Netflix’s ‘Unbelievable’ review

Ana Peres Bogo, Writer

The new Netflix series “Unbelievable” is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning article “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. They tell the story of a girl named Marie who was raped in her apartment. She reported the crime to the police, but because of the way the police responded to her answers, Marie was afraid no one would believe her, so she said she was lying. The article also followed the investigation of a serial rapist, and how because of the investigation Marie got the proof she needed to prove that she really was raped.  

Deviating from the standard crime procedural show, “Unbelievable” not only shows a thorough investigation – explaining all the steps of the investigative procedures without ever getting boring – but also shows the audience what rape really means to women. The show takes those sanitized impersonal stories we hear about every day in the news and highlights the human struggle and suffering behind them. “Unbelievable” does not sugarcoat any part of the process of suffering and reporting sexual assault. The showrunners make the viewer go through the many interrogations that are imposed on the victims. We see Marie being asked the same questions about what happened, and therefore having to relive the assault over and over again in a very short period. 

Primarily, we follow two women who work in an environment that leaves them open to constant exposure to harassment and assault and indirectly insinuates the toll it takes on them. This is shown in subtle scenes, particularly in conversations between the two investigators. In episode five, one of the investigators said, “She got a broken leg and fractured her pelvis, but she didn’t get raped.” The woman the investigator was talking about was one of the victims of the suspected serial rapist they were investigating. Rather than getting raped, the victim jumped out of her second-floor window, head first, sustaining horrible injuries instead. 

Without writing too many spoilers, the show’s themes are undeniably based on real life. Most of the female characters of the show experienced sexual assault in some way. They don’t talk openly about the events; nevertheless they explicitly claim they are victims. This mirrors real life all too well.  Almost every woman either is or knows someone who suffered some kind of violation, but the social pressure and stigma to remain silent is strong. It is so important to spread awareness about the realities and trials facing sexual assault victims to increase social pushback. The fact that “Unbelievable” addressed this systemically broken process openly on the Netflix platform and shows how common the mishandling of sexual assault reports can be is a step in the right direction.

The show also highlights different unpleasant but all too familiar scenarios that women experience almost every day in real life. One of these scenes showed the main character, Marie, at her workplace (a warehouse) alone with another coworker. The guy blocks her way when she tries to pass him several times, filling the audience with a nauseous feeling. One of the places women get sexually harassed or assaulted most frequently is at work, especially by someone that holds a position of power over them. 

Many taboo subjects were brought to the table in “Unbelievable,” none more kneejerk than the emotional abuse one can experience after an assault from the police through their question choices and methods. The show tackles the tough questions: “Is there a right and a wrong way to react to being sexually assaulted? Is one person more believable than another?”


Some cinematography tricks improve the overall experience of the show, such as using handheld camera shots to mimic law enforcement recording devices, creating a realistic feeling of anxiety for the audience while characters were interrogated. The soundtrack really added depth to the drama, and the moments of silence built breath-holding tension. The opening scene is a compilation of various places we go to every day, a school, a pool, a library, a park, etc. They use these images so that the viewer knows the story they are about to tell could happen in any of these places. It could happen to anyone. 

The fact that the victims may never be the same, that they will always carry that violence with them, and that these experiences can lead to depression, dysfunction or worse and is rarely addressed in mainstream media. Even more tragic and traumatizing is how sometimes the people who love you most won’t believe that the assault happened because the truth is too inconvenient and uncomfortable. “Unbelievable” pushes these truths into the light while doing justice to Marie’s struggle and the original article.

“Unbelievable” deals with a lot of traumatic events but it is important to see. Before watching the series be sure to prepare yourself for some harrowing material. If you need to talk with someone, be sure to check the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Chat service available at