Co-created and executive produced
by Susannah Grant ’84
A young woman is attacked in her home by a masked intruder, who ties her up, gags her and assaults her for an extended period of time. When he finally leaves, she’s traumatized and desperate for help, but the police are dismissive and even hostile. Eventually, a pair of indomitable detectives track down the man responsible and bring him to justice. It sounds like an episode of Law & Order: SVU, but the Netflix miniseries Unbelievable, created by Susannah Grant ’84, along with novelists Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, uses a familiar template to tell a more compassionate story, placing the experience of the survivors of sexual assault on equal footing with the investigation process, and minimizing the presence of the perpetrator.
It’s also, like many Law & Order episodes, ripped from the headlines, based on a 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica/Marshall Project article that was later turned into a book and an episode of This American Life. Names have been changed and some details have been fictionalized, but the core of the story is true, as detectives in two different jurisdictions in Colorado realize that their rape investigations are focused on the same person. Soon they’ve come across a whole string of attacks, and they eventually coordinate a large-scale manhunt for a serial rapist attacking women across multiple states.
Two detectives coordinate a multi-state manhunt for a serial rapist.
One of those women is Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), and her story forms half of the series, which begins with an episode devoted entirely to the aftermath of her attack in Lynnwood, Wash., in 2008. While the detectives in Colorado (played by Merritt Wever and Toni Collette) are fiercely dedicated to finding their suspect and supporting his victims, cops in Lynnwood are confrontational with Marie, a troubled young woman who spent most of her childhood in foster care. They discount her claims as false and pressure her into saying she made them up. At the end of the opening episode, she’s standing on the edge of a bridge, contemplating suicide.