What Jennifer Did leaves unanswered questions — but that’s not the point

What Jennifer Did leaves unanswered questions — but that’s not the point

Sure, Netflix’s What Jennifer Did leaves some questions unanswered and is missing a few details — but that’s not the point of the documentary. 

The Jennifer Pan case is well-known within the true crime world, having been covered by the YouTube icon JCS in a doc that’s earned a whopping 42 million views. In 2015, Reporter Karen K. Ho also wrote an extensive feature for Toronto Life, weaving together all of the key details and background on the case.

The incident unfolded back in 2010, when Pan’s family home in Markham, Canada, was invaded by masked assailants, leaving her mother dead and her father with serious injuries. Through extensive interviewing, detectives noticed holes in her stories, and soon she was the prime suspect. Then, Pan’s father woke up and confirmed their suspicions. 

Jennifer, along with her ex-boyfriend Daniel Wong, were behind a murder-for-hire plot, landing them and their co-conspirators in jail. 

Nearly 15 years after the attack, American Murder filmmaker Jenny Popplewell has taken another deep dive into the case with her documentary film, What Jennifer Did. While it’s raced to first place on Netflix’s Top 10 chart in the US, the doc has received some criticism for leaving out a number of key details. 

One Redditor pointed to the Toronto Life feature, suggesting that it’s “10 times more informative than the Netflix documentary,” and that the film “didn’t even mention her brother, which I thought was odd.” Many responded to agree, with one saying the film acted as if Jennifer “was an only child.” 

A third wrote, “Weird they didn’t mention she planned and attended her mother’s funeral days before she got arrested. Her friend briefly mentioned it but I thought they’d show that infamous photo of her and her brother at the funeral.”

There were also plenty of questions about how Jennifer managed to uphold her double life, having lied to her parents about graduating from high school, attending university, living on campus, and volunteering at a blood-testing lab for years. “I feel like they just kind of glossed over it,” said one. “Like, excuse me, she lied about getting an entire degree, can we please elaborate?”

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Don’t get me wrong — these are key details, and some feel rushed in What Jennifer Did. But in defense of the documentary, there was only so much Popplewell and the production crew could fit into the brief 85-minute timeframe. 

Where so many true crime titles tend to stretch out cases across three or more hour-long episodes, What Jennifer Did is to the point, placing more focus on the police investigation and the interrogation of Jennifer.

What’s unique about the doc is that we get to meet key figures involved in the case, including detectives, family friends, and former classmates. It also presents key insights into her mental state at the time, with text messages to Wong indicating her motive was multi-layered. 

What Jennifer Did leaves unanswered questions — but that’s not the point

Detective Alan Cooke is one of many officers from the case who shares insights in What Jennifer Did

Significantly, rather than presenting a “right or wrong” argument, What Jennifer Did provides an overview of what happened and backs it up with the context in an objective manner, allowing viewers to make up their own minds. 

As executive producer Jeremy Grimaldi told Now Toronto: “So many documentaries will try to present to you what they think is right, what they think is wrong, who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy. This documentary focuses outwards and allows the viewer to decide, which is special, and I’m glad people are responding to it.”

So while What Jennifer Did has its shortcomings, it’s still a valuable contribution to the ongoing case of Jennifer Pan, one that sparks discussions about morality, familial pressure, and mental health. 

What Jennifer Did is streaming on Netflix now. You can read more about why she’s getting a retrial here. For more on true crime, check out our roundup of the documentaries heading to streaming this month.

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