WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Serial podcast test patience

By on November 4, 2014

Sarah Koenig keeps Serial listeners hanging. Photo credit: ELISE BERGERSON

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – During a rainy Icelandic afternoon somewhere between Egilsstaðir and Höfn, my road trip friends and I decided to listen to a podcast that I had recently downloaded. I had never really fallen in love with a podcast like some of my friends have; I guess I just never found the right niche to hold my attention. And then, Serial landed in my lap, and everything changed.

NPR’s This American Life contributor Sarah Koenig is our host, and Serial, as she describes it, is: “One story told week by week.” Season one of Serial deals with a crime investigation, but next season will be a completely different story. And to get the full tale, you cannot just jump in anywhere — you need to start at the very beginning. Episode one. A very good place to start.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you that I am overwhelmingly infatuated with Serial. I cannot help myself. This first season’s story chronicles the mysterious murder of Hae Min Lee, a Korean high school student who was strangled to death in Baltimore in January of 1999. And if you are not listening to this podcast, or have no idea what podcasts are, you are missing out on 2014’s most riveting journalistic event, something that just might get Pulitzer recognition.

Feeling guilty? 

Staring out the window as my friend Caroline drives through the winding wet roads of Iceland’s east coast, I found myself lost not in the scenery, but in Koenig’s jarring retelling of the story of Adnan Syed, the young man who was convicted of Hae’s murder 15 years ago, and the messy, inconsistent investigation that led to his conviction.

I won’t spoil anything for those who have not listened to the show, but it’s intense and will likely infuriate you to the point of calling everyone you have ever met to find someone (anyone!) to join you in a debate weighing Adnan’s possible innocence and his imprisonment.

Will there be a smooth and creamy conclusion to Serial that closes the case?

“I know there seem to be people who want a clear up or down vote, and I don’t know what to say to that,” Koenig said in a Buzzfeed interview.


I have this thought that maybe this could all be a front put on by Koenig and NPR, and the final episode could blow us all away with Koenig’s ultimate finale. Then, in a dramatic world-of-journalism-altering move, Adnan gets cleared of all charges thanks to Koenig’s investigative methods, changing podcasts and news forever!

Or it could end with Koenig droning, “We may never know what really happened to Hae Min Lee …”

If you’re a Serial listener, you identify with me, and will agree that this is all quite frustrating. The world we live in is full of easily accessed information. Any of us could do a quick Google search and learn what we can about Hae Min Lee and what went down in Baltimore those 15 years ago. I’m sure some of you have tried. But it’s how Koenig reveals the information that really hooks us. Each episode is dedicated to a certain piece of information or a suspect that helps construct the eventual puzzle. Last week’s episode, “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” is the reason I wanted to write this article.

The ending of Episode 6 is a game-changer, and it completely altered my perspective of Adnan and what we can expect in the upcoming episodes. And what’s so exciting about this series is the patience that’s required. I can’t learn what Koenig learned. We don’t have access to the recordings or the evidence photos. We can’t independently figure it out, so we rely on Koenig to feed us the story.

Serial tests the patience of the typical 21st century listener, and that’s what makes it so damn fascinating and masterful. We can’t flip to the last page to see what happens or even spoil ourselves on Wikipedia to see what truly went down. Koenig’s investigation is strictly told week by week.

And if you know me, you’ll know that anything that can distract me from gushing over Iceland, even as I’m driving through it, is worth checking out.

About Andrew Munz

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