‘Mind Over Murder’ review: Nanfu Wang’s HBO documentary is 2022’s true must-see crime series

The best true crime show of 2022 ends this Monday on HBO. So it’s time to catch up on the horror and humanity that throbs at the heart of thinking about murder.

In the first five episodes of this six-part documentary series, director Nanfu Wang (A childish nation, In the same breath) guided audiences through the rumbling story of the Beatrice Six, which began in 1985 when beloved grandmother Helen Wilson was raped and murdered in her apartment in Beatrice, Nebraska. The police did not know who could have committed such a senseless and brutal crime. Then Gage County Sheriff’s Deputy Burt Seacey began to draw in a series of six suspects. Under fierce interrogation, five would give confessions. Everything would serve time. But as the decades passed and the appeals were answered, all six would be exonerated. The confessions were false. DNA evidence suggests that none of the infamous six were even in Wilson’s house. So how did what one attorney called “the greatest travesty of justice in Nebraska history” come about?

Incredibly, Wang walks the audience through Searcey’s investigation with the man himself in talking-head interviews. Wilson’s murder theories are woven with conflicting accounts from attorneys, other police investigators, and four of the Beatrice Six. Also interviewed are surviving family members of Wilson and the late Joseph White, the alleged leader of Beatrice Six, who died shortly after being exonerated.

From the start, the series crackles with tension between conflicting stories, and two camps are firmly established: Searcey and the Wilson family, who see the cop as their hero of justice, and the Beatrice Six and their supporters, who maintain that the group was forced to make a false confession. Dealing with murders, sexual assaults, brainwashing and police corruption, thinking about murder is a grim affair, but not macabre, as Wang explores this knot of narratives with deep empathy for everyone involved.

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While Wang is off-camera in interviews, her soft voice can be heard, sometimes pressing gently but firmly to learn more about her subjects. From the way both sides of this divide are opening up to her, we feel like everyone involved feels like she’s giving them a safe space to be heard. Considering the Six had been exposed in the press for decades before their appeal, and the Wilsons felt attacked whenever the original investigation was questioned by the media, most of the issues here are tricky. Yet Wang’s patience and perseverance is reflected in a pacing that gives the audience the space to take it all in. So a shocking revelation scene or heartbreaking emotional truth is followed by several peaceful shots of Beatrice or a quiet moment with the interview. subject to letting them work through the jerk.

Mind over matter has his jinx holder time of the final

One of the most shocking moments in true-crime television came from HBO in 2015, when director Andrew Jarecki pressed the subject of his docuseries. The Jinx: The Life and Death of Robert Durst about his alleged series of murders. The suspected wife killer, thinking his microphone was off, appeared to admit – amid a bunch of burps – that he had been discovered. In The spirit of murder’In the climax, Wang presses Burt Searcey for his role in the wrongful conviction of Beatrice Six. It’s a two-part confrontation that’s raw and gripping between a serious interviewer and an agitated interviewee.

First, in the cold open, Wang sits Searcey down to watch an early cut of the series, a series that increasingly portrays him not as a hero cop, but as an ego-driven manipulator. As a former friend of Searcey puts aside his investigation, he scoffs and chuckles. But something horrific happens as the Six and their loved ones share their stories of anguish. Searcey stops looking and starts playing with his cell phone.

Her indifference is chilling and chills when Wang (off camera) says she’s going to take a break so she doesn’t miss anything. Searcey bristles, teasing a later confrontation at his flower shop, where he has his last chance to reflect and at least acknowledge his responsibility for the wrongful convictions. As The Jinx’memorable moment, these scenes are an electrifying glimpse of a man who has held an increasingly wobbly front for decades. And it’s a thrill just to witness this tottering facade.

The game is the thing

The exterior of the Nebraska Community Players Theater, with a line of spectators wrapping around the block.


