Here’s a little reminder that Making a Murderer isn’t going to let us forget: This case has been ongoing for over a decade. Brendan Dassey will live with this case for the rest of his life. Steven Avery will, too. Both the show itself and the lawyers involved in the cases want to stress this point. The show does it with guitar-laced montages. The lawyers do it by just saying it aloud. All of it is overwhelming, which is likely the goal of the filmmakers. We should be overwhelmed by this morass of a case.
The lawyers, meanwhile, have sharper edges right now. Season 2 has quickly become a sort of race between the two lawyer teams working on these cases, as seen in episodes 1 through 4. There’s Zellner and her associates (including Kingler, our sturdy young law clerk), and there’s the duo of Nirider and Drizin. The two teams are from separate schools of thought; Zellner is herself a celebrity, obsessed with image and success. Nirider and Drizin are Northwestern Academics, obsessed with the inner workings of the law. When she talks about the case, Nirider refers to her time as a “law student.” This case has changed her, she says. Zellner’s references are often to other cases she’s won. Zellner is the old hand here, an expert in her own right who doesn’t appear to love these chipper Chicago-based people.
First, the teams seemed like they were on the same side. Their cases were completely different — one is DNA-focused, the other is confession-focused — but they had the same goal. News regarding Zellner’s work has demonstrated this is no longer true. At least, Zellner is using the Tadychs, Brendan’s parents, in her lawsuit, accusing Barb Tadych specifically of lying to police to implicate Steven. In this episode, Zellner, who is going to fetch Barb Tadych, remarks that she doesn’t want to crowd “Northwestern,” seemingly referring to the Northwestern professors Nirider and Drizin. (In the same scene, Nirider is mentioned but doesn’t appear on screen.) The lawyers are working next to one another but never with each other. By the end of this season, they may be on separate sides of the case.
But both teams are experiencing some success, at least in this episode. Nirider and Drizen get their case to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Zellner gets her blood spatter expert to disprove yet another piece of DNA evidence.
The latter involves a lot of “recreation,” Zellner’s favorite hobby. In season 1, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting suggested that Steven’s blood had been taken from an old vial that served as evidence in the first murder case. (Steven’s first wrongful conviction.) Zellner tried to pursue this theory and failed, in part because the blood found in the Rav 4 is too old and in too little quantity. Her newer theory is in regards to the cut on Steven’s finger — the same cut that allegedly gushed blood onto the steering wheel. Steven says that he bled into his bathroom sink on the evening of November 3. When he returned to the trailer, his blood was gone, seemingly mopped up by someone meticulous. In order to prove that this was how Steven’s blood ended up in the Rav 4, Zellner dismantles Steven’s sink. It’s at this point the show enters Steven’s trailer, which seems frozen in time. This is in many ways more tragic than seeing Steven in prison. He left to go to prison, and his trailer stayed obediently still.
Later, Zellner consults blood pattern expert Stuart James (he’s now a recurring character) regarding the “flakes” of blood in the Rav 4’s carpet. She concludes that the flakes came from the sink. They were scraped from the porcelain of the sink and later deposited on the carpet.
“I still believe, if you just had a blood spatter expert...you know, I’ve won cases just on blood spatter,” Zellner says proudly. Regarding her most recent realization, she points out, “This was child’s play for Stuart James.” If only Strang and Buting had had Stuart James on their side — she adds that he might have cost, at maximum $20,000. Petty cash, really!
This goes to support “ineffective assistance of counsel,” a key part of Zellner’s post conviction efforts. Zellner is on her way, but she’s not in court yet.
Meanwhile, the state prevents Brendan from being released, touching on the news media as a whole in the process. As mentioned in the previous episode, Wisconsin AG Brad Schimel apparently filed an emergency motion to prevent Brendan from going home. In an interview with a news show, Schimel says he’s just trying to see the situation from the perspective of the Halbachs. Amid this reporting, the show takes a stance on news media, flitting between authentic moments with the Dassey family and glossy reports from news networks. At one point, Barb Tadych complains about the “news media” focusing on Brendan. Meanwhile, the news media anxiously awaits Brendan’s release, hoping for some juicy piece of news they can sell to their audience. The documentary is self-aggrandizing in this way, pointing out that it, unlike the news media, has the time and the patience to care about the nuances in this case.
“The State will keep on fighting and they’ll just show more stuff on TV,” Steven laments at one point. TV and the internet, thus far, have been labelled as the enemy.
In the race between the lawyering teams, Zellner is winning, at least in the narrative sense. Her story is more interesting because she’s actually trying to find a killer. After ruling out Josh Radandt in episode 4, she does a full examination of Teresa Halbach’s personal life, looking for a new suspect.
You know what’s great about Zellner? Well, there are many things. In this episode specifically, though, it’s that she’s organized as hell. To find a new suspect, she pulls up an Excel spreadsheet of all the alibis investigators collected back in 2006. A spreadsheet! One of her experts tells her that the alibis were collected incompetently. This is why we make Excel spreadsheets: to point out incompetencies! The prosecution notably didn’t pull an alibi for Ryan Hillegas, Teresa Halbach’s ex-boyfriend. He was never seen as a suspect, despite having an emotional connection to the victim. Because he wasn’t a suspect, Hillegas was allowed to search the Avery property. He could have planted the blood evidence. He could have planted the bones. (This was a popular Reddit theory after season 1's release.) There’s also the matter of Teresa Halbach’s broken tail light, which Zellner believes to be involved in the case.
This dancing around the truth is exhausting, at least for me as a viewer, and the goal, at this point, seems to be just “keep going.” By the end of the episode, Nirider is preparing for her time with the Seventh Circuit. Zellner is sneering in Hillegas’ direction. Both don’t seem tired just yet.
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