‘Making a Murderer’ Season 2 Slipped Because Reality Ruins the Documentary, Even as It Makes Fiction Believable

This week's Very Good TV Podcast discusses how the cultural climate — and timing — can work for and against new TV shows.
Making a Murderer: Part 2
"Making a Murderer: Part 2"

This past weekend, viewers who flipped on Netflix to watch the much-anticipated sequel to “Making a Murderer” faced a few challenges. So many, in fact, anyone waiting to see what filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos cooked up for “Part 2” were likely to be disappointed no matter what. The hype for Season 2 worked against its story, news reports updating the case’s progress “spoiled” the ending, and, perhaps above all else, the pervasive feeling that none of this would make a difference in overturning Steven Avery’s conviction ruined any righteous anger.

This last point is telling, since it wasn’t a problem for the first season, and it’s hardly a problem for other shows. As discussed on this week’s Very Good TV Podcast (which you can listen to below), “Making a Murderer” Part 2 came out a few weeks after Brett Kavanaugh came to represent all that’s wrong with nominating a Supreme Court justice, in a year when human rights are being threatened, and during an administration hellbent on eradicating First Amendment protections. When it comes to the courts, there’s not a lot of room for optimism in 2018.

True-crime documentaries are often built on indignation, but they’re just as reliant on hope. “Making a Murderer” certainly was, as the 2015 episodes stoked the fire surrounding Avery’s case and captivated a nation frustrated by what they learned about the trial. The victim’s key just happened to surface in Steven’s trailer days after it was first searched? There was no blood on Avery property despite a grisly account of the murder? The same cops who vowed to get Avery after he was first released from prison were all over the new case?

Making a Murderer: Part 2
Scott Tadych, Brendan Dassey, and Barb Tadych in “Making a Murderer: Part 2”Netflix

All of these issues (and plenty more) were enraging to discover, and seemed impossible to logically refute. Something had to happen… but it didn’t. To see “Part 2” reexamine the same evidence to justify a new trial can be frustrating for the wrong reasons. That’s how the legal system works, but it doesn’t make for a thrilling 10-hour follow-up, and new details just don’t hold the same weight: There’s a back road that could’ve been used to place the victim’s car on Avery’s property! OK, but it never seemed like getting a car onto a car lot would be difficult. Steven couldn’t have burned the body on his property because the burn pit isn’t deep enough! OK, but who did burn the body and where did they do it? Bobby Dassey’s confession wasn’t legal! OK, no duh.

Hopelessness is hard enough to fight off in your day-to-day life, but spending 10 hours with a hype machine that doesn’t work is taxing. The best interpretation of “Making a Murderer” Part 2 is that it was made to keep Avery’s case in the zeitgeist, with the chance fan fervor could once again grease the wheels of justice. But watching “Part 2” was wearying. For one, there’s no smoking gun — or second, third, or fourth smoking gun, depending on your interpretation of Season 1’s evidence — but it’s also harder to believe the smoking gun would matter.

That same line of thinking can elevate other series. Take, for instance, the other big Netflix release last weekend: “Marvel’s Daredevil.” In its third season, the supervillain of the comic book franchise, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), is released from prison, beating the odds in court and becoming reinstated as a full-blown citizen. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the hero, is an attorney, so this kind of escape is doubly vexing (and appropriate). Now, “Daredevil” isn’t exactly based in reality, but in other years, it may have been difficult to believe someone like Fisk would ever be legally released from captivity. He’s done some very bad things, and the show’s writers wouldn’t want to stretch plausibility — there are other ways for him to get out.

But in 2018, that choice plays into viewers’ frustration with the legal system. If FBI investigations can be narrowed to the point of nullifying their findings, if the president can get away with tax fraud, if Steven Avery is still stuck in prison, then of course Wilson Fisk can walk out of Rikers and catch a boat to his Manhattan high-rise. It’s odd that reality can get in the way of an unscripted documentary and benefit a scripted superhero story, but here we are: It’s 2018, and the system feels a bit broken. Just remember to do what you can to fix it come November 6.

Also: Don’t forget to subscribe to Very Good TV Podcast, hosted by IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and featuring TV Critic Ben Travers, via Soundcloud or iTunes. Make sure to follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your TV news. Plus, check out IndieWire’s other podcastsScreen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast with Chris O’Falt, as well as Michael Schneider’s podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV each week.

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