Credit: HBO Max

The other fascinating element of Mind over matter This is how Wang fits into the perspective of the people of Beatrice, who have seen this saga unfold for years in the news and heard rumors of speculation through the stockades for decades. There are a handful of interviews that speak to people where they are: their garage, their barbershop, their porch. But the deepest interactions are found during rehearsals for the 2021 production of Beatrice Community Player. Gage County, NE. Created in conjunction with the HBO documentary, this play is a theatrical recreation of the entire Beatrice Six story, created by combining court records, investigative documents, news reports and first-hand testimony.

After weeks of watching this piece develop in careful and difficult rehearsals, Episode 6 of thinking about murder finally unveils its opening weekend. But first, Wang reveals the fear that builds around the production. On social networks, there is a preemptive reaction, accusing the actors of the production of being as bad as the killer of Helen Wilson. In a tense scene, the company talks about their concerns not just during the show but afterwards. Will the anger at the Beatrice Six follow them as they try to live their lives?

Retrieved courtesy of HBO.

It’s an understandable fear. But remarkably, Mind over matter captures not a disaster but a miracle in this theater: people changing their minds.

The glimmer of hope found in thinking about murder

Actors from the Beatrice, Nebraska Community Players Theater at


Credit: HBO Max

Although the Wilson family had reasonable reservations about the production of the play, several members of their clan showed up for the show. Also present are some of the Six, along with their families and other supporters. Wang presents excerpts from the play, which repeat the exposition we have already learned. But this time, we see how the inhabitants of Béatrice react to these questions and to the human side of the Six so long hidden by horror stories and fear. Wang’s camera reveals the sagging jaws and watery eyes of the theater audience. Then, after the show, members from both sides of the divide are seen hugging the actors, who took an acknowledged risk to take on that stage.

I strongly believe in the power of art to heal our wild souls. In Mind over matter, Wang captures such comfort in this performance hall. She makes us testify to the incredible capacity of humans to make us change our minds. However, she also recognizes the obstacles of this journey. As one member of the Wilson family, 36, candidly explains, it takes a long time to believe in your heart that something is true and then accept being wrong. Wang’s empathy for all of the victims of this crime and the injustices that resulted from it doesn’t just focus his lens on the Wilson family as they grapple with what they thought they knew and their budding accomplishments. She also orchestrates an unexpected introduction, where across a table, two troubled-hearted families find solace in their shared grief.

True crime as a genre can be deeply problematic, often veering into macabre giddy and even exploitative tragedy. But in this space there is the possibility of looking at what happened and probing what we might learn from it. Not so much for safety lessons, but for uncomfortable truths about our world as it is — minus the smoky-voiced storytelling, the copaganda tales, or the artful staging of many true-crime shows.

thinking about murder dutifully dodging the trappings of true exploitation crime to find the humanity behind the headlines. Wang speaks with warring parties, and both offer honesty and vulnerability, even when it’s hard to hear. That might be enough: an in-depth look at this story that defined the lives of Searcey, the Wilsons, the Six, and even Gage County, for better or for worse, whether they liked it or not. All of this was a big task that Wang carried out with aplomb. However, with this final, Wang went further. She pushed for the tricky journey of moving on.

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Resolution isn’t something true crime shows can honestly offer. Even after the hammer blow, there are sequels of emotions, psychological trauma and untold social consequences. Covering nearly 40 years, thinking about murder wades through those aftermath, validating the pain of his subjects, then – amazingly – capturing on camera their path to healing.

It’s not a happy ending, but attempting one would be a slap in the face at the authenticity and emotional complexity that Wang has so meticulously woven into this limited series. Instead, it lights the way forward, but does not let us forget the lingering darkness. Progress is never a straight line. Mourning is a monster. Healing is difficult. And thinking about murder acknowledges all of this with his haunting last words.

How to watch: The HBO documentary series (opens in a new tab)thinking about murder(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on HBO Max. The (opens in a new tab)thinking about murder(opens in a new tab) The finale airs Monday, July 25 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.(opens in a new tab)

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