season finales

Let’s Talk About the End of ‘Serial’

Early this morning, the 12th and final episode of “Serial,” this fall’s hit true-crime murder-mystery podcast, was released. For three months, a million listeners have followed host Sarah Koenig’s attempt to explore and possibly unravel the knotty tale of Adnan Syed, the now-30-something-year-old man who was tried and convicted for the murder of his high-school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The podcast, an offshoot of “This American Life,” has become a minor phenomenon as listeners have obsessed and theorized for weeks trying to figure out whether Adnan or his friend Jay did it, or whether any of a dozen other potential suspects did it. Who did it! That’s what everyone wants to know. It’s what most people who read or watch or listen to mystery stories, true-life or not, want to know. So, how does this all end? Later today we’ll have a proper recap of the final episode, but in the meantime, let’s go over a few quick points for anyone who listened to the episode first thing.

Is there an ending?
Slate’s Mike Pesca memorably encapsulated the feeling of many a listener when he pleaded on one podcast, “Don’t let this be a contemplation on the nature of truth.” Koenig, aware of the discomfort that many have when it comes to open-ended conclusions, cannily opens the episode by having Adnan himself ask, “just this past Saturday” (this episode really came down to the wire, didn’t it?), “So you don’t really have no ending? Like, it’s just—” She then replies, “Of course I have an ending! We’re going to come to an ending today.” Good job, Koenig! We were worried there.

Is there new information?
There sure is. Koenig finally talks to Don, Hae’s boyfriend at the time of her murder. While they only officially dated for 13 days, the absence of Don from the narrative of “Serial” has been a notable one. Though we don’t hear his voice, Koenig relates his memories of Hae and, notably, the anger of the prosecution when Don failed — at both trials — to adequately portray Adnan as “creepy.” Koenig also speaks with a former co-worker of Jay (they worked at the adult video store together) who recalls Jay being very afraid of Adnan around the time that they were questioned by police.

Koenig and producers also reinvestigate “the Nisha call” and reveal that there might have been a pay phone in the Best Buy vestibule.

Will there be any new legal action?
Koenig circles back to the Innocence Project, which plans to ask that the case’s DNA evidence, which was never tested, be tested. The Project believes that Ronald Lee Moore, a repeat rapist and murder who was released from jail shortly before Hae’s murder, presents a viable alternative suspect.

So, what does Koenig think?
Despite Adnan’s insistence that she not take a side, that she should “leave it to the audience to determine,” Koenig finally reveals what she personally believes about the case:

If you asked me to swear that Adnan Syed is innocent, I couldn’t do it. I nursed out. I don’t like that I do, but I do. Most of the time I think he didn’t do it. For big reasons, like the utter lack of evidence, but also small reasons — things he said to me just off the cuff, or moments when he’s cried on the phone and tried to stifle if so I wouldn’t hear. And just the bare fact of why on earth would a guilty man agree to let me do this story, unless he was cocky to the point of delusion.

“As much as I want to be sure, I’m not,” she says. “Just tell me the facts, ma’am. Because we didn’t have them 15 years ago. And we still don’t have them now.”

And that’s how it ends. I came away satisfied, as I never expected the rusty gears of justice to start up again and work in concert with these 12 episodes. Whatever true conclusion there was going to be to this case (perhaps the Innocence’s Project’s work will free Adnan, perhaps not) was never going to be an actual part of this podcast.

Have you listened? Were you satisfied? What does satisfaction even mean here? Next week…on “Serial.”

Just kidding, it’s over, we’re done, there’s no more.

Let’s Talk About the End of ‘Serial’