But there’s more. In the series’s second episode, we meet Jean Hargadon Wehner, who figures significantly in the Cesnik case but has her own, separate story to tell, about horrific abuse at the hands of a male faculty member at the same school where Sister Cesnik taught.
From this point on, Mr. White is caught in a tricky balancing act, moving back and forth between two narratives that sometimes intersect and sometimes move along different tracks.
Ms. Hargadon Wehner’s story, which involves trying to obtain justice based on recovered memories, has the outlines of a classic tragedy, and Ms. Hargadon Wehner is a steely heroine. The Cesnik story, in contrast, is a noirish whodunit, and Ms. Hoskins and Ms. Schaub, despite the grimness of the material, are doughty, humorous presences.
Each thread is compelling in its own right, and a convincing case is made for their connections. But the shifts back and forth between the abuse story, a well-documented tale of institutional malfeasance, and the murder story — full of circumstantial and conflicting theories — can be jarring. Mr. White employs the full true-crime arsenal, including black-and-white re-creations of events and a lot of b-roll of bleak Baltimore backdrops, to achieve a consistently artful atmosphere of foreboding, but “The Keepers” doesn’t quite add up to the unified argument he’s trying for.
Mr. White and his crew also employ a certain amount of narrative trickery, both to tie together the story strands and to stretch the drama across the episodes, strategically withholding and reordering information. It raises a question that could be asked of all these shows: Since their stories could all be told in shorter and more straightforward ways without losing any significant facts, what’s gained by turning them into multipart sagas?
Entertainment value, obviously. But…