Serial: Episode 11: Rumors
December 11, 2014 7:39 AM - Subscribe

Almost everyone describes the 17-year-old Adnan the same way: good kid, helpful at the mosque, respectful to his elders. But a couple of months ago, Sarah started getting phone calls from people who knew Adnan back then, and told her stories of a different kind of boy.

Sarah Koenig entertains rumors that Adnan stole thousands of dollars from his mosque (the actual amount was likely much smaller) and dispels the belief that Adnan may be psychopathic, while still allowing for the possibility that he might have "snapped" or had a bout of amnesia when he killed Hae--or that he might be innocent after all.

Also, it's the next to last episode :-(
posted by Cash4Lead (72 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Overall, a pretty thin and disappointing episode. I think that SK has run out of steam on this one.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:45 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


This seemed like an ultra pointless episode. Maybe it's the penultimate episode because they realized that this whole thing was just going to peter out? When they're talking about various minor character issues he might have had it feels like they are running out of stuff to talk about.

The whole series has been so weird to me since it seems like the only realistic alternative killer is Jay, and granted he didn't want to be part of the podcast but the lack of pursuit of that possibility seems striking. (sorry if I am rehashing a conversation from a previous thread)
posted by selfnoise at 7:48 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


This episode was kind of meh to me. It didn't introduce any new evidence or twists, or even really give us any more insight into Adnan's character. I know there's been this lurking question throughout the podcast about "Adnan's character," but there was simply no way for SK to answer that question with certitude, even with talking to the forensic psychologist. So the question remains open; people who think Adnan is lying are going to keep thinking that, and people who think he's telling the truth are going to keep thinking that as well.

This felt like wrapping up a loose thread before the finale, but a thread that had remained loose because it was unanswerable and ultimately tangential to the case.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:50 AM on December 11, 2014


I thought it was a good episode.

It portrayed how badly afflicted Adnan Syed's community was by the racism of the prosecution. If prosecutors or investigators use racist stereotyping to convict someone, then the people in the community stereotyped will be very stressed that they will be used as scapegoats in the future. I knew this on an abstract level, but this episode really brought that home to me, very strongly.

Something I'd been personally waiting for, Adnan Syed's feelings about being the subject of Serial, was finally explored in detail. Sarah Koenig explained carefully the particular legal pressures that he was under, and the excerpts from the letter at the end were very affecting.

However, all that stuff in the middle about whether he's a psychopath was rather silly, I feel. I've never had any particular doubt that whatever else, he's not a psychopath. I also think the bits about whether he could've been lying the whole time, or partly amnesiac, partly deceiving, where given a bit more time than strictly necessary. But from the reception I've read online, those questions are a crucial issue for a lot of listeners, so I'm glad that Sarah Koenig spent time getting answers. And even though I wish this had been a shorter section overall, it still held my attention.

I've never had expectations that the murder would be solved during this 12 episode run, so that may be coloring my reception. My main interest is getting a portrait of how murder can affect individuals and communities, and Serial has given me that.
posted by Kattullus at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


I quite liked this episode, too. And I'm a little disappointed that we only get one more.

It would be a lie to say I was never invested in the "did he do it?" layer of this story, but I've come to more appreciate the series as a portrait of our legal process. So I'm not hanging on every piece of new evidence.

What I found interesting about this episode was that it explored how people emotionally react to the story, which often hinges on a "gut" assessment of Adnan's character. She pulled back from the narrative thrust a bit to talk about how we all feel about the story, from the listeners to the people in his community to Adnan himself.

I'm starting to think that I might have to go back and listen to the whole series once it is done without the expectation of some dramatic revelation at the end.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 8:30 AM on December 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


He Is Only The Imposter: It would be a lie to say I was never invested in the "did he do it?" layer of this story

In case I came off that way, I didn't mean to say I wasn't invested in the truth of who committed the murder. All I meant was that I've never expected the truth to come out during the 12 episode run of this series of Serial.
posted by Kattullus at 8:49 AM on December 11, 2014


I nth that this one was weak and running out of steam.

I would like it if they did a final follow-up episode (or episodes) after the appeal, or if anything actually happens in the case.

I think for season two, they need to plan the whole thing out from the start and already know where it's going (i.e not reporting in progress) before they start up.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:49 AM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


This would have been a good episode 3 -- a very early "Hey, here's some more info about the person who was convicted of this crime." Not so much an episode 11, where we expect a revelation, or at least something that seems to be leading us to a revelation. "He stole some probably small amount of money from a mosque" and "He's probably not a psychopath" and "The community still talks about this" aren't that.
posted by Etrigan at 9:01 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it would have been really interesting if Adnan had undergone psychological evaluation. It would have been interesting to be able to get an expert opinion putting all those "But what if he's that super brilliant-and-charming psychopath???" questions at rest. I think, though, what we were supposed to get out of the psychologist's comments was this: the question of "Did he do it?" really doesn't amount to "Is he a psychopath?", despite what a lot of people have suggested. Because, in the end, the sort of evaluation a psychologist can perform isn't sufficient to determine whether an individual is capable of committing murder. There is no "capable of murder" personality trait we can pinpoint through evidentiary analysis.

