Sussanah Grant is the resounding voice behind, what I believe is Netflix best limited series, Unbelievable. As a director, writer and execnutive producer, her assured empathy envelopes the series. The show starts off as a gripping investigation drama with a twist of psychological suspense that keeps you intrigued and compels you to reserve an otherwise obvious empathy towards the main character. While you relish the psychological affect the first episode has on you, the obvious answer keeps eluding you.
A 16 year old girl calls the cops after the perpetrator leaves after assaulting her for hours. The police, her foster mother and the forensics damage her already tender soul and crush it into submission. Succumbing to the unwarranted insensitivity in the procedure of investigation, she withdraws her compliant, which creates a spiral of misfortune into which Marie’s life is thrusted. As we follow her into this spiral, we see a simultaneous narrative of two women Detectives investigating the case of multiple sexual assaults by a possible serial rapist.
These two detectives are played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever. Toni Collette plays Det. Rasmussen and Wever plays Karen Duvall. These two actresses bring astounding depth to their characters. The writing is superlative. The writers create two women with a life that is lived, experiences that are had and believes that are shattered. The most skillful execution of character development is to give out information about these people with minimal exposition but the brilliance of this show does not allow for any exposition whatsoever. There fears are known to us, we feel their guilt for the little to none family time they have and we understand their unflinching resolve to nab the criminal.
The insensitivity and prejudice shown by the cops and her foster parents in Marie’s story is juxtaposed with a thorough, emotionally precise investigation carried out by Rasmussen and Duvall. The evolving professional bond between the experienced Rasmussen and the relatively inexperienced Duvall makes for some deeply insightful moments, into their personalities and careers as Detectives and the indelible affects the job has had on them, over the years. The writing presents an opportunity to delve into the, often ignored, aspect of sensitivity and patience, with regard to the people in force. The intimidation, the guns and the physical power are replaced by a deeply personal, yet distant sense of emotional sensitivity among the two female detectives. This considerate approach of the female detectives is contrasted with that of a male detective whose insistent intimidation hampers the fragile will of the victim and causes an emotional and procedural ruckus. This conspicuous contrast in place, the writers do not intend to project the female detectives as better handlers of victims and the male detective to be devoid of sensitivity. To prove this point, we get a heart wrenching scene in which the Male detective who originally investigated Marie, comes back to her to apologise for his unreasonable behaviour. The show acknowledges the guilt and acceptance of the man. By doing this, the creators declare themselves as much superior to any other ordinary show that would have played the card of Gender politics. The show does not shy away from showing supportive husbands of these detectives, who put children to bed, attend to them when sick and cook at odd hours for the wife who is wholey consumed by the draining investigation and yet their support does not, willingly, extend to comprising with their own professional ethics when asked for a favour by the wife.
In the last couple of years, Toni Collette has had the best time of her long career with fantastic performances in Hereditary, Knives Out and now in Unbelievable, she hits it out of the park, as a hardened woman detective who is experienced enough to not be excited by inconsequential evidences but also vulnerable enough to have an outburst in a meeting about the stagnant investigation. It is, Merritt Wever, who makes the biggest impression with her deeply affecting portrayal of Det. Duvall whose voice has a mellow tone to it that reflects her personality. The way she chooses to make her character sound tells volumes about her life and her as a person.
The conversation between Toni Collete and Merritt about faith is extremely poignant and does not come across as pretentiously philosophical, like in many shows. The vulnerability of both these tough, well trained detectives is shown to us without a filter in an excellently written long conversation scene in a car. These long conversational scenes between the both etch out their characters beautifully. It is these parts of layered writing which elevate this series from just another investigation drama to a whole new level of riviting television.