“When I left prison, the anger left ... I was probably the happiest man on earth.” These words feel like they belong at the end of a story—as a bookend line that signals to the audience that happy endings still exist. But Making a Murderer, Netflix’s first true-crime series, isn’t that kind of show. The first of its 10 episodes introduces Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man released from prison 18 years after DNA evidence proved he didn’t commit a brutal attack. And it’s soon clear that Avery’s unbelievable story—one apparently involving gross misconduct by law enforcement—isn’t just going to end with him relishing in his newfound freedom, or fighting to make sure it never happens to anyone else again.
Because it does happen again—to Steven Avery. That’s what the writers and directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos set out to prove with Making a Murderer, which was released in its entirety Friday. Two years after being released from prison, Avery was bringing a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, and the former district attorney and sheriff who helped put him away, when he became the prime suspect in a gruesome new murder investigation. The series, which explores the possibility that Avery was framed, mimics HBO’s The Jinx and the first season of the podcast Serial with its gripping, real-life case that so often feels like fiction. But Making a Murderer, which took 10 years to make, could very well eclipse those works, for the sheer density of reportage and the scale of the horrifying story it tells—one of rural class politics, bureaucratic opacity, and a seemingly coordinated institutional effort to destroy an innocent man.