...And I also recognize, yet again, the strangeness and moral discomfort about considering what would be interesting for me, as a listener, regarding Adnan. I feel disappointed not to have more information about how he would be evaluated, and I feel confused and nosy because of that disappointment.
posted by meese at 9:02 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think "running out of steam" makes sense for this show. I agree with Kattullus: if you're expecting the truth of this murder, or absolute proof of Adnan's guilt or innocence, to come out of this show, you're going to be very disappointed. As He Is Only The Imposter says, it's about the process and it has to be.

I think for season two, they need to plan the whole thing out from the start and already know where it's going (i.e not reporting in progress) before they start up.

I disagree. I liked that it at least appeared that we were right there with her as she uncovered things, that it felt like it could go any way. I think knowing the outcome would have made it more dull to follow.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:47 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's not that I am expecting the murder to be solved. But I do expect substantial, interesting reporting in each episode. This just wasn't it.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 10:10 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think "running out of steam" makes sense for this show. I agree with Kattullus: if you're expecting the truth of this murder, or absolute proof of Adnan's guilt or innocence, to come out of this show, you're going to be very disappointed.

I think it's fine to enjoy the show that way, but it's not clear to me that it's meant that way. Koenig represents herself in large swathes of the podcast as an investigator or wannabe investigator and as invested in the outcome, not as a cultural observer.
posted by selfnoise at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think I was set up to hate this episode and boy did it deliver. A few things worked against it. First, it was 41min long in my podcast app, which is longer than most episodes, so I thought there'd be some "meat" to it. I remember looking down at 30min mark thinking "there must be some big reveal!" and being disappointed. SK said in other interviews that the beginning and end of the podcast series was already written, so I thought this would be a great pre-baked lead-in to the final episode, but instead it was mostly hand waving and revisiting the "is he really nice and normal or tricking us all?" question with no resolution, just more murkiness.

That murkiness is pissing me off, and making me think about how everyone involved in making Serial is a This American Life alum, and they're experts at extracting emotion from any story, and I felt like I was being played not just these 41min but the whole run, knowing they already have an idea of the entire final episode in the can.

Someone wrote this hypothesis about the case on Tumblr a couple days ago, and I can't stop thinking about it. Friends that read it came to the same conclusion as the author (and mostly agree with the psychological expert from today's episode) that murder cases are usually very straightforward and "murkiness" is rare, not the norm, and is being played for emotional impact by the TAL producers of this show.

I can't dispute the 4-5 red flags I've heard about the case, and that blog post kind of crystallized everything for me. Maybe it's as simple as that post lays out, and we're all just being played by SK and crew.
posted by mathowie at 10:21 AM on December 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Someone wrote this hypothesis about the case on Tumblr...

That makes a big deal out of the three phone calls Adnan makes to Hae. But it seems to ignore that two of the phone calls were extremely short, and thus very easily explained as hang-ups to avoid her parents from realizing she's on the phone to a boy. It also seems to ignore that the longest call was also very short and, given corroborating evidence from Hae's diary, likely focused largely around Adnan giving Hae his new number.

It also claims that no one has yet raised the possibility that Jay was present while Adnan killed Hae... But isn't that, in fact, one version of the story Jay told the cops in one of his interviews?
posted by meese at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't dispute the 4-5 red flags I've heard about the case, and that blog post kind of crystallized everything for me. Maybe it's as simple as that post lays out, and we're all just being played by SK and crew.

I tend to agree that this is the most likely reading of the circumstances surrounding the case. The only credible alternative is that Jay killed Hae, or helped some third party kill her, based on some unspecified motive that nobody, including Koenig, has managed to turn up. That's why I'm looking at the podcast mainly as a window into the failures of the American legal system rather than a serious consideration of who, as a matter of fact, killed Hae Min Lee – because based on the evidence actually presented at trial, no reasonable juror should have been willing to vote for a “guilty” verdict. “Most likely reading of the circumstances” is so far from “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it's not funny.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


"That's why I'm looking at the podcast mainly as a window into the failures of the American legal system rather than a serious consideration of who, as a matter of fact, killed Hae Min Lee"

This post from NPR's Monkey See blog makes a similar argument about how SK is probably going to wrap things up next week, and I'm on board. This is good stuff -

"The way Sarah Koenig tells it, Serial is a story about our system of justice working pretty much as it should, and failing miserably at providing anything that looks like justice. I think in the last episode, she's going to point out that Adnan Syed was convicted in a few hours — beyond a reasonable doubt — for the murder of Hae-Min Lee. I think she's going to say that if the concept of "beyond a reasonable doubt" meant anything, this podcast wouldn't exist, there wouldn't be a subreddit devoted to analyzing every shred of available evidence, and Adnan Syed wouldn't be in jail right now.

