This might be hard for some Making A Murderer fans to hear, but filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos were never looking to solve the murder of Teresa Halbach. "We didn’t believe or intend that [Making A Murderer] would put viewers in a place to make any decisions about what has happened," Ricciardi tells Bustle over the phone. "Guilt or innocence."
That's still their intention with Making a Murderer Part 2, which focuses on the post-conviction process of Steven Avery, who was convicted of Halbach's murder in 2007, a crime he's continually stated he didn't commit, and Avery's co-defendant and nephew Brendan Dassey, who was sentenced to life in prison at 16 after telling detectives in a confession that his lawyers argue was coerced and false that he helped his uncle kill Halbach. "We’re never seeking to nail down answers or to investigate the crime. We’re trying to document people’s experiences," Demos says. "Your own point of view or your own feelings on something play absolutely no role in it," Ricciardi adds. "You know you’re there to watch this take place."
In Part 2, the directors are closely watching the experience of Avery's post-conviction lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, who becomes a surrogate for all the armchair detectives who have been trying to prove whether or not Avery really was wrongfully convicted of murder. Zellner actually is trying to solve Halbach's murder — it's her best chance of proving Avery's innocence and helping the Halbach family move forward.
"A lot of her motivation is trying to respect Teresa and to find out what happened to her," Demos says of Zellner, who, according to her website, has "righted more wrongful prosecutions than any private attorney in America."
In the early part of the season, Zellner states that as a lawyer she needs to know the victim to have a better sense of the crime. It's why Zellner spends so much of Part 2 meeting with forensic experts — a bloodstain pattern analyst, a forensic neuroscientist, a forensic fire scientist — who help her recreate the murder just as the prosecution laid it out to convict Avery over a decade ago. It's the evidence she finds from these reenactments that helps Zellner investigate possible new suspects in the Halbach case.
A complaint of the first season from the prosecution in Avery's case was that it was biased towards Avery, something the prosecutor on Avery's case, Ken Kratz, told The New York Times. "When we read or heard those criticisms," Demos says, "for the most part, it seemed as if those people missed the point of that series." The point, the filmmakers say, was to take a deeper look at the justice system and expose its flaws. They wanted to show the toll the system takes on the families of the victim and the accused, especially when someone's guilt is heavily in question. This was most obvious in the case of Dassey, whose conviction was overturned by a federal court in 2016, but who remains in jail after a federal appeals court reversed that decision, upholding his conviction.
"It’s really the complexity of it," Demos says, referring not only to the legal system, but to the emotions those affected by any case feel. Making A Murderer thrives on ambiguity; it can't give you answers and really doesn't want to. "There’s no voiceover narration," Ricciardi points out. "It’s not our voice that’s in the story. It’s the subjects speaking for themselves sharing their experience of things."
The filmmakers want audiences to honestly see and feel what their interviewees are experiencing and hope this forces them to ask the bigger questions about justice and whether the system is set up to provide it. They want the viewers, Demos says, to "start to have the conversations that could lead us to solutions, because if we don’t understand the underlying root of things, we’re just going to put a Band-Aid on one place or another, but not really make progress."
In terms of the documentary, progress for Ricciardi and Demos meant talking to as many people as possible so they could get more insight into the post-conviction process. But given the worldwide success of Part 1 — something the directors address in the opening moments of the Part 2 premiere — there were many potential subjects who chose not to take part. Each episode this time around ends with a list of those who chose not to participate. This includes the Halbach family. "We understand that and entirely respect that decision," Demos says, but admits it does make it harder for them to tell her story.
Chris Nerat, a college friend of Teresa's, agreed to be interviewed for Part 2, and hearing his concerns offers a different perspective. It's one that Demos says gets at "the undeniable pain of the loss of Teresa, but also the increased pain of the post-conviction process that you know is taking them back."
Pain is a running theme this season, as Ricciardi and Demos take a behind-the-scenes look at the emotional toll the case has put on Avery's aging parents, along with Dassey's mom, dad, and stepfather. In the third episode, Zellner says knowing the human effects of re-litigating a post-conviction case is the hardest part of her job. "You know that you're causing a lot of pain to the victim's family," Zellner says to the camera in the episode's opening. "People want certainty. They want resolution. And they like to feel like the person is being held accountable."
Through Zellner, this season shows that those in both the Halbach and Avery camps want those things, and she certainly seems to want them, too. "There are people on all sides that care tremendously about Teresa so it’s not so adversarial in that way," Ricciardi says of Part 2. "It’s sort of an effort to get on the same side: the search of truth." That just so happens to be the side Ricciardi and Demos are on, too.