Critically-acclaimed docuseries ‘Making a Murderer’ returned to Netflix recently after nearly three years away from our screens, and, with season two picking up where the first left off, the filmmakers certainly had their work cut out to keep pace with the hugely popular original series.
Over a decade in the making, the ten-episode first season of 'Making a Murderer' took the world by storm on its release in December 2015. Through a combination of court and interview footage, 'Making a Murderer' captivated its audience; documenting the investigation into the murder of Teresa Halbach, and the trials which saw Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey each handed life sentences for the killing. The prevailing theory set out by the series: that Avery and Dassey were framed by crooked law enforcement. Now, filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi return to Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, to document the last three years of twists and turns in one of the world’s most-publicised criminal cases.
Despite the enormity of its success, season one was criticised for leaning too far toward supporting Avery and Dassey; namely by omitting details of the case that may have made their claims of innocence look less substantiated. In season two, the filmmakers have jumped at the chance to address every fault found in the original series by way of a thorough re-examining of the entire case. Avery has bagged himself a new lawyer, and, as the series progresses, she dismantles the prosecution’s evidence piece-by-piece right before our eyes.
Avery’s post-conviction lawyer is the undeniable jewel in the second season’s crown. Kathleen Zellner has twenty previous exonerations under her belt, so instantly feels like a natural fit for the 'Making a Murderer' series. Billed as the best in her field, Zellner proves her worth at every turn. She may ooze glamour and style, but don’t let the acrylic nails fool you into thinking she’s afraid to get her hands dirty. As well as collecting and testing a range of significant new DNA evidence, some of Zellner’s investigation techniques include firing gunshots at Avery’s shed; breaking into his trailer with a crowbar, and, in one particularly bizarre scene, hurling a life-sized dummy into the back of a car. It’s these scenes that really make the series worth the watch – her approach to gathering evidence is a sharp contrast to that of Avery’s previous defence team.
This change is an interesting distinction between the first and second seasons. Part two introduces some unexpected criticism of Avery’s original lawyers, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting; the ‘heroes’ of the first season. As Steven’s defence team during his trial, the pair won the hearts of 'Making a Murderer' fans around the world. In fact, support for them was so vast that they went on a multinational speaking tour in 2017 – including a date at The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen – to continue the dialogue of the series. However, next to Zellner’s hands-on attitude, Strang and Buting just seemed a little too safe in their efforts to free Avery.
For all its merit, Making a Murderer isn’t without fault – its biggest flaw being the overarching impression that the filmmakers are trying too hard to push for sympathy for the Avery family. Part two has several long, painfully drawn-out scenes showing his mother’s increasing inability to move and remember things. Season two’s new evidence alone should be enough for the audience to make a decision on whether or not Avery is guilty. As serious as 'Making a Murderer' wants to be, it’s hard to ignore the filmmakers’ tendency to overcompensate.
Part one of 'Making a Murderer' took a long, ugly look at the failings of the US justice system. Although this year’s season feels more like a sensationalised entertainment piece than a serious vessel for scrutiny; that no longer matters. Viewers returning to 'Making a Murderer' already know about the shortcomings of the system. They only want to see one thing: justice; and part two firmly places itself on the road to delivering that.