Making a Murderer – Part 2: Review

Netflix has built quite the reputation for producing original shows that permeate pop culture, and one of the most significant series it has produced has been Making a Murderer.  After it’s late 2015 release, coverage of the show and the case it showcases was practically unavoidable online, as millions of people rediscovered this decade-old murder investigation and the questions around its conclusion.

Now several years later, Making a Murderer: Part 2 picks up where we left off in 2015 and outlines the subsequent developments in the quest to free Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey after their convictions for the murder of Teresa Halbach.

This new instalment is presented in a very different way, but ultimately succeeds in its goal to stoke further conversation and intrigue into a case that’s far from solved.

For those new to the case, a quick recap at the start gives a pretty solid overview of how the initial trials of Avery and Dassey saw them sentenced to life, despite questions being raised over their guilt and involvement in the crime.  Dassey in particular seems to be fairly harshly treated, as his “confession” to police back at the age of 16 is one that should be clearly inadmissible.

This season follows Avery’s new lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, in the search for new evidence that could exonerate Avery, as well as Dassey’s new legal team in their journey through the appellate system to throw out his confession and overturn his conviction.

Keeping things as spoiler-free as possible, Part 2 does a good job of unravelling the new events in the trial and keeping suspense building throughout, much in the way the first one did.  As someone sceptical of a second season, this was one of my main concerns – but I still found it compelling to see how the new case was being built up, even though some of the plot points weren’t new to me in the way that the first season’s trial was.  It’s not as high octane, and the stakes don’t feel quite as high, but you do have a narrative that is as interesting as any drama you’ll find.

One of the most interesting parts of this new season was the way it showed the Avery and Dassey families handling the new-found international attention that the documentary has brought their way.  From the surface it seemed largely positive, with all sorts from letters to flat-screen TVs being given in support.  In many ways it seems overwhelming to them, as they simply can’t comprehend the magnitude of what’s going on around them.  It’s also a rather good look in general at how news can reverberate around the world and have such a concentrated impact on the people at the centre of it.  However, even some of the most positive attention for Steven, in the form of a love interest, isn’t all it appears to be.

In contrast, from what we gather in the documentary the attitude and opinion of those living in Manitowoc or Wisconsin is far more negative.  For those that were aware of the case long before Netflix’s cameras started rolling, it’s clear that their viewpoints on the case have already formed and rather naturally hardened in support of Teresa Halbach’s family and against her convicted killers.

So there was a presentation of both sides, but it wasn’t done in a trial-esque manner, and this is one thing I felt this season sometimes lacked.  Making a Murderer’s first season was so good in that the audience twisted and turned from believing the prosecution to believing the defence.  It never went full tilt in either direction, although of course it provided more weight to Avery’s side than a normal media lens would provide.

This season was almost devoid of that.  The only real insight we received was from the prosecutor Ken Kratz’s interventions, while even they seemed only to highlight his self-serving goal of protecting his reputation.  It would have been more exciting and more interesting if there had been more examination of the other side of the case, although without much of a trial or court proceedings to base this on it was always going to be more difficult.

This season also took a narrower approach in terms of the people it featured, with Kathleen Zellner and her team being the stars of the show, with Brendan Dassey’s two lawyers being second most featured.  These three were very interesting, and Zellner in particular was ideally suited to fronting the case and the season itself, but the most gripping and enthralling parts of the season were the interactions within the the families themselves and the raw emotion of events.  There was enough of this to see things through, but there was comparatively little or no detail on how Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey themselves were handling life on the inside of prison, which would have added a layer to the show that it could really have done with.

Ultimately, the overriding feeling after finishing Part 2 is one of sadness.  For the families of the Averys, Dasseys and of course the Halbachs.  Whether or not Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are truly guilty, and the question is still very much up in the air, it’s clear that there were serious and indefensible errors in the investigation of the murder that means that true justice hasn’t taken place.

Will there be a part 3?  It looks like it.  Part of what made this show so good is the need to have questions answered, and I think the series creators have very cleverly made that the core of the show.  Season 2 leaves things in a position where there is a lot of evidence that hasn’t been heard by the courts, and we have to imagine that it will be presented at some point.  That allows for lots more stories to explore, and hopefully for a final conclusion that leaves everyone in no doubt what happened in Manitowoc County back in 2005.  Watching Making a Murderer makes you feel invested in the story, and in the people, and that’s quite a powerful thing for a documentary series to achieve.

So Part 2 does what it sets out to in developing more of the fascinating case of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, whilst leaving more for the lawyers, the families, the courts, and the viewers, to piece together in the search for truth.

It’s not quite as slick or as shocking as Part 1, but if you’re interested in this case, or in crime stories in general, then you’re going to need to check out Making a Murderer: Part 2.

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