The Netflix docuseries should be a model for others — it avoids the mistakes that "Serial," "Making A Murderer," and "The Jinx" made
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Netflix’s “The Keepers,” a seven-part docuseries that premiered May 19, is that nearly every speaking character is a middle-aged woman. This is rare enough that it begins to be surprising, and soon after that, it becomes one of the defining elements of the show — following an interviewee into her living room as she is accompanied by her five small dogs, or reminiscing with another about her loving husband, now deceased. The B-roll notices things like the decorations on the walls, the family photos on the mantle, and the niceties of small talk. These are no Hollywood-friendly million-dollar kitchens, or carefully composed sitcom living rooms. The subjects of “The Keepers” keep cozy homes, in an unassuming, uncontrived way that indicates much about them. In this largely Catholic, working-to-middle class community of Baltimore, “The Keepers” manages to convey a mindset and shared, accepted values by just following the interviewees home.
“The Keepers” tells the true story of the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a young nun and high school teacher who disappeared in late 1969 only to be found dead two months later. Her disappearance was followed a few days later by another murder of another young woman named Joyce Malecki. Both cases remain unsolved. But Cesnik and Malecki had in common a connection to a powerful local priest, Father Joseph Maskell. As Cesnik’s former students started to ask questions about what happened, they began to uncover a shocking legacy of sexual abuse and coercion around Maskell and the high school he and Cesnik worked at: Archbishop Keough High School, an all-girls school with a primarily Catholic student body. Two former students of Sister Cathy’s, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, started a Facebook page and a tip line. A third, who remained anonymous for years to protect her reputation, comes forward in “The Keepers” to identify herself as Jean Wehner, one of Maskell’s most-abused victims who had repressed much of what happened to her. Schaub, Hoskins, and Wehner work together to compile information, pursue leads, and corroborate Wehner’s own disturbing memories.