Making a Murderer: Part 2 created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos (Synthesis Films, Netflix)
Let’s Go Viral
I find viral content fascinating. Where most people get lured in to the immediate response-level phenomenon of viral content, the waves of viewing and sharing content, I am always thinking about the strategic creation of and the inner lives behind that viral content.
Most people found humor in the video Chewbacca Mom posted and hit share. I, on the other hand, see that video and wonder what her parenting style is like. Most importantly, what does she do when her children don’t want to eat their vegetables?
For the most part, a viral post comes and goes, the author of that content discovering 15 minutes of fame before fading back into the ether. We usually don’t get to see what happens after a surge in popularity. Does the content producer want to disappear from the limelight? Or, does he or she want to leverage newfound fame into new revenue streams?
Interestingly, Season 2 of Making a Murderer offers some insight into life after viral fame.
The season begins in early 2016, right after the release of Season 1 on Netflix. In fact, most of episode one details the onslaught of praise and criticism for all parties in the aftermath of the release.
Given the way the producers portray these events, many supporters of convicted murderer, Steven Avery, feel emboldened in their pursuit of justice. Likewise, the victim’s family, the Halbachs, continues to live through the pain of this devastating loss. Made clear in the list at the end of each episode, many of the Halbachs and their most vocal supporters want nothing to do with this docu-series.
Keeping in mind fame as the backdrop of all events on the screen, Season 2 accounts the post-conviction process for Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey.
Here, the season provides its most intrigue in the juxtaposition between the legal process in both cases.
For Brendan, his case rests in the hands of legal scholars at Northwestern University, the leaders in the Center on Wrongful Convictions. Leveraging the latest research and scholarship on voluntary false confessions, the lawyers take the case to higher and higher courts.
Through confessional interviews and recordings from court proceedings, the viewer sees the finer points of argumentation on this case. On one end, Brendan confessed to a murder. On the other, his intellectual capacity and the mendacious leading questions from the police pointed Brendan down a desired path he was happy to provide just to get back to class. Given the maddening swing of Brendan’s legal case over the past few years, it is fascinating to have a look at it from the inside.
For Steven Avery, his case rests on the prowess of his new attorney, Kathleen Zellner. For many, I would assume this side of the docu-series is most fascinating. Zellner puts on her best Reddit-conspiracy hat and does everything she can to tear holes into the case—all in an attempt to cast doubt on the conviction and reopen the case.
While anyone who saw the first season can point to a variety of flaws in the case, there’s a cognitive dissonance between the holes Zellner tears and the comprehensive case she tries to build to exonerate Avery. Zellner is bright and she makes some good arguments. She also takes liberties beyond what appears provable in the court of law. This season of Making a Murderer ends about 9 months ago and it’s been pretty quiet on the news about this case lately. Will Avery get a new trial? I guess we’ll have to see.
This case remains questionable. The established story upon which a conviction was made doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t mean Zellner’s narrative is the right one.
Either way, the most intriguing elements of Season 2 of Making a Murderer rest on the outcomes of a viral first season. The way people interact, the fans they’ve gained, and the notoriety the cases have shouldered since Season 1 make this case less of a personal interest story and more of a massive media sensation. In these moments, people change—and not always for the best.
Verdict: 3 out of 5