What Serial taught us

I was just 30 minutes late meeting a friend because of the final episode of Serial.  It was worth it, and it was completely unsatisfying. I’m surprised there’s not more internet outrage – but I guess we all knew it wasn’t going to fulfil it’s implied promise. Life is always more complicated than Sherlock, or a twelve-hour podcast, or a twelve-day murder trial. Maybe Serial isn’t a detective story at all. It uses the classic formula, but perhaps the producers would say it’s a meditation on the criminal justice system, the nature of knowledge and memory, or trust and suspicion. Anyway, here’s what I took away.

1. It’s right that we want truth and justice

It’s not just that we know it should happen. We desire it deeply, in our bones. That’s what makes detective stories so thrilling. The promise of truth coming out and justice being done kept us hanging out for each Thursday’s new Serial episode, listening to it with breakfast each Friday morning.

It’s as if we’re hard-wired for the task – working out the truth and putting it to work for the good. Maybe we’ve forgotten this, or persuaded ourselves otherwise. There don’t seem to be as many detective novels today as there were a hundred years ago, when any starving writer could earn a bit of money with a paperback thriller.

Maybe Serial is really what we need. It’s been Breaking Bad popular. Maybe we need more detective stories to remind us that truth and justice are thing we only get by patient work, not by blowing stuff up with drones or superpowers.

2. We don’t always get truth and justice

But Serial also reminds us that truth is complicated and justice is rare. While we all want the detective to get his man, somewhere deep down we also know that there’s a story where we’re that man, and in that story we would rather the detective were foiled.

In Advent, we look back to the time when God visited us in Christ, when he was revealed as God’s truth and God’s justice fell on him. And we look forward to the time when Christ comes again and all things are laid bare and put to rights. That will be real ending of all detective stories, when Jesus judges the the thoughts and desires of hearts.

Until then we live in a world where, as the psalmist says, people utter lies and plunder the poor. Who knows what really happened to Hae Min Lee? Did Jay lie to frame Adnan? Is Adnan telling the whole story about that afternoon? Are they both hiding something? In some ways that’s Sarah Koenig’s real point. No one knows, and a jury still convicted Adnan.

3. Someone knows what happened

Well, not literally no one. It could be Adnan, or Jay, or Mr S, or this Ronald guy (who apparently strangled another Korean girl around the same time), but someone knows. And one day, when everything is revealed, we will all know. Serial’s story isn’t quite at its end, because Jesus also knows what happened, and one day he will tell us, and put things right.

Everything we can learn from Serial we could already tell from Advent. We know things aren’t right, that people utter lies and pluder the poor. But we also know a God who has done something about it, and there will be a day when he will reveal the truth and give justice to Hae Min, Adnan, and everyone else.

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What Serial taught us