Netflix's 'The Keepers' (Ep. 1): Setting The Stage For A Nun Who Vanished

On a day after teaching, Sister Cathy went to the store and never returned. Now, 47 years later, two of her former students are heating up what had turned into a cold case. 

By Eric Shorey

It seemed quite curious that Netflix would follow-up their avant-garde true crime masterpiece Casting JonBenet with a much more straight-forward docu-series. And although anticipation for the new show has been high, The Keepers, directed by Ryan White, seems to have failed at capturing the public's imagination (and ire) in quite the same way that led their viral Making the Murderer to immediately become a topic of casual conversation. Nonetheless, this new, tightly wound mystery tale about a nun who ran out to a store and never returned reveals an equally important social ill. We'll be taking stock of each episode of the new series in a play-by-play breakdown. Here's what happens in episode 1:

We open on journalist Tom Nugent, a friendly, slightly withered older gentleman. Nugent seems to be wading knee-deep in piles of old articles and other info stored in his attic. Nugent finds one particular story he wrote about Sister Cathy Cesnik's mysterious and unsolved death. Now, we've got our protagonist. Nugent notes that the story about Cathy seems to have changed after a woman came forward saying she witnessed the body of the dead nun. Details are still vague here, but now we know everything is not as it once seems.

"There's an on-the-record public story of what happened to sister Cathy, and then there's the world beneath that's actually being lived ... And so we find ourselves, 47 years after the murder. The case is unsolved. We all go on, day after day and the boil continues to swell and the people who were injured most deeply continue to struggle and suffer. And the public continues to ask what happened. But the clues to what it was linger on in a place like this attic. Those objects hold that energy and they twist you and turn you in the wind. And you start asking what was, what is the past?" asks Nugent.

These existential questions hang over the course of the next episodes, looming with moody piano and violin.

After an introductory sequence that introduces images of Cesnik, her students, pieces of evidence, and photos of priests, we move on to Baltimore, Maryland, where we meet Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub. Hoskins and Schaub are two adorable older ladies who have, for somewhat unspecified reasons, taken on a private investigation of Sister Cathy. The two indicate that they were once students of hers and feel a bit of responsibility to deliver justice where police have so obviously failed.

Hoskins and Schaub are a complimentary partnering: Hoskins is an incredibly charming, quick-witted interlocutor ready to interview suspects and potential leads. Schaub is a more mild-mannered mousey researcher, willing to get her hands dirty with detail-oriented processing of case details and records. Neither have any real, professional credentials when it comes to crime-solving.

From the greeting of these new players, we start getting the details of the case. On a day after teaching at Archbishop Keough High School, Cathy went to the store and never returned. Her car, however, was found parked in a nearby driveway sticking out onto the road. A small tree branch hung from the dashboard. Police never determined if Cathy made it to the store or was taken on her way back.

Sister Russell, Cathy's roommate, consulted with priests about whether to call police over Cathy's disappearance. Eventually, when Cathy failed to return, they notify the cops.

Shortly after Cathy's disappearance, Joyce Malecki, a local teenager a few towns away, also vanishes. The two cases have little in common other than their proximity to each other and the total lack of evidence surrounding them. Malecki's disappearance similarly remains unsolved.

Back to Hoskins and Schaub, who tell us about a Facebook group they formed in order to help solve the crime. Every night a small gathering of users post new information they may have discovered in the hopes of leading to a breakthrough in the case.

After a handful of introductions to some of the investigators originally assigned to Cathy's case (who seem, at least on the surface, to have been acting in good faith) we trace the discovery of Cesnik's body and its effects on Cathy's friends, specifically Gerry Koob, a priest and close confidant of the nun. Keep him in mind: he'll come up again later.

Hoskins and Schaub attempt to follow up on some leads discovered through their Facebook page, but nothing seems to be going anywhere, with many on the police force at the time long-retired or completely uninterested.

A handful of hyper-specific pieces of evidence are introduced throughout the episode as the basics of the story are told. At this point it's hard to tell which details will eventually become pertinent but the general gist of the story is that no one seems to know what happened, but many locals think that there's something more sinister going on beneath. Some hint at police corruption, others at even more nefarious goings-on involving an extensive and cancerous coverup.

As the story gets deeper we'll see where each thread leads.

[Photo: Screenshot from Netflix]

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