How does someone become a killer? That’s the question implicit in the title of Netflix’s Making a Murderer and a central theme that weaves its way through each episode. Was the grisly murder of Teresa Halbach set in motion with Steven Avery’s wrongful conviction, or was he framed?
It’s hard to say. In episodes two, three, and four of the series, Avery and his family veer between seeming guilty and innocent — and similarly, the law-enforcement agents investigating him also ping-pong in the viewer’s eyes between good and evil. Warning: some spoilers ahead.
In many ways, watching the early episodes of the show, it’s natural and easy to side with the police. Eighteen years in prison is enough time to turn anyone violent. What’s more, there’s a lot of evidence to support Avery’s guilt.
But despite damning evidence provided by the police, you still find yourself siding with Avery. Case in point is during the second episode, which shows scenes of sheriff’s department officers testifying during the civil case. Dressed in suits and ties, they look as professional as can be — and yet all of them are squirming in their seats as they are taken to task for a series of remarkably unprofessional decisions and mistakes.
That’s why, when Avery explains in ep. 3 that the law doesn’t care about the truth, many viewers will agree. There’s even a recording of the sheriff’s department as they turn over Avery’s house. Someone laughs spitefully as she reads a letter inviting Avery to a luncheon with the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “I don’t think he’s going to be able to make it,” the person jokes.
That feeling intensifies in eps. 3 and 4, when you see conflicting evidence and a confession from Brendan Dassey, Avery’s nephew. Brendan in particular always seems to be controlled by powers both greater and smarter than him, from his mother to the larger legal systems at play — and possibly even Avery, too.
Was Avery framed? Sure, his blood was found in the car, but was it put there by someone else? And why did Teresa Halbach’s key only have Avery’s DNA on it? What about Brendan? Was his confession coerced? How about the roles played by police officers James Lenk and Kenneth Petersen? And then there is the question that underpins the whole series: If Avery never had gone to prison, would Teresa still be alive?
It’s time for you to weigh in. For the next two weeks, this Making a Murderer discussion club will break down each episode and provide a space for you to debate and offer theories about the show and the case. You can watch the full series on Netflix or get a taste by screening the first episode and trailer.
Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer at Studio@Gawker. She tweets here.