In episode 4, Making a Murderer has cruelly — or perhaps stupidly — dangled a new suspect in front of viewers. A missing suspect has been a widening hole since the series first started. Without a new suspect, Steven's innocence seems less sure, despite Zellner's confidence. The new suspect is Josh Radant, and he's ultimately a dead end. Or, at least, the show isn't convinced that Radandt is involved. When pressed, he cooperates with Zellner. After a full episode of asking "did Radandt do it?" the show is forced to conclude that no, that hole is still wide open. The episode also dangles Brendan's innocence in front of us, which we first learned about in episode 3, playing the same game. Will he be released? He won't, but we have to endure the possibility that he might. That moment of hope is more painful than anything the case has offered thus far. In short: This episode has a lot to say, but it retracts information just as quickly as it offers it.
First, though, the show reckons with celebrity. This show is itself a celebrity, making the assorted characters into fame monsters themselves. Dolores Avery receives flowers on her birthday. Steven, who is happily engaged to his new girlfriend Lynn, is getting fan mail from women. They send him nude photos. A lot of the younger Averys, though, seem relatively well-adjusted. Kayla, the cousin from season 1 who helped convict Brendan Dassey, is driving Dolores to the jail and posting photos to social media for all her friends to see. Brittany LaFlash, another Avery cousin, seems relatively unaffected by it all. (“Tell Steven I say hi,” she says nonchalantly when Dolores heads to see him.)
And things are genuinely, truly looking positive. Before venturing into Radandt land, This episode focuses on Judge Duffin’s decision to overturn the conviction. In his 91-page decision, Duffin rendered Brendan’s conviction involuntary; he even apparently took a potshot at Len Kachinsky, the iron-jawed attorney who convinced Brendan to plead guilty. (Kachinsky, tight-lipped and Pixarish as ever, is convinced he did the right thing.)
Alas, Ken Kratz is back, too, bemoaning that Brendan's decision was overturned. Remember: He was the district attorney of Calumet County, but he resigned after sending “inappropriate” text messages with a domestic violence victim. He declined to participate in the series, but he did give interviews to a number of news outlets following the news about Brendan. He's no match for Zellner, either. Kratz represents the gruff, less generous air of the first season; season 1 was a careful look at people who didn't want attention. Zellner represents the gumption of season 2, and she's miles ahead of Kratz.
Seeing tweets on screen during a revered miniseries is disconcerting, but that’s how Zellner communicates. (The show airs her dispatches on the screen, as did a number of morning news shows.) She’s forceful, and she seems like the type of person who enjoys the thrill of virality. Plus, in this case, virality can only help Steven’s case. Finally, in mid 2016, Zellner did something beyond just tweet: She filed a motion for “new scientific testing.” Yet another thing to dangle in front of viewers with hope.
The flurry around the case is fun; Zellner’s driver compares her to Elvis as she tries to figure out an easy way to enter the courthouse. Demos’ and Ricciardi’s cameras have their lenses focused on the reporters’ cameras, demonstrating the attention paid to Steven’s case. (With all this action, it’s a wonder that their own cameras haven’t entered the frame yet.) One reporter records Zellner’s press conference on an iPhone, too, broadcasting to Facebook Live. My, how things have changed since 2016.
“We can just let the science tell us. No need to be speculating,” Zellner says, matter-of-fact. She has her experts on her side.
Meanwhile, Brendan’s case does the inevitable, falling flat before the landing. Wisconsin attorney general Brad Schimel filed an appeal against Judge Duffin’s decision. In a press release that the show doesn't detail, Schimel argued that Duffin's decision was itself coerced by investigators.
“The state knows that you’re innocent,” Brendan’s mother Barb spits. “They’re just fucking you.” In the previous episode, Barb revealed a new tattoo in honor of Brendan’s innocence. It’s on her thigh. After this brief moment of elation, Schimel successfully prevents Brendan from leaving prison.
After dwelling on Brendan, the episode reverts back to Steven, who is the more conflicting character in this tale. He’s less sympathetic; he’s not a teen, as Brendan was, and he’s harder to read. He’s also been dating actively — first, there was Sandy, and now there’s Lynn Hartman. Hartman started writing letters to Steven, eventually succumbing to his allure. Their relationship falters thanks to celebrity. Hartman, it appears, used Steven's celebrity for her own advantage.
Hartman is actually, interestingly, one of the few people who mentions Making a Murder itself on the show. Hartman, talking to the camera, says she intuited that she would be on the second season of the show. She saw the first and she knew that she would appear on Netflix years later.
Once again, Dr. Phil gets in the way of this relationship. Hartman goes on the show to chat about her relationship with Steven; afterward, she ends the relationship. Even worse, she claims that Steven’s reaction to the breakup has put her in fear for her life. (Yet another reason why Steven is more suspect than Brendan.) Another crushing disappointment in this case, which simply refuses to move forward.
Then, finally, there's Josh Radandt, the man that Zellner suspects actually killed Teresa. Radandt maintains that he didn’t do it. He doesn’t actually appear on camera, instead appearing in tiny glimpses from law clerk Kurt Kingler’s iPhone footage. (Clearly, the filmmakers weren’t allowed to accompany Zellner on this meeting.) Radandt is clear that he didn’t do it, but he helps Zellner with her case against the cops. He tells her that at the time he told the cops about the fire sighting, the cops seemingly wanted him to report a bigger fire than he actually saw. Moreover, the pelvic bones (Teresa’s bones) were found on Manitowoc County Quarry, not on Radandt's property. Radandt, a villain before this episode, now seems like a hapless individual who hopes not to stay involved in this case. At this point, most people involved in the case seem lost — except Kingler, that is, the single most confident law clerk I’ve seen on television.
“I guess the cops just thought Steven didn’t matter,” Zellner says, looking upset. She pledges to make them regret the day they gave up on Steven.
The question is, with the audience knowing that Steven is still in prison, when will we give up on Steven?
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