Netflix is trying something new. This time, a documentary spanning ten hour-long episodes about a murder case. Seems like an incredibly long time for a single case, considering that other shows present the "same" content in a few minutes and then move on to the next. I thought for sure it would end up being boring. Instead, I found it gripping, a true blueprint for a new brand of show, not unlike when Truman Capote jump-started the true crime fiction genre with his In Cold Blood.
Before you read on, you must watch the documentary. This is not a review, this is not a presentation of facts, this is simply a reflection on the show. If you haven't watched, you will not be able to follow. Also, spoilers abound. Finally, once I realized search engines presented the content here to a wider audience than my usual, I tried to clean up the text and will continue to do so.
First, on the issue of murder. Watching the show I had a very strong instant reaction that no one seemed to follow, namely that Theresa Halbach may have committed suicide. If any of the actors in the unfolding drama had found the body and decided to dispose of it as it was disposed of, this would make a whole lot more sense than either the prosecution's or the defense's theories.
My reaction was prompted by three independent facts. First, Theresa Halbach is introduced with a video in which she tells us that, no matter what happened to her, she wanted everyone to know she had been happy. I know this type of video too well. In Catholicism, suicide is considered a mortal sin, a variant of murder. The consequence of suicide is the same as that of murder: the victim (in Catholic thinking, the perpetrator) cannot be buried in consacrated soil, forcing the family to bury their loved one outside the cemetery. To avoid that, a person would leave evidence behind that indicates suicide was not an option. Catholics sometimes do that without thinking about suicide, but many suicidal Catholics with strong family ties are very keen on evidencing their happiness and lack of suicidal thought.
The second item that is reported but unexplained is that voicemail messages had been deleted from her phone answering system after she disappeared. Nobody admitted to doing it, but friends reported that logging onto her voicemail was easy for anyone that knew her well enough, since she used her birthday as password. This would allow anyone from the family to delete any voicemail messages that would indicate she was suicidal, or that provided content that would upset her enough to send her over the edge.
Third, and most surprising to me, was her brother's first reaction on TV. Before anyone knew what happened to her he said something to the effect that the family just wanted to find her effects so they could start to move on. In other words, his first reaction was that she was dead (since all there was to find were her effects) and that it didn't really matter who had done it (since all there was to do was move on). At that point, for all he knew, she might have decided to drive off to California to become a beach bum. Even if he suspected that nothing like that was in character, he still might have expressed the desire to find out what happened.