This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until the day after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Will The Keepers Keep You Awake At Night?
You thought you'd heard the worst there was to hear about Catholic school sex scandals. You were wrong.
What Is This Thing?
The Keepers is a seven-part Netflix documentary series about the 1969 disappearance and murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun and English teacher at Baltimore's Archbishop Keough High School -- a case that remains unsolved. The focus of the series is a group of Sr. Cathy's former students who have, for the past fifty years, kept her memory alive...and some who, for a very long time, kept some terrible secrets.
When Is It On?
The series will premiere on Netflix Friday, May 19.
Why Was It Made Now?
Well, maybe y'all heard about Making A Murderer? Netflix has found a niche wave to ride with true crime and it's doing it very well.
This decades-old cold case of a murdered nun made its way into the national consciousness in the mid-'90s, when several alumni from the all-girls' Catholic school accused their former school chaplains not just of rape, but of prostituting them to other priests, as well as members of the community and local police force. One "Jane Doe" in the case also accused them of killing Sr. Cathy to cover up these crimes, saying she had been taken to see Sr. Cathy's body under the threat that the same would happen to her if she blew the whistle on the abuse. (If this sounds familiar, it may be because it also provided the basis of an SVU episode last year.) Since then, more victims have come forward, and instead of cowering in shame about yet another sexual abuse scandal, the Church repeatedly doubled down with various "false memory" suggestions in court, eventually making a lip-service apology and restitution to a few former students as part of a pitiful settlement in 2010. Three years later, more survivors began adding their voices to the story, and a core group of these ladies have become a gang of amateur detectives, determined to see justice done for themselves and Sr. Cathy.
What's Its Pedigree?
The Keepers was directed by Ryan White, who has made many rather good documentaries, including The Case Against 8, Good Ol' Freda, and an EPIX documentary about Serena Williams called Serena.
Seeing the photos of Sr. Cathy and the adolescent girls in her charge alongside scenes of 1960s working-class, ultra-Catholic Baltimore...I don't know if it's White's masterful use of suspenseful music, but the creeping fear overlaying the nostalgia of the saddle oxfords and bright smiles underscores the vulnerable innocence of the time, and of the devoted girls and their families who revered the leaders of their church above their own selves.
The psychology of Catholics of that era and that place is explored through the locked-in gazes of the victims of these crimes. I don't call them "alleged crimes," even though no one has ever been charged in these cases, because, after watching this, I don't see how anyone could doubt these women for one second. The violations they endured -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually -- are beyond comprehension, but their courageous determination to stand up to this thing at the core of their lives is fascinating (and, ultimately, so sad).
The documentary allows a glimpse at the beautiful person Sr. Cathy truly was, and to know that her devotion was vilely corrupted is devastation on top of a story that was already nauseatingly awful.
As much as you will immediately adore the wonderfully spitfire Abbie and Gemma, these "Balmer"-accented ladies who have dedicated themselves to tracking down evidence of the crimes on display here -- and seriously, after the first episode, you will be ready for an Abbie/Gemma spinoff -- the Episode 1 set-up of Sr. Cathy's murder drags. As Tom Nugent, a journalist who has covered the case for years, points out, it's the cover-up of the murder that causes the story to go from terrible offense to mind-boggling nightmare.
There was a disappearance of another young woman, Joyce Malecki, in the area at the same time Sr. Cathy went missing, and the parallel details of the cases are striking, but a lot of time is spent rolling out the Malecki info when it's unclear whether or not it will be at all relevant.
Episode 2, however, explodes with revelations that will stay in your mind for days on end.
If you found Making A Murderer at all compelling, you will likely be equally riveted, enraged, and moved by The Keepers. The story has the same, seemingly endless vortex of twists and turns, and serves as a screed against men who abuse their power to debase those they are supposed to protect. It will make you sick, but it's important.