Warning: This post contains details about the ending of Netflix’s Unbelievable.
So, you’ve reached the end of Unbelievable. Now, you know what’s really unbelievable (and infuriating, and upsetting) about this Netflix miniseries: Nearly every scene of this show is based on the facts laid out in the 2015 ProPublica article. These survivors are real. The rapist is real. And so is the police inaction that allowed him to get away with violently assaulting women for years.
Unbelievable is one TV show, told through two very different perspectives. In 2008 in Washington state, 18-year-old Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) deals with the trauma of being raped — and then not being believed by her friends, family, or law enforcement. Then, in 2011 in Colorado, two detectives, Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Karen Duvall (Meritt Wever) ruthlessly pursue a serial rapist who leaves little to no evidence.
In the final episode of Unbelievable, the two strands are woven together by the devastating revelation that Marie had been raped by the same man who preyed on the women in Grace and Karen’s jurisdictions. Had the Washington detectives followed up on Marie’s allegations with an investigation, they would have caught Chris McCarthy in 2008 and prevented so many crimes.
Do Grace and Karen catch the rapist?
Yes, thankfully. Before breaking the case, Grace and Karen go after a few dead ends. Grace pursues a cop with a violent history. Karen is suspicious about a college student with a history of questionable behavior at parties.
Eventually, the detectives compile enough disparate traces of DNA amid the different crime scenes to create a DNA sample. But the detectives eventually find “their guy” by tracking down records for a car parked near the crime scene. Then, there’s a twist: Chris McCarthy lives with his brother. Which of the two men is the perpetrator? Which has the egg-shaped mark on his leg that the women he assaulted described? The officers found the mark on Chris’ leg, as well as a camera with photos of victims and a cache of further evidence.
But Grace and Karen’s victory is undercut by McCarthy’s revelations. Marie was his first rape. He left behind ample DNA evidence in her bedroom. When he wasn’t caught after that, McCarthy tells police he thought, Hey, I can do this, and was emboldened to keep going. Using a police handbook about violent crime, McCarthy makes himself uncatchable.
What happens to Chris McCarthy?
McCarthy is arrested. He left behind a lot of evidence that the detectives cannot access without a password — and he refuses to give it to them. In Unbelievable, Chris is sentenced to 327 and a half years in prison, the maximum penalty.
The “real” Chris, a man named Marc O’Leary, is currently in prison.
What happens to Marie?
Marie doesn’t get her apology — well, not at first. Marie ends up receiving the $500 she’d paid in her the plea deal with the city. Then, she sues the city and settles for $150,000. Before leaving Washington, she confronts the detectives, demanding an apology. They destroyed her reputation and her sense of self. “When your one stupid mistake ruins another person's life, you apologize,” she says. The detective apologizes.
Then, she leaves in her car, packed up with all her belongings. We get the feeling she’s going to start anew.
At the very end, she connects with the two detectives who helped her from many states away. They restored her faith in goodness. Someone was out there, believing her story. “Hearing about you guys changed things completely,” she says. “I can imagine good things happening.”
For anyone who needs help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.