The Case Against Adnan Syed: Parts 1-4
March 12, 2019 1:30 PM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

Directed by Academy Award-nominee Amy Berg, four-part documentary series The Case Against Adnan Syed explores the 1999 disappearance and murder of 18-year-old Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed — a case brought to global attention by the hugely popular Serial podcast.
posted by skewed (13 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Watched the first episode the other night, but figure that we don't need to really worry about spoilers so just posted one thread for the whole 4-episode series.

I listened to Serial and read a good bit of the online discussion and the interviews with Jay and some of the other people involved in the case when back when this was all new, but I had barely ever seen any photos or video footage of anyone involved, this really made everything feel more real and less like a story.

This episode at least really centers Hae Min Lee as the relevant subject rather than Adnan as Serial did, so much so that it barely seems like the this documentary is about the same incident. On one hand it feels proper to focus on this as the tragedy of Hae's violent murder, on the other, it seems like her family still wants nothing to do with it, so having her diary entries read aloud by an actress who sounds vaguely like Hae seems potentially more painful than useful.

I'm still not sure what this series is supposed to be (just like we never figured out what Serial was supposed to be because it wasn't quite sure). Does Berg want to correct the deficiencies of Serial, or just make her own documentary, to the extent that she can, that exists independently of Serial?
posted by skewed at 10:28 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was an avid Serial listener so obviously I am watching this. The animated stuff kind of bounced off/irritated me, but I get that it's trying to give Hae a presence as a living person at the center of the story, and I respect that I just....meh. It was very cool and interesting to see people talking whose voices I'd heard so much on the podcast, and to see places that I'd only really seen in my imagination, it made the murder much more of a real thing for me.

I was really glad to see Adnan's brother speak so emotionally and respectfully at the start of the meeting at the mosque about Hae and remembering that she was a real person who was killed and deserves justice. I'm not a fan of punishment or a believer in "justice" in that sense, but if Adnan didn't kill her, someone else did, and her murder should be solved.

I was one who was sure Adnan was innocent until more than halfway through Serial and now I'm pretty firmly in the camp best defined by can't remember who, who said "I think he's probably guilty, but the prosecution's case had a ton of reasonable doubt". I think he's guilty but I don't think he should be serving a life sentence both because he was a stupid teenager at the time and because the case against him as presented seemed really questionable. I really liked Adnan when I listened to him speak (although I also think he seems very charismatic and good at presenting himself, so I am not uncynical about him), and I really want him to not have done it. That said, it does really seem like the police decided he was their guy, found an excellent and manipulable witness in Jay (whose stories change way more than you'd expect even allowing for teenagers and faulty memory and all that, and always seem to change in a way convenient for the case the cops were building).

I still think there's a lot we don't know about Don and Jay.
posted by biscotti at 2:34 PM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Don's alibi is SO fishy. His mom being a manager, his employee ID number...I feel like there is definitely something there, even if he didn't do anything and knew he would be a suspect so set up his alibi anyway.
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:20 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Undisclosed and Truth and Justice podcasts both did a thorough job of noticing how Jay was being put up to that story and how Don's alibi was sooooooo faked. I strongly suspect that Don should have been looked into more.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:18 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

After watching part 1, I'm not sure why this series exists or hopes to do.

The HBO trailer says there's "new evidence and perspectives" but there's none of that in the first hour. I think the only new thing for me was the French teacher, who was one of the people deeply suspicious of Adnan before he was arrested, said that she got a strange feeling when he didn't hug her. I guess it brought up Don's mother was his alibi witness, uncovered after Serial, but didn't touch on the weirdness about the inconsistencies between his timecards and paystubs the internet uncovered.

The animated sequences were pretty *ugh* - and I get that Hae's voice has to be part of the story - but the narration and animation felt really indulgent. There was also one part that literally made me say WTF and rewind again: there was a Hae segment, then a weird transition of 14 seconds of B-roll footage before a transition to another student. There was a shot of some grasses in the wind, then a duck in a pond, then some flowers, and then more memories of Woodlawn High. It was youtube amateur hour editing of images that speak the visual language of spring and young love, so ham-handed that I nearly gave up and turned it off.

The trailer hints that they're going to look at the cellphone evidence and the abandoned car, but I don't have high hopes. They found Don, they hired a team of private detectives... and? This series looks like it's more geared towards tugging at emotions, not presenting information about the case.
posted by peeedro at 8:07 AM on March 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

>The animated stuff kind of bounced off/irritated me, but I get that it's trying to give Hae a presence as a living person at the center of the story

Ugh, it was AWFUL. Terrible decision. So glad it disappeared in Episode 2. I understand, too, that the attempt was to honor Hae; but man, turning her into a cartoon character is not the way to do it.

