‘Serial’: Everything We Know — and Don’t Know — Going Into the Season 1 Finale


Tomorrow, we will hear the final episode of the first season of Serial, Sarah Koenig’s meditation on truth, memory, and This American Criminal Justice System. After 11 episodes, here is a quick rundown of what we do know and what we don’t.

Jay’s (now-debunked) Best Buy map.

Jay was almost certainly involved in the murder of Hae Min Lee. He led the police to Hae’s abandoned car at the Park’n’Ride; he confessed to helping to bury Hae’s body in Leakin Park on January 13th, where it was found three weeks later (under somewhat suspicious circumstances) by Mr. S., and he disposed of the clothes he was wearing and the shovel(s) he claimed to have used.

Jay is an unreliable narrator, for sure – even the detectives on the case reported that his story included “a lot of inconsistencies… too many to go over” – and yet his is the only word we have on several important issues, such as when and where Hae died.

Adnan was possibly involved. Jealousy, bitterness, and rage drive men to kill their exes all the time. The jury, it seems, convicted him on the strength of that motive and the weakness of his alibi. The person who testified against him, Jay, was clearly a friend: a person doesn’t lend a mere acquaintance his cell phone and his car. Whether or not Adnan asked Jay to help him with Hae’s murder, Adnan did spend a significant amount of time with Jay on the day in question.

Beyond Jay’s testimony, which facts suggest connections between Adnan and the crime?

  • The Nisha call, perhaps, and other evidence from the call log (see below).
  • The call “Cathy” overheard Adnan take later at her house, during which he seemed agitated, even panicky, and other actions that she classifies in Episode 6 as “not normal behavior for anybody.” (It should be noted that in Episode 9, Koenig offers a straightforward explanation that she herself finds convincing.)
  • Adnan never tried to contact Hae after she disappeared on January 13th, though he called her three times the night before.
  • Police found, in Adnan’s house, a letter originally from Hae on which Adnan and Aisha had scribbled notes. When Aisha saw it again at trial, the words “I am going to kill” had been written in pen at the top. According to Aisha, who was friends with both Hae and Adnan, the words had not been on the page before.

Hae was killed — but we do not know for sure when or where. According to Jay’s testimony, Adnan killed Hae in her car in the parking lot of a Best Buy shortly after school. We have since learned, however, that Jay has told several other versions of the story: in one, the murder occurred in Patapsco State Park; in another, it occurred in the parking lot at Woodlawn. That last one at least jives with the evidence presented in Episode 9, where witnesses affirm that they saw or interacted with Hae alive at Woodlawn at 3:00 or later, and also that “there are no phones there [at Best Buy]” from which Adnan could have called Jay at 2:36.

Various discrepancies remain in regards to the call log:

– The Nisha call. According to the phone records, a call went out from Adnan’s cell phone to Adnan’s friend Nisha’s house at 3:32 PM and lasted two minutes and 22 seconds. If Adnan is telling the truth, Jay had Adnan’s phone and car at that point and Jay placed that call, though he did not know Nisha. Why would he have, unless Jay was trying to frame Adnan by making it seem as though Adnan were with him?

Did whoever killed Hae make this call accidentally, butt-dial style, while in the midst of the murder?

Nisha has no memory of this call. She does remember one phone call with Adnan and Jay — but one that could only have taken place several weeks later, at nighttime, when Adnan was visiting Jay at an adult video store where Jay had taken a job.

The Leakin Park calls. Cell tower evidence seems to indicate that Adnan, or at least his phone, can be placed near Leakin Park on the evening of January 13th. According to Adnan and his father, Adnan was at mosque at the time.

Sarah Koenig

What was Sarah Koenig referring to in her October interview with Rolling Stone? Something we have already heard, or something she has been waiting for the finale to reveal?

What’s it like working on a show where, at any second, you could stumble upon something that could shift the entire story? That just happened to me this week, a couple of days ago, and I’m still catching my breath and not sleeping. It’s incredibly nerve-racking

Does Koenig retain interest in Mr. S. and/or other suspects? The police dismissed Mr. S. as a serious possibility, and Koenig has not returned to him much since, but there remains something strange about the way this man stumbled upon a well-hidden corpse when he was trying to pee quickly in the cold woods and then get back to his car.

Meanwhile, the Innocence Project has been hard at work for some time now, looking at, among other things, previously untested DNA. (We first heard about their involvement in Episode 7.) What, if anything, have they found?

Will Adnan remain in prison even though we have learned that his now-dead and since-disbarred defense attorney was, to put it mildly, not at her best during his two trials? Probably. Koenig told Rolling Stone that she was skeptical her reporting would make any real-world difference. Pajiba agrees. Vox concurs as well: “Courts give a strong presumption of reasonableness in defense counsels’ behavior.”

Even when counsel demands that the families of defendants bring her cash in briefcases? We’ll see.