In hindsight, it seems incredible that the creators of Making A Murderer didn’t intend to become a part of the story they were telling, but filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos insist that their motivation was only ever to observe.
Their 2015 Netflix documentary became a global binge-watching obsession and suddenly there were campaigns, petitions and White House statements about the conviction of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey for the 2005 murder and sexual assault of Teresa Halbach.
So, when it came to making another season, the makers were forced to acknowledge their own role in real-life events. As Demos explains: “We never wanted to have an impact on the story. We’re trying to document the case as it’s unfolding. We know the stakes are incredibly high and we’re there as observers. But then the series comes out and, as we thought about documenting part two, it became very clear to us, returning to Manitowoc County, that the world that we were getting ready to point our cameras at was a new world. And we could not ignore that.”
The new series looks at the post-conviction process, as both Avery and Dassey pursue exoneration, and the biggest difference is the introduction of Avery’s extraordinary new lawyer Kathleen Zellner. With a record of having overturned more than 20 wrongful convictions, she is resolute in her belief both that her client is innocent of Halbach’s murder, and that she will be able to prove it – her words on billboards advertising the season state: “If he's guilty, I'll fail.”
In the opening episodes, we see Zellner buy the exact same model of 4x4 as Halbach, conduct experiments with real human blood and clamber across the Avery scrapyard as she tries to understand the crime scene. She is a gift for the filmmakers: “As storytellers, it’s just an incredible opportunity for us because she takes a very non-traditional approach,” says Ricciardi. “But we learned very early on that she represents her clients by doing. She wants to get out into the field.”
The spirit behind asking questions actually comes from a place of respect and a place of caring about Teresa and wanting to do justice for her as well
According to Ricciardi and Demos, Zellner had other offers to film her battle against Avery’s conviction – “People really were interested in taking the mantle and continuing our story,” says Ricciardi – but, ultimately, it was the original filmmakers who were granted access.
Having been previously accused of bias in Avery’s favour, Ricciardi and Demos want to make clear that, here, the cameras focus on the defence because that it where the action is. “What’s important to understand is that, in post-conviction, nothing is going to happen unless the defence does something. Just by default, they are the active character,” says Demos. “The prosecution doesn’t have to do anything. If no one does anything, Steven and Brendan will sit in their cells for the rest of their lives.”
Although they maintain that they approached the second series in the same way as they did the first, they certainly acknowledge some of the criticism they faced three years ago. The new series opens with a whirlwind of news footage covering the series and a protest on the steps of Manitowoc County courthouse. Evidence that prosecutor Ken Kratz subsequently claimed had been deliberately left out to bias viewers in favour of Avery are addressed early on, but Ricciardi explains that these elements simply didn’t make the cut last time, because they weren’t crucial to the state’s case: “We always believed that we were putting in what [Kratz] considered to be his most important evidence… there was a bit of rewriting history after part one came out.”
One of the main criticisms of season one was that which is levelled at almost all popular true crime: that it glorifies violence and obscures the victim. In the opening episode of their second season, Ricciardi and Demos include the statement from Teresa Halbach’s family that said: “Having just passed the 10-year anniversary of the death of our daughter and sister, Teresa, we are saddened to learn that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and to seek profit from our loss.” It is notable that, this time, Teresa is given much more screen time, partly because, although her family still declined to participate, a college friend agreed to an interview.
In answer to the possibility that another season might cause more pain for Halbach’s loved ones, Ricciardi says it wasn’t really an option not to follow up: “The alternative is just not to continue telling the story. There’s really no in between. We certainly feel for the Halbachs and we can’t imagine the pain they’ve endured as a result of losing someone so close to them. By all accounts, Teresa was just an incredible loving person.” Demos agrees, hoping that viewers will get a new perspective on events of the first series, on the evidence and on how and why Avery and Dassey were convicted.
Ultimately, she says: “I hope what maybe will become clearer in part two, to those who think there’s an inherent problem in documenting something like this, is that the spirit behind asking questions actually comes from a place of respect and a place of caring about Teresa and wanting to do justice for her as well.”
But what do they really think happened? It’s a question they have an answer ready for. “We are there to document what our subjects are doing but we’re not there to judge,” says Ricciardi. “We certainly don’t take a position on what they’re doing. We know Kathleen is on a quest and, you know, she might succeed, she might fail. But we, as storytellers, don’t feel like the results of her process determine the results of our process.
Making a Murder Part 2 launches globally on Netflix on 19 October