Serial: a fitting end to the crime drama that wasn’t

**spoiler alert — go and listen to the final episode of Serial before continuing**

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Serial – the twelve-part whodunnit phenomenon that put the word podcast back in the popular vernacular – has come to an end. There’ll be no more Mailchimp, no more prepaid prison calls and – crucially – no more questions from the show’s host, This American Life journalist Sarah Koenig. It seems unlikely, however, that the show’s fans will forget it in a hurry. What set this murder mystery apart was that it both respected the fifteen year old cold case at its centre in a way that true crime shows so often don’t (Crime and Investigation Network, I’m looking at you) and brought it to life.

In Serial – the story of an honours student imprisoned for life on a weak testimony and circumstantial evidence – notions of good and bad, guilty and innocent, were placed in apposition rather than opposition over and over again, a chiasmus of contradictory character traits. Profiles of human beings with thoughts and feelings were crafted through a sophisticated narrative that often included big, searching questions about the universality of the human psyche. Could a young man from a religious family also dabble in theft and drugs, or was it a sign of his duplicitousness? A teen fundamentalist with scores to settle would make a killer TV plotline, but for Koenig a killer it did not (necessarily) make. Ripping apart the version of events presented at trial meant casting aside caricatured notions of psychopathy or even sociopathy, dealing solely in fact, and bringing in new experts including the Innocence Project, a legal organisation who review cases with DNA testing.

Some listeners may have felt cheated by this week’s final instalment, however. After all, Koenig promises an ending about two minutes in, only to return to the same brand of wrangling which has underpinned every single episode. Whilst new infomation is revealed, her final conclusion is the opposite of the dramatic “no-sliver-of-reasonable-doubt” denouement. It is, however, the only kind of ending that is authentic with regards to such a complex case. The truth might be stranger than fiction (god knows that Criminal Minds has never dedicated an entire episode to cell phone tower pings), but it’s often messier and more elusive, too. Thus, she concludes, that although she cannot be 100% sure of exactly what happened that day, there was certainly not enough evidence to lock a 17-year-old away for life.

So, what exactly happens in episode twelve? Koenig delves back through the evidence which she and her team have collated over the past fifteen months, checking out the inconsistencies in the case of Adnan Syed – currently behind bars for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore – one last time. It’s a process that’s nearly as frustrating as Syed’s repeated inability to remember anything but the most pedestrian of details from the day that Hae went missing, as Koenig and her two producers – Julie Snyder and Dana Chivvis – talk cell phone calls and legal loopholes once again. This being Serial – cerebral, solid – the final look at the details of January 13th 1999 had a serious purpose, however: reaffirming the ambiguities at the heart of the state’s case against Syed once more. Koenig admits to exploring new avenues right until the end (what if there was something they’d missed?) but the main point of retracing their steps was to show that even if a new version of the truth was yet to transpire, the accepted version of events was undeniably flawed. From the Nisha call to the Best Buy payphone: they were all ultimately jokers.

Hae Min Lee’s brother Young took to Reddit back in November. “TO ME ITS REAL LIFE”, began his distressed missive. “To you listeners, its another murder mystery, crime drama, another episode of CSI”. The post goes on to talk of his family’s grief, before concluding that Koenig was either biased or gunning for a big ending. His suspicion and hurt were understandable, especially when you consider the thousands upon thousands of posts which have appeared alongside his own on the site’s Serial subreddit over the past three months. From potential libel to downright dangerous vigilantism, there was many people in this online community who were playing an unethical game of Cluedo from behind their screens. The same can’t be said of Koenig, Snyder, Chivvis and co, however, who built up an intricate narrative that eschewed speculation in favour of cold, hard, fact. That the big, sensational shocker of an ending Mr Lee and so many others expected never came is a testament to the fact that this hugely popular show was a dispatch from reality rather than a masterclass in voyeurism.

Parisian hello

 

Photo on 01-06-2013 at 23.14

STUFF IVE WRITTEN SINCE I LAST POSTED HERE APPROX 1,000,000 YEARS AGO:

– I now write telly previews for Saturday’s Guardian Guide which are neatly organised over here.

…I think the last time I posted was between two very interesting (by that I mean interesting to write but yes, also hopefully to read!) Guardian pieces which I wrote on Made In Chelsea and My Mad Fat Diary.

– I have reviewed a few gigs for The Fly in the past few months. Although I have the world’s worst memory I think these were Everything Everything at Newcastle O2 Academy, Loom at Ku Bar in Stockton On Tees (magazine) and Maximo Park at Newcastle Cluny.

– I reviewed the new Icky Blossoms one for Zero Core, Jen Long’s zine.

– My novel still hasn’t happened.

– With no more uni for 18 months, I’ve resurrected my Tumblr. Get ready for irritating links of cats morphing into croissants 500 times a day. And more blogs here.

I love TV…

…just kidding…

Here’s something I wrote for The Graun about Young Apprentice…

As the badly-Photoshopped pic above so perfectly demonstrates, Lord Sugar is bigger and better than all of the feckless/precocious (delete as appropriate) teens in the world. Fact. The article explains this sentiment in a (slightly) more articulate manner.

Having enjoyed my review writing, I might find some more telly to pontificate about…like Living With The Amish. Fellow blogger and music lover Jordan Joice gets his episode tonight (1st December) on Channel 4 at 9pm – I can’t wait to see him get to grips with the quirks and surprises of life sans Facebook, Twitter, Blackberrys and blogging. It’s quite probable that I’ll break out in a cold sweat just watching it!

Check back for a DJ Shadow live review coming soon and much more in December (I’m the blog equivalent of an advent calendar, me).

Here's a treat for the first day of advent - a hen trip to Mexico via a holiday park in Camber Sands perhaps?!

HJ