At the heart of S-Town, the epic new podcast that's hooked fans of Serial in recent days, is one mystery, and then another, and then another. And perhaps one of the most elusive (and maddening) ones has to do with — what else? — a treasure hunt. S-Town presenter Brian Reed works to determine what happened to the gold that his eccentric, brilliant, subject, John B. McLemore, may or may not have hidden on his sprawling rural Alabama property. Another of the podcast's most compelling aspects is the relationship Tyler Goodson — McLemore's friend, employee, and son-figure — shared with him. And S-Town enthusiasts raced through the series, released all at once last week, breathless to know whether Tyler ultimately did find John's gold, or whether he, like so many others, was left empty-handed.
Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.
S-Town has a lot in common with its medium-defining predecessor. Serial unspooled and analyzed a Baltimore murder; S-Town uses McLemore as a lens to examine first a murder that turns out not to have happened, then morphs into a novelistic accounting of McLemore's own life and legacy after his suicide. Those include his genius, inability to escape the hometown he detests to the point of dubbing it "Sh-t Town," his relationships, unmitigated disdain for law enforcement, as well as his obsession with climate change, and, not insignificantly, his wealth. Specifically, what happened to the gold that many in Woodstock, Alabama believed McLemore possessed when he died, and that the man himself often referred to in life.
Serial and S-Town have another striking similarity: They both leave their respective mysteries ultimately unsolved. Without ever drawing his own conclusions or leveling premature accusations, Reed examines the likelihood and McLemore even owned the gold, where he may have stashed it, who may have wanted it, and who had access to his property after his death to search for it. He returns again and again to Goodson, a forthright interviewee in his early twenties who insists McLemore had told him to take whatever he wanted if he were to die. But McLemore, somewhat inexplicably, didn't leave a will — meaning that his Florida cousins legally assumed control of his assets.
But that doesn't stop Goodson, who had keys to the house and a detailed familiarity with the property from working on it, from trying. Over the course of the podcast, listeners learned he had amassed misdemeanor trespassing and then felony theft charges for allegedly taking, among other things, a 48-foot trailer, from McLemore's property amid the legal hoopla that his death incited.
But what about the gold? Later on in the series, a town clerk tells Reed that McLemore told her he kept it in the freezer — from which it was never recovered. Goodson himself hypothesized that his mentor would have buried in a spot in the yard he could see from his kitchen window. But whether Goodson was actually able to locate it, listeners never learn for sure. And that's no accident on Reed's part.
In discussing the matter with Goodson in a conversation presented in the seventh and last "chapter," Reed encourages him to "just consider it" before letting him know if he does find the gold. The reason? It would be made public if Reed knew, and he evidently did not want to put himself in the position of having to do that if it would hurt Goodson.
"Yeah, I know. That’s what I’m scared of now," Goodson replies, not long before he asks Reed to turn of his recording equipment so the two can talk off the record.
Like many other admissions, observations, and events that make up S-Town, listeners can make of that what they will.