Despite prominent billing, Toni Collette and Merritt Wever are both absent for the first hour-long episode of Unbelievable, Netflix’s latest limited series that centres itself around a serial rapist and the duo of hardened detectives that investigate. Instead, Kaitlyn Dever, as arguably the series’ most sympathetic character, earns our attention as Marie, a troubled teen who learns all too well the distrust against women that comes far too easily from men in positions of power.
An adaptation of a duo of investigative journalism pieces (An Unbelievable Story of Rape and Anatomy of Doubt) under the penmanship of Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, Party of Five), Unbelievable begins as something of an unraveling for Marie as she recounts, countless times, the hours-long assault she experienced in the early hours of the morning at the hands of a rapist, an unknown figure who claims that she is his first victim; director Lisa Cholodenko wisely only visualises the briefest of glimpses of the attack itself.
From the earliest stages of the investigation, Marie’s immediately a figure of suspicion for the officers on hand, Detectives Parker and Pruitt (Eric Lange and Bill Fagerbakke, respectively), who appear determined to more so poke holes in her story than to seek the truth; Marie being a former foster child who has been passed around the system for the better half of her life seems to automatically flag her reliability as questionable.
As Marie becomes more and more flustered recounting her story, Parker and Pruitt coerce an admittance of a false statement, spiraling Marie’s narrative and leading us as an audience to question, however momentarily, the validity of her memory. When Collette and Wever enter the frame – Collette as the hard-nosed Grace Rasmussen, Wever as the more softened Karen Duvall – Unbelievable adopts more of a thriller temperament, balancing the parallel plot strands of Marie’s life undoing itself off the back-end of her “faux” rape case in 2008 and Rasmussen and Duvall pooling their resources together (at first rather begrudgingly) in 2011 as they chase a rapist whose M.O mimics that of Marie’s attacker.
What could’ve easily been a standard crime show that romanticises the bond between the cat and the mouse, Unbelievable wisely puts the victims front and centre. It’s their pain that we feel, and we want nothing more than for them to be avenged and, unlike fellow Netflix streamer 13 Reasons Why, Unbelievable showcases no sapidity in highlighting a victim’s pain.
Whilst the “man do bad, women do good” generalisation seems like a mentality Unbelievable will adopt, the show avoids this type of bias point of view, as both Rasmussen and Duvall make their own mistakes in their attempts to narrow down the attacker’s identity and the male detectives so sure of Marie’s guilt aren’t painted in strict villainous strokes, just two men under blind spots believing they’re upholding the system. It’s a show where the only true depiction of evil is the man who has violated Marie, and for its 8-episode run this occasionally emotionally manipulative but consistently engaging drama stays true to the sensitivity of the case at its core whilst maintaining its entertainment value.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Unbelievable is available to stream on Netflix from September 13th.