“Out of Nowhere…I Can Imagine Good Things Happening”: Justice and Unbelievable

Recently I barreled through the Netflix mini-series Unbelievable. It covers the true story of a […]

Sarah Gates / 10.17.19

Recently I barreled through the Netflix mini-series Unbelievable. It covers the true story of a woman who is charged with lying about being raped, and the two detectives who (unknowingly? accidentally? by design?) solve her case years later.

The first episode is, yes, “hard to watch.” Marie’s suffering, as she is asked to tell and retell her story, sets up what feels like an obvious question: so what now? This can’t be how it ends.

But thank the Lord, this is not how it ends, because our two detectives enter the story. Over the next seven episodes, they fight to solve Marie’s case in a way that feels almost obsessive with passion. In the end, Marie gets justice, and the relief is all the greater because she has suffered so much. Towards the very end of the story, Marie, at the beach, waves crashing behind her, speaks with one of the lead detectives, thanking her for “everything that [she/the detective] did.” The detective responds with a slightly vacant look, but the kind of vacancy that only appears so vacant because it is full, saying, “Well, of course,” as if, well, of course, what else could I have done? We never get the sense that the detective pursued Marie’s case only because she had been similarly violated; only that she pursued the case because, “well, of course.”

Marie continues, voicing the total hopelessness of the rape and the cascading horror it engendered, and then:

…out of nowhere, I hear about these two people in some completely other part of the country, looking out for me, and making things right, and…more than anything else…more than him being locked up…more than the money I got, it was hearing that, about you guys, that just changed things completely. I wake up now, and I can imagine good things happening.

Scene (almost) over, and everything is made whole again. Capital-J Justice served.

But what makes the show even better is that this sense of Justice, or what I’m imagining as “parts made whole,” pervades the entire series. One other way that it’s apparent is in the relationship between the two lead detectives, Karen Duvall, played by Merritt Wever, and Grace Rasumssen, played by Toni Collette. The Rasmussen character is sharp, gritty, and pragmatic, while the Duvall character feels younger—which she is—and thus more complex: she radiates empathy with those who are victimized, but also lashes out at her subordinates and colleagues when they don’t give her what she wants. When the two meet, it feels “meant to be”—as if, only together they become whole enough to survive (in the best sense of the word). Rasmussen gives Duvall the tools she needs to be in the world, and Duvall gives Rasmussen words for God.

Although this particular story portrays a friendship, and the story between the detectives and Marie portrays something like a parent’s loving and protecting of a child, it also reminds me of a bigger story—the story of God’s love for us—that, in turn, reminds me of a romantic relationship. I think in particular of Call Me By Your Name, in which the love between the two main characters is so complete that their names cease to matter—to the extent that they can call each other by the other’s name, a sort of cosmic, romantic joke.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I am happiest when there are no words, or only a few words, to say, or maybe when we know all the words and don’t have to say them. Recently, at a personal “rock-bottom,” I asked a new friend to pray for me. She sent me the prayer via SMS, and reading it, I felt, like, “Ok, we’re good. We can all go home now. There is nothing left to say,” like maybe the story has an ending, and maybe the ending is okay, or good, or Justice, or parts made whole.