Episode 08: The Deal With Jay
Since the very first episode of Serial, when we found out that the only real piece of evidence against Adnan Syed was a story told by his friend Jay, this has been the number one question on my mind. What IS the deal with Jay? Who is this person? Why did he say his friend killed his ex girlfriend? Or, if he’s telling the truth, why did he get involved? He’s been so absent from the show, but so central to its story, that I started to imagine all sorts of things: was he dead? in jail? Had he turned his life around, and busy working as a doctor or lawyer? Or maybe he’s now a shadowy international assassin, recruited by an ancient order after showing so much promise in the case of Hae Min Lee? This episode–finally!–seems offer to clear some of this up.
So. What’s the deal with Jay? Unfortunately for us, the deal with Jay is that he refuses to be interviewed.
Koenig does track him down, which she reveals with a flourish about halfway through the episode. As it begins, she’s speaking with Della Armstrong, one of the jurors on Adnan’s case. Armstrong, as it turns out, found Jay a credible witness. She believed his story. “Why would you admit to doing something that drastic if you hadn’t done it?” she asks, very reasonably. “For what reason? What was he going to gain from that?” It’s a fair question. While she’d assumed Jay also did jail time, and seems surprised when Koenig tells her that he walked, this in and of itself isn’t much of an explanation. After all, it was Jay who presented the entire theory of the case to the police, voluntarily, even leading them to Hae’s abandoned car.
In this section, we also hear a fair bit of Jay’s testimony on the stand at Adnan’s second trial (his first ended in a mistrial), including some extremely boring cross by Adnan’s layer, Cristina Gutierrez. The most interesting thing that happens is when she gets absolutely furious when she thinks Jay doesn’t understand the meaning of the phrase “stepping out,” as in, “stepping out on your wife,” which he totally does, it’s just that she’d asked her question in an extremely vague way.
Koenig is very charitable to Gutierrez here, and assumes that her extremely detailed, highly tedious line of questioning is some kind of masterful mental game wherein she’s trying to bore Jay into tripping up. As Deirdre Enright might have told her on the last episode, you’re not that lucky. My dad’s a lawyer, has been for over 30 years, and it has made into an extremely detail-oriented, boring person. It takes him nearly half an hour to tell you about something he saw on The History Channel, because he can’t move forward with the story until every single detail lines up—was it Saturday or Sunday? What time of day? What show had been on before, and which one after? Had he eaten lunch? A nightmare, honestly.
Later, Koenig speaks with her own sort of expert witness: Jim Trainum, a former detective, and an expert of false confessions. One wonders why exactly he’s even here, since no one on any side of this case thinks there was a false confession. Naturally, Trainum looks at the police records for any inconsistences or lapses, which he doesn’t find. The policework is solid, he says, and goes on to call this case (which again is based on one person’s testimony and somewhat supported by cell phone records) unusually solid. Honestly, this should serve as a reminder how shockingly cobbled-together most murder convictions are, and get us all up in arms about it. They sentence people to death with less evidence than this! Koening is incredulous, but, as Trainum tells her, the police’s job isn’t to find the truth, it’s to build a case.
So, finally we come to Jay. Koening and her co-producer Julie Snyder drive to his home unannounced, and basically hang around until he comes home. When he does, she tells us, they have a basically polite conversation wherein Jay maintains not only that he was telling the truth, but how furious he is that after all these years, Adnan can’t “man up” and admit what he did. Honestly, it’s not uncompelling. We don’t get to hear it from him, as he declines to be interviewed.
Instead, we hear from a bunch of his high school classmates and friends, who paint a picture of a guy many of us who grew up in the late 1990s knew. A charming but slightly dangerous-seeming guy whom you couldn’t quite get a finger on. Vaguely goth, vaguely sporty, vaguely a stoner, vaguely a bro: he played lacrosse, rode BMX bikes, wore Jncos, and had a habit of dyeing and bleaching his hair, which made more than one person compare him to Dennis Rodman (Jay is African-American). He was funny and kind. He loved his girlfriend. He also once tried to stab his friend, so that “he could see what it felt like.” The friend declined to find out what being stabbed felt like.
The closest we get to any kind of a motivation here, in my opinion, is in discussing Jay’s girlfriend at the time, Stephanie, who was also good friends with Hae and Adnan, and also refused to be interviewed. Jay told his friends that he’d helped Adnan because Adnan threatened Stephanie, which many of them found hard to believe. Though they all do say that he would have done anything for her. Stephanie, for her part, never spoke about the murder to her friends, and lost touch with many of them, afterward. Could Stephanie be the person for whom Jay is covering? We don’t really know.
Earlier in this episode, Detective Trainum, says something which is increasingly sounding like it should be the tag line for this show: “There’s always going to be things that are unexplainable.” Indeed. Maybe a lot of things.
Next Week: What did the jury know about Adnan that we don’t?