Netflix Making A Murderer: Narrative Deconstruction Part II

Jan 14, 2016

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imagesThe second half of the series plays out predominately, as Steven Avery’s defense team attempt to prove the Manitowoc County Sheriffs planted evidence at the crime scene. The filmmakers, Moria Demos and Laura Riccadi, consistently juxtapose the Avery family with various authoritative figures in Manitowoc Country to subtly show how class systems contribute to corruption in our communities. The B-roll footage shown of Manitowoc County and the Avery estate create a desolate backdrop for a tale about a man’s misfortune. In addition, the film editor (Demos) uses this additional footage to visually show how time passes and some things standstill, as the seasons change, but Avery’s salvage stays the same.   The Making A Murderer Netflix series surpasses its docu-series genre, because the narrative is meticulously constructed to tell an unprecedented case of injustice.  While watching the series I constantly keep comparing the show to two fictional crime series, Netflix’s Narcos and HBO’s The Wire. Now Narcos is a fictional retelling of America’s involvement in apprehending Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. The writers infuse their story with elements of magical realism as they boldly walk the line separating fact from fiction. Making A Murderer filmmakers take almost the opposite approach, as they are telling an unbelievable story through the use of actual footage and audio recordings. I also compare this show to HBO’s The Wire, because every episode begins with an opening thesis that is proven before the credits roll. Granted, The Wire is a fictional TV crime drama, but numerous critics have praised the show for its authenticity.  Demos and Riccadi may use common crime show tropes to construct this narrative, but everything we see still happened; maybe that’s the most unsettling thing of all.

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Testing the Evidence 1×06

“There is a substantial amount of physical evidence that now makes sense,” protests Ken Kratz after refusing to comment on any DNA evidence that supports Brendan Dassey’s disturbing confession. This press conference is held a day after Dassey’s arrest and a year before Steven Avery’s trial. Brendan’s confession prompts the crime investigators to re-search the Avery estate, specifically the garage. Avery’s defense team continues to refute the DNA evidence found four months after the initial search on the Avery property. There’s a significant difference between the Ken Kratz press conference footage found during the opening sequence and the scenes featuring the press questioning both the prosecution and defense teams after these court sessions. The opening sequence depicts Ken Kratz deceptively orchestrating the press to turn against the Avery family. In contrast to the media being used as the audience’s avatar during Steven Avery’s trial proceedings. They ask the same questions viewers have after Dean Strang and Jerry Buting discredits the prosecution’s DNA evidence and their Brendan Dassey story. “The evidence ain’t make no sense. If the state ain’t got to prove nothing then an innocent person always got to prove himself,” insists Steven Avery during a recorded phone interview. This episode illustrates how the burden of truth shifts from the prosecution to the defense team. An unsettling revelation as Dean Strang discusses the jury’s predisposition to believe that their police departments are “the good guys”, even though the evidence suggests the contrary in this scenario.

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“I want to emphasize that the investigation is being conducted by the Calumet County Sheriff’s department, the state of Wisconsin division of criminal investigation, and the FBI,” explains Sheriff Jerry Pagel during a press conference, insisting the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s department played a very limited role in the investigation. A statement that filmmakers, Demos and Riccadi, refute through their summary of Steven Avery’s framing defense. The cross-examination scenes reaffirm both the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department’s desire to convict Avery of this crime and the possible conspiracy underlying the entire murder investigation. The after trial press conference footage continues to draw a stark dichotomy between Avery’s defense team and the prosecution. There’s apparent denial in both Norm Gahn and Ken Kratz’s refusal to give credence to any possible conspiracy undermining their evidence. In comparison to the conviction, in both Dean Strang and Jerry Buting’s statements about arguing a framing defense on behalf of their client. The contrast between the two opposing sides further presents this case as a true underdog story. “The sentence will be life in prison if we lose count one,” explains Dean Strang to the Avery family. This final note in the episode reaffirms the stakes of the trial. Steven Avery already lost 18 years due to one wrongful conviction, now he face losing the rest of his life, unless the jury finds him not guilty on “count one.”

