Murder in the First: Suck My Alibi

Photo Credit: Serial.com
Photo Credit: Serial.com

Warning: Spoiler Alert

So our saga picks up after a less than stellar episode on the whole, while revealing some critical information. Last week we heard opening statements as well as some testimonies that could be interpreted in any number of ways. Mark Strauss (estranged husband to the deceased) did very little to come off as anything other than an optional second suspect. So naturally, he ends up dead from what looks on the surface like a suicidal overdose, I became very suspicious. It was too convenient and too clean. The note that was typed into the computer is a little much for an addict. The apartment was too clean. Something has to be awry, it’s too easy.

Tonight’s episode starts out with English reading the ‘suicide note’. As per my previous hesitation, its way too cohesive. Mark Strauss if nothing else, exhibited an habitual inability to convey steady thoughts. He thinks and speaks like an addict. Short and choppy. No way those are his words. Operating on the premise, the team including the DA decide to keep Siletti (ADA and lead prosecutor) in the dark about the details. This feels like thin ice though. If it gets out that there was a suicide note and SFPD intentionally kept it off the books, the whole case is done for.

In the judge’s chambers, the question at hand is, “should there be a postponement of the trial until such a time that SFPD can identify the death of Mark Strauss as whatever it is?” Smart move on Daniels’ part, but it won’t stand. Siletti makes the claim that Mark Strauss’ death is nothing more than a witness who completed his testimony has died. Daniels naturally disagrees. However, the judge agrees to move forward, allowing the state to finish its case. Which Siletti thinks should only take another three days. At which point, if they have not proven their case, allows for Daniels to file for a mistrial. Interesting little set up. Once again it seems, the state is all in.

Bill Wilkerson (Erich Blunt’s private pilot) takes the stand. The state runs through a basic line of questioning asking Wilkerson to recount the events he was involved in that lead to him and the landlady finding Cindy Strauss’ dead. All very straight forward until Siletti asked about Blunt’s reaction when Wilkerson gave him the news. This is peculiar because in an earlier episode when Wilkerson’s wife was flying off the handle, Blunt stepped up for Wilkerson. And there was an odd moment where Blunt insinuates that they have each others backs. Wilkerson didn’t do a great job selling his sincerity, but the testimony (to this point) looking like Wilkerson has no intention of ‘taking one for the team’ is intriguing.

Oh Warren Daniels…no pleasantries, no gentlemanly banter, just straight to the affair. After mentioning the affair with Wilkerson and Strauss, Daniels heads right into Blunt and Strauss. Then just that quickly moved to the physical nature of the meeting between Wilkerson and Hertzberg and Wilkerson’s wife and attorney. His wife repeatedly hit him. He repeatedly told her to stop. Then he hit her. Convenient that Herzberg was there to witness it. With that out-of-the-way, there appears to be a discrepancy between the time of death and the text message Wilkerson received from Strauss assuring him that all was OK. Her time of death was approx 8:15pm. The text came at 9:02. And as Daniels will do at every opportunity, suggests that Wilkerson may have killed her then sent himself the message after the fact from her phone. So much for having each others backs.

Almost immediately following Wilkerson’s testimony, English and Mulligan escort him upstairs to ask him some questions pertaining to the death of Mark Strauss. Regardless of Wilkerson’s involvement or lack of involvement, I get the impression that there’s only so much further he’s going to get pushed before he pushes back. The first question was “where were you last night”, which he replied, with Erich. Come to find out that the security system that runs 24 hours a day in Blunt’s house gets directly routed to SFPD. No intermediary. Which could prove to be helpful in more than one area.

Tonia Pyne speaks. Associate counsel for the defense. This is interesting because it’s the first time she has brought anything to the table. Daniels is not in the room. She cross examines Mrs. Wilkerson as to her whereabouts as well as her husband’s during the window of 7-9 pm. Pyne is a well-trained lackey. As she follows the same line of questioning that Daniels had earlier with Wilkerson. Suggesting that it were possible for her to leave her house and kill Cindy Strauss and get back without anyone noticing. Just as Daniels did before, their plan seems to be blame everyone else and aim for a mistrial.

Back at the precinct, English is grabbing some coffee while reading a document. A voice claims that there’s no work allowed in the break room. That voice belongs to former Capt Salter and current head of security for one Erich Blunt. He came to the precinct to drop off a copy of the security footage that allegedly shows Blunt and Wilkerson in Blunt’s home all night.

Salter: Blunt and Wilkerson were home all night playing Call of Duty.

English: Thanks. What about you?

Salter: What about me what?

English: Where were you the night Mark Strauss died Jimmy?

Salter: So now it’s Jimmy? (He pulls a paper out of his pocket) I was at the hospital with my mother. I slept there. Talk to nurse Roberts. Nurse Wynn. And nurse King. I’m there most every night, because she’s dying. And I know you can understand that. I’ve been in your shoes pal. I know what it’s like. You try to do good, you try to make a difference. Then you arrest a guy like this. Now you’re dealing with the press and the politics. Then the pressure builds and builds. All of a sudden, the whole world’s looking at you. God damn, you drop to your knees every night and pray that you got it right. Because now, it’s not just your ass on the line. It’s your partner’s, the lieutenant, the Chief, the DA, but what if the truth is he’s innocent? And you’re wrong? That’s scary. Take it from someone who’s been in your shoes Terry, you’re in a deep hole on this one. I strongly suggest you stop digging.

