Let’s start with the options that had already lapsed by the time she began production on the final episode:
- Once she began to suspect that no new game-changing evidence would be discovered, she could have chosen to withhold some of the evidence she did gather until the end, to create more of a feeling of a “big reveal” pay-off. This would have been a big cheat, and probably still unsatisfying, but this is actually what I assumed that she would do: I thought she was hiding an ace up her sleeve. For better or worse, she wasn’t.
- Barring that, she could have kept the main series focused closer on the evidence, and saved up the more think-piece-style episodes for the end, instead of running those in the middle. One way or another, I think the most basic thing we all wanted and didn’t get from the finale was a break in the format of some kind. Instead, we got a very typical episode, with a smattering of new evidence that could go either way, followed by more thoughts about unknowability. It would have been more satisfying if she had withheld the more-ruminative episode about psychopathy, for example, until the end, as a way to step back and re-examine her narrative.
- We’ll start with another big cheat: She could have delayed the finale until more evidence came in, most obviously the results of the upcoming DNA test. But barring that…
- The most obvious finale, it seemed to me and to several listeners, would be for Koenig decide for herself, based on everything she’d learned, whether or not Syed was guilty. Obviously, she was loathe to do this, but we sort of deserved it, because she had made so much of the series about her own vacillation.
- Barring that, she could have at least polled her co-producers to find out their conclusions…Hopefully, two would disagree, and they could have a debate.
Koenig tells us that she had assumed that many more exculpatory items would emerge after she uncovered the possible alibi for Syed early on, but none did, and she surely started to suspect that she was digging a dry well, but once she had formed a relationship with Syed, I suspect that she was reluctant to go there, for fear of Malcolm-style criticism
So what options does that leave?
- She could have fallen back on what “This American Life” has always done best: tell stories. Now that we have all this evidence, tell us one story (or more) that fits the evidence in which Syed didn’t do it, and another in which he did.
- Okay, so here’s another option: She could have pulled a John Oliver or Stephen Colbert and capitalized on her huge success by reaching out to the new friends of the show (surely she got some emails from some impressive names) and inviting big minds to ruminate on what it all means.
- Or, finally, she could have ended with Syed himself, and let him say what this has meant to him.