Review: Unbelievable

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, October 11th. So glad you’ve joined us today for The World and Everything in It. Good morning! I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Netflix is keeping up its string of critically acclaimed true crime hits with the new drama Unbelievable.

Now, I’m not one to take reports from the mainstream entertainment press too much to heart. But in this case, the praise is deserved. It deals with the difficult subject of rape by focusing more on the victims than the criminal.  The downside is it’s pretty unflinching in its portrayal of how many nonbelievers speak and act. But it’s also a refreshingly authentic portrait of Christian faith.

CLIP: You ever heard of sacred geometry? It’s the belief that things like a honeycomb or a snowflake—those perfect shapes found in nature—are proof of organization by a higher power. That’s not a honeycomb. It’s just a glove.

When Detective Stacy Galbraith became the focus of a bestselling true crime book in 2018, she defined herself as born-again and told the authors how vital her Christian faith is to her work. She described the large, nondenominational church she and her husband attend in Golden, Colorado. And she explained that it’s because of her relationship with God, not in spite of it, that she does a job many might consider unusual for a petite young woman. 

“I know He gave me certain strengths,” she said, “so I just have to use them. Even when it’s painful.”

You might expect the edgy, critically acclaimed streaming series based on that book to downplay this part of Galbraith’s life. Surprisingly, Netflix’s popular new show, Unbelievable, doesn’t do that. Instead, it creates a portrait of a modern evangelical any believer would recognize. Like this scene where she explains to a victim why she keeps a note that says, “Here I am, Send Me,” taped to her dashboard.

CLIP: What’s that? It’s just a little reminder. Of what? What I’m doing, I guess. It’s from Isaiah. God shows up, looking for someone to be of service. Clean things up a bit. He says, Whom shall I send? 

The story begins with a struggling teen describing her rape at the hands of a masked intruder. Her foster mother doubts her story. The woman’s concern barely rises above the level of gossip. That convinces the police to mistrust the girl as well. After barely looking into her case, they coerce her into recanting and charge her with false reporting. The girl is left isolated and despairing. In the meantime, the rapist continues assaulting other women in other jurisdictions. That’s when fictional detective Karen Duvall, based on the real Detective Galbraith, picks up the case.

Among her sometimes lazy, foul-mouthed colleagues Karen shines like a light in the darkness. At some points, she fits a little too comfortably into the culture and uses the same language, as she says, just to “make a point.” But otherwise, she’s an example of dedication and compassion in the direst circumstances.

And we witness her consistently, yet casually, speaking words of life to her unbelieving partner who sometimes mocks her God.

CLIP: In truth I kind of envy all you God believers. I would love to have that kind of faith. Yeah, I don’t know. The stuff we see. It’s hard enough with God. I don’t know how anyone does it without. Alcohol.

Karen’s Christianity is an integral part of her character. But it doesn’t mark her as naïve or weird or any of the other clichés we typically see in big network and studio productions. Instead she’s tough, relatable, and sharp as a serpent tracking her suspect.

In fact Karen’s so far from not weird, she’s actually—gasp!—funny! Like here when she’s on a stakeout outside the perpetrator’s house.

CLIP: With our luck this guy’s probably got the flu. He’ll be in there for days. Well, I’m okay with that as long as it allows for the possibility of him choking on some vomit. Karen Duvall, that’s not very Christian of you. Read your Old Testament, woman. We’re big into vengeance.

Unbelievable does a tremendous job portraying a believer like Karen accurately. But it also does a good job portraying unbelieving characters accurately. Her partner’s lines are eye-popping for the sheer number of f-bombs they include. And while the nudity we see when the suspect is processed into prison is realistic and hardly appealing in its clinical detachment, the scene could have worked as well without it. 

But it’s the quick flashbacks to the rapist’s crimes that perhaps deserve the most warning. We don’t see anything explicit. And the rapid-spliced images are used to illustrate how this kind of trauma continues to assault the victim’s mind. But they’re not for the faint of heart. And they’re certainly worth avoiding for those who don’t feel, as the real Detective Galbraith does, a particular call to grapple with these kinds of ugly realities. 

I want you to hear how well this scene captures how a real life conversation might go between a Christian and non-Christian friend at work. Now, I’ve cleaned it up so we can play it here. But this is typical of how their worldviews clash in dialogue and how naturally biblical wisdom enters their conversation.

CLIP: Okay, what is it? You know, it’s all the other sociopaths out there. With their rape kits and their guns thinking, hey, I guess I can do this. You can’t do that. You can’t take on all the bad guys at once. We did a good thing getting this guy. Let it be a good thing. Yes! One day’s burden is enough for one day. Exactly. One day’s burden is enough for one day. I like that. It’s from the Bible. Shut up. Matthew 6:34. Whatever that means.

But you don’t have to watch Unbelievable, and maybe you shouldn’t. You don’t have to see this show to cheer that somehow, miracle of miracles, a mainstream   Hollywood production has finally gotten a Christian character right. 

AUDIO: [In Christ Alone — Keith and Kristyn Getty]


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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