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Recommended: Mind Over Murder on HBO

Structural audacity and moral complexity give HBO's newest true-crime docuseries uncommon depth.
  • Performers in the stage play featured in Mind Over Murder (Photo: HBO)
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    Mind Over Murder | HBO
    True Crime Docuseries (6 Episodes) | TV-MA

    What's Mind Over Murder About?

    The 1985 murder of an elderly woman in Beatrice, Nebraska provokes decades of controversy as competing opinions and memories obscure the truth. Decades later, the creators of this very docuseries commission a play created from court documents, police interrogations, and other records related to the case. The play is performed by Beatrice residents, and the filmmakers record the response of the real people watching their lives unfold on stage.

    Who's involved?

    • Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation) directs.
    • Four members of the so-called Beatrice Six, who were convicted of the crime only to be exonerated decades later, speak extensively about their experience.
    • Several relatives of Helen Wilson, the victim, discussand the mother and grandmother they loved, and their own lives in the aftermath of her murder.
    • Burt Searcey, the police officer considered most responsible for getting the Beatrice Six convicted, ardently defends his methods and his conclusions.
    • Playwright and stage director Cecilia Rubino helms the documentary play, titled Gage County, NE, with the Beatrice Community Players.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    For its first five episodes, Mind Over Murder is a well-made, if somewhat traditional, true-crime documentary. We meet the family of the victim, the people who were wrongly imprisoned for killing her, and the police officers who got those people convicted. We spend time pondering the unreliability of memory and the human need to believe something we know is false. This is important, discomfiting stuff, and it's especially impactful because Wang lets her interview subjects talk at length, even if they contradict themselves or struggle to say what they mean. We're left with raw emotion and murky facts, which is what the murder of Helen Wilson has generated from the start.

    And then, in the sixth and final episode, the series transforms into something entirely different. Without giving too much away, this is the episode that focuses on the play described above, and suffice it to say that for the people who have endured this crime and its aftermath, seeing their own words performed on stage has a thundering impact.

    But Wang doesn't stop there. Just as the play destabilizes the story for the people of Beatrice, she lets those same citizens destabilize her film. At the very moment we might expect a tidy conclusion, some of her subjects begin directing their hurt and frustration at her, and she keeps their criticism in the episode. In refusing to present herself as a fully neutral observer, Wang acknowledges that nobody can enter the story of a heinous crime and come out unscathed. A catastophe, her film reminds us, can make all of us actors, observers, heroes, and villains. Nothing is clean. Nothing is simple. All of it must be faced.

    Pairs well with

    • The Staircase, HBO's dramatization of the true-crime documentary that pushes the question of how reporting on a crime can impact our understanding of the truth (streaming on HBO Max).
    • The Imposter (Amazon Freevee), a mind-boggling documentary about a man who successfully pretends to be a family's long-lost son.
    • The Good Place, NBC's subversive sitcom about an afterlife where nothing is as it seems and "being good" is harder than you think (streaming on Netflix).

  • Mind Over Murder
    Premieres on HBO and HBO Max June 20, 2022. New episodes Mondays through July 25.
    Created by: Nanfu Wang.
    Starring: Burt Searcey and Cecilia Rubino.
    Directed by: Nanfu Wang.

    TOPICS: Mind Over Murder, HBO, Burt Searcey, Cecilia Rubino, Nanfu Wang, Nanfu Wang