When it premiered in December 2015, Making a Murderer was a pop-culture hit for two reasons: It coincided with peak interest in the true-crime genre, and its presence on Netflix enabled interested viewers to binge deep into a story that had many sobering Easter eggs of information. It was the story of the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach; two men who lived in Manitowoc County, Wis. — Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey — were arrested for the crime and convicted. Now, Netflix has unveiled Making a Murderer Part 2, 10 more episodes of investigation, and it proves among other things that there can be too much of a good grim thing.
Murderer 2 picks up the situation where we left off, with Avery and Dassey in jail, each protesting his innocence. Filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi decided that there were a lot of loose ends to be gathered up and reinspected. But it’s unlikely that they would have proceeded as full-throttle as they have had Avery not acquired a new defense lawyer, Kathleen Zellner. Zellner is the unquestioned star of Murderer 2, a flamboyant camera hog given to oracular pronouncements (“They’re gonna regret the day they planted the evidence!”) and blunt assessments (“It is one of the all-time stupid cases!”). With her theatrical appearance and dramatic intonations, Zellner is a filmmaker’s dream, and Demos and Ricciardi keep her front and center as much as possible. Which they must, since a great deal of Murderer 2 is a matter of going over the same ground.
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You may recall that Avery was convicted largely on the strength of a confession elicited from Dassey, a young man of limited intelligence who certainly seemed, from the footage we were shown of his police interrogation (and are shown again here), to have been gravely manipulated by the authorities. This, combined with a zealous prosecutor and a credulous jury, was enough to get both Avery and Dassey lengthy jail sentences.
The filmmakers spend a lot of time refreshing our memories and then following Zellner as she goes over everything again and again. Then she gets in a car, goes to the crime scene, and goes over everything again and again. There is an enormous amount of padding material, involving long, tedious phone calls from jail by Avery and Dassey to their parents. There are tedious minutes spent looking at old photos of the men as children, and discussions about what they’re eating while locked away. If this is an attempt to humanize the convicted men, I give up: Yes, yes, they’re all too human.
There is a briefly tantalizing subplot in which a woman suddenly enters Avery’s life: a legal secretary named Lynn Hartman strikes up a correspondence with him, and the next thing you know, they’re engaged, with Steven tremulously telling his mom, “I give her a big French kiss [and] everything feel good!” For her part, the awfully camera-savvy Hartman tells the filmmakers, “I knew that if there was going to be another season of the documentary that I was going to be in it as Steven’s girlfriend.” In other words, Hartman cast herself in this reality show, but her role plays out to a muted effect.
The slow pace of Murderer 2 suggests that the Netflix model of having about 10 episodes to fill out for a full season compels producers to stretch things unnecessarily. It’s fitfully interesting to see Zellner mount her new defense, but the fact that both Avery and Dassey are still in prison doesn’t exactly make you want to race through the series to witness a triumphant conclusion.
Making a Murderer Part 2 is streaming now on Netflix.
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