I always felt like Hae seemed like a very young 18-year-old, her achievements, hard work, and popularity notwithstanding. Her diary reads more like it was written by a seventh grader, not a senior in high school. So the lengthy readings from the diary also didn't really help with giving a sense of the (apparently) outstanding young adult that she was. (Her letter to Adnan does sound more mature than the diary--and I'm not criticizing her, just the emphasis the documentary placed on her journal, where she probably just allowed herself to be silly.)

The title "The Case Against Adnan Syed" is intentionally misleading (provocative), I assume to catch eyeballs--because the documentary actually continues the case FOR him that Sarah Koenig basically started. Which irritated me until I realized I would really much rather see more evidence in his favor! I believe Adnan is guilty, but I sure would like to find out he's not.

>After watching part 1, I'm not sure why this series exists or hopes to do.
Well, a lot has happened since (and because of) Serial, so there is that to cover. Having said that--Part 1 is a total rehash. Part 2 gets a little more into a bit more new information, and the director has said that a lot of the good stuff is in Part 4. Reviewers apparently were given only 1 through 3 in advance, and since reviews have been reasonably good, I'm hoping Part 3 will be interesting--since I would rank 1 and 2 as mediocre at best.
posted by torticat at 7:40 AM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Holy shit. I had not read until just now that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals had ruled to deny Syed a new trial.

Does that mean the case is effectively over?
posted by torticat at 7:47 AM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Spoiler" from the final episode last night:

" A series of new forensic tests found no traces of Syed’s DNA on the many samples taken from Lee’s body and car during the original investigation." (NY Times summary of new information.)
posted by dnash at 9:13 AM on April 1, 2019

I felt like the way the documentary dealt with that was a little disingenous, though, because the unidentified/unmatched DNA was actually from a female subject. So if the DNA evidence clears Adnan, it clears ALL males.

However, it doesn't implicate Adnan, so it's not nothing!

I remember people being mad at Koenig for "smearing" Jay and/or Clinedinst (? have no idea whether I'm remembering that name right), while I thought she'd been reasonably careful stepping around that. ...Berg, not so much!! Wow.
posted by torticat at 11:21 AM on April 1, 2019

I went into this thinking it was a take-down of Serial, because I was never convinced of Adnan's innocence, just that the state did a terrible job convicting him on flimsy evidence. By episode four of the series, they're really leaning in to lots of other alternative theories, but my biggest red flag that convinced me Adnan is 100% innocent is the revelation in episode 2 that Jay's police record includes over 20 run-ins with the law, including kidnapping and punching cops out, and he only got convicted of two crimes out of 20 altercations?!

They *had* to give him some sort of sweetheart deal to let a guy beat his girlfriend, have a standoff with cops lasting hours, then punch a cop and walk away completely free. Also, in the last episode he admits the cops told him what to say in interviews.

It's a crushing story in the end of justice not served. About the only open question to me is why did they pin this all on Adnan in the first place? Was it just the easiest way to clear the case and use anti-muslim sentiment to get a quick trial and decision?
posted by mathowie at 11:25 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well (among other things), there's some part of this that I've never seen fully explored, that has to do with the mosque. Like, the police got an anonymous call from someone there who said that Adnan had confessed. Which wouldn't be too outlandish an idea, actually--that Adnan might have confided in some friend who went to someone else who felt they had to call the cops. Or something. I think it had to do with someone called Mr B or Balial or something. Rabia had her own comments on that, but I don't remember how she refuted it, OR how the whole thing was used in trial.

Also, Jay had a striking lack of motive for killing Hae Min Lee.
posted by torticat at 11:42 AM on April 1, 2019

I don’t think Jay actually had anything to do with the killing, except maybe hearing rumors. I think the police were looking to pin it on the most likely suspect in their mind, the ex-boyfriend. They had dirt on Jay and convinced to him make a deal to snitch on Adnan.

I don’t think Adnan did it but I also think that if he did, the state did not have enough evidence especially if you take away the cellphone records and Jay’s ever changing story.
posted by amapolaroja at 8:17 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

The focus on the victim in the first episode made me feel like this was going to take things in a different direction. It did not. Adnan's family seems quite lovely but I would like to be done with the Serial Extended Universe now.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

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