Unbelievable tells the true story of Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), a rape victim, and the two detectives (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) who work to capture a rapist three years later. The creative team, Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, have elected to tell the stories of Marie and the two detectives pursuing the rapist in a series of alternating segments, building suspense throughout the eight-episode limited series as the audience waits for the two stories to merge.
The series highlights how the attitude of the law enforcement personnel working on a rape case can make a vast difference in the life of the victim. The initial assault scene is shown in brief, partially blacked out flashbacks while Marie is asked to repeatedly tell the story of what happened to her. These images help to reinforce the first accounts of the rape for the audience. As Marie is forced to repeat the story, again and again, she becomes more and more confused and contradictory in her retellings. With Marie’s limited support group, some inconsistencies in her story and the badgering nature of the investigators toward her, she ends up being charged with lying about being raped. After having suffered a brutal attack, the charges cause even more terrible consequences in her life.
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Meanwhile, we are introduced to Detective Karen Duvall (Wever). She is working on a similar case, several states away and three years later. She is capable, sympathetic and strong, and her supportive attitude toward the victims is vastly different than what we saw in Marie’s case. Duvall is the mother of two young girls, has strong religious beliefs and is amazingly tenacious in searching for the serial rapist she feels she has identified. She enlists the support of Detective Grace Rasmussen (Collette) from a neighboring jurisdiction, and the two detectives set out to find and arrest the man who has become expert at evading detection and capture.
Because of the subject matter, Unbelievable can be difficult to watch. Those who have been raped have to work through the trauma in the aftermath of the violation, and should be treated with sensitivity. This powerful message is intrinsic to the story, making it difficult to argue with this evidence that not all victims of sexual assault are taken seriously.