Unbelievable the quiet power of Netflixs fact based rape drama Television and radio The Guard


Unbelievable the quiet power of Netflixs fact based rape drama Television and radio The Guard The series, focused on two rape investigations one gone awry, one dogged and empathetic shows the refreshing power of depicting hard, sensitive work The series, focused on two rape investigations one gone awry, one dogged and empathetic shows the refreshing power of depicting hard, sensitive work In the second episode of the drama series Unbelievable, detective Karen Duvall, played by Merritt Wever, conducts what I imagine could be a high budget training video for sexual assault investigators. Duvall finds the victim, a college student named Amber, processing in the stairwell of her apartment building in Golden, Colorado, one morning in 2011. Duvall already knows the outline of the crime – breaking and entering, a rape that lasted for hours – but she starts at the beginning, smoothly guiding Amber through an interview step by step, checking her comfort level with each question. Her voice is disarming and pillowy, couching sentences with if its all right with you, if youre comfortable and take your time. Yet she builds a case, detail by detail. When she visits Amber at the hospital after her physical exam, she requests the nurse on duty to ask her if she wants me to come in, but make it clear that if she doesnt, thats absolutely fine. Then she immediately calls the station to block off conference room three for her investigation. In other words: she does good work. The whole episode is a portrait in how things should be – how serious sexual assault cases should be taken, how crucial it is to listen to victims, how memory lapses and scattered details should be considered part and parcel of trauma memory, not a strike against it. It just so happens in this case, what should be is also what was – the episode, written by Susannah Grant, the series co creator with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, is based on the true story outlined in a 2015 article by T Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong co published by ProPublica and the Marshall Project. Karen Duvall is inspired by the real detective Stacy Galbraith, also of Golden, who said in the article that her one rule of investigations is to listen and verify. In the show, as in real life, Duvall/Galbraith and the detective Grace Rasmussen based on the real Edna Hendershot of neighboring Westminster, Colorado, partner up to pursue what they soon realize is a serial rapist evading justice, in part, by exploiting the polices lack of communication between departments, especially on cold rape cases. Their process is diligent – late nights, meticulous lists of all cars captured in one recovered security video, data sets on data sets – and crackling, in the way watching two people consistently level each other up can be; inspiring, in their empathy and doggedness; refreshing, in a way more visceral than intellectual – it holds my frustratingly short attention span, without draining it. This part of the show transcends so called as in, the thrill of watching talented, smart people work together to solve problems in part because it acts as the corrective to its other, far more brutal half. Duvall and Rasmussen arent even introduced until the second episode; the first belongs to Marie Adler Kaitlyn Dever , an 18 year old on the brink of self sufficiency after a string of foster homes when she calls 911 in Lynwood, Washington, in August 2008. She reports an hours long rape by a masked stranger, but the police take the opposite tack than Duvall. They elevate minor inconsistencies in Maries story into major discrepancies, play her precarious housing situation as leverage, corner her – both in practice and Lisa Cholodenkos camera – into vertiginous doubt. She fearfully recants, and is charged with false reporting. Maries report and its aftermath splices Duvall and Rasmussens investigation of eerily similar rapes three years later, though neither know it. The stories are two sides of the same coin – on one, the system failing; on the other, the system working – and listening – as it should. It illustrates two truths at the same time: law enforcement fails victims routinely, banally, devastatingly; there are also good actors who do the work. Unbelievable balances the two without veering into the salacious or exploitative – the assaults cast in brief memory flashes rather than scenes – or outrage inducing. Theres certainly a place for outrage – , a documentary about the Steubenville, Ohio, high school gang rape from a year after the events in Unbelievable, and Chanel Millers upcoming book , on the , remind us that there are shockingly few consequences for assailants deemed promising or when a shard of doubt on the victims credibility can paint an assault as grey area. But Unbelievable doesnt focus on opposition, on uncovering incompetence or bad attitudes in law enforcement or the community. It takes as a given what most of its likely audience already knows: that these obstacles exist, that they must be known and considered, that the conversation moving forward starts from here. Instead, the focus is on getting the job done – in this case, finding and locking up the serial rapist, giving the victims space and recognition to heal, unwittingly correcting the devastating mistake on Maries record three years before. Perhaps Unbelievable works, too, as a corrective on old detective story tropes. Im usually drawn to the self sabotaging or self negating – Amy Adams careening through a vodka soaked and glaringly in Sharp Objects, or the melancholic True Detectives. I enjoy the quick hits of resolution in episodic procedurals such as Law Order SVU, in which the victims usually have crazy backstories and, at most, a few scenes in an episode or two. But theres something refreshing about seeing two women do their job free of dramatic embellishment – tackle their case and then go home to their families, to complicated yet stable marriages. It helps that Unbelievable boasts a next level cast given several episodes to grow. If Dever didnt already arrive with her scene stealing turn in Booksmart, then shes here now as Marie. Wever can convey more feeling with a head tilt and a hmm than many could do with a whole monologue. And Collette fills Rasmussens steely, guys gal shell with a visceral sense of responsibility and faith in her work. Maybe its that disciplined responsibility that floored me, that made Unbelievable so watchable, despite its grim subject. The unveiling of MeToo stories the past few years have pummeled me, taught me to mostly doubt justice, to sometimes value trauma as the most publicly interesting and formative thing about women; given this, to see two female detectives do their work well, grind on the job and struggle with the usual work/life balance confounds expectations. Listen. Verify. Back at the hospital in Colorado, Duvall reassures: You dont need to explain any of your decisions to me, she says when Amber tries to justify why she hasnt called anyone – a concern clearly rooted in the knowledge that reporting sexual assault and harassment almost always means reporting on your credibility, too. Later, Duvall walks Amber to a friends apartment, gives her number, says shell be in touch. She lingers a moment at the closed door, pondering, soaking it in. Then she gets back to work. Unbelievable is streaming now on Netflix

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