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Netflix Drops a Painful and Powerful Drama with 'Unbelievable'
September 13, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 3 comments

Don’t stop watching Unbelievable after the first episode, even though all you can feel at that point is depressed. 

Unbelievable, which premieres Friday on Netflix, runs eight episodes, and while it never becomes a comedy, hints of light eventually poke through a very dark sky.  

Unbelievable revolves around Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever, top), who was dealt a miserable hand and for most of her 18 years has been trying to parlay that into a decent life.  

She spent most of those years being kicked around from one foster home to another, thanks in part to some acting-out issues that are revealed only a hint at a time. 

She now lives in a supervised apartment and works at a retail store. She has a phone, she had a boyfriend with whom she still speaks, and she has a sense of what she wants and doesn’t want. 

Then one morning she calls one of her former foster mothers, with whom she seems to be on good terms, and says she has been raped. 

A man slipped into her room around 4 a.m., she says, through an unlocked sliding patio door. He tied her up and assaulted her. 

When we meet her, she’s sitting on the floor under a blanket, looking traumatized. A cop arrives to take her story while other cops walk through the room gathering evidence. 

It all seems like standard procedure, which is how it’s described when a detective soon shows up and asks Marie to tell him the same story she just told the cop. 

After that she goes to the hospital for photos and tests, which seem intrusive albeit forensically necessary.  

She tells her story in the apartment complex’s group therapy session, and she seems to be climbing back into her life when the detective and his partner call and tell her they need to hear the details one more time.  

What’s happening, we realize, is that some people she trusted as friends aren’t really helping her – and to cut to the punch line, the detective and his partner decide Marie is lying, that she made the whole thing up to get attention. 

The scenes in which they tell her they now think she’s a liar are brutal – not because of any physical abuse, but because they make it chillingly clear how a couple of male law enforcement officers can intimidate a young woman. 

They aren’t trying to be bullies. From Marie’s perspective that doesn’t matter, particularly since by this time she feels completely alone. She’s outgunned and no one seems to have her back.  

So that’s the setup. Dever, who was superb recently in the film Booksmart, scores again here. We get a visceral sense of Marie’s vulnerability, both in life and in this situation, yet it’s clear she’s more than a victim. Like a lot of teenagers, she may not have figured out yet just who she is, but she knows she’s somebody. 

Enter, then, detectives Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette, left) and Karen Duvall (Merrit Wever, left). They set out to unravel the threads that have now entwined themselves around the case, and in the process find they’re really sorting out Marie’s life. 

One obvious central point here can’t be overlooked: that sending a bunch of men to work with a young woman in a sexual assault case may not be the best idea and may not provide the best chance for a just outcome. 

Unbelievable has more than that to say, though, and the three lead female characters chop out a path that, like their case, is hard not to keep following. 

At a time when we’re debating, and in some instances reassessing, how we pursue justice in real-life sexual assault cases, Unbelievable chimes in with a thoughtful voice. 

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Whoa! What a powerful series. Being a survivor or teen sexual assault I found this series to be cathartic. It also portrays what it's really like to be a detective and how often it involves doing very detailed and often tedious work. But the payoff is more than worth it. Excellent character studies for both the detectives and the survivors.
Sep 18, 2019   |  Reply
Deborah Wood
Danielle MacDonald, star of Patticake, also deserves a shoutout for her portrayal of the second victim in this series. The whole cast is outstanding.
Sep 14, 2019   |  Reply
I hate this use of the word “drops”. In this case it means “releases” but when I first read the headline I thought it meant “cancels”. Why can't you just say "releases"?
Sep 13, 2019   |  Reply
Linda Donovan
It's an industry term, but you make a great point, James. We'll be more aware of it in the future. Thanks for your comment!
Sep 13, 2019
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