Making a Murderer: Part 2
Directors – Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos
Rating – 4/5
“She’s in it for the fame,” Steven Avery’s former partner warns him about his new girlfriend, described in the second season of Netflix’s Making a Murderer as ‘a statuesque blonde’. Avery has, since his conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2007, developed quite the reputation as a ladies man. And as someone who along with millions of others was gripped by the show three years ago, it is painful to watch him be played by people who are clearly hungry for their 15 minutes.
But the statuesque blonde isn’t the only new woman in Avery’s life in the second season of Making a Murderer. The other, and decidedly more significant addition to his close circle of confidantes is his new lawyer, Kathleen Zellner – for all intents and purposes the star of season 2. Introduced through a series of television clips revisiting some of her most resounding victories – Zellner specialises in overturning convictions – she comes across as more opportunistic than even the blonde.
Watch the trailer for Making a Murderer Part 2 here
There is an impersonal coldness to her – a far cry from the warm approachability of his previous lawyers, who had become overnight heroes after season 1. She always refers to him by his full name in interviews, and not ‘Steve’ or ‘Steven’ like everyone else. On his birthday, she asks him on the phone, “So, how old are you? Like, 54?”. She wastes no opportunity in jumping before the camera and in one surreal moment outside a courthouse, is happy to be compared to Elvis. But her worst, most ruthless contribution is to throw Steven’s previous lawyers under the bus and to turn the very close-knit Avery family against each other.
But regardless of her motivations – Steven had been writing to her for four years to take up his case, but she agreed only after the show came out – Zellner is undeniably good at her job. The entire second season lays bare the intricacies of the American legal system – all its provisions and shortcomings. Zellner methodically goes about collecting new evidence, systematically breaking down every argument made by the prosecution a decade ago, and finding new ways to help exonerate Steven. Watching her work, it is difficult to not be impressed. Her journey through the 10 new episodes is sort of like the one Oskar Schindler went through in Schindler’s List – what begins as a purely selfish, businesslike exercise turns into a genuinely driven mission. Although you can’t help but wonder if it’s Steven’s plight that is motivating her or her own personal bitterness at suffering one loss after another.
Steven Avery’s lawyer Kathleen Zellner in a still from Making a Murderer: Part 2.
For those of you who have even half-attentively followed this case in the news, you’d be aware of how the last couple of years have played out for Steven, and his co-accused, nephew Brendan Dassey. Since the second season’s primary source of suspense is the outcome of the multiple appeals and the gathering of new evidence, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to discuss that here.
Dassey’s lawyers, however, come across as quite genuine. His tragedy, as you might agree, is even more pronounced. Dassey was convicted of helping Steven murder Halbach through a confession he claimed was coerced. He was 16 then, with the IQ of someone much younger. His developmental challenges have perhaps helped him cope with life in prison, too. Ten years later, he still retains his inherent trust in other human beings, despite being wronged and betrayed so many times.
Brendan Dassey with his mother and stepfather in a still from Making a Murderer: Part 2.
Fans of the seminal Paradise Lost trilogy – itself about the wrongful conviction of three middle America teens – would notice the second season’s similarities to Paradise Lost 2: Revelations. Like that film, there is a lot of existential rumination in the new season of Making a Murderer, a lot of in-depth exploration of how deeply broken the American legal system is, and even a suggestion of alternate suspects.
In the latest season of her phenomenal podcast Serial, host Sarah Koenig embedded in a Cleveland courthouse for a year to investigate how the legal system works. In one case that she reported, a young woman had been repeatedly harassed at a bar. A few drinks down, she decided to confront the man, and mistakenly punched a cop who’d arrived on the scene to break the fight up. The cop knew that she hadn’t really meant to hit him, but he arrested her anyway. The young woman spent four days in prison, after which her court-appointed lawyer successfully got her off on a $5000 bond. At the end of the story, Koenig asked a pertinent question: is this an example of the system working or not working?
Steven Avery with his parents in a still from Making a Murderer: Part 2.
Who knows? At this point, both Steven and Brendan have spent a significant portion of their lives in prison – in fact, Steven has spent more time inside than out. Their perspectives on life have understandably changed. In one very distressing moment that indicates that maybe Brendan has resigned to the fact that he’s never getting out, he complains to his mother about the guards not distributing Gatorade, as they are mandated to during a heatwave.
For now, this is their reality. Their health has worsened, weight has been gained, hair has been lost, prosecutors have become witnesses, the rich have become richer, and yet Steven and Brendan remain in prison.
Perhaps several years later, when they’re released, we’d ask the same question Koenig did. Is their exoneration an example of the system working, or was their wrongful conviction an example of the system messing up?
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First Published: Oct 22, 2018 13:45 IST