Because I am going to talking about a few of the details of the recently completed podcast series entitled “Serial” you should adhere to these two rules in regard to this post:
1). If you haven’t yet listened to the Serial podcast all the way through, you should stop reading this post right now to ensure I don’t ruin your listening experience by sharing details you will catch in later podcasts.
2). If you don’t know what the Serial podcast is, you should stop reading this post and go download episode one and get with it!
Okay, now that it’s just those of us who have already completed the series, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Serial. I think I came in the fourth week. A co-worker mentioned it and gave it a great endorsement. I figured I try listening on the way home from work. By the next day, I was completely hooked and had listened to all four episodes and looked forward to the new releases each Thursday from that point forward.
In writing, the author is taking you on a journey. You might not think of it that way, but that is absolutely what’s happening. In my fiction writing, thus far I’ve only written short stories, but even in that genre this is an important component. I don’t want to write something where the reader knows exactly what is going to happen in the story from the moment they start the first chapter. A well-crafted story may line down hints as to what the final outcome is, but clearly the writer will be trying to steer you to a logical conclusion down an entirely different path.
The funny thing is, I don’t think Sarah Koenig and crew delivered what they set out to do, yet, I as a listener, couldn’t have enjoyed the experience of listening more. The stated mission was to present the facts of the case of the murder of Hae Min Lee and to look into whether or not her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was rightfully convicted some 15 years ago. Koenig personally, along with a small staff, would look at the facts, talk to the key players and present it almost live in that they would talk about information as it was discovered on a weekly basis.
What didn’t work for me, though, was the fact my opinions never wavered. If you had me write the final episode for Sarah, after only listening to the first one, it would have been oddly close to what the final broadcast was. I would have written there ultimately wouldn’t be a decisive conclusion to the story. There would be no bombshells uncovered in which you could say definitively one way or another either Adnan was innocent or guilty. I would also note there were many items uncovered which didn’t look good for Adnan, there were some which muddied the water and created some doubt. Finally, I would have written that despite the facts leaning the other way, Sarah would support Adnan. Perhaps not wholeheartedly since there isn’t that one piece of evidence which completely exonerates him, but she would fall along the lines of “reasonable doubt” or let’s continue to keep our minds open as his case is still being worked through the appeals system.
Well, that is exactly what happened.
Further complicating my affinity for Serial was the fact I also never really moved over to Adnan side myself. The most compelling evidence I think he had was the “girl in the library” scenario played out in the first episode. It kind of fell apart and I actually don’t really know what to think about that situation.
The rest of the “evidence” in support of Adnan all seemed pretty weak to me. In fact, I was the polar opposite to Sarah’s take on Adnan the person. While she was seemingly caught up in the fact he was well-spoken and engaging on the phone, I think I always looked a little deeper, and what I heard, I didn’t like.
For instance, the foggy memory of the day’s events. I can see how your memory can quickly fade of the mundane of a normal day. It doesn’t seem normal to me a day when the police speak to you about the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend. I really can’t equate anything similar to this. I did lose my father suddenly and very unexpectedly to a heart attack. This was about five hours after I had lunch with him. Over the next few days it was amazing how the complete details of everything which happened that day were tattooed in my brain. It had been like every other day. We would go once a week to the same restaurant. He would come by my work, pick me up and we would go there. Yet, here it is, two plus years later and on that day, I can tell you every little detail about what happened. How, with the benefit of hindsight, I noticed he walked a little bit slower. He had a bad knee so I always arrived at the door first, but I would wait and hold the door for him to help out. Usually, he was just a moment behind me. On that day, he was like two stores back when I grabbed the door and turned to open it for him. I didn’t think anything about it at the time other than perhaps his knee was bothering him a little worse that day. I ran through our conversations. His face as he waved goodbye that day. The car driving away.
It just seemed hard for me to believe there would be these lapses where he had no explanation.
Adnan was stoned, though. Okay. Not stoned enough to miss track practice, drive around town, and go to parties or the mosque or whatever else he said he was doing that day. I think Sarah was far too easy to dismiss actions like this and write them off to the defense, and ultimately the convenience of Adnan.
One of the most insightful exchanges for me was the whole matter of stealing from the offerings at the mosque. I have to say I don’t think this tidbit from Adnan’s past plays much of a part in the story here. I’m even willing to fall on the side of whatever he did there could easily fall under a “dumb kid thing” and not any indicator of current or future criminal activity. What I saw from the exchange was completely different than Sarah’s take, though. She brings up the topic, he lashes out. Sarah gives Adnan her supportive affirmation of “he gets this way sometimes” and then is pleased when he comes back to the topic during a later call and provides her with a sanitized story which admits guilt but downplays it. What I hear is a cold and calculating person who was caught off guard because he’s used to tying up loose ends in a story before he speaks to Sarah about them. This had nothing to do with the murder so he hadn’t field tested his response in his mind. He lashes out. Gets her on her heels and off the story. He goes back to work on this story and then presents the “ready for publication” version of the story the next time he speaks to Sarah.
She’s pleased as can be he’s told the story. He’s admitted guilt and she moves on. I did not.
Foreshadowing the end from the moment you begin listening and disagreeing with the host’s approach and I still liked the program?
I didn’t like the program, I loved it!
What I loved about the show was the look into our justice system and the fact Koenig and team were thoroughly checking information and the popularity of the show seemed to open even more doors for them. I like how it was presented almost like you were part of the team. It always felt like they were close to breaking something big. That’s truly where Koenig won me over, with the old fashioned storytelling.
Yes, despite its flaws, I’m still giving Serial top marks. It’s like it has opened the door for podcasting to become more socially accepted. I am sure the popularity of this program will only mean more quality programs like it will be available soon. I like the idea of more and better quality podcasts being available. They are great entertainment during mindless times like driving or exercising.
I’m looking forward to what the Serial team does for season 2!