BINGE-R #49: The Keepers + May's Best Shows
THE KEEPERS S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All seven episodes now streaming
A seven-part Netflix true-crime series, The Keepers is methodical in detail and vast in scope, as much the indictment of corrupted institutional power as the dogged investigation of a murder that took place almost 50 years ago. The narratives don’t always tie together easily, but the threads of the mystery and the bravery of those who survived its destructive realm makes for gripping viewing. Easily at home alongside other similar recent offerings such as The Jinx and the podcast Serial, Ryan White’s documentary shows how there is no such thing as a cold case: the pain suffered by victims and the determination of those arrayed against it brings this hidden history painfully into the present.
In November 1969 Sister Catherine Cesnik, a 27-year-old Baltimore nun and schoolteacher disappeared under suspicious circumstances, with her body found nearby two months later. The investigation at the time, which was linked to a similar nearby murder that occurred a few days after Sister Cesnik’s presumed abduction, made little progress. In recent years two former students of the nun, Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, have begun researching the case, doggedly drawing out information. Now in their sixties, they’re the focus of the first episode, and periodically thereafter, but the crime and their causes run deeper.
The second episode introduces Jean Wehner, a fellow former pupil of Sister Cesnik’s at the Archbishop Keough high school, who was one of sadly numerous victims of systematic sexual abuse by two Catholic priests with senior roles there. Betrayed in the confessional, Wehner blocked out the memory of what happened for years, only to recover them in the 1990s. The scale of the abuse and subsequent testimony suggests that Sister Cesnik was aware of what was happening, and tried to put an end to it. Like Spotlight, the 2015 Best Picture at the Academy Awards, The Keepers reveals how evil was allowed to flourish within the Catholic Church.
Moments such as Jean Wehner breaking down after reading written testimony she delivered to Church that they refused to act on, shatter the framework of a single investigation. This is a documentary about the corrupted traditions of a city, and the way misogyny protects its own; it’s more than just a whodunit. The early episodes all conclude with a cliff-hanger to the next instalment, but The Keepers takes its time to lay down all the tracks that have to converge. In the last year amateur American sleuths with Facebook pages have become a harbinger of society’s collapse, but Hoskins and Schaub’s efforts speak to the idea of the individual making a difference, even if that happens belatedly. It’s easy to fall into step with them.
MAY’S BEST SHOWS
Before this month I’d never considered if the streaming industry had a yearly calendar with peaks and troughs, the same way Hollywood blockbusters are clustered from April to August, but there were so many outstanding shows debuting or returning over the last four weeks that May now looks like a standout for the various services. The new selections were stellar.
1 – Search Party S1 (SBS on Demand): A group of Brooklyn 20somethings become invested in the search for a missing acquaintance in this terrific comic thriller, and it “works so well because it embraces the gap between who we think we are and how people actually see us.” [review here]
2 – Twin Peaks S3 (Stan): David Lynch’s ground-breaking murder mystery returns after 25 years. “The initial episodes are threads, some linked to the past, that only tenuously tie together, and that’s okay. For all the mystery elements, Lynch is drawn to the urges and images that emanate from his fertile subconscious.” [review here]
3 – Master of None S2 (Netflix): The second season of Aziz Ansari’s deceptively soulful comedy furthers the first: “there’s not a hint of comic misanthropy to Master of None, but that rarely precludes it from being enjoyably sharp.” [review here]
4 – I Love Dick S1 (Amazon): The fascinating new series from Transparent creator Jill Soloway is, “a juicy concoction that satirises academic theory, enjoys the deconstruction of male iconography, and most of all immerses itself in the female psyche.” [review here]
5 – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S3 (Netflix): The sly, subversive silliness of Netflix’s top sitcom continues: “No comedy has a better handle on delivering a truly daft declaration, and then doubling down with a seemingly sensible clarification whose lack of validity just adds to the humour.” [review here]
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