What Just Happened On That Serial Finale

Photo: Courtesy of Serial.
This morning's finale episode of Serial ended with less bang and more heartbreak — and perhaps that's what we deserve. Throughout the arc of its debut season, each fan has ridden through the cycle of obsession, speculation, and icky reality checks. The consistent theme that runs through every episode is uncertainty. That's why Sarah Koenig's ending may appear wishy-washy when, truly, doubt is damning in its own way. Doubt and ambiguity means "as a juror, I have to acquit," Koenig concludes. "But, I'm not a juror."
The power of Serial, aside from hooking millions into a juicy mystery, is its ability to shed light on the murky underbelly of our own judicial process. It's not as if there was a grand conspiracy — of that we can be sure(ish). But, throughout Koenig's year of reporting she unveiled far more questions than answers: Facts prove wobbly, police point in one direction, while cell phones ping in another. At at the center of it all are Koenig's calls with Adnan Syed — conversations which dance politely around the possibility of him being a sociopathic murderer or a victim of monstrous injustice.
Many, many listeners clearly side with the latter assessment. The #FreeAdnan supporters have been active since Episode One, when the call from Asia gave him an alibi (which never made it into the trial). The Asia incident is the entire basis of Adnan's ongoing appeal, which will go to court in January for a scheduled hearing. But, as both Sarah and Adnan point out, it's not his niceness that's on trial. Yes, he's well-spoken and intelligent and most listeners agree on the fact that we don't want it to be him. That would make our obsession all the more justified, and damn, it would make for a great finale.
Instead of a climax, though, we got the facts — or lack thereof. Sarah Koenig's investigation opened each and every can of worms and dumped them all out all over the case file. Her conclusion may seem not-so-thrilling, but leaving us with all his ambiguity is more telling — and more alarming — than a smoking gun. Serial has opened the door wide for reasonable doubt. Given the evidence against Adnan — not his friendliness — it's difficult to say that he's definitively guilty. We can't say he's guiltless either, but that's not how our justice system works. Adnan should have been innocent until proven guilty. If anything, Sarah Koenig unraveled a great deal of evidence used to do just that, leaving us with this nagging, gaping uncertainty. If it were up to us, that mere skepticism would be more than enough to free Adnan.
At the end of the day, a family's child is dead and another lost their son to prison. Dozen of lives were destroyed by this tragedy and years later, we sit here comfortable in speculation. Still, no matter what we think, we are not here to judge.

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