Just like the original article, Unbelievable begins in 2008 with Marie Adler (played expertly by Kaitlyn Dever, who earlier this year had a star-making turn in Booksmart), an 18-year-old woman living in Lynnwood, Washington. Marie is in the midst of trauma, huddled on the floor, nearly catatonic with shock as she describes her alleged rape first to a police officer, then a detective, then another detective, then a nurse, on and on and on until she's drowning in the details. Throughout Marie's retelling, we see flashbacks of the assault from her perspective, an important decision by Grant that echoes Armstrong and Miller's choice to center the narrative on the victim rather than the rapist. It also allows viewers to experience the brutality of the assault without devolving into the kind of rape-porn that shows with similar themes risk indulging in. Showing Marie's perspective helps us empathize with her every step of the way, even when her decisions seem confounding.
Police begin to doubt Marie's account of her assault, and as Marie goes from victim to suspect, we also become painfully aware of the misconceptions that still color who society sees as a reliable witness and someone worthy of being listened to. The cops convince themselves that Marie's behavior make her inherently unreliable, and they eventually decide to charge Marie with filing a false report. Her lawyer advises her to take a plea deal, which she does, creating a ripple effect that has devastating consequences on her life.
How could a sexual assault victim admit to lying when she's told the truth? Marie has been in and out of the foster system her whole life, and she's used to being mistrusted, let down, manipulated and deceived. It's easy to see why she unravels when the two male detectives in charge of her case start to question her story, badger her into doubting herself, and become suspicious of her responses to trauma. Under this duress, she claims that she made it all up, hoping for the whole episode go away. It may seem counterintuitive or unlikely to anyone watching from the comfort of home, but one of the series' strengths is making Marie's decision feel inevitable.