I can't stop thinking about what happened to Brendan Dassey. The way the justice system treated Brendan Dassey. Everything else about the show and the case could and maybe will be debated until the end of time (have you seen the subreddit?). But Brendan Dassey's "confession"? The Brendan Dassey trial? Brendan Dassey's court-appointed lawyer? Brendan Dassey's lawyer's investigator? Brendan Dassey's mom? Brendan Dassey's face as he's being led around in prison clothes?
How is it possible to watch the show and not be enraged beyond words by what happens to Brendan Dassey? Don't read on if you haven't watched the whole series. And if you haven't watched the whole series, well, cancel your plans tonight and watch the whole series, okay? Then you can come back and read the rest of this post.
Spoilers galore below.
• It's important to debate how the filmmakers framed the storytelling, what evidence they left out or kept in, whether the decisions they made were fair, whether we're getting a distorted view of the evidence that put Steven Avery away for life—those are exactly the dilemmas and discussions that make the series worthwhile. But is there anyone on the planet who thinks Brendan Dassey had anything to do with Teresa Halbach's death? I feel a deep, unmistakeable shudder in the center of my soul over the injustice of that kid is still sitting in prison for being coerced by cops and lawyers to say things that weren't true.
• Oh yeah, there's at least one person who believes the fantasy that Brendan was involved with Halbach's death. How could I forget? Deep-friend ball of toxic smugness Ken Kratz just granted an interview to Maxim (because of course he did) and he told them, with an apparently straight face: "I believe that Brendan Dassey raped her and participated in the murder and helped dispose of the body. I also believe that without Steven, Brendan would not have murdered her... It’s so incredibly sad, not so much in my opinion that [Dassey] did it, but that his uncle made him do it; made him cut her throat."
• I can't believe Kratz is still on that "cut her throat" tip. It's just so clearly false, given the source of the information but also given the state of the mattress and the floor and the walls; plus, how many different ways is Kratz going to get to say she died? Let's see, we're told she's shot, we're told she's burned, we're told she's raped, we're told she's mutilated, and we're told she got her throat slit. Given what's revealed about Kratz in episode ten, uh, let's just say Kratz has a highly developed and deeply creepy relationship with fantasy and storytelling.
• In a series haunted by toxic, pleased-with-power, justice system know-it-alls, Ken Kratz takes the cake, but Len Kachinsky, Brendan's first court-appointed lawyer, is a close second. What an oily pipsqueak he is; remember when he tells us, early on, that the whole reason he's working as a court-appointed lawyer is that he "just came in third in a primary for circuit judge here in Winnebago County"? Oof. There's nothing quite so desperate as a failed politician. But the cruelest aspect of his conduct was how uninterested he was in his own client, and how politically motivated all of his actions seemed, how smiley, manipulative, and lazy he was. Remember "we have a 16 year old who was, while morally and legally responsible, was heavily influenced by someone who was evil incarnate"? That is look-at-me, remember-my-name, please-remember-to-elect-me-next-time rhetoric. Gross.
• Although speaking of politicians, the successful ones aren't much better. Remember this guy?
• Back to Brendan: Remember when Kachinsky's investigator badgers Brendan into drawing what happened? The kid is saying, over and over, in his limited way, that the crime didn't happen the way he'd been coerced into saying it had, and then the investigator hired by Brendan's own lawyer forces him to write out a sick fantasy of a hypothetical murder, saying over and over that he won't help Brendan if he doesn't do it, and then after that he forces the poor kid to draw it. I just got an email from the friend I watched Making a Murderer with on Christmas, and she said, "I keep remembering the power of the cartoon image the defense lawyer's investigator made Brendan draw, how once you see it you can't look away from it, or diminish its power both to disturb and fascinate. And that's why that was maybe the worst thing they did to him. Because Brendan himself had to put such an image into his mind and his hand, to be used later against him."
• Of course, as he's drawing it, you think: How could he envision such a thing if he's really not that bright and if it didn't happen? But then later you learn that, according to Brendan, he got it from a book called Kiss the Girls, which seems totally plausible—or even more plausible, that he got it from the Kiss the Girls movie. According to this discussion thread on reddit, the detail about cutting the female victim's hair is in the movie version of Kiss the Girls, but not the book.
• The part when Brendan Dassey asks his mom "What does 'inconsistent' mean?" And she's not sure? Heartbreaking.
• The part, during his "confession," when Brendan wants to know if he'll be done with police questioning in time to get back for sixth period? And then later when he asks his mom if he'll be out in time to watch Wrestlemania? And then, years later, those photos of Brendan in jail, looking so much older than his 20something years? The only glimmer of a consolation Making a Murderer provides is that the only time you see Brendan smiling in the whole series is at the very end, in that photo from prison, suggesting the tiniest bit of hope that maybe, somehow, the state prison system in its own way is providing him with a social or educational situation of slightly more benefit than what he had access to when he was "free."
• It kills me that Brendan never got a lawyer as competent or conscientious as Dean Strang—and how strange it is that it's Strang who does the best defending of Brendan into the camera. It's also Strang who points out the lack of humility in the justice system, and the concomitant lack of humility among the media. Strang was interviewed on TV yesterday and his humility is still there in full force; asked if he believes Steven to be innocent or guilty, he says honestly he doesn't know. ("Beware," George Orwell wrote fifty years ago, "my mistakes of fact and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one corner of events.")
• I'm going to give Strang the last word here—something he says about Brendan Dassey: "Whatever his personal failings, there are a number of systemic failings that are deeply troubling if you think about them too much or take them personally."