Content warning: this article contains mentions of child abuse, assault, and physical violence.
Netflix’s shocking new docuseries, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, features the grave story that took place during Spring of 2013 in Los Angeles, California. While uncovering interviews and live footage from inside the case, this six-part documentary series revolves around the abuse and murder of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.
Although the story itself is an unsettling and disturbing one, Brian Knappenberger, the shows’ director, creates an atmosphere that is not only truthful and informative, but also wildly entertaining. Pearl Fernandez, Gabriel’s mother, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, are one of the main focuses of the show. As they inflicted many horrific injuries on Gabriel, physical violence soon became the repertoire for the Fernandez family. I watched in disbelief of how not only Gabriel was unable to receive help from others, but how the abuse of other children in the county had been slipping through the cracks.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez creators took making a docuseries to the next level. When I first began watching, I was expecting nothing more than a summarized version of Gabriel’s story, but was taken off-guard when the show spared no details, gore or discomfort, to the audience. Being a squeamish person, I thought that the close-up photographs of Gabriel’s injuries, as well as the medical reports from his death, would turn me off from the series completely, but it actually did the opposite. It allowed me to further understand exactly what happened, and it almost felt as if I was on the inside of the case, and not just a spectator watching from home through a screen. Compilations of flashbacks, real-life footage courtrooms, jail cells, the family’s home, and an array of drone shots of the city in which this all took place come together to add a cinematic element.
The last two episodes, containing the verdicts of Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre, are ultimately the hardest ones to watch. In this episode, viewers will learn of the ways that the two perpetrators tortured Gabriel even before his death, by doing things such as forcing him to consume cat litter, locking him in a cupboard, and abusing him verbally and physically. The question of how all of this was witnessed — and, for that matter, ignored — began to grow. How could people have seen this abuse and decided not to intervene?
By delving deep into the background of Gabriel’s life, as well as the charges and testimonies of the Fernandez family, this documentary examines how both the county and the system had failed in doing their part to protect Gabriel. The outcome of the story is not much of a surface-level answer, but rather something closer to a jumbled up mind-map that allows audiences to put the facts together themselves. If you’re someone who is intrigued by criminal justice, or even if you’re just looking for something new, then this chilling series is the one for you.