Serial Podcast, Episode 11: Maybe the worst episode, or maybe the best

Hae Min Lee Serial

I listened to Serial Episode 11 (full transcript) on Thursday morning. I set my alarm for 7am normally, but on Thursday I woke up at 5:15am and couldn’t go back to sleep. Admittedly, this was predominantly because I had to pee (i.e. I’m getting old) but after I did urinate, I decided to go to the gym and listen to Serial on the treadmill. Since I had binge-listened Episodes 1-8, this was my first “morning of release” listen. I was excited. When it was over, I was still somewhat excited — but also let down. Here’s why.

Journalism Aspect: I’ve talked about this before, but a lot of the way people are processing this show is through the eyes of journalists or other culture observers. When you straight-up title an episode “Rumors,” you’ve got the true journalists on high defense alert before the Mail Kimp ad even rolls. The front part of this episode was interesting, but it was mostly chasing down stories and/or rumors and trying to fit them in a context. It’s an interesting place for the show to be in — because people who have become devoted fanatics of the show are now viewing it almost as you view a true procedural, so they expect the story to move forward every week. Thing is, it can’t. Adnan Syed is in jail, and yes, there’s an appeal-ish-thing coming. But the story isn’t necessarily going to add new parts each week, like, say, Breaking Bad could. When the story doesn’t move forward, I think that can frustrate the fans of the show. I felt frustrated by it this week. But I also know that’s ridiculous. As for the overall journalism aspect, I think Koenig’s narration has actually given this show a lot of its life — but I also see the problems in an all-white NPR staff covering a case where some of the major elements involved a Pakistani, an Asian, and an African-American. I also know a lot of hardcore journalists who probably recoil when Koenig talks about stealing clothes or smoking pot.

Serial Is Now Less About Adnan, And More About All Of Us: This podcast has basically become the story of humanity, in some ways. Not trying to oversell it or sound too deep, but think about it. Literally every action you do in your life can be perceived two different ways based on what another person is trying to believe about you. That’s the crux of this story about Adnan. You can believe he’s the golden boy, or you can believe he’s the golden boy who snapped and became a murderer, or you can believe he’s the golden boy hiding psychopathy. Everything he does — from stealing $20 to helping his uncle set up tables — can be viewed through either prism. (You can say he only helped his uncle set up tables as a smokescreen for who he really was.) Think about your own life for a second. Now assume Adnan is innocent. Let’s say one day, out of the blue, an ex or friend of yours is murdered. You get caught up in it, and before you know what’s happening, you’re arrested. You absolutely didn’t do it, but a few sketchy things are out there in terms of timeline. Now think about some of your best friends. Would they necessarily stick by you, or would they say, “Well, there was that one time he screamed at her…?” Doubt creeps in from everywhere. The way we form, and contextualize, relationships can be fraught. And everything has two sides. That’s an aspect of human nature that people don’t really think about, but it’s at the core of everything. This podcast is exploring that.

Can Anyone Be Evil? I personally believe anyone is capable of it, and I think that’s why you see so much fascination with anti-hero TV shows of late.

How Is This Thing Going To End? We know the final episode’s title is “Verdict Sheet.” We also know Adnan is still in jail, and the appeals process mentioned above is in play for January. What could happen at the end of the podcast? What’s the best-case and worst-case scenario? Like I said above, the podcast is in an interesting place in terms of how its fans are relating to it. Anything short of Adnan confessing on the final podcast is going to disappoint a bunch of people — and he’s not likely to confess. However, personally I would hate an ending that basically offered a trite summation of the criminal justice system in America today (which I think most would admit is fairly flawed). I worry that’s where it’s going, especially with “verdict sheet” in the title. If it becomes an amorphous narrative about the justice system and values, I’d smash my phone while listening to the final one. I doubt there’s going to be a ton of new information, but it would be interesting if something completely different came out. NPR itself thinks the end might be about the legal system. Argh.

One Sometimes-Overlooked Thing My Friend Told Me: One of my good friends, Alex, has been listening to the podcast. He mentioned something that’s come up a few times — but, with all the information out there, it’s often-overlooked. Adnan never called Hae after her disappearance. When you combine that with the Leakin Park phone pings, you can make a reasonable assumption that (a) he knew she was dead and (b) he was involved in her death/burying. If all her girlfriends were calling her, why wouldn’t he? That is a substantial piece of doubt.

Kevin Urick’s role in the case: Here’s another interesting theory I hadn’t really considered. Here’s Kevin Urick now.

We’re all detectives now: A lot of my best traffic on my own site comes from true crime posts, which makes sense because at heart, we’re all detectives in some way. Go through the Reddit Serial long enough and you’ll find some insane wormholes — ever seen this thing about Jenn’s transcript? Or this about the cell phone towers? Everyone wants to piece this together, and that — along with the human element described above — is part of the mass appeal here. (Well, mass appeal for a podcast, at the very least.)

How do you think Serial will end? Any ideas/thoughts?

Ted Bauer


  1. It makes sense that Adnan didn’t contact Hae. Hae didn’t have a cellphone, so one of the only ways to contact Hae (the way he always used) would be through her house phone, which would be pointless. The other way would be through her pager, and there has been talk that Adnan tried to page Hae through his house phone (as Hae would recognize that number, but probably wouldn’t recognize his new cell phone number).

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