Our current national obsession with true-crime narratives can be traced to two foundational hits: 2014s Serial, the podcast that took the conspiracy-loving world by storm, and then, a year later, Making a Murderer—a Netflix docuseries about a man, Steven Avery, who was exonerated for rape and attempted murder only to be charged with the murder and sexual assault of Teresa Halbach. In 2007, both Avery and his co-defendant and nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was 16 years old at the time of the crime, were convicted for Halbachs gruesome murder. In 10 hours, Making a Murderer creators Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos chronicled both the mens insistence that they are innocent, as well as the states dubious approach to handling the unusual case from start to finish—and fans were hooked. Reddit exploded with conspiracy theories, and viewers began to campaign for Avery and Dasseys release, just as petitions had emerged in support of Adnan Syed following Serials debut. Add in The Jinx, and a true-crime feeding frenzy was born.
Now, three years later, Ricciardi and Demos will release Making a Murderer: Part 2 later this month. But as Avery and Dassey begin the long, unpredictable road of post-conviction hearings, what kind of story did these two tell—and how much more of it will they continue to cover in the future?
“We felt like we had a fully arced-out season in Part 1, but we learned in the response to the series that there were lingering questions,” Ricciardi said. “And, in fact, that was exciting for us, because, in a way, we thought this is an incredible opportunity to experience ambiguity, and try to find comfort in ambiguity.”
Plus, Ricciardi said, she and Demos learned shortly after Making a Murderers debut that Avery had new post-conviction representation, Kathleen Zellner—who is one of the winning-est post-conviction attorneys in the country. Between Zellners plan to present an evidence-based challenge to Averys conviction, and Dasseys post-conviction attorneys, Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin, trying to challenge Dasseys conviction in the federal courts, Ricciardi and Demos saw a new potential story unfolding: “We thought it was an incredible opportunity to turn a lens on the post-conviction phase of the process—which is definitely a lesser-known phase of the process,” Ricciardi said.
“What Part 2 offers as well is a lot of unpacking of what really went on in the interrogation room,” Demos added. “What really went on and didnt go on at the trial. So its an interesting way to have Part 1 incorporated into Part 2.”
From the beginning, Making a Murderer: Part 2 expresses a keen awareness not only about the ways in which Making a Murderers 2015 debut drew attention to Avery and Dasseys cases, but also some of the critiques leveled against it. Some observers protested that the facts Ricciardi and Demos chose to air seemed selected to omit some of the more compelling reasons Avery was found guilty. Demos said that while responding to such critiques was not their primary intention with a second season, they did set out to confront the ways in which Making a Murderer changed the world that they were documenting.
“That was very much of interest to us, and something that did affect some of the choices we made,” Demos said. Part 2, she noted, begins with the launch of Part 1—including the reaction to the docuseries, and the media frenzy that exploded around it. “Thats the new world in which this Part 2 takes place,” Demos said. “People are asking questions.”
“You would not normally have this opportunity to go on this journey into this unknown territory,” Demos continued, “but whats actually also happening is that theyre coming away with a much deeper understanding of what they witnessed in Part 1.”
One other major shift this season, at least in its early episodes, is that the memory of Teresa Halbach is a more robust presence. One of Halbachs friends granted Ricciardi and Demos an interview, offering them a window into her life. Across that interview and other media appearances, Ricciardi and Demos said that the people in Halbachs life wanted to celebrate it.
With a sprawling project such as this, there are always challenges. One of the biggest hurdles in Part 2, for instance, was telling a story from the middle, with no idea what the end is going to be—or when it will come. The team ran postproduction and production simultaneously for nearly three years, Demos said. And that, perhaps more than anything, is what makes it a little difficult for the collaborators to say if theyll be releasing a Part 3. At first, Demos responded to the question of a third installment with a joke: “Are we obligated to answer?” On a more serious note, Ricciardi said that is, indeed, a question theyre already being asked.
“But I mean, well be asking some of the same questions of what is happening, does it warrant more episodes, and will there be something to film,” Ricciardi said. “Because post-conviction is such a long-term proposition. Its not like deciding to just film the trial where, you know, its a number of weeks or a number of months . . . So its hard to know what pace things will progress at.”
The short answer, for now, is that Ricciardi and Demos dont know if there will be a Part 3. “If theres anything weve learned,” Ricciardi said, “its that you cant predict whats going to happen.” If Part 2 is as big of a sensation as Part 1, however, it does feel pretty safe to guess which way Netflix will lean on making another installment.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Laura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.