End of Season Report: Making a Murderer, Season 1

25 Jan

Making a Murderer

Making a Murderer is probably the most frustrating and depressing program you’ll watch this (or late last) year, primarily because while, at the end of the day, whatever happens on most shows happens to fictional characters, fictional characters you’re deeply invested in, but fictional characters none the less, Making a Murderer leaves two possibly innocent people who were at the least surely not given a fair shake at justice in prison.

And while of course I want to talk about the quality of the show and not get up on my soapbox, it’s just about impossible to do one without the other, and that’s kind of the point. In a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction series of events, two people are sent to prison for decades for committing a gruesome murder, and the documentarians catch nearly every flaw in our American adversarial criminal justice system along the way: overzealous cops and prosecutors more motivated to get a conviction than get the truth, a law & order jury cowed and skewed in favor of conviction, regardless of the actual evidence, local elected judges willing to generally defer to prosecutors, incompetent defense counselors who don’t have their clients’ interests at heart, and a prioritization of incredibly unreliable witness statements and confessions over scientific evidence.

Oof, that’s a laundry list, and even for a cynic like me, Making a Murderer was able to generate, episode-by-episode a renewed lack-of-faith in the system. On top of everything mentioned above, the series also shines a light on our utter and unflinching trust of police and prosecutors and how “innocent until proven guilty” is basically thrown out the window when defendants are convicted in the court of public opinion by savage media reports that build off of speculation rather than facts. Confirmation bias leads well-meaning cops and lawyers to commit themselves so deeply to the fact that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are guilty that they can’t see the obvious problems with the cases that the audience can.

And of all the utter mockeries of justice shown over 10 or so hours, the most tragic and troubling is the story of Brendan Dassey. Stephen Avery’s case is problematic on many levels, but Dassey’s is a complete joke. The only, and I repeat only, evidence the state has on Dassey is a confession, given to two cops when he had no lawyer, where he obviously was cowed into saying things he didn’t believe, very clearly making up fanciful stories to desperately please the investigators. There can be no doubt about this. It’s appallingly obvious to anyone who watches the confession on tape. Forget the blatant malpractice of Dassey’s first lawyer. The mere fact that police officers, prosecutors, judges, and 12 members of what had to be a unanimous jury could watch the tape of his interview and believe he did what he said he did is mind bogglingly troublesome.

So yeah, to sum up, I liked the show. If there’s such a thing as an “important show” without being intolerably pretentious, this might be one. It’s very difficult to sit through at times,and I yelled at my screen like a mad person, but it really provides a no-holds-barred reality based look at our criminal justice system, so when you hear and see claims about how every man and woman is treated equally under the law, and the truth will win out in the end, and the adversarial system serves justice better than the alternative, well, it’s good to be reminded sometimes that that’s just a load of bullshit. And while that’s depressing, it’s better to know than live under an illusion.

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