In the latest episode of the blockbuster “This American Life”-spinoff podcast “Serial,” host Sarah Koenig sets out to investigate rumors about Adnan since, at this point, the character issue is still a major factor in whether you believe he killed Hae — as if only “bad guys” are capable of murder.
“For two months now, I’ve been grappling with rumors about Adnan. People tell me ‘there’s stuff you don’t know about Adnan. Stuff you need to know to understand what you’re dealing with,'” said Koenig, who acknowledges that while “none of it is directly connected to the crime,” there are “a great many things I don’t know about Adnan.” But is any of it relevant to this case?
This Week’s Focus: Adnan’s Character
[Mild spoilers follow.]
Koenig speaks to people within the Muslim community in Baltimore, who generally all agree that Adnan is a “good guy” even though some accuse him of being duplicitous or even a psychopath (but still a “good guy!”).
Though Koenig says callers have informed her that Adnan has done bad things in his past, the only wrongdoing she can confirm is that he stole donation money from his mosque during the summer before 8th grade. But even then, rumors abound, with one person asserting that he stole as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars, which Koenig finds not to be the case.
But as Adnan himself points out, he has always admitted that he stole money from the mosque. Does that make him a killer? We finally get a sense of Adnan’s frustration about how he’s been portrayed in the podcast — one moment, he feels like Koenig is his savior, the next, his executioner.
And really, how would any of us fare if a journalist began to dig into our teenage behavior, and interview former middle school and high school classmates about our personality and recount the times where we broke the law by shoplifting, drinking underage or smoking pot? Does any of that have any relevance to this specific crime? Is someone who steals money from a mosque more likely to be a killer? Is it evidence of bad character?
The Newest Evidence
This week’s episode might be the weakest yet, because there is no new evidence presented. Amateur sleuths will be disappointed that rather than evidence, we get debate about how we can tell if someone is capable of murder.
“Can you tell — really — can you tell if someone has a crime like this in him?” asked Koenig. It’s only human to feel like we can sense a murderer, but do humans have that capacity?
The same example of any behavior can be used as evidence of good character or questionable character — it’s all subjective. For instance, one person cites Adnan’s ability to smooth over rough situations as proof that he’s a good guy, while another points to that same quality as a sign that he’s sneaky.
This week, Koenig also interviewed Charles P. Ewing, a forensic psychologist and a lawyer who has evaluated several thousand criminal defendants. Though we’d rather believe that murderers are a different breed than the rest of us, Ewing said that most of the time, murderers are pretty ordinary. “They’re not evil…they kill because something happens that pushes them over the edge,” he said.
There’s also a tossed-off suggestion that maybe Adnan killed Hae, but doesn’t even realize it. Ewing said that in about 50 percent of cases, there’s some degree of amnesia.
But the larger question that Koenig keeps circling is: Is Adnan a sociopath? She seems to genuinely like him and worries that she’s being duped. “The term psychopath gets thrown around so easily,” she said. Is he so calculating that their whole relationship has been a con? He’s functioning really well in prison and “doesn’t appear to have any sort of anti-social behavior,” according to Koenig — so he can’t be a psychopath.
To some degree, the issue is irrelevant, said Ewing. “The fact is that most psychopaths aren’t killers and most killers aren’t psychopaths,” he said.
In the end, Koenig decides, “I don’t think Adnan is a psychopath. I just don’t. I think he has empathy, real feelings.”
But, she acknowledges that one thing that makes Adnan look guilty is that he doesn’t sound angry. When she asked Adnan about this, he said there’s nothing he can do to change other people’s minds about him. “Either you think I did it or you don’t,” he said. For the first time, we get a sense of what the podcast has done to Adnan’s life, dredging up old feelings of hurt and even more painfully, perhaps, giving him a glimmer of hope. Koenig acknowledged that “my story had messed with his equilibrium.”
At the end of the episode, Koenig reads a letter Syed wrote to her. “‘At this point,’ he wrote, ‘It doesn’t matter to me how your story portrays me — guilty or innocent — I just want it to be over.'”
And, as Koenig said, “It will be. Next time, final episode of Serial.” Yes, next week is the final episode of this first season. So let’s hope there’s some resolution — though, at this point, it seems safe to say there will be no neat conclusion, only more questions.