09 January 2018

Serial Recap: 4 Years Later

Almost four years ago I read about a This American Life spin-off called Serial that was boldly going where no podcast had ever gone before: talking about a murder in-depth. I was deep in my last winter in Moscow and had been relying on audio books to keep me going as I travelled back and forth through the icy, painted towers of my Russian city with my ripped English books, my eyes watching the Ruble teetering on the edge of an economic crash. I devoured books. I read while zipping on the metro a mile under the city and in the backs of tiny buses and plugged in my headphones as I jumped over ice patches. Everything blended together. All I wanted were stories.

And this consumed me. I got everyone I knew to listen to it, America and Russia. On Friday nights when my expat friends and I met at the 2-for-1 bars we frequented, the conversation always began with Serial and ended on Sunday morning with Serial. Everyone had opinions. There were clues everywhere and we hung on Sarah Koening's every word. Each episode that came out was like ripping into a new present. I don't know if I've ever had such a proper storytelling experience before.

I even wrote about it to you guys! I think to date this post had the most discussion in the comments.

Whatever, you all remember. It was awesome. A great time to be alive.

Which brings me to now. Every year when the air in Chicago gets this tight and the moisture in my hands evaporates and when I walk so fast I feel like I can't breathe because the cold has taken my lungs away I am transported to Moscow and I listen to old playlists, read old books and listen to this podcast.

And the smell of cigarettes in cold. But I don't smoke those anymore.

So I re-listen. Again and again. But my conclusion about it all came to a place last year and I think I'm done thinking about it. This is all very controversial, but I'll put it out there and please feel free to disagree because this is my favorite thing to talk about.

But I think he did it. I think he totally did it.

And I have thought lots of things. Adnan has big, cow-like brown eyes. He is articulate and polite. He doesn't like to interrupt. He's so sensitive to how he comes across. He wasn't even upset that they broke up. He was so, so well liked. How could I not wish it wasn't him? It's impossible. 

So I, like you, like Sarah, like Rabia, thought no way. Jay is the weird one. Or that guy who found her in the woods. Or someone else. A serial killer. That serial killer who was around. Or Don. 

But then I re-listened. Then I had my million conversations which started in Moscow and ended 5 minutes ago in the break room of my office with a coworker who saw my instagram post. And I listened to Rabia's Undisclosed. Well, half of it because it's kind of un-listenable. But then I listened to Serial again. And then I came to the conclusion that despite all these earnest tellers of his story, he just did it. 

*Full disclosure: I sympathize with this case and the people involved. I also believe in a high burden of proof and do not think he should necessarily be in jail. But I would also not want to be in a room with him. But he technically shouldn't be in jail.*

I think he did it because, simply, that is the story that adds up the most. It's hard to believe it because the story is told by Sarah who wants to believe it's not him, who has been fed this story by someone who did not believe it was him, because virtually everyone involved said how great he was. Because Hae was unable to capture in her diary the clues that her boyfriend was a killer. Because his teacher's didn't see it. Because his lawyer was really sick. But there aren't arrows, things don't happen in a straight line.

But he was there, shotty cell phone tower technology or not. He was driving around Baltimore, he was with Jay (the phone call from Adnan's Philly girlfriend), he did have a reason. Not a great reason, but who does have a great reason for murder?

And Jay knew where her car was. 

Sarah really wanted Adnan to be innocent and you can hear it if you listen back. She is so excited for every piece of evidence and she even admits to sounding like she needs a Xanax (compare her voice to old This American Life episodes or Serial Season 2). She is chasing a story, but she can't find anything. Nothing adds up except what Jay says. Jay knows things and while they aren't perfect, they are facts. He tells the best story: his friend killed his girlfriend because he thought he was a gangster and called his weird friend and they buried her body and never talked about it again. It was surreal and cold. Something that happened.

And the timeline is very short, the time between her leaving school and her not showing up to pick up her cousin. That is another fact. If she had been killed by a serial killer, wouldn't they have come for her in the night? Or when she was leaving work? If this had any bit of randomness to it, it would have creaked the story into another direction. But there is no break, she goes missing right after school. Something, someone got her quick. So something, someone, would have had to move quick. Like someone she knew. Like someone who was in the car with her. Like her ex-boyfriend. Like her close friend.

I don't really see how anything else adds up. I know a lot of people fall back on the information presented in Undisclosed, but Undisclosed is almost unfair to listen to. It feels even silly to write about because it is so profoundly biased and lacks any sort of self awareness. I will say there are some interesting details that make Jay look bad, make the cops look bad (but aren't all cops terrible at this sort of thing? Who has ever heard of the police handling a murder investigation well?), make the lawyers look bad. It's messy, but these things are messy.

So I guess that's all I've got. I think he did it because I think Jay knew enough things. And I think Jay sounded scared, I think he was scared. And all any of us are doing are just listening to the facts, listening to the way people tell them. Listening to their voices.

I think Adnan should have had some memories: school was cancelled the next day. Then his ex-girlfriend went missing. Those are memorable things. He said he didn't do it because he didn't want to go to jail. He says he can't remember anything because there are no good memories and some people are bad liars. I do believe some things are as simple as that.

I think a part of me gets it because I was an impulsive teenager. I think when you are that age you just don't think of the future; like everyone is sort of floating around. I read about teenagers doing terrible things all the time and I remember that. I remember feeling nothing was real. Living in a movie in my head. I believe it was a combination of that. Just that dark, dreamy teenage brain coming to fruition. Just something he did.

But hey, you can tell me what you think too. It's still a great story. 

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