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The showrunner of the Netflix drama, Unbelievable, has explained why she does not think Detective Parker was a full villain. Detective Parker (Eric Lange) is the one who initially works the case at the start of the series. First, some context. Unbelievable is a dramatized rendering of a horrifying true crime story.
Unbelievable accordingly centers on Marie Adler, who is played by Last Man Standing’s Kaitlyn Dever. Marie is raped in her Washington apartment and subsequently reports it. As Detective Parker starts investigating the case, he begins to have his doubts about the veracity of Marie’s story, while Marie’s former foster mother also shares her qualms with the detective.
In the end, he comes to the conclusion that Marie’s account is “unbelievable,” and that she has lied. He and his colleague then pressure Marie to recant her claim. Eventually, she is charged with filing a false police report. But, Marie was telling the truth, and thanks to the work of two other detectives in Colorado, she is ultimately vindicated, proving that Detective Parker was wrong.
When asked about the choices made in how to depict Detective Parker, Unbelievable’s showrunner, Susannah Grant, told Harper’s Bazaar:
There was a real key in [Armstrong and Miller's] reporting to how I decided to portray him. I'm not sure whether it was in the article or the book, but it describes the moment in real life when he finally finds out what a huge mistake he's made. He's described as being absolutely devastated, and I kept that in mind from the get-go. I thought, 'This is not a bad man.' This is a man who probably loves his wife and takes great care of all the women in his life, and he didn't have the proper training for this. He'd spent most of his career in narcotics and was relatively new to sexual assault investigations, whereas the cops in Colorado had a lot of experience with it, so they understood the nature of the trauma on the brain and memory.
In its first two episodes, Unbelievable takes viewers through the differences between Detective Parker’s police work in Washington and the techniques implemented by Merritt Wever’s Detective Karen Duvall and Toni Collette’s Detective Grace Rasmussen in Colorado. The latter’s efforts led to the capture of the serial rapist.
Spoilers ahead for the finale of Unbelievable!
In the final episode of Unbelievable, Detective Rasmussen calls Detective Parker. She notifies him about the pictures of the serial rapist’s victims, which they found among his things. Colorado’s authorities cannot recognize the image of Marie as belonging to one of their known cases. However, a shaken Detective Parker can recognize it from one of his.
What led to Detective Parker’s wrong conclusion is part of a larger issue, according to Unbelievable’s showrunner. Susannah Grant explained, saying:
It's a systemic problem, a cultural problem, if you look at the numbers: Somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported, and then of those, maybe at the most, 5 percent are prosecuted. That's not a problem of one or two bad detectives. That's a cultural problem that's supported by misapprehensions we all must be carrying around with us to allow this to continue. I was more interested in having someone who the audience could relate to, thinking that his mistakes might in some way make the audience complicit with those misjudgments. That seemed more interesting to me.
In Unbelievable's finale, Detective Parker meets with Marie when she comes to the police station. She tells him that while she was financially compensated, she had not received an apology. Detective Parker says that he is sorry, to which Marie tells him to “do better” next time. He nods solemnly in response.
Hopefully, he did better. It would be interesting to hear from his real-life counterpart following Unbelievable’s release to know if, and how, he accomplished that. The real Marie Adler watched the series and has since shared her thoughts and feelings about it.
Earlier in the episode, Detective Parker appears saddened by his actions, which contributed to Marie and many others' suffering. Unbelievable presents the gravity of his error hitting him as the final episode plays out. Had he taken Marie’s claim more seriously, the serial rapist could have been stopped much sooner.