail to hear each other as they both suffer hearing loss. It’s not necessary for us to see this, and certainly not in so much agonizing detail. I think we are supposed to empathize with their son Steven’s anguish at not being able to care for them, but the filmmaker goes too far. We would have gotten the hint if we had been shown only a small slice of this.
The series also gives us insight into work of Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin, the lawyers for Brendan Dassey, and their repeated efforts to free him. They have some successes which are all immediately dashed by counter-appeals which work their way through various levels of the criminal justice system. Despite their months of research and consultation, the lawyers had only brief opportunities to present their case. In the end, they were not able to get Brendan released even though he was only sixteen when he was arrested and his interrogation leads him to make what appears to be a false confession.
What I took away from both of the two seasons is the realization that the legal justice system is cumbersome, impenetrable, expensive, biased, and slow. Making A Murderer may be an imperfect documentary series, but it does us all a service in showing the flaws in the system. We see how easily a person might confess to a crime they didn’t commit, how long it takes for a case to be heard, how hard it is to have new evidence brought forward, and how unlikely it is that an innocent person might be given a new trial. We also see how unsympathetic the law is to victims and their families.
Making a Murderer gives its audience an opportunity to understand the complexities of a murder case in detail that we would not normally have. I learned a lot from watching this, but most of what I learned was very frustrating and sad.