Netflix’s Unbelievable is a Radical True Crime Must-Watch

Caroline L.JPG
October 1, 2019

Warning: this article contains themes of rape and sexual assault, and spoilers for the Netflix show, Unbelievable.


Unbelievable, a new Netflix limited series, is perhaps one of the best crime dramas in recent television history. The show is based on reporting by ProPublica and The Marshall Project about a series of rapes from 2008-2011 in Washington and Colorado. Unbelievable is a rare, fresh perspective concerned with the victims of rapes and how they are mistreated by a messy, inconsistent criminal justice system. 


The first episode takes us to Lynnwood, Washington, in 2008. Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever of Booksmart), a teenager who is living in an apartment complex for at-risk youth, tells local authorities that she was raped by a man who broke into her apartment while she was sleeping. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that the story about to be told is one of mistrust, disbelief, and mishandling of a very vulnerable situation—the same attitude towards rape that permeates the politically charged climate around women’s issues today. 


Marie is questioned over and over again by the police, who start to doubt her story after small inconsistencies arise, which only exist because of the trauma and pressure Marie has been subject to. The cops start to investigate, prompted by Marie’s former foster mom, who tells the police that she thinks something is “off” about Marie’s story. 


Beginning in the second episode, Unbelievable unfolds on two tracks. The narrative continues to trace the fallout of Marie’s accusation, but also shifts forward to 2011 in Colorado. Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) is working a rape case with similar details to that of Marie’s, although Duvall has no way of knowing that. 


Immediately, viewers can get behind Duvall because her handling of the rape is full of kindness and compassion for the victim. This attitude contrasts with that of the officer who dealt with Marie, and the starkly different storylines become a focal point for the rest of the series.


As additional rapes in her area take place, Duvall joins forces with Colorado detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette). Amidst the heavy subject matter of the show, one of the most sublime elements of Unbelievable is watching these two actresses, neither of whom are strangers to strong female roles, develop one of the strongest television bonds as they work together to find the man responsible. 


Merritt Wever and Toni Collette’s performances are outstandingly grounded, and the show does an incredible job of making their relationship fall under a genre greater than just “buddy cop.” Their own insecurities not only make them seem like actual human beings rather than groomed-for-the-screen, stock “good cops,” but take us back to the real matter at hand: a global issue of not believing survivors of rape and sexual assault. 


All I have to say is: unbelievable.