I think it's a real conclusion, and I think it's very hard to argue against."
posted by brozek at 11:40 AM on December 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


After reading all the pertinent entries in the View from LL2 blog the thing that sticks with me is the motive:

"I think that when a high school student is manually strangled in a public parking lot in the middle of the afternoon, there is not much to gain from worrying about motive. We already know that, whatever the killer’s motive was, it was irrational and impulsive and disproportionate. Figuring out the exact details of the killer’s unreasonable reason matters little."

It's all so crazy and tragic. We'll never really know what happened. If Adnan is innocent, he should be free but I don't know that the guilty party would then be held accountable.
posted by readery at 11:57 AM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I sure hope that's where Koenig's going with it. She's introduced without really saying as much all the material anybody would need to support claims that the investigation was tinged with racial bias, that the prosecution based its case on perjured testimony and that the jurors disregarded clear instructions on fundamental constitutional rights. It'd be a shame to wrap all that up in a mealy-mouthed "I guess we'll never know for sure" bow when the problems with his trial are so clear.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:17 PM on December 11, 2014


That's sort of where I've been thinking the podcast would end up too. One thing I've noticed is that friends with training or education in the American legal system have been driven apoplectic by the way the investigation and prosecution handled things, while people without legal training or education haven't really picked up on it. I can't help but think that the team behind Serial understand these issues, or else they wouldn't foreground them in the storytelling.
posted by Kattullus at 12:26 PM on December 11, 2014


It'd be a shame to wrap all that up in a mealy-mouthed "I guess we'll never know for sure" bow when the problems with his trial are so clear.

This isn't a TV show. "[M]ealy-mouthed" endings are the norm for reality.

You also have to keep in mind that, since this is a real case involving real people, if there had been some break or appeal we'd already know about it when it was filed or announced. The only such appeal in action right now is a question of possible ineffective assistance of counsel.

No final, satisfying conclusion is forthcoming. It's going to be about the process and the system.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:48 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


When I talk about the ending I mean it in terms of the narrative Koenig and her collaborators have built, not an actual resolution for Adnan's case. There's a strong-but-quasi-subtextual argument about the shittiness of our judicial system (at least as it was applied in this case) running through the podcast and it would be nice if she'd elevate that to the explicit text rather than leaving us with more wishy-washy thoughts on the murkiness of the truth -- both because wishy-washiness is lame and because there's a substantial number of people who seem to think that "there's no real proof, but he probably did it" is enough of a reason to throw somebody in jail for life, and a "well, we'll never know for sure" wrap-up would implicitly endorse that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:58 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]




Seems there's something different in people who have an week by week build up in expectation and my just having plowed through it without outside participation.
I appreciated the clarification of words and terms people like to throw around without any care as to what they mean. (That people adamantly refuse to care that words have meaning outside how they intend to use them-- don't even get me started.) I also appreciate that she does this thing of comparing her own shallow assumptions, the kind of things that come from life long media consumption that hardens into a weird logic as to how things are suppose to be, and holds them up to reality, like how she doesn't understand why Adnan isn't having the emotional reactions she expects. This news should make him happy, except it doesn't really help him and comes far too late. He should be angry, except the whole idea of burning with anger at the injustice of his imprisonment would make it impossible for him to function for all the years he's been locked up. He should be anxious, except he's really been in holding for a week and very bored.

I like that it takes these moldy conventions and holds them up against reality, except it looks insensitive and asinine like she doesn't understand she is talking to someone who not only lived through this but has had to deal with it since while being institutionalized, without realizing this will of course be disrupting. I think it bothers me that she is playing the role of the fool but I don't know if she knows.

No one seems to have had any traditional motive to kill Hae. I hope something gets uncovered by next week but I'm glad it's wrapping up.
posted by provoliminal at 2:52 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh, and as a predictor of what people are capable of, in general, anyone is capable of anything, but squeamishness is a better guide than how "nice" or "good" anyone is suppose to be.
posted by provoliminal at 3:14 PM on December 11, 2014


Koenig: Is there a test we could do to determine how evil a human is?
Expert: No. No such test exists
Koenig: Wow
posted by Greg Nog at 3:42 PM on December 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


Koenig: Is there a test we could do to determine how evil a human is?
Expert: No. No such test exists
Koenig: Wow


I don't know, I think that's a little unfair. We get fed this media construction of what a psychopath is, a Hannibalesque, brilliant, emotionless, calculating, murder machine. Plenty of people have been throwing around the armchair diagnosis. It seems to me that SK was addressing the fact that psychopathy diagnoses are not cut and dried.

Although I've never understood the claim, myself. If he was such a smart, calculating manipulator, wouldn't he have made sure he had a fucking alibi?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:11 PM on December 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


I mainlined this entire series last weekend, and have been waiting anxiously until today to get the latest episode.

It made me feel sort of bad for listening to the series. I had already considered the effects that it might have on Lee's family, and how it might seem gross and insensitive to them. I hadn't really thought much about how others involved might feel.

I found SK's description of Adnan's letter to her pretty affecting. It is pretty clear we're not wrapping up to a clear conclusion, and it seems like they're just slicing open old wounds in order to entertain us and leaving no one involved better off in the process.

