In 2008, a Lynnwood teen told police she had been raped. Their mistake? Not believing her.
This is the real-life premise of the new Netflix series Unbelievable. Based on a Pulitzer Prize–winning ProPublica investigation by former Seattle Times reporter Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller, and their 2018 book A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America, the eight-episode miniseries recounts the three-year hunt for a serial rapist terrorizing women across state lines.
The series opens on Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), an 18-year-old living in a community for at-risk youth in Lynnwood, Washington, telling police she was raped by a masked intruder earlier that morning. Over the course of the next day, Marie is forced to tell her story to hospital staff and three more times to the detectives. Each time, she falls further apart. By the end of the episode, her story changes. The detectives stop searching for a rapist and begin investigating Marie. Eventually, the Lynnwood detectives not only drop her case, but charge her with filing a false report.
In the second episode, the narrative jumps forward to Golden, Colorado in 2011. Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) arrives at an apartment complex where a young woman has been raped. Immediately, however, the scene is different. Duvall is kind and polite, cautious not to pressure the woman. Soon, similar rape reports crop up around the state and Duvall teams up with detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) to find the man responsible. Throughout the rest of the series, the two detectives search for their serial rapist, interviews with survivors and suspects interweaved with the fallout of Marie’s retracted rape accusation in Lynnwood. By the end of the seventh episode, the two stories merge, giving way to a surprising and heartbreaking conclusion.
Marie’s story is not uncommon. Too often survivors are burdened with justifying their experiences. Unbelievable stands out from many true crime dramas, though, by highlighting this. It spends little time dissecting the man responsible for committing these crimes. Often he feels almost insignificant. Instead, the interest lies with the survivors: their stories, their lives, and their desire for justice.
Wever and Collette are compelling as Colorado detectives who exist beyond their professions, with insecurities of their own. The standout, however, is Dever as Marie. As her story is met with skepticism and doubt, Dever brings to life a damaged woman who has lost all faith in humanity.
Like the story it’s based on, Unbelievable is raw, distressing, and complicated. It shows policing at its best and worst. But those Colorado detectives serve as a powerful reminder—the first step in helping survivors is making them feel heard.