Serial Podcast, Episode 12: With Adnan and Jay, we believe what we want to believe

Adnan Syed Serial

Last night I got wine drunk with my wife — it was the kind of evening where I changed my mom’s ringtone on my cell phone (for incoming) to “Wrecking Ball” — and at one point, we were out on the balcony (second floor) and, right underneath us, a large grey pickup truck pulled up (this is Texas, after all). A man was driving, and a woman was in the passenger seat. Even before a door opened, it was clear through the windshield, from above, that they were fighting. Soon her door open and she tore out, saying something like “Well, I hope your wife understands!” He made no effort to chase her or go get her. Rather, her door slammed, and he paused for a second, then put the truck in reverse and peeled out. She ran into one of the apartment entrances for my building.

There had been a woman walking her dog across the street and we briefly made eye contact of the “Whoa, that was odd” variety. I turned to my wife and my first thought was, “Wow, if that had gone differently, suddenly we’re major witnesses in some state case in a few years.” I hadn’t thought of Serial all day, and that’s when I remembered again: tomorrow morning would be the final episode. I needed to be somewhat sober to hit the gym and listen. I dialed it back.

This morning, as I listened, I realized that little pickup truck incident was somewhat connected — because, as I’ve said before, Serial over time became less about Adnan and Jay, and more about all of us.

I’ll address the innocent/guilty concept in a few paragraphs.

Here’s what I mean by “all of us.” Take that pickup truck incident, right? It seems fairly cut-and-dried — maybe this woman and this man had gone on a few dates, and only now was she realizing he was married. From the five seconds of context I got, that seems like what was happening. But maybe that’s wrong. Maybe the dog-walking lady saw or heard it a different way. Hell, maybe these two were role-playing. The point is, almost everything has two sides. The biggest issues in our society annually — inequality, women at work, abortion, civil rights, international involvement — they all have two distinct sides with two distinct arguments (or many overlapping arguments, often). That’s what makes them compelling. That’s a large part of what made Serial compelling.

My friend Amy (wife’s college roommate) texted me last weekend and said, “Let’s say this happened with our group of friends. How quickly would someone roll on someone else?” Honestly, I consider those people some of my best friends in the world. You know how quickly the first person would roll or say “Well, maybe he … ” if my wife was found in Leakin Park? Probably less than 1 hour. You can take literally anything and view it 1 of 2 ways based on the context you had with it before, during, and after.

At the end of Serial, that’s all we really learned. It was a bunch of facts and assumptions, overlapping timelines and cell towers, 1999 AT&T agreements and defense attorney outbursts. At the end, it came back to the same concept: We believe what we believe based on our context with what we know, and often, it can be hard to reverse that opinion.

Some other thoughts:

Adnan vs. Jay: For the first 8-9 episodes of Serial, I think the central issue was “Adnan is lying, or Jay is lying.” As discussed in Episode 12, it could be both. Hell, in small to medium-sized parts, it definitely is both. A lot about Jay is suspect, and there’s the issue of his lawyer, the issue of what was happening when the tape recorder wasn’t on, the issue of his timeline, etc. He’s hardly a trustworthy character or, at least, doesn’t come across like one. With Adnan, there are things too — why didn’t he call Hae or attempt to page her/something? And like Don said in this final episode: when a cop calls you about someone missing, suddenly everything is very real. I’ve been high as shit / drunk as shit in my life and gotten calls of a serious nature. (Not about a dead person, no.) You get back into it pretty quickly, or at least I have. Don ran through everything; wanted to be accountable. Adnan, for this entire podcast, has always said, “Well, about that time … I just don’t know.” That seems ludicrous. A girl you were dating a month before goes missing and the day you find out, suddenly everything is vague? Odd.

Point is: Jay and Adnan both have issues. 15 years later, we’re probably never going to know — unless one specific thing happens, noted below. But I don’t think it’s about “Who do you believe?” by the end. It’s about: “There are a million and six ways to see this case and this info. How and why do you choose your idea?”

Ronald Lee Moore: Here’s an article about him, here’s the article when he killed himself, and here’s a quick ‘modern news’ approach to Moore. This is the one situation, in all likelihood, where we get clarity here. Did he do something? Is he the killer? If he is, and it’s somehow proven by DNA, then we’re good. We’re clear. We understand what happened, and Serial staff’s year-long quest did have some relevance. He liked killing and raping women, and Asian women factored in sometimes. Put a bow on it.

Ronald Lee Moore

This is Ronald Lee Moore, mentioned in Episode 12.

Then there might be a struggle with how you perceive the events of 1/13/99, though — do you see all the Jay and Adnan machinations as driving around being high, being stupid teenage kids? But how did Jay know where the car was? Did the cops know and feed it to him? Or should we just focus on the “big picture,” as the Innocence Project said?

I’m not sure where Moore was living from 1/1/99 to 1/14/99, but could this somehow explain the $1.71 charge on Hae’s credit card?

Innocent Or Guilty: Previously, I said Adnan was innocent. My main rationale was the timeline, which I believe was Episode 5. It just didn’t seem plausible for a teenager who had probably never killed before to fit everything in that window. The timeline may be wrong, though. The cops were in a rush to get this one closed, they had Jay, they had some of his friends, it seemed to fit — it’s possible the supposed “Come get me at Best Buy” call came in at 3:40, not 2:36.

Over time, I’ve moved closer to guilty on Adnan. I still think this case has huge holes/flaws/etc., but I somewhat agree with Dana’s points from the final episode. If Adnan is innocent, this is a series of really bad coincidences. That does happen in life, yes, but not as much as we’d like to think. He lends his car (and his phone) to the guy that will ultimately turn on him? He gets stoned and goes and looks concerned and asks how to get un-stoned? The 6pm to 8pm time puts him vaguely near Leakin Park and that time seems to link up with Jay? He dials Nisha?

Look, the court system was flawed here, without a doubt — but if you take the entire fabric of Adnan’s day together, up to and including “I can’t remember this or that,” it does seem like a huge amount of coincidences run together … which puts some lingering doubt in the minds of everyone. Or should.

Ultimately, what will happen is: Either Ronald Lee Moore’s (or someone else’s) DNA will be somewhere, or Adnan will spend the rest of his life in prison. Those are really the two outcomes I would see here. No one in the Maryland legal system will want to overturn this case just based on the popularity of an NPR podcast, I’d imagine — that opens up a whole floodgate of other issues. I don’t see the “ineffective counsel” thing going that far in the big picture. 48 hours after the final listener runs Episode 12 for the final time, Jay Wilds will have his life in Los Angeles (or wherever), Nisha will be doing her thing, Asia will be doing her thing, Jenn will be doing her thing, and Stephanie McPherson will be doing her thing. They’re all adults, front-half-of-their-30s, living their lives. Adnan’s in a cell. He will be for another 40-50 years, probably. It’s not always fair, or how it’s supposed to work. Or maybe it is.

The One Lingering Thing: I’d love to hear from Stephanie McPherson. By all accounts (which is to say, 2-3), this case/situation almost broke her. She knows something. Maybe it’s as simple as “It broke her because her boyfriend at the time was deeply involved.” Maybe that’s it. But maybe she knows, or saw, something more than even the cops know. I hope her side of everything comes out over time.

What did you think of Episode 12? Of Serial? And hey, how fast would your friends turn on you?

Ted Bauer