A Few Thoughts on ‘Making a Murderer’

Spoiler alert: Um, there are a lot of them in this post. So if you haven’t watched the series yet, climb out from under your rock maybe don’t read this.


It’s the show that has swept the nation in recent weeks. And pretty much everyone with a Netflix account has weighed in on it, from journalist-types to Donnie Wahlberg (yes, that Donnie Wahlberg). The rough trajectory of general public viewership has been as follows:

  • Days after its release in mid-December: A few friends of friends see it. You hear about it here and there through word of mouth and social media. Sounds interesting.
  • 1-2 weeks post-release: Wow, this is really picking up steam. You need to watch it.
  • (Some span of 10 hours after this point): You have watched. You have seen. And WHAT IS THIS TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE?! You furiously Google to find out more behind the scenes information and alternative murder theories.
  • In the immediate hours/days to follow: You’ve read all the counterpoints and new statements from Ken Kratz and waffle between being angry at the filmmakers for their obvious one-sidedness and being angry at everyone else for believing Ken Kratz again.
  • Present day: Oh, you guys are just seeing ‘Making a Murderer’? It’s so passé. Let me tell you about why it sucks and also why these other obscure true crime stories are so much better.

In what has seemed to be the fastest-moving pop culture phenomenon the world (or at least I) have ever seen, ‘Making a Murderer’ has gone from It-Series to yesterday’s news in literally less than a month. But regardless of its current standing in the public eye, I’ve still found myself captivated – not just by the story itself, but by the reaction to it.

The series seemed to hit a nerve with the American public in a particular and peculiar way – in that it evinced rather forcefully in people the Primal Need to Be Right. At first this was demonstrated by the initial viewers’ responses and their calls for justice for Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. They were clearly framed! Free them! Free them! Start petitions! Alert the world!

And then of course, as viewership exploded critics of the series were fast to hop aboard the ‘what was left out’ train. The hood DNA! The phone calls! Biased filmmaking! Media lies! Don’t be like the rest of these sheeple – damn the man!

But then Dean Strang (that gifted, gifted god of a man) gives an interview or two, responds to Kratz and other critics, and then suddenly…well, maybe those omitted things WEREN’T such compelling points. But then again, maybe they were. And now all of us really just need someone to tell us what to think, because our brains hurt.

I guess my takeaway from all of this is kind of on board with what the filmmakers (regardless of what you think of their intent, bias, or whatever) have kept saying – in that truly, as interesting as the Avery and Dassey cases are, the bigger picture of ‘Making a Murderer’ is in examining the justice system and how it operates. Because frankly, we could probably write articles for days – and in fact, we have! – detailing everything we know about the cases, what evidence points to what outcome, and concluding from this whether Avery and Dassey are totally innocent, totally guilty, or some combination of the two.

But ultimately, can most of us determine this, to a reasonable degree of certainty? Probably not. Do at least one or possibly both of these guys deserve a new and impartial trial, where all of these questions can be more effectively hashed out? Possibly so. But more broadly – does the series highlight a wealth of serious reforms that we need to implement (or at a minimum, advocate for) within our criminal justice system? Most definitely. These are the issues upon which we have the most power, and upon which the public voice can potentially make the most difference.


But anyway. On to the Next Big Thing. Whenever that is.