Liz Levey, ‘Doah Staff Writer
January 21, 2015
“If you don’t mind me asking — you don’t have no ending?” This is the question Adnan Syed asks Sarah Koenig early in the season finale of “Serial the podcast” that ended on Dec. 18. It was a good question and millions of listeners were no doubt wondering before they sat down to hear the final splash of Koenig’s deep dive into the 1999 murder of Syed’s ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, for which he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. “I mean, do I have an ending?” asks Koenig, “Of course I have an ending. We’re going to come to an ending today.”
For those of you who haven’t listened, Serial is hosted by Sarah Koenig, a journalist and producer of This “American Life,” and explores the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a senior at Baltimore County’s Woodlawn High School. Hae’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed – by all accounts an intelligent, and popular student – was arrested and convicted of Hae’s murder. Many years later, a family friend contacted Koenig and asserted that Adnan’s lawyer, had botched his defense – possibly intentionally. The family friend implored Koenig to investigate. Koenig agreed, throwing herself full-bore into an investigation of the murder and Adnan’s defense, including multiple interviews with various individuals involved in the case. Each episode meticulously delves into a particular aspect of the crime. It immediately becomes clear that the prosecution’s case against Adnan was questionable at best, and that his lawyer failed to contact a key witness who could have potentially provided Adnan with an alibi.
Serial provides a classic “unreliable narrator” problem. Koenig did not randomly stumble on Adnan’s case; instead, Adnan’s friend approached her with the proposition that Adnan is innocent. Can Koenig possibly be a disinterested investigator? Or did she set out from the outset to try to prove Adnan’s innocence? Is Koenig a journalist or is she Adnan’s de facto attorney?
You either believe star prosecution witness Jay, who led police to his friend Adnan and says he helped bury Hae’s body in Baltimore’s Leakin Park after she was strangled in a Best Buy parking lot. Or you believe Adnan, even though he never really offers an explanation as to where he was on the afternoon of Jan. 13, 1999, or why he is not guilty, beyond claiming he is innocent.
For fans of the podcast, which started with little spin off of “This American Life” this fall and then, through word of mouth, morphed into a global phenomenon, maybe there was never any chance for closure.
“As a juror, I vote to acquit Adnan Syed,” Koenig says, in what we’ll have to call the series climax. “I have to acquit. Even if in my heart of hearts I think Adnan killed Hae, I have to acquit. That’s what the law requires of jurors.”
And that is how “Serial” ended, even if didn’t feel like an ending at all. We are so used to murder: on the news, in primetime drama, in true-life recreations. We are so used to murder when it’s all sewn up. What “Serial” does is remind us that murder and the investigation of it are human, messy, not simple, not clear. Extraordinary, bad things happen to ordinary, good people. We do not wish them on anyone. And yet, because of their extraordinariness, their awfulness, they are fascinating. They bring a thrill. We want to work out murder, order it, get the right villain… because we are scared. This is real life. This actually happened.