I'm not sure I'm going to check in for a second season. I will listen to the last episode though, because I'm a hypocrite.
posted by jeoc at 4:33 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I'm going to check in for a second season. I will listen to the last episode though, because I'm a hypocrite.

The second season will almost certainly be a different story.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:34 PM on December 11, 2014


The second season will almost certainly be a different story.

Yes, of course. And maybe if it is something where everyone is on board with having their story told in this way, it won't feel as uncomfortable. I guess this is ending up feeling exploitative to me, and the journalist is trying to have it both ways (acknowledging the exploitation and its potential damage to the people involved, but still doing the story).
posted by jeoc at 4:40 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not trying to be a johnny-come-lately podcast-ruiner.

I really really enjoyed the series, even feeling from the beginning that it could be damaging and disquieting to the victim's family. I guess I felt a bit knocked off balance by Adnan's explanation that the podcast had been net negative for him.

Maybe next time they should take on something bigger, not so personal.
posted by jeoc at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2014


I have a feeling season two might not even be a crime story. Koenig and the producers have openly said they're shocked by how huge this has gotten. A lot of the musing recently about how this may be affecting the real people involved - a lot of that has to do with the unexpectedly huge numbers of people who have tuned in. I'm sensing that some things about the show might have been done differently had they known what a phenomenon it would turn into, and they know this. The bit at the end of this episode about Adnan's long letter nods to it - this whole investigation has dredged stuff up in unexpected ways for a lot of people, not always for the good.

I suspect season two will not be a current crime story, and they'll have planned out more concretely ahead of time the starting and ending points.
posted by dnash at 5:12 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think part of the point of the podcast is that they don't know the exact ending point, so I do not think they will change that aspect up.

But I am curious to see how they will change it -- and if changing it to a different kind of story will change their audience.
posted by jeather at 7:30 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the Serial subreddit, there are a couple of discussions where people are trying to figure out what exactly the rumour was that Sarah Koenig wouldn't reveal, the one she said would have been incredibly incriminating to the point where the show would be "over." There is speculation that this is the same rumour that she told Rolling Stone was keeping her up at night. I found it a bit maddening, myself, that she didn't go into more detail, even though I understand why she didn't/couldn't, if she couldn't substantiate it. Anyway, this comment by a user named Solvang84 really gave me pause because it seemed so plausible:
At a party 15 years ago, someone - call him Mr. X - made some claim about Adnan (who was not present at the party).
  • The claim is "not directly connected" to the crime, but it would be so incriminating if true, "that's it, show's over." So it's something that would prove premeditation/planning.
  • Sarah must think Mr X.'s very identity - age, profession, relation to Adnan, etc. - would lend major authority and credibility to the claim. She wouldn't spend all that effort tracking down some Woodlawn rando who said "yeah, bro, Adnan totally told me ahead of time he was gonna kill Hae."
  • Based on Mr. X's words ("Yeah, I remember Adnan - nice kid. I remember he was sad when he and his girlfriend broke up.") he was an adult in 1999, but didn't know Hae, and was not all that close to Adnan and his situation, i.e. not a Woodlawn High teacher, not a cop or DA, not a mosque member, certainly not involved in Adnan's trial. Sounds like they stopped communicating after the arrest.
So ... what's left? What kind of semi-close adult authority figure is left in Adnan's 1999 life, and what possible piece of indirect evidence could sway Sarah so strongly?
Answer: Mr. X was Adnan's instructor and/or supervisor on his EMT job. The rumor: He said at a party that Adnan asked him how to asphyxiate someone.
The poster then says s/he isn't saying this is really what happened, just speculating on what SK might have been told by someone (hence her attempt to substantiate it). I certainly think it's plausible that this was the rumour--or if not asked how to asphyxiate someone, asked how long it would take someone to die without oxygen, or something like that. I especially think the EMT instructor/supervisor is a good guess.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:30 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I believe that the producers have said that season 2 would not follow a criminal case. It's been interesting to think about where the show could go.

This American Life recently rebroadcast an episode where they spend a month at a car dealership and got to know all of the salesmen. It's an entertaining episode and it could have easily been longer. I thought it made for a good model for a new season of Serial. Instead of being structured around an event (a murder), the show could be structured around a place or a community of people. The rebroadcast might have been a covert clue about their plans.

I'm especially curious about whether season 2 will be structured as a mystery or even a narrative at all. On one hand, a lot of the show's popularity is based on the whodunnit aspect of the murder; but on the other hand, it's also one of the more frustrating parts of the show. We are not going to get to learn whodunnit, so our curiosity will go unfulfilled. It's hard to imagine how to structure the season as a narrative so that (1) there is a payoff but (2) the payoff isn't spoiled in advance by internet detectives.

