In 2005, 25-year-old Teresa Halbach was murdered, and the question of who killed her remains under public, legal and televised scrutiny. Strange, isn’t it, to discuss Netflix’s true crime sensation Making A Murderer without first mentioning Steven Avery or Brendan Dassey, the two men currently serving life sentences for the crime?
Pop the name "Teresa Halbach" into Google, and you’ll find more results about Avery’s life and tenuous Reddit conspiracy theories about his prosecution than anything about the young woman herself. Despite the lure and popularity of the 10-episode docuseries, this is a bit of a problem and means that the next installment, Making A Murderer Part 2, has a lot to answer for.
Alongside the whirlwind of praise and fandom that erupted in late 2015/early 2016 when the first season landed on the streaming service, Making A Murderer earned a few fair criticisms, one of the most prominent being the issue of perspective. Many felt that the series leaned heavily in favor of Avery’s innocence and the mistreatment of then-16-year-old Dassey, who is understood to have learning difficulties. We delved so deeply into their lives, their backgrounds, the trial, and their eventual (and still current) imprisonment, that Teresa’s story was all too effectively sidelined. She was no longer the show’s victim, but rather the subplot of a narrative about two men who may or may not have killed her.
It’s a refrain with which we’re all too familiar, and society continues to be fascinated by: A woman is killed, sexually abused, or goes missing, and her absence is the catapult for a (supposedly) cinematically richer story about the men subsequently affected by (or to blame for) the tragedy. This perspective will probably give you déjà vu, particularly if you’re familiar with the concept of "fridging", a trope popularized by comic books that would use the death, disappearance or literal instance of putting a woman in a fridge as a plot device to allow the male character reason for triumph, empathy and eventually, justice. But it’s a circumstance that is too regularly echoed in real life as well as fiction. The momentous success of Making A Murderer – which prompted hundreds of thousands to sign petitions for Avery's release, and saw people protest with "Justice for Avery" banners and MaM merch pop up on Etsy – and its imminent revival further puts the use of women’s real-life trauma as entertainment in a really shady area.
I don’t doubt that this was far from the intention of filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. They did invite Teresa’s family to be included in both seasons of the documentary, which they understandably declined. But insight into Teresa’s life, let alone the other side of the legal battle that prosecutors have since claimed was missing from Part One, is what feels troubling in a climate that often trivializes young women’s trauma to take a grittier onscreen view of the male psyche.
The focus of season 2 of Making A Murderer is very much the American criminal justice system. To say it was exposed as wildly flawed in the first series is perhaps an understatement, but this time around, the audience's attention is directed towards the post-conviction process, which a worldwide audience has followed closely in real life in the three years since Making A Murderer first landed.
"Building on Part One, which documented the experience of the accused, in Part 2, we have chronicled the experience of the convicted and imprisoned, two men each serving life sentences for crimes they maintain they did not commit," Ricciardi and Demos said in a statement. The filmmakers have expressed in interviews that their aim was to start a dialogue about the justice system in the U.S. – which is most definitely what they managed to do – but where is that conversation heading now that we’ve got another 10-episode binge account of two men’s lives? The answer, sadly, isn’t towards Teresa Halbach.
In Part 2 we’re introduced to a new powerhouse defense team. Private post-conviction attorney Kathleen Zellner becomes the public face of the Avery case. Her career history is certainly an impressive one; she’s successfully overturned 17 convictions ,and every one of her clients has walked free. Notably, it wasn’t until after the first season of Making A Murderer was released and hungrily absorbed by an international audience that Zellner decided to take the case. The quest is for justice, but it's primarily told from the perspective of justice for Avery – a perspective that grates a bit when we consider the ongoing heartache experienced by Halbach's family and friends, which isn't anywhere near as well-covered in the documentary or our public conversations about the case.
In Part 2, we're briefly introduced to one of Teresa's university friends, whose words speak to the heartache that we'll likely never fully understand through the lens of Making A Murderer. "Do we want the right person convicted? Yeah, but that’s secondary," he says. "Teresa’s gone, and there’s nothing we can do about that."
Making a Murderer Part 2 is now on Netflix.