A Review of Netflix’s Unbelievable

content warning: sexual violence

Before Netflix unveiled Unbelievable, sexual assault has rarely been portrayed so honestly on television. Based on a true story, creator and director Susannah Grant and her cast members do a brilliant job of portraying different reactions to such a difficult topic. 

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Arriving at the scene of a crime along with police, viewers meet Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Denver) wrapped up in a blanket in shock. The first responder is a young man who offers no comfort or sense of security when asking her for a detailed play-by-play, and she immediately is forced to relive the trauma she just underwent. Although it is proven that the less time there is between the events and their retelling increases accuracy, it does not make it any easier on the survivor to recount. Viewers watch as the police make Marie go over every detail over and over to various branches of the local police force.     

The police investigate the scene, finding no signs of forced entry, but do draw in the public eye. Each time Marie has to go over the incident, the details become fuzzier and fuzzier (it is common for survivors to block and disassociate with their pain). Due to her shock, the inconsistencies in her story cause the police to doubt her credibility. It is then brought to the attention of the authorities that Marie was in the foster care system. A duo of officers then fabricate a scenario in which she lied to get attention. Her former foster parents and friends also become suspicious of her story, siding with the officers. The theory that she lied about the whole ordeal spreads thicker and thicker amongst everyone in her life. Marie is pushed into a false confession, despite the flashbacks proving that she did indeed suffer tremendous trauma. 

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Marie is emotionally tormented into ruining her reputation. It is extremely hard to watch. You might think you would hold steadfast to the truth if you were in her position, but after experiencing such a violation of safety and being left without any real support, the viewers will undoubtedly empathize and sympathize with Marie, who just wanted the whole ordeal to go away.

In episode two, another rape investigation is opened for a character named Amber (Danielle Macdonald). In a different state, an entirely different force of authorities attends to her case. The responding officer this time is Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever), a sensitive woman who pays close attention to the way Amber’s voice sounds. Here we see a clear contrast between the two investigations. In the first, a team of men poke and prod and demand for facts, ignoring the emotional state of the survivor. In the second, one woman learns a plethora of useful information while simultaneously providing comfort and support. Her investigation does not lead to coercion and a recanted statement. Duvall always puts the victim’s needs over the evidence. In this way, Unbelievable shows us that in order to solve a crime, the investigator must care for more than just the facts. They must care for the survivor first. Image result for unbelievable amber

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Duvall’s investigation into Amber’s case leads to the collaborative efforts of Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette), who had a rape case with similar evidence. Grace is a more seasoned cop, as it is revealed she conducted a plethora of undercover drug busts earlier in her career. Her personality is more aggressive and controlling than Duvall, even though they are both natural leaders. Despite their differences, they work well together since they have the same end goal in mind: to catch a serial rapist. From here on, the focus of the show is put onto the police procedures. Pouring over security footage and explicit sites, their two teams employ strategies to make great strides towards an arrest.

We switch between the joint investigation and Marie’s storyline throughout the rest of the show. We see how Duvall and Grace wade through the evidence, and how Marie falls deeper down the rabbit hole. She is charged with making a false claim, causing her life to crumble around her. Once the cops decided that Marie fabricated the entire ordeal, her case was closed. The cops in charge of her case also easily brushed off any possibility of a copycat crime due to similarities between Marie’s case and other open cases. Due to their negligence, the officers from Amber’s case do not know that Marie was their criminal’s first victim. It also prevents Marie from knowing that any other authorities care enough to investigate her perpetrator. Related image

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Although the subject of this show is heavy, it is worth giving it a try. The messages carried through the incredible acting and directorial choices offer a new outlook on how such crimes should be handled. Especially in the twenty-first century, it is important for us as a society to look at how our government can improve on handling sexual assault and abuse, and to also acknowledge the fact that victims’ appearances and reactions will always vary.  In hopes that we all become more aware of these truths, I highly recommend watching this show.