‘Unbelievable’ is a critically acclaimed drama series that portrays a true story of the system failing women. The gritty scenescape, understated acting and methodical pacing give the series a documentary feel. This is fitting as the drama is based on the true story of Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), a young woman who was incorrectly charged for false rape reporting, and the series of rapes that followed. Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) and Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) join forces as equally vigilant detectives from separate departments. They meet only by chance: a meeting that is the crucial catalyst in solving the crimes.
This is fitting as the drama is based on the true story of Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), a young woman who was incorrectly charged for false rape reporting, and the series of rapes that followed. Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) and Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) join forces as equally vigilant detectives from separate departments. They meet only by chance: a meeting that is the crucial catalyst in solving the crimes.
Duvall and Rasmussen are only introduced in the second episode of the series. The first episode focuses on 18 year old Marie, who has been raped in her new apartment after leaving the foster care system. The bleak colours of the scenes don’t exactly make for spectacular cinematography but do add to the harrowing content of the series. Marie quickly undergoes invasive medical tests that are administered in a cold and clinical environment. She repeatedly recants her story but the detectives find inconsistencies within her tellings. Along with the clean crime scene and doubts expressed by Marie’s former foster mother, this leads the detectives to assume she is lying so they pressure her into telling the ‘truth’. In the interrogation the camera stifles Marie in close ups of her face and trembling knees.
There is a clunky transition between Marie’s story and the perspectives of the female officers years later, however the contrast between their approaches as detectives and that of Marie’s detective are apparent from the outset. Duvall is patient and empathetic when speaking to Amber, another one of the rapist’s victims, and, as a result, Amber is cooperative and open in her recanting of the assault. Wever’s understated acting means a glance or a sigh becomes immediately weighted.
Collette once more proves her versatility as an actor; donned in a leather jacket, she plays an experienced detective who Duvall has idolised from afar. Together, they are vigilant to the point of being unhealthily obsessed with the case, meaning their other obligations and relationships fall to the wayside.
The series does not need to rely on cliff hangers or other dramatic effects that are often abundant in crime dramas; instead, It unfolds in a methodical manner that works surprisingly well. Initially, it seems that the series might be a mystery regarding whether Marie has told the truth but it becomes evident through flashbacks of the rape that she is being entirely honest. It depicts how by mistakenly charging Marie with false rape reporting they allowed a rapist to rape other women, with this unfortunately occuring in the real life story also. The detectives who charge Marie are not painted as unjust characters and at times it is easy for the viewer to see why they would believe Marie is lying. Rather, the blame is on the system’s propensity to victim blaming and skepticism towards believing women. This is particularly evident in the scene where Marie’s former foster mother states that Marie’s history of being abused “makes for a very complicated young woman” with the implication being that this is partly why she has doubts about Marie’s statement.
Ultimately, the series highlights the need for detectives to deal sensitively with rape victims and understand the nuances of their experiences.