Serial Recap: Fan Service


We are so deep into this Serial thing that it’s gotten very hard to quickly recap what’s going on. There’s so many technicalities and conflicting opinions on what you’d think would be simple matters of fact that I had to rewind this latest episode a few times because I’d lost the thread of exactly which fine point which expert was making, and whose case it supported. To give you a small taste (before the much larger taste that the rest of this recap will be), this week Sarah Koenig cheerily said with basically zero irony, “If you’ve got the call log in front of you,” before launching into a point of disagreement a cell phone experts had with some 17-year-old phone call data. Like, you know, she just expects her audience to maybe have a 17-year-old printout of a fax presented in Baltimore court in front of them. And, you know, lots of people listening probably really did have the call log out! It would have been helpful! Let’s face it, if you’re this deep—listening to the third daily update about Adnan Syed’s hearing to have his conviction for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee overturned—you’re a call log type. So let’s just get to it.

On day three, we heard about two different strains of inconclusive arguments, and one that was a bit more firm. In the first, prosecution and defense witnesses debated whether or not location data was accurate for incoming calls on Adnan’s phone on the day of Lee’s death. As you may remember, an AT&T fax coversheet attached to those calls specifically said it was not accurate, though it was presented at trial as if it were.

In Friday’s hearing, the prosecution’s witness said that note referred not to cell towers, but to cell switches—the brain that decides how cell phone calls are routed. Imagine you live in Brooklyn, and you turn off your phone before flying to Detroit. Until you turn your phone on and connect to Michigan’s cell network, your phone still thinks you’re in Brooklyn, so the Brooklyn cell switch is dealing with all your calls, even though that’s not actually where you are. In the same city, though, and tower-to-tower, it wouldn’t really make any difference, he said. The defense expert said that’s not true, and it matters all the way down to the level of the tower. Though Koenig said she expected this discussion to continue on into another day of the hearing, it sounded to me like they’d fought to a stalemate.

The other stalemate was over the quality of work done by Adnan’s original attorney, Cristina Gutierrez. Let’s not forget that the rather grim point underlying Adnan’s entire case here is that a dying woman was shitty at her job. Since she’s now dead and not around to defend herself, there’s a lot of arguing about why she did what she did, what was a strategy, and what was gross incompetence.

On this topic, Adnan’s team focused Friday on the alibi witness list Gutierrez submitted during the first trial, which contained 80 or so names. Adnan’s current lawyers were able to track down about half of those people, and only four of them reported actually speaking with Gutierrez. Not great! However, the prosecution submitted evidence that she was doing some work in this area, and decided to rely on a non-alibi argument in court. So, while it’s not great that she never reached out to at least half of her own list of potential alibi witnesses, she did do some stuff in this area. Inconclusive.

Speaking of alibi witnesses! The last, but most conclusive thing from Friday—our “superstar witness” and the source of the day’s “biggest drama”—was Dave Irwin, who testified for Adnan as an expert in criminal defense. The list of his credentials is comically long—including prosecutor, professor, and defense attorney—basically stopping just short of “got Jack Nicholson to incriminate himself by yelling ‘you can’t handle the truth.’”

To Irwin, the fact that Guiterrez didn’t pursue Asia McClain is unforgivable. “There is no excuse for why she didn’t investigate—at a minimum investigate Asia,” Koenig said. “He basically said, if you have a credible alibi witness, that is the best possible defense you can have.”

About half of the rest of this episode is establishing what an unstoppable badass witness Irwin is. He explained, in detail, Asia’s value. She’s sure of herself. She offered her boyfriend to back her up. She suggested looking for surveillance cameras at the library. She knew Adnan and Hae, but not enough to be biased one way or another. She was perfect.

“In a situation like this, you always pounce,” Koenig tells us Irwin said.

Pretty convincing stuff! But, then again, the prosecution hadn’t gotten a chance to cross-examine him, so who knows what petty bullshit they might use to try to trip him up. Or what legitimate issues they might bring up, I dunno, could go either way.

And you know what? We’re never going to know! At the end of this episode, Koenig tells us that this is the end of her show’s fan service dip back into season one. She can’t stay in Baltimore forever! She has to go back and make season two of Serial.

Which, honestly, I’m okay with. These updates are fun, and have a lot of the best spirit of Serial, seeming like a funny conversation between friends about some highly technical stuff. But at the same time, these updates are literally listening to someone describe a court hearing to you. To me, that’s got a pretty low ceiling, in terms of the interest it generates. There’s no storytelling or art here, it’s just recapping. And I’m recapping those recaps, and it makes me confused and depressed. But I get that feeling a lot.

Anyway! That’s it for this. If you want more updates, I dunno, read the Internet. You can specifically check Serial’s site, or just read any of the million sites that repost news about things they didn’t actually report. That is basically every website, so you should be fine.

I’ll be back in a few weeks, with more on the case of Bowe Bergdahl, which is somehow still incomplete.


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