Michelle McNamara is what makes I’ll Be Gone in the Dark what it is. It’s her drive and determination to piece things together to find answers for the victims of the Golden State Killer. She bared her soul while investigating all of the cases tied to this killer, who wasn’t caught until more than four decades after he committed his first crime.
While so many criminal investigations are impersonal, Michelle wasn’t afraid to put herself in the victims’ shoes, to imagine their pain and fear, to empathize with the people affected by these crimes. She drew on her own personal experiences and connected to the victims. Through her eyes, they became more than just names and statistics, and what she did to humanize victims and generate empathy was a vital part of her investigation. Many victims avoid revisiting the events because of the pain, but people opened up to Michelle because she cared, and in her own way, she gave so many people a path to healing and, ultimately, the closure they needed. Her insights are brilliant, and the TV series is one of the best I watched this year.
I read the book when it came out and, if I’m being honest, was a little reluctant to watch this.
The book was biiled as an instant classic and a true crime book that transcends the genre. Probably it is. But it is such an alchemical mix of investigative, personal reflection, posthumous writing, and the fact that the fucking guy was caught just MONTHS after the book’s release that this isn’t replicable. It may have transcended the genre but it likely won’t change it.
Onto the series.
I think visual true crime is better than written true crime because the multimedia possibilities are put to better use. Specifically, interviews with victims, old cops, news clips, etc. That’s all primary source info that works really well in this format. I was fascinated with Carol Daley and wanted to know more about her.
The single greatest strength of the series is its stated desire to upend the hoary tropes of true crime shows. Early on they talk about the rape reenactment with the attractive blonde wearing a negligee (and holy crap is that clip they showed real?!). The series goes to great lengths to not really have the sole focus be on the killer but on his victims (giving them names, faces, agency, and a space to tell their own story in their own words). It also shows how widespread the trauma/harm is and, by the end, how generational it is. Partners, husbands, children, extended family, the community, were all harmed by this guy’s actions.