The Keepers created by Ryan White (Netflix, Film 45, Tripod Media)
Starring Gemma Hoskins, Abbie Schaub, Jean Hargadon Wehner, and Teresa Lancaster.
The experiments of Stanley Milgram will go down in history. The mid-century social scientist struck a nerve in society with his groundbreaking study titled, “Obedience.”
The study placed its subjects in a stressful situation. The subject received instruction stating he would act as a “teacher.” Milgram walked a “student” to a separate room where the “student” gets hooked to a shock generator. Unbeknownst to the “teacher,” the “student” is an actor and won’t be getting shocked.
As the “teacher” returns to the original room, Milgram places the him at an impressive looking instrument that looks like a shock generator. Following Milgram’s direction, the “teacher” tests the “student” and punishes the student for every wrong answer. This shock generator shows voltages from mild to deadly, and yet over 2/3rds or the subjects would “shock” their students all the way to the top of the board, long after the students had voiced complaints and even faked unconsciousness or possibly death.
Good People Doing Bad Things
Milgram designed this study with the hope of understanding how the Holocaust might have occurred. Surely the entire German population couldn’t receive a mass-murderer label; so then why would a majority of normal seeming Germans go along with this genocide?
The test results suggest authority offers a powerful drug. Even though most subjects in the experiment experienced intense levels of stress, they ultimately favored obedience over internal ethical principles. Oddly enough, given the stress placed on the subjects, this experiment is now considered unethical.
I mention this long discursus in a review of The Keepers, because it unlocks a powerful theme beneath the surface of Netflix’s latest true-Crimea docu-drama.
On it’s surface, The Keepers explores the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun and an English teacher at Archbishop Keough in Baltimore.
As the story goes, Sister Cathy left her apartment on a Friday night to buy her sister an engagement present and never returned home.
2 months later, hunters discovered her body in a remote area, cause of death: blunt-force trauma.
From the beginning, the disappearance and murder made no sense, and not many suspects emerged.
More than a Murder
The story, however, took a dramatic turn in the mid-nineties when a Jane Doe includes a fantastical story in her disposition on abuse from a priest at Archbishop Keough, Father Maskell.
Jane Doe suggests that Sister Cathy was aware of Father Maskell’s serial abuse at the high school. Even worse, she claims to remember the Father taking her to Sister Cathy’s body, a week after the disappearance, threatening that the same might happen to her if ever she speaks.
With that revelation, The Keepers shifts focus from the murder to the story of abuse within the Catholic Church and the institutional cover up conducted over decades.
An intense, depressing, and difficult-to-stomach series, The Keepers takes aim at the Church for its hypocrisy and its enablement of the priesthood that ruined the lives of parishioners at an exponential level.
While the details emerging from interview after interview are enough to make a rational agent cry, the leverage of authority to force obedience even against what we consider a norm is astounding.
Abuse of Authority
From the stories we hear, Father Maskell leveraged his position of spiritual authority to manipulate these girls into horrendous actions. With my faith background and my experiences as an adolescent, I can understand the desire to live correctly and to earn assurance of salvation. When a priest dangles those carrots for sexual favors, Milgram’s authority studies provide proof of how ruinous the results might become.
Unfortunately, the connections to Sister Cathy’s murder are tenuous at best, and require a high level of conspiracy thinking. The show doesn’t provide anything definitive in that area, even though the circumstances remain quite odd. But The Keepers targets the archdiocese with unwavering criticism. If only for that reason, The Keepers is worth watching.
Verdict: 4 out of 5