One possibility is to make the season about an event that hasn't happened yet. A season that follows the competitors in an upcoming competition of some sort, like a chess tournament, could work. You could have episodes about the various competitors' backgrounds and their motivations, their training regimens and different theoretical approaches to the game or sport, etc. I'm thinking of an extended version of a documentary like Word Freak. If it was timed so the competition took place only just before the final episode of the podcast, the audience would get the closure they want.
posted by painquale at 5:02 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am incredibly frustrated by the focus on whether Adnan is too good a person to have done a bad thing. Ridiculous.
posted by prefpara at 5:38 AM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it would be kind of cool if the show stayed in Baltimore and became the podcast version of The Wire. Just take a different slice of the American onion from the same location each season.

Interested to hear what they actually end up doing.
posted by selfnoise at 6:43 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


This season of Serial mostly seems to be about how Sara Koenig is confused.
posted by garlic at 9:20 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


It seems at times to be becoming as much about Sara Koenig as anything else. I also get this increasingly weird feeling of being manipulated by the narrative. (For what it's worth, there's also lots of material in the podcast reflecting about manipulation and second guessing.) I'm not sure if this is due to the long form of the podcast, as this allows for much thinking about it in-between episodes, versus a one-off episode that's over when it's over.
posted by carter at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2014


I am incredibly frustrated by the focus on whether Adnan is too good a person to have done a bad thing. Ridiculous.

But that's a common line of thinking in cases like there where the facts don't lead to a clear answer. If the facts don't help, and motive doesn't help, people - rightly or wrongly - look to character. Can we imagine this guy doing this? Does he match the image we have in our heads of what a killer should act like? Was he the classic "really quiet, normal guy" we always her the neighbors talk about after the cops wheel a body out of the apartment? Ultimately this line of inquiry doesn't answer the whodunnit question, but it's a legitimate subject for discussion.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:36 AM on December 12, 2014


I remember looking down at 30min mark thinking "there must be some big reveal!" and being disappointed.

I don't get this at all. It's not fiction. Why do you expect there to be any big reveal at all? There haven't been any big unexpected reveals at all so far. I get the sense that most people who don't like Serial are frustrated that it isn't playing out like a scripted thriller, ending each episode with a cliffhanger of some kind. While I'd love it if SK uncovered some smoking gun, I didn't expect her to, and I don't think the show suffers as a result. It's still a captivating exploration of this particular crime and the characters involved, and in a meta sort of way, of crime reporting.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:43 AM on December 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


I don't get this at all. It's not fiction. Why do you expect there to be any big reveal at all?

It's not fiction, but it's still a narrative. I don't necessarily expect a nicely tied up package at the end of a true story, but I expect something that's worth my time -- some kind of, if not resolution, then at least an ending more than "So, that's a bunch of stuff that happened." Maybe there isn't anything more here than a bunch of stuff that happened, but I'd be somewhat disappointed if this turns out to be a shaggy dog story.
posted by Etrigan at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't necessarily expect a nicely tied up package at the end of a true story

Because it's a true story, there are almost never nicely tied up packages at the end. I think almost all frustration people express with show come from expectations that this will go like a fictional mystery.

but I expect something that's worth my time

I think this is kind of the line that divides listeners of this show. If you can't accept that the entertainment of the show itself was worth your time without some resolution, the show may not be for you because a true story isn't going to give you that.

What could a resolution be? We know it can't be absolute proof of guilt or innocence. Beyond some commentary on the justice system, nothing final can really come out of this.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:18 AM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Totally agree with Etrigan here. The producers weren't forced to make this story. They chose it, then put in the time and energy crafting and editing the narrative. This isn't somebody telling a story at a dinner party. This is 12 episodes, told over three months. It's not unreasonable for listeners to expect a more interesting narrative than "life is cray!" If that sounds critical, that's because it is. This is their first crack at this new medium and the podcast isn't perfect. I'm sure they've learned a lot from this process and I bet next year will be -- in terms of craft -- much better.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:30 AM on December 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


What could a resolution be? We know it can't be absolute proof of guilt or innocence. Beyond some commentary on the justice system, nothing final can really come out of this.

I would be fine with "some commentary on the justice system". The case against Adnan Syed was built on racism and circumstantial evidence and lies, even if we can't say for sure that he didn't kill Hae Min Lee -- that is a resolution. We've basically got that already, but I expect (as AH&WO points out, on preview) there to be a little more craft involved than just the recitation of a reporter's notes.
posted by Etrigan at 10:36 AM on December 12, 2014


That Tumblr and the Reddit theories are maddening. Didn't any of them learn anything at all from the Boston Marathon bombings? Or are they all still convinced the guy on the roof had something to do with it?

I don't really know if Adnan did it or not, but based on what I've heard on the podcast (and I've done little else to research this case) I do think there was reasonable doubt and/or his lawyer fucked up.
posted by bondcliff at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


That Tumblr and the Reddit theories are maddening. Didn't any of them learn anything at all from the Boston Marathon bombings?

They seemed to have learned not to immediately blame the nearest brown guy, so that's a step in the right direction.

If that sounds critical, that's because it is. This is their first crack at this new medium and the podcast isn't perfect. I'm sure they've learned a lot from this process and I bet next year will be -- in terms of craft -- much better.

