Commentary, Culture, Podcasts

Adnan Syed: Serial Season 1 Review

December 18, 2014

For any of you who have been anxiously waiting for the season finale of the standout podcast series Serial (following the case of Adnan Syed), the following somewhat embarrassing information about myself will make sense to you, at least in the context of the show. And for those of you un-hip, living under a rock types, please do yourselves a cultural favor and get with the times! (Fair warning: Spoilers ahead for the uninitiated.)

Adnan Syed‘s Burden of Perfect Memory

I was asked recently if I keep attendance when I am coaching high school varsity soccer during my evenings after work. I know I’m supposed to, as their attendance (among other things) contributes to their overall PE grade that they receive at the end of the year. What I tell myself is that I can usually gauge a student’s overall contribution to the team, noting in my head those that tend to be late, that tend to have regularly excused absences, or those that are more likely to miss a practice or two.

But if you were to ask me if I remembered who was at practice last month on a particular day of the week, I have to admit that I wouldn’t be able to give a solid answer. I may have an idea, but I can’t always be sure.

I really hope that none of my student athletes need an alibi any time soon!

My memory of what has happened even in my own life is frail and disconnected. It’s difficult telling truth from fiction even in my own storied past. How much more difficult it has been to navigate the intriguing details surrounding Adnan Syed’s case without casting doubt on almost anything that has been said so far.

And while I have been enamored with the series ever since episode 1, it has also been frustrating knowing that by the end of it all, there will not be any “truth” to land on. Or at least not a tangible one based on irrefutable facts.

“If someone believes me or not, I have no control over it,” says Adnan in the opener to the finale. That’s correct. We have to decide for ourselves what to believe. But even with everything that has been presented so far, it’s a frustrating exercise trying to land on one side or the other.

One of the best (and funniest) illustrations of that frustration is this parody from Funny or Die about the season finale:

So imagine my dismay when at the start of the show, Adnan asks Sarah if she has an ending.

“Do I have an ending?” she asks shakily. Then sighs.

Oh dear.

She then admits that she does indeed have one. But who knows if it is what we have been wanting all along.

Next, she meanders through some details we hadn’t heard before. She mentions an interview with Don, Hae’s boyfriend at the time. While very interesting, it only sheds peripheral light.

She also interviews Jay’s friend Josh. He mentions how Jay had been scared when it had all gone down.

What was he afraid of?

“He was afraid people were after him,” says Josh. These people, presumably, were the ones involved in the murder. Sure, it could have been someone else other than Adnan, though at the time, it seems like Jay was referencing him as the culprit.

Even if it were Adnan Syed, was he a threat to Jay? Would he have had people who knew about the murder, who would then be after Jay? Or was Jay displacing his fear on a culprit this early on?

Later in the show, the producers go through an excruciatingly painful process to find out if “The Nisha Call” really happened. After all their hunting, they find that AT&T would have, at that time, charged for the call. Even if unanswered, if the call took an “unreasonable amount of time” before it was cut, Adnan Syed would have been billed. So, yes, it could have been butt-dial after all.

While seemingly insignificant, it does create even more doubt into one of the more damning pieces of evidence that Adnan had against him.

Next, the producers call into question the call that was made at 3:21pm from Adnan’s phone to Jenn’s house. Jay had previously admitted that he would have been at Jenn’s house at this time, but he was also supposed to have Adnan’s phone. This was also, presumably, the call he got from the fabled Best Buy payphone (which, as of this episode, may have existed after all). But if that’s the case, who made the call to Jenn’s landline?

The details around this afternoon throughout the series have gone like this: murky, murkier, murkiest! What are we supposed to believe really went on?

The producers note, however, that if Adnan Syed is presumably innocent, then he was remarkably unlucky to have loaned his car and phone to Jay that day, to have asked Hae for a ride, to forget what he was doing that day, and to have his phone dial Nisha that very afternoon.

No matter how much we dig deeper, though, there’s very little hope at finding any sort of resolution.

While the Serial crew was “rabbit hole-ing,” we are reintroduced to Deirdre Enright and her crew of law students, who have discovered a possible link to a convicted criminal who was in the area at the time of the killing, and how they are appealing to test the DNA found around the crime scene and on Hae.

It is such a long shot, an almost unimaginable link. Deirdre doesn’t seem to think so.

What makes more sense, she asserts, is that a convicted murderer and felon would have killed Hae, as opposed to a young high school student with no record.

I admit, it does stand to reason, but it’s terribly inconclusive.

Adnan Syed: Serial Season 1 Review

In the end, I wonder how many people will stay connected with this story to see if anything comes of this, or at what will happen during Adnan Syed’s appeal set for mid January.

There is an incredible wealth of information in this last podcast that I’ve not reproduced in this write up, but as the episode starts to wind down, that unease starts to fight its way up my gut, through my heart, and into my tear ducts.

That’s right, I started getting a little teary eyed as the episode was winding down, and I’m not quite sure why. Is it because I care about the story of Adnan Syed, or is it because I just care about the story?

It’s a good story, to be sure, but I’m not the one living it. My life isn’t the one that’s on the line.

As Adnan muses on the ending of this podcast, he tells Sarah to leave things as they are, to let the listener decide.

“Just go down the middle,” he tells her.

Oh Adnan, don’t you know Sarah by now? Sure, you may say that you have no control over whether we believe you or not, but Sarah does! She is a masterful storyteller, and she’s guided us through this saga. She’s been tightrope walking over a canyon, carrying each of us on her shoulders, balancing a fine line between journalism and storytelling, leaving us vicariously exhilarated.

But this isn’t only a story. It is a life that goes on with or without us. It has been going on for Adnan and all the friends and family involved. Why should we have any closure, if they don’t have any either?

So, as this saga comes to an end for me, as a listener, I have to agree with Sarah:

As a juror, I vote to acquit Adnan Sayed.  I have to acquit. Even if in my heart of hearts I think Adnan killed Hae, I still have to acquit. That’s what the law requires of jurors.

But, just as she points out, I am not a juror.

Adnan was never innocent until proven guilty. He was guilty from the onset.

Who knows what went on that afternoon. And if he pulled it off, maintained his innocence for 15 years while in jail with very little hope to be outside prison walls, agreed to do this show, and has kept this darkness inside of him hidden from any public view… Ugh, I don’t even know how to finish that sentence.

And so, our story is done, but not Adnan’s. But I’m sure like many of you, we’ll be scouring the news for an epilogue. I know now that we will never have the facts, but perhaps the “truth” we are after is not in the facts, but in the inescapable feeling that nothing is as it seems, and that when the justice system fails, the only semblance of it lies within our own hearts.

Or maybe it isn’t that deep. Maybe I just need to start keeping attendance at my soccer practices.

5 / 5 Stars

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