Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Collateral damage makes Making A Murderer hard to watch

Illustration for article titled Collateral damage makes Making A Murderer hard to watch

Maybe it’s my liberal leanings, but all I could think during episodes three and four of Making A Murderer was, “Oh man, this poor kid.” We don’t know at this point whether or not he actually did anything, but we did get multiple brutal, heartbreaking scenes with Brendan Dassey that illustrate exactly how broken the criminal justice system seems to be, and how easily and swiftly it can crush people who have no resources.

First was the indefensible interview with the learning-disabled 16-year-old, who was essentially force-fed details about the crime until he regurgitated them back. It reminded me of the West Memphis 3 case, in which Jessie Misskelley was clearly also coached. When one of the investigators, after ages trying to get Dassey to say something about shooting the victim, Teresa Hallbach, finally cracks and feeds him the information that she actually had been shot… Awful. Brutal. It’s hard to believe that after watching that footage anyone would consider Dassey’s statement a legitimate confession.

But his own comically awful defense attorney did, and so did that attorney’s morals-free investigator, who coached Dassey into signing another confession by insisting multiple times that Dassey participated in Hallbach’s murder, even after Dassey’s multiple denials. The kid has no idea what the consequences of his actions might be, and not only does the system not care, it actively asks him to implicate himself. He thinks he’s heading to sixth period to turn in a project, and later he just wants to watch WrestleMania. His heartbroken mother knows, and listening to their phone conversations is gutting.

Access to all of that information makes Making A Murderer unlike any other documentary I’ve ever seen, save perhaps The Staircase, which I’ll be obliged to mention in every one of these reviews. We see Dassey being interviewed by the police, interacting with his lawyer, and speaking to his mom. How a judge could view some of that material and not allow Dassey to obtain new lawyers is shocking—another blatant, awful look at systematic injustice. (His lawyer was eventually replaced.)

Even if you believe that Dassey played some part in the killing, there is no part of what happened to him that seems even remotely just. Like his uncle 20 years before, he seems to be guilty until proven guilty, with no knowledgeable person available to present him with any type of defense. It’s repellent.

Concentrating on Dassey meant that these two episodes didn’t focus too much on Steven Avery, the “star” of this circus. In the beginning, we hear him threatening suicide, and later he clearly feels despondent after his fiancée is bullied into breaking up with him. Her facts aren’t entirely clear, though what is clear is that the filmmakers want to present her as evidence of a continuing campaign of police bias against Avery.


And then, of course, there’s the bombshell evidence found by Avery’s defense team at the end of episode four. Somebody—and likely nobody with good intentions—pretty clearly tampered with some old blood of Avery’s, which was still in evidence from the 1985 case. There are only two explanations here that make any sense to me: Either Avery killed Hallbach and the dirty-ass cops that put him away the first time around wanted to make sure he was convicted, or those same dirty-ass cops actually murdered an innocent woman and built a whole frame-up around Avery. The former seems much more likely: One of the cops even opines that it would’ve just been easier to murder Avery themselves than to build this elaborate frame up against him.

But with all the other incredulous shit happening in this case, who knows where the truth lies? Maybe it’ll be like The Staircase, where a completely bizarre third story actually makes the most sense after all is said and done. But more than likely, it seems like a likely innocent person—Dassey, I mean—will end up in jail. It’s compelling television, no doubt, but it might also make you sick.


Stray observations

  • What reasonable cop is going to believe that a woman’s throat was cut in a bedroom and that not a drop of blood was left behind? That’s just willful ignorance.
  • “Crucial bits of information came from the police first.” Chew on that sentence.
  • The idea that the car key had no DNA on it except Avery’s is pretty crazy, as is the notion that it was completely overlooked for several searches. Again, not saying Avery didn’t do it, but it sure seems fishy how some of this evidence is coming to light.
  • That said, there was a burnt corpse and the victim’s car on Avery’s property.
  • Then again, he did have a car crusher that he could’ve used to dispose of the evidence…
  • “Murder is hot, and we’re trying to beat out the other networks!”