I really think there are just different kinds of listeners. They're clearly doing something right: the show has become a mega-success beyond their wildest expectations. Most people seem happy with the way it was done.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:09 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Tumblr theory is faulty to begin with. Adnan didn't say his phone was stolen; he said he lent it to Jay. If you can't get that one detail (which is repeatedly mentioned in nearly every episode) right, I'm sorry, your half-baked theories don't hold water.
posted by grubi at 11:26 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mail Kimp Remix
posted by moonmilk at 2:52 PM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]




I think some of the unease that some of us feel about how the series is turning out, especially after these last few less narratively structured episodes, might come down to one big-picture question: What is it, exactly, that's being serialized here?

Because it's not a serialized account of the time preceding or following the murder, the way a classic serialized "true crime" story might (whether following the criminal or following the detectives), though there was a bit of that feeling in the earlier timeline-reconstruction episodes.

And it's not really structured as a serialized account of the producers' investigation -- we've seen a bunch of episodes structured around topics and not around investigative actions. (And also it seems that the arc of their investigation doesn't particularly lend itself to being serialized, given all the active travelling and interviewing and fact-gathering up-front and the simpler meta-analysis more recently, or at least more recent interviews with less narrative payoff).

So...what's being serialized?
posted by nobody at 6:28 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


So...what's being serialized?

The content.

adjective
1. consisting of, forming part of, or taking place in a series.
"a serial publication"


I've listened to this episode a few times now. And I agree that it was not good. It really feels like a lot of filler wrapped loosely around the idea that we form perceptions about other human beings based on very limited perceptions. It's also possible that those perceptions are absolute untruths. The idea is somewhat sound, but the execution is poor.

The reason I REALLY didn't like this episode is because I'm absolutely weary of Sarah Koenig's absolutely subjective "journalism." She phrases things in ways that so clearly favor Adnan and dismissive of anyone who doesn't support him. She's not even feigning objectivity. Her questions seem so exceptionally leading. Maybe that's not what this is supposed to be. Okay, cool. But I don't dig it. Then again, maybe this episode is supposed to be an exploration of the reporter's own bias.

Oh, but there is one way that this episode is expertly constructed. It builds up the idea, via the episodes internal logic, that people view the same facts as representing evidence of very polarized ideas. The same things which make Adnan seem like a person who couldn't commit murder seem to demonstrate to others that he could. So, for me, a person who does view this guy as possessing that superficial charm and manipulative qualities, I get inoculated against my own idea by the concept presented in the episode that people, quite naturally, view characteristics differently. It's a sort of emotional and intellectual recursion. That, to me, seems like the the manipulation people report feeling from the narrative.

I'm not in a state of hate listening yet. And, all in all, I think the concept of the show is a good one and I'm also interested in where they take this format next. But, if Sarah Koenig is the host/reporter, then I'm not listening again. I've had about enough of her delivery and construction of narrative. I just have.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 11:09 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


So...what's being serialized?

The content.


I don't know. I guess this is just semantics, but I'd say a serial generally requires narrative movement across episodes, which would exclude, for example, the classic sitcom from being called a serial (and which allows us to note that in the last decade the dominant sitcom format has become more serialized, serial elements introduced in what was previously purely episodic).

That said, I get that I'm being a little glib in questioning Serial's serial bona fides. Maybe lack of movement, narrative or conceptual, in the last few episodes is what I'm really reacting to.
posted by nobody at 2:18 PM on December 13, 2014


This episode did something really important, it gave us the view from Adnan's eyes right now. It's uncomfortable, and I understand why people don't like this episode. To me, I think it's not the episode I've liked the most, but it's probably the most impactful. Sitting with everything ultimately being rumor, with how this has been rough for the guy in jail, for his community, his family, how there is no real resolution in reality? That's not something that's easy to sit with.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:29 PM on December 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


I liked this episode. I've been seeing a lot of "Why Adnan is totally a psychopath" and "Adnan MUST be guilty because he doesn't seem mad at Jay!" and it was a relief to have SK flesh out the issues with those assumptions.

But by the same token, it seemed that this episode was a response to the viewers - what people are talking about on twitter and reddit. It's hard for me to imagine that they actually planned from the beginning for this episode to be what it was. And that's a little ... I dunno, disorienting. That the audience is taking a role in shaping the story to that degree.

On The Colbert Report, SK called Serial a "documentary." Hearing that term applied to it really shifted my perspective as far as what I'm expecting from the ending. I was hoping to have an answer on who did it, even though I knew that wasn't practical. Now I'm thinking it might be "and here's what's next for this case in the legal process."
posted by bunderful at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have to say, in the end this all just made me sad as shit.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:42 AM on December 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


They seemed to have learned not to immediately blame the nearest brown guy

Jay is, literally, the nearest brown guy, is he not?
posted by gerryblog at 7:42 AM on December 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's not unreasonable for listeners to expect a more interesting narrative than "life is cray!"