2015-07-09-1436476303-8308703-6The Great Burden 1×08

“In some ways to be the accused is to lose every time, what you can hope to get back is your liberty, eventually,” states Dean Strang during a recorded interview. This sentiment is seen after we observe Allen Avery talking about his and Steven’s plans for when he gets his freedom back, someday. The closing arguments footage from both sides is brilliantly edited together to reiterate both parties’ stance on the Teresa Halbach murder case. This eighth installment features more quiet moments with Steven Avery’s parents, as they await to hear the jury’s verdict. The stillness works in favor of the narrative structure as it escalates the dramatic tension. Steven Avery is found guilty, but the case is not over, as Brendan Dassey returns to the fold. “What about my statements and that… well they kept asking me all those questions and that… until they heard what they wanted.” This episode concludes with a cliffhanger as Brendan Dassey enters the courtroom for his trial. Again, Demos and Riccadi skillfully entice the viewers to continue watching how this case unfolds, even though Steven Avery has already been found guilty. They give us hope as Brendan Dassey’s lawyers have a motion passed for the jury to be from out of state. Then Demos and Riccadi raise the stakes, as Dean Strang reminds the Avery family (and the viewers) that this situation is more unfortunate for a seventeen year old boy, “who was never really given a chance at life.”

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“Well if they framed Steven Avery, the question is if Brendan’s case is a whole charade too… is the jury going to believe that he confessed to a murder that he never even committed,” speculates Jerry Buting during the opening sequence; meanwhile both courtroom footage from both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey play to visually draw the parallels between their misfortunes.  Brendan’s case is condensed into one episode in the series, as his peril is a direct consequence of the animosity between the state prosecutors and the Avery defense team formed during Steven’s trial. If the state prosecutors lose the Brendan Dassey case this would increase Steven Avery’s chance for an appeal.   There’s a lack of humility in the prosecution as they cross-examine both Brendan Dassey and Kayla Avery on the stand. The Avery cousins’ testimonies depict their vulnerability not only through their blood ties, but also as children. In turn their innocence is prayed upon and manipulated to service the prosecution’s needs. Brendan’s conversations over the phone with his mother continue to illicit sympathy as he continues to behave as a kicked puppy, whose hoping if he plays dead then they’ll leave him alone. “The forces that caused that… I don’t think are driven by malice, I think are expressions of ordinary human failings,” explains Dean Strang, “The consequences are what are so sad and awful.” This interview footage setups the final chapter in the Avery saga, as the fight is taken from the courtroom and placed back into everyday life. The Avery family continues to live in a community that has made a mockery of their name, while both Steven and Brendan continue to fight from inside a cage.

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Fighting for Their Lives 1×10

The final chapter in Steven Avery’s story begins as we return to his abandon trailer. There’s a hollowness felt as we are shown his bedroom, kitchen, a busted pipe causing water damage, and an old 2007 calendar still hanging on the wall. The empty trailer also depicts how Steven Avery is still frozen in time, even though everyone else has already moved on with their lives, he can’t. “We had a pretty good idea going into this prosecution, the kind of individual Mr. Avery was, we think that what Mr. Avery did to Ms. Halbach should speak volumes to the kind of person Mr. Avery is,” states Ken Kratz during a press conference following Steven Avery’s verdict, “That’s why I’m very happy, the citizens of Manitowoc County won’t need to worry about Mr. Avery being on their streets anymore.” Brendan Dassey’s post conviction lawyer team is predominately featured in this episode, as they argue that Len Kachinsky conspired with state prosecutor, Ken Kratz, against his own client. The most unsettling revelations come to fruition during Tom Fassbender’s testimony. Steve Drizin cross-examines Mr. Fassbender to prove that this investigator actively forced Brendan into his confession. Ultimately though both Brendan Dassey and Steven Avery’s verdicts are upheld in the court of law. Demos and Riccadi balance the hopelessness with small victories, as they end the series with Steven Avery being moved to a local prison. “They think I’ll stop working on it and it’ll be forgotten,” explains Steven Avery, as the camera pans over the Avery Salvage yard eight years after his verdict. There’s a striking difference between the yards from the footage shot back in 2005, as old cars are piled on top of one another. There’s a dramatic tone change in the score playing as we come across a car that almost looks like Teresa Halbach’s vehicle. Once, a key piece of physical evidence now lies buried and forgotten, as Mr. Avery says, “But I want the truth. I want my life, they keep on taking it… when you know you’re innocent you’ll keep on going.” The final sequence is a resounding plea from Steven Avery, for support in his pursuits to prove his own innocence.

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