“Love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things.”
Love. Death. Justice. Truth. In those four words, Sarah Koenig, the host of Serial, traces the “big, big” stories her podcast attempts to tell. Fitting into the investigative journalism genre, Serial follows a single, real-life story throughout the course of a season. Each episode presents a new chapter, unravelling the story the further you listen. Koenig tackles cases that appear muddled at first, but inevitably arrive at a conclusion as she finds a distinction between truth and lies.
Serial currently has two available seasons.
Season one follows Adnan Syed, the arrested suspect for his ex-girlfriend’s death, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. The question that defines the conviction of this tale is this: Would you remember what you did for 20 minutes after school, six weeks ago? This question is a reality for Syed, as those 20 minutes will determine whether he’s innocent or guilty.
Season two explores the charges of desertion against Bowe Bergdahl, an American sergeant captured by the Taliban and held for five years after leaving his post in an audacious move to bring attention to bad leadership in his company. Was he right to abandon his post? Did he pay the price of his decision during his captivity?
Episodes do not adhere to a fixed length; they vary to complement the suspense of the narrative.
Serial incorporates interviews with people involved in its cases. The interviews include both clips from the present and the past. For instance, season two features a pre-recorded snippet of a conversation between Bergdahl and Mark Boal, an American journalist and filmmaker. Season one also includes the recordings of detectives taking a statement from a witness to Syed’s supposed crime. This variation in sound texturizes the auditory experience and makes Koenig’s monologue that much more captivating.
I believe that Serial deals with the legitimacy of guilt. It addresses the complexity of assigning blame in conditions where the details are controversial. The uniqueness of this podcast comes from the ease with which you can place yourself in the role of the victim Koenig discusses, as you too could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, with a penchant for bad decisions.