I’m curious how the split between who liked the episode and who didn't lines up with who already listens to and likes This American Life, because I think that often is the main takeaway from an episode of TAL. On TAL they have been billing Serial as a “spin-off” – this episode especially felt like the segments would fit right in on an episode of TAL. But what is really lacking is the clear signpost of episode theme that TAL does– the title of this episode was Rumors, but that wasn't really the main thrust of the episode. I do think that Serial lacks an overall direction and would benefit from a more clear theme being given – not even an overall theme, but more like TAL with a theme per episode that would just tie things together better.

All that said, I really liked this episode – especially where SK explains why Adnan doesn't seem mad about Jay and how it is impacting his life. That is the kind of interesting meditation of life stuff that I like from TAL.
posted by Sabby at 9:31 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I actually liked the episode but question the placement of it in the narrative arc of the season. It's like the entire thing is about 3 or 4 episodes too long. Tension was building and then... the last few episodes have felt like circling.

TAL used to be about interesting people telling their own stories, with producers helping set up or shepherd the stories. Then about, I dunno, six years ago or so, maybe more, they started telling a lot more stories that were these sort of first-person producer discovery type things -- getting into politics and journalism in a way that their earlier stories didn't attempt at all. I'm a much bigger fan of the former type of storytelling from the TAL crew. For example, the recent episode about regrets, with the father telling his story of leaving a cult and losing his daughters, intercut with Stephen Merrit songs, is exactly the kind of thing I love from TAL and that I think they do really well.

So for me, Serial is too much of the other type of TAL. I don't even know how to characterize it, really. They do seem to have cornered it. It's a weird sort of journalism that is deeply subjective while feigning objectivity, or maybe the other way around. But when it becomes too much about the producer-narrator, it becomes more problematic, these issues of the white privileged reporter churning up stories of an unfamiliar community. And, ultimately, kind of navel-gazey and less interesting. I'm imagining an alternative version of Serial, dealing with the same case, that is more of a Rashomon-esque recounting. The first couple episodes set up the ambiguity of the case, then we get a series of episodes of reconstructions from different people's points of views; adnan's, jay's, the detectives, jenn's, etc. Probably doesn't work without their participation but I do want to hear more from the principals involved and less filtering from SK. Just one brah's opinion.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:53 AM on December 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


I can only listen to the occasional This American Life episode. Most of the time they drive me nuts. What I really dislike about the show is how much the people who make it try to force reality into a narrative. So much so that often the episodes feel like just a inch away from being falsehoods. I have this problem, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the particulars of each instance, with long-form non-fiction in general. Serial has swerved away each time it was starting to trace patterns in the chaos of everyday existence. I find this both admirable and fascinating.
posted by Kattullus at 10:33 AM on December 14, 2014


If you take it that SK put this episode here intentionally (instead of as episode four or five - unless of course she only recently got the devastating/game-ending piece of gossip) then you have to (I had to) readjust some of what I wanted this to be.
I wanted/expected at least a replay in podcast form of "Thin Blue Line". Complete with exoneration. And I think this is a reasonable expectation. (Though of course it requires SK to 'know' the outcome/who the killer is and be able to prove it: and I expect much more of the podcast would about Jay and also specifically about how the Police chose Adnan. This was such a crazy moment to me, where the investigator tells her how the police look to make a good case. Not find out who dun it, but build a prosecutable case. In my fantasy version of the podcast this is what gets rectified - police stop getting best case prosecutorial scenario perpetrators but actual ones) but it's not about that, it seems. It seems much more to about the 'Rashamon' quality of this all and the weakness of Adnan's version in all this. This was the strength of this episode. The point was that Adnan told his story as he did because it was the only way he could - the only way he could and not risk screwing himself up even worse later on.
Which, if it's about the web of narratives around this tragedy we will never hear that Adnan is free, Hae's killer brought to justice, balance (however provisional) restored. We will just be left with a story of a tragedy.
In the Colbert piece she mentions that she's still reporting up to the last episode, but what could that be?
I wonder if other listeners will be as dissatisfied at the end of this as I'm suspecting I will be.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:33 AM on December 15, 2014


I am hoping the next season of Serial will be more like the TAL episodes "House on Loon Lake" or "Searching for Bobby Dunbar." These were historical mysteries and most of the people involved were no longer alive when TAL did their investigating. Something like the Cars or Penn State episodes would be interesting, too.
posted by chaiminda at 10:57 AM on December 15, 2014


TAL used to be about interesting people telling their own stories, with producers helping set up or shepherd the stories. Then about, I dunno, six years ago or so, maybe more, they started telling a lot more stories that were these sort of first-person producer discovery type things -- getting into politics and journalism in a way that their earlier stories didn't attempt at all.

This American Life used to be a lot more like Snap Judgment or The Moth. Those shows just present personal stories and tall tales for the sake of entertainment: exaggeration and embellishment are encouraged. Every Halloween Snap Judgment does stories about people seeing ghosts, for goodness' sake. Glenn Washington adds so much spice to his personal stories that his life sounds like an impossible rollercoaster. Journalistic standards are much looser in that format.

