Being believed is so instrumental to being accepted, being noticed, and being heard. With Unbelievable, Netflix’s limited series, it’s a matter of existing day to day. The show uses its eight episodes wisely to tackle the ramifications of the past and the methodical try, try again style of investigation work to dig deep emotionally and show the toll trauma can take.
The show begins with a young woman, Marie (Kaitlyn Dever), in the midst of her life turned upside down as her sexual assault and rape is questioned and picked apart by one set of detectives; in a separate case, two detectives (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) are brought together as a pattern of rapes are starting to send them down a singular path. Both narratives run alongside each other, showing the cost of not being believed while also showcasing the insurmountable work of taking down someone capable of this despicable act.
A theme that strongly takes hold is the obsession of the work, the drive of a mental ticking clock to find the bad guy and put him away. The tenacious, endless workload and the attempt to balance a life outside of it is tackled in a way that is rather fresh on television, where it’s not seen as a detriment but as a dedication to the victims and what it takes to do good work. It’s in complete juxtaposition to Marie’s life, where that same support can be nearly impossible to find, that clash speaking to the difficulties of moving on.
The different personalities and ideologies of both Grace (Collette) and Karen (Wever) make them an odd couple that Unbelievable smartly uses to form a wall of strength, each drawing off the other as, piece by piece, they attempt to find that needle in a haystack. The show is a reminder of the team effort involved, and how different methods can hinder while some can prove bountiful. The level of tact with one detective and the brutishness of another is one of the most jarring moments early on, the level of difference between two people doing the very same job becoming crystal clear.
It’s the kind of show with no excess; it’s all about the work and its victims, with the emotional toll it takes on suffering from assault and the toll it takes on investigating it in the spotlight.
The cast is a level of excellence that puts Unbelievable in serious awards consideration. Kaitlyn Dever brings so much pain and heartbreak to her performance as Marie, where every relationship has to be second guessed and torn apart as she struggles to move on, or at least live with, her trauma. It’s at times a quieter role, but it holds so much devastation through the quiet she endures.
Toni Collette’s Grace Rasmussen is the bigger role of the two lead detectives, a brash and particular personality that gives Collette a wealth to work with. She commands her scenes with a healthy amount of honesty and skepticism, where the result far outweighs the chase. She plays off Wever well, the difference between them complementing one another.
Merritt Wever finds so much power through the attentiveness and the level of care she places upon each and every piece of evidence, every victim’s well-being, every word on every document. Her performance as Karen Duvall is brimming with sensitivity and faith, where her soft voice and dedication make her, like Dever, a quiet force on the show.
Unbelievable never loses sight of its empathy, taking its quieter moments to show the battle of picking your life up when tragedy strikes, and how nothing will ever be the same again. Marie’s struggle is its most integral piece, as each heart-wrenching loss she faces becomes a mountain of injustice. But the limited series makes certain that injustice does find a voice, and it’s a powerful one.
It’s down in the work, good work, where something can be found. It may not be enough, but it may be something. Unbelievable is one of Netflix’s strongest releases of the year, and is a powerful statement of the human spirit.