‘Unbelievable’ is a powerful story of justice and hope

The new Netflix miniseries shows a harrowing tale of sexual assault and the pursuit of justice.
Netflix series “Unbelievable”, starring Kaitlyn Dever and Toni Collette, was released on September 13, 2019. Courtesy of IMDb

This review contains spoilers for “Unbelievable.”

In the era of #MeToo, it is easy to focus on the overwhelming injustice that has plagued victims of sexual assault and harassment. Netflix’s new miniseries “Unbelievable” doesn’t let you get bogged down by injustice. It is, at its core, a tale of optimism and hope.

Based on a true story reported by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, “Unbelievable” follows two parallel stories. One is that of Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), an 18-year-old student in Washington state who is raped, and the other follows two Colorado detectives trying to catch the same rapist.

In the opening scenes, viewers are plunged into the aftermath of Marie’s rape. At first, she has to recount her story to just one police officer. She shares, with excruciating detail, how a man broke into her home, blindfolded her, tied her up and raped her repeatedly. Marie is shaky in her retelling but is supported by those around her.

It isn’t until the second, third and fourth retelling that things begin to change. In moments of confusion and vulnerability, Marie begins to change certain details of her story. She once said that she untied herself and then called for help, but then she begins to report that she dialed for help using her toes.

From the beginning, it is clear to viewers that Marie is telling the truth about her rape, but to the people around her, there is less certainty. The police are the first people to doubt her story, but eventually, her friends and previous foster moms do too. There is so much doubt surrounding her accounts that Marie ends up telling the police she made the whole thing up.

As Marie’s life begins to unravel, viewers are transported to the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, where detectives Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) realize there is a serial rapist on the loose in their area. In search of the rapist, the detectives interview multiple victims who have a variety of reactions to what’s happened to them.

At their core, detectives Rasmussen and Duvall are the antithesis of the detectives that Marie encounters. They are empathetic, hardworking and truly care about the victims they meet. Where Marie’s story can cause viewers to lose hope in the justice system, detectives Rasmussen and Duvall can revive that hope.

Eventually, detectives Rasmussen and Duvall catch the serial rapist who was on the loose in Colorado, and in turn, validate Marie’s story. For the first time, Marie is believed.

There are many things great about “Unbelievable.” The most obvious is the phenomenal acting of Collette, Wever and Dever, all who play their characters with raw and passionate energy. There is also the satisfaction that viewers get when Marie is finally believed and compensated for the sloppiness of the detectives who dealt with her case.

More important than all those factors, though, is the humanity of the show. While not every police officer viewers meet does their job correctly, the core team of detectives in the show are in the profession for the right reasons. They listen empathetically to the victims they encounter and treat them with the respect they deserve. Most importantly, they believe women.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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