But This American Life changed. The strongest signal that TAL had adopted a new self-conception was the controversy over Mike Daisey's invented stories about Apple factories in China. The controversy surprised me. When Ira Glass first expressed his fury about Daisey sweetening the story, my response was, "Hold on, that's what you do. That's This American Life in a nutshell." Glass's upset seemed hypocritical to me, but I don't think I had fully registered how fully TAL had shifted toward journalistic respectability. (I think Daisey was caught a little off-guard by this too. I think he thought of TAL as something more akin to The Moth and started panicking only once he saw how seriously they were taking the fact-checking. His explanations after the fact were mealy-mouthed and terrible, but they made more internal sense to me if he had thought of TAL as more like Snap Judgment. I think he could have presented the story there without anyone batting an eye.)

What's problematic is that TAL changed its mandate, but it never lost the narrative and stylistic trappings that the show was founded upon. It's full of a kind of diaristic navel-gazingness and it's driven by a desire to turn small observations into moments of personal wonder and magic. This a horrible fit with the more responsible news agency that TAL has become. To be fair, they've tended to drop those twee and inward-looking affectations when reporting on serious issues. But they're on full display in Serial.
posted by painquale at 9:51 AM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]




If I remember correctly, Mr. S took two polygraph tests when he was investigated. Is anyone aware whether Jay or Adnan were offered (or refused) polygraph tests? In a story that (at least partially) delves into the nature of truth, it's interesting that this has not come up. Unless I missed it?
posted by baseballpajamas at 1:29 PM on December 16, 2014


I have moved far away from the idea that the Podcast is re-investigating Hae's murder.

At the same time, the fact that the Innocence Project said "look closer at Don" and SK basically dismissed her is a big flaw in how this story has been reported. But then again, there's nothing to say she didn't look closer and decide it wasn't a fruitful line of inquiry.
posted by dry white toast at 5:36 AM on December 17, 2014




If I remember correctly, Mr. S took two polygraph tests when he was investigated. Is anyone aware whether Jay or Adnan were offered (or refused) polygraph tests? In a story that (at least partially) delves into the nature of truth, it's interesting that this has not come up. Unless I missed it?

I think she mentioned Adnan wasn't offered one in episode 9-ish? It wouldn't help him much either way; lie detectors are mainly a way to intimidate a suspect into confessing rather than a way to get actual evidence that could hold up in court.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:08 AM on December 17, 2014


Funny or Die: The Last Episode of Serial

That's probably more satisfying than the actual episode is going to be.
posted by jeather at 10:20 AM on December 17, 2014


That's probably more satisfying than the actual episode is going to be.

The narrative has been built up in such a way that it cannot possibly deliver the exptected conclusion. So, agreed.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 12:21 PM on December 17, 2014


That's why I'm looking at the podcast mainly as a window into the failures of the American legal system rather than a serious consideration of who, as a matter of fact, killed Hae Min Lee – because based on the evidence actually presented at trial, no reasonable juror should have been willing to vote for a “guilty” verdict. “Most likely reading of the circumstances” is so far from “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it's not funny.

That's pretty much how I feel about the show. My blood was boiling listening to the episode about the lawyer.

This episode was kinda weird...I understand SK's efforts to be discreet and not to report unsubstantiated rumors, but it wasn't very satisfying to listen to.

This episode did something really important, it gave us the view from Adnan's eyes right now.

Yes. Man, the part about the 18 page letter was really hard to listen to. The fact that Adnan has to be so guarded in his conversations with SK, and so careful in his communication with the outside world, is not something that I had thought of.

In general the relationship between journalist and subject is tricky. The reporter has to have hours and hours of conversation with someone but be careful not to befriend them or show any bias in the presentation of the story. The subject has to constantly remind themselves that this person isn't their *friend.* But you can't help but develop a relationship with someone after talking to them for *so* long, right?

Also, that Funny or Die sketch is hilarious.
posted by radioamy at 8:45 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's completely maddening to me how easily SK is manipulated by Adnan into believing that Adnan is not manipulative.

For example, she immediately tosses away the idea that he might just be really good at faking empathy because she's supposedly seen him display empathy. But she doesn't mention any specific examples that haven't been part of other podcast episodes, and really and truly, every single moment of every single interview with him, he comes off as someone who is faking empathy.

Adnan is clearly very good at reading people and portraying himself in the best possible light. He does it on numerous occasions within this very podcast, during interviews. There are episodes where SK is manipulated by him on tape. Including this one!

I'm not sure that if I were a juror given the case as actually presented 15 years ago, I could say without a reasonable doubt that Adnan is guilty. But, yeah, based on the evidence presented in Serial, I think Adnan is very obviously guilty. To the point that it's embarrassing that nobody else can see it.
posted by Sara C. at 2:16 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is anyone aware whether Jay or Adnan were offered (or refused) polygraph tests?

I think they said in a previous episode that Jay was never given a polygraph, and that it may have been because they didn't want to create evidence that would mess up the case they were building.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:07 PM on December 25, 2014


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