Though it doesn’t emphasize it in an explicit way, one of the enduring achievements of APM Reports’ “In the Dark” is how the show turns lost time into a tangible tragedy. When we talk about justice — especially in a storytelling era that’s elevated true crime’s place in the public consciousness — it’s often framed as something to be regained, something missing that can be made whole. What this podcast, now in the midst of a just-launched Season 2, does best is to show just how differently everyone’s conception of what’s been lost really is.
The first collection of episodes followed the abduction case of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, the start of a missing-persons investigation that remained unsolved for 27 years until a September 2016 court confession. Following the events surrounding Wetterling’s disappearance, “In the Dark” became far more than an isolated story. It was an indictment of local law enforcement shortsightedness, the technological limits of tracking open cases, and the media’s role in diluting search efforts.
Season 2 follows the spirit of looking beyond a central case, but instead of a mystery of “where,” the new episodes of “In the Dark” look at an instance of “how.” Curtis Flowers has been incarcerated for the past 22 years, the subject of a cycle of trials and appeals regarding his possible guilt for four deaths at a Mississippi furniture store in July 1996. Through a meticulous reexamination of everything put forth as evidence two decades ago, producer Madeleine Baran and the “In the Dark” team are looking at why Flowers still lives under the threat of the death penalty.
So many true crime podcasts are built around trying to find a single answer, the one explanation that ties together everything that the show’s put forward. What makes “In the Dark” such a fascinating, vital listen is how it undercuts that very idea. Rather than trying to collect all this evidence under a single banner, this season on the ongoing Mississippi case is going the other way. It’s dissecting the prosecution’s argument, piece by piece, looking for any jumps in logic or indisputable facts that could nudge things one way or the other.
That’s what makes Baran’s narration so effective. The show is filtered through her reporting perspective, as a handful of other popular podcasts in the genre are. But the connective tissue of “In the Dark” is the people she speaks with, rather than an over-reliance on her philosophizing about the nature of truth or guilt. Diving into a case built on witness testimony, Season 2 challenges what it means to have a single memory serve the basis of the argument to condemn a man to death.
There’s also something distinctive about both of these trials and cases unfolding in the 1990s. With just enough removal from the events themselves, it drives home the idea that justice is rarely a swift thing. For the Wetterling case, “In the Dark” highlighted how some initial slipups set the investigation back years. In the aftermath of a crime that might not have been preventable, “In the Dark” frames the mishandling events within law enforcement’s control as something equally worthy of attention. In Season 2, the successive trials and appeals in the Flower case show how there’s always a willingness to find closure, regardless of the cost. Time has a way of strengthening a human tendency to fit certain details within a convenient, pre-determined narrative, regardless of what an individual’s relationship to the case is.
Like any good investigative series, “In the Dark” truly reflects the full view of each city as these events unfold. There’s a sense that these are not out-of-town reporters coming in for a few days for a quick assessment. This is on-the-ground work that calls on a wide variety of individuals to help fill in every corner of these mysteries. There’s no standard form of interview: some of these happen in offices, others are more spontaneous results of canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors for answers.
It’s with that sense of specificity, in both Minnesota and in Mississippi, that the series can find something relevant for listeners across the country or even across the world. The end of Episode 8 of the first season is one of the most chilling final moments of any episode you’ll hear on any subject. While the whole show is a means for reconsidering how we view success in these types of cases or how we can assign collective blame to a single individual beyond any official judicial means, the ways that “In the Dark” can pull back its view on a wider scale makes stories like these more concrete.
In a time when the nature of objectivity in reporting is being questioned and reconsidered on a near daily basis, “In the Dark” has value because it considers the circumstances of everyone involved. Even though the show might not come to the same iron-clad conclusion that the father of one of the Mississippi victims does, “In the Dark” uses that perspective to try to figure out how a prolonged pursuit of justice, to find some sense of order in what might be a random killing, could lead an entire community to pursue one man’s death for more than 20 years.
“In the Dark” is also not a show built around obfuscation or secret surprises. When a development in the Wetterling case happened mere days before APM released the first season, Baran was upfront about it in the very first episode. There was no mystery about who was responsible for the crime, which allowed the show to shed the pretense that it needed to offer some new break in the case to be relevant. Anything that a news alert would be able to reveal, they didn’t go out of their way to try to hide. In a similar way, for Season 2, the show has been transparent about the fact that Flowers himself has not spoken to the team’s reporters. Despite their efforts, this is not the show that needs to save a grand cliffhanger for its final episode. Its value lies in everything that leads up to any final conclusion.
The ultimate goal of a show like this isn’t to have listeners crafting homemade evidence walls and trading theories on message boards. While shows that encourage that kind of engagement have their place, “In the Dark” offers an insight into not just what we know about crimes like these, but how we know it. It takes a shrewd storyteller to present a cohesive story about how hard (and in some cases, futile) it is to present a cohesive story. “In the Dark” may not have all the answers, but in many ways, that’s far better than a show that pretends that it does.
“In the Dark” is available to listen via American Public Media and all podcast players.