Last week, we at TVLine revealed our 20 finalists for Performer of the Year. We have since debated fiercely among ourselves to come up with a winning trio whose collective work was unbelievably affecting — Kaitlyn Dever, Merritt Wever and Toni Collette, of Netflix’s Unbelievable.
I was raped. With those three words — the first uttered by Dever’s Marie Adler — the miniseries was set in motion, almost daring you to stay tuned as it told the story of a teenage rape victim whose case was heartlessly mishandled by detectives in Lynnwood, Wash. Marie had just been violated in a multitude of ways, but every other question from the first officer on the scene — You were out late? Who was on the phone, your boyfriend? How do you know he was taking pictures? — cast aspersion on what transpired. Throughout the opening episode, Dever sold us on how Marie could be so disoriented by the reactions of law enforcement, nurses and her uniquely problematic foster mothers, that she’d get shaky on details, ultimately to a degree that she would not only be disbelieved, but punished. At the point she was charged with making a false report, any hope of justice seemed to be lost.
Enter, some three years later, Wever’s Karen Duvall and Collette’s Grace Rasmussen, police detectives from separate Colorado cities whose worlds were about to be indelibly intertwined. Duvall was investigating the rape of a college student in Golden when a remark from her police officer husband led her to wonder if an open Westminster case might be related. In Duvall, Wever created a detective who was attentive and compassionate — a stark contrast to those who worked Marie’s case — and unstoppable in her solving of a mystery. Thing is, she just needed the right kind of help. Collette’s Rasmussen was, in turn, a decidedly steelier LEO, one less driven by emotion and more a slave to facts (dissuading as they often may be).
As actresses and as on-screen detectives, Wever and Collette formed a helluva team, not falling into some tidy “insta-BFF” dynamic but zeroing in on and playing the differences that made each woman who she was — and revealing, every step of the way, how each detective’s best qualities began to rub off on the other.
Co-created by Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon (based on a 2015 news article originally published by ProPublica and The Marshall Project), Unbelievable through its eight-episode run toggled between these two timelines. Dever delved deeper into Marie’s increasingly fractured, despair-filled world, while Wever and Collette’s characters kept alive the tiniest spark of hope. In lesser hands, Unbelievable would not have captured the attention it did, which would have been a great disservice to the larger conversation it amplified. But through the work of these three women — as well as costars such as Elizabeth Marvel, Bridget Everett, Danielle Macdonald, Dale Dickey, Liza Lapira and Brooke Smith — the series met and exceeded its full potential.
She wanted to say thank you. With those six words, this gripping story drew to a close. And we say thank you, that it was told, and told so damn well.
Do you agree with our pick for Performer(s) of the Year? Or did you have a different favorite? Let us know in the comments below.