The five-part documentary from Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris and The Jinx's Marc Smerling simultaneously explores the crime and the way documentaries construct narrative," says Kristen Lopez. "Morris, whose book on the (Jeffrey) MacDonald case gives this documentary its name, sets things in motion by discussing how it was a narrative — in this case the 1984 made-for-TV feature Fatal Vision — that did more to convict MacDonald than any actual trial," says Lopez. "It’s a concept that’s executed so breathlessly throughout the miniseries’ five episodes as the documentary actively causes the audience to question what is being presented. Case in point, the woman in the floppy hat. The first episode admits that, yes, there was a woman known to walk around the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina who wore a blonde wig and had a floppy hat. In fact, said woman, Helena Stoekley, confessed to several people that she was in the MacDonald home. Yet as events unfold, nearly every fact becomes challenged. Smerling doesn’t just put Morris’ own opinion in the hotseat — Morris says at one point that he believes MacDonald is innocent as if he’s adding a question mark at the end — but the concept of true crime itself in the spotlight. What makes someone believable? Does the fact that people know the statistics about husbands murdering wives and family alter our perception? More importantly, does a cinematic or television depiction of events serve as a proper recreation, or is it entertainment?
A Wilderness of Error is fascinatingly meta: "What you sense at a certain point is that (Marc) Smerling is becoming less and less engaged by MacDonald's case and more and more curious about why (Errol) Morris was so engaged with it, why he latched onto certain details as cause for reasonable doubt and ignored others, why this was a case that became a two-part TV movie that drew 60 million primetime viewers when it premiered, why the story keeps being told over and over again," says Daniel Fienberg.
One of the smartest decisions Smerling makes is orchestrating a series of on-camera discussions with Morris: "At first glance, it might feel like the conversation between them is going to be one of the boring parts of this series; in reality, it’s anything but," says Anne Easton. "This is because Smerling knows just when to prod Morris, and when to sit silently and wait for the continuation of a thought, which often yields a well-thought-out, and yet surprising, response. The final exchange between the two is especially meaningful—there is a pause, just before Morris reveals whether he’s still convinced of his original notion of MacDonald’s innocence, or if he’s changed his mind. The wait is exquisite."