English: Well, I have to get to the bottom of this so, I gotta keep digging. Look at this kid. So close to two murders. Do you really think his hands are clean? I mean, you’re the one that taught me, there is no such thing as coincidences. And if you were in my shoes, you’d be all over this kid. All over him. But instead, you sold out and now you’re working for him. Guess you found that retirement gig. Here’s what worries me, what are you going to do when this kid goes down? What are you going to do when you realize you’ve been protecting a murderer? And that your hands have blood on them too? That you are the one who’s thinking was compromised by self-interest and not me. The door swings both ways Captain Salter, you can’t be on both sides of it.

Later at Blunt’s office, English and Mulligan look to question Ivana West (Blunt’s second in command and acting CEO) about her whereabouts during the window of Mark Strauss’ death. This becomes a series of question and answer about what can and cannot be manipulated by a computer savvy type. It all ends with West giving them her ‘root log’, apparently an incorruptible history of actions and locations that even a person of Blunt’s intelligence could not change.

Hannah Harkins is the next witness. Harkins, you’ll remember, was the former employee of Blunt’s who filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court as a part of her claim that she was drugged and raped by Erich Blunt. In steps Daniels to shoot down any relevance that Harkins could potentially provide with his (at this point) typical approach. Again, suggesting ‘reasonable doubt’. He paints a picture of the economic circumstances that were about to take place around her. Suggesting that she made up these allegations to prepare herself financially.

Back at the precinct, English and Mulligan preset the root log to Kami Keefer, the police tech expert (who still has a crush on Mulligan). She claims to fake this root log, it would take upwards of a week to fake. They are running out of time to nail down exactly what Mark Strauss’ death was. When Mulligan asks English for his advice when she takes the stand in the morning, he says “Talk very slowly”.

With Mulligan on the stand, Siletti takes her down the typical path. Asking leading questions about why they suspected Blunt and where he was arrested. The latter of which paints Blunt as a rich kid with the physical ability to break Strauss’ neck based on his status as a black belt in Krav Maga. Daniels goes in on Mulligan bringing up the forced temporary leave that caused her to miss the arrest of Erich Blunt. Daniels keeps digging and digging and in the end they are in a figurative standoff. Mulligan did not waver.

That night at the precinct over some Chinese takeout, English and Mulligan are pulling at straws. English finds the use of “shouldn’t’ve” to be suspect. People don’t generally type out that particular contraction. It also appears in the typed suicide note of Mark Strauss in almost the exact same usage. This is curious to say the least. This absolutely puts her in their cross-hairs. The question is, “does the second in command, someone who appreciates Blunt’s genius, and has on some level affection for him, have enough to gain by killing either or both Strauss’? Or would she actually have the stones to pull it off?”

The very next scene involves taking West in for questioning. At first she seemed drunk or worse. Upon further review, her look may have just been disguised disbelief that her alibi may not have worked. And to the previous latter question, I am quickly starting to believe she has the stones to pull it off. Now the previous question becomes more critical.

English: Where were you two nights ago?
West: I already answered that question.
English: That’s right, you were working.
West: Yes. I was working my ass off trying to save the company of the guy you are railroading.
English: So saving his ass meant taking out Mark Strauss?
West: I’m out of here (as she stands up to leave)
English (his hand to her shoulder sitting her back down): Nope. Not tonight. Maybe not ever. Sit down.

I love when Mulligan gets in her zone. When she believes she has what she needs, she really seems to enjoy it. I’d love to quote this one, but the text doesn’t do it justice. Mulligan walks in with a hair sample from Ms. West and a hair sample from Strauss’ apartment. Mulligan moves into the room with the confidence of a snake circling a mouse. “I really have to say, you did a nice job cleaning up the place. But that’s the funny thing about hairs. They’re so thin and easy to miss.” Matching hair samples. Fingerprint on Strauss’ laptop. And now a flash drive with surveillance footage of West accompanying Strauss into his apartment, then leaving later without him.

Staring at irrefutable evidence, and looking rather shocked, West responds in a way that again answers the second question from before. “I’m not saying another word without my lawyer”. The text on its own doesn’t quite say it. Her delivery and body language once again suggests that yes, she has the stones to do this. It’s not enough. The DA claims that short of a confession, they have to disclose the suicide note. At the eleventh hour, English gets an idea. They don’t need West to confess to murdering Strauss. They just need her to confess to writing the suicide note.

English lays out a couple of options that West is resistant to. And eventually he says enough to get here to talk. Namely suggesting that he doesn’t believe she killed Mark Strauss. And then like a person with controllable split personality, she spills the beans on the entire night. Her performance is different. It’s almost as if she experiences a sexual response to giving up this information. She even goes as far as saying that she was “prepared to kill him” but didn’t have to. This woman is evil. They get the confession they need as it pertains to the suicide note.

More importantly than the initial win here, is the response after the fact. It seemed almost too easy. West seemed to flip a switch and went from angry suspect demanding her lawyer to cool, calm and collected as if she were pulling the strings instead of English. English’ response seems equally strange. His demeanor changed about halfway through. Almost as if he realized he crossed some moral line in the sand. Even afterwards, while Mulligan struggles to erase the hard drive on Strauss’ laptop, he offers to do it. Quite violently I might add. As if to take the bulk of the burden of what’s happened.

I hope I’m wrong on this one. Some good shows will walk you right up to this sort of decision. Even less force you to actually make the decision. A great example of this is the Walter White/Jane Margolis situation on Breaking Bad. Some would agree that ‘situation’ (no Breaking Bad spoilers as of today) forces the viewer to either accept who he/she is going forward or reject who they are as a certain character. As if said character has crossed over the point of no return. I hope that is not the case here.

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