Serial Season 2 Episode 1 Recap: SERIAL IS BACK
Sarah Koenig, you motherfucking snake in the grass. You Beyoncéd us. “Oh, I run the most successful podcast of all time and you all are waiting on bated breath for it to return? What if I coyly dropped the new season and let the huddled masses find it on their own? Like one drops a name or loose change. Isn’t that just the most demure of me?”
It was demure of you, Sarah. You’re perfect. I love you. Never change.
Also she talked about poop in this episode, which is strange because I was under the impression The Koenig transcended normal human bodily functions. But I digress. We have Serial to discuss.
This season is going to cover the controversial case of Bowe Bergdahl, who was held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan for five years after leaving his post and wandering into the desert. In 2014, the Taliban released Bergdahl into American custody in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees.
Bowe Bergdahl’s return home was a major news story for, what, like 2 weeks? A month, maybe? I remember when Barack announced that we got him back, the weird right-wing scrutiny of his father’s use of Arabic and Pashtu while standing next to the President, and pundits being kinda miffed that we gave up so much for this guy, a “deserter.” Here’s what I didn’t remember: Everything else. For some reason, I had thought that it was a matter of debate whether or not he walked off or if he was kidnapped from his camp. I didn’t realize that he freely admitted, “Yeah, no, I totally just bounced. I mean, I was going to a place, and I had my reasons, but I did just bounce.”
One of the major themes of Season 1 was the unreliability of memory, how difficult it often is to recall even the most basic facts about how we spend our time. This season, right from its opening montage of news reports, establishes itself as an exploration of the unreliability of narrative, how a set of facts can be twisted to tell wildly different stories.
There wasn’t much controversy in this episode. Everybody pretty much agrees on what happened: Bergdahl abandoned his post in protest of what he saw as reckless leadership, got captured by the Taliban, was held as a prisoner, got released, and is now being charged with desertion. You didn’t have much of what Serial became known for last year, the “This person said this, but this person said that.”
But you can already see the frayed edges of the story, and where you’re going to have conflicting perspectives. Sarah already pointed out the big one: Were Bowe’s complaints legitimate? Do his allegations against his commanders have merit? Were his actions justified? Should he go to jail? This is what we’re all going to be talking each week as Sarah unleashes this strange story on us. I am almost certain that this will turn into a larger conversation about the War on Terror, how we’re fighting it, and whether it’s even worth fighting. In an age where the leading candidate for President in one of our country’s two major political parties (who gets a shout out in this episode) has suggested, shall we say, fascinating tactics for executing this war, it’s a conversation worth having.
I don’t know the Army. Like, at all. I have zero idea how it functions on an administrative level. I imagine we’re going to be learning a lot about its inner workings this season, and the expectations of each individual soldier within its bureaucracy. But, just from the outset, I buy Bowe’s second reason for doing this more than I buy his first. This desire to be “Jason Bourne,” as he put it, is appealing even to me, and Lord knows I ain’t going anywhere to fight anything. There is something irrefutably masculine about walking 20 miles through the treacherous desert in a foreign land to deliver some sort of dangerous truth about your superiors. I simply can’t imagine that if Bergdahl had a gripe, legitimate or otherwise, there wasn’t some paperwork he could file, some easier way to call people’s attention to this, even if there was some stigma in speaking out (besides, he clearly didn’t care about stigma, given that he was willing to go AWOL). That just isn’t sexy though. This march he had planned, this one-man special op, that’s a fucking gesture. To my mind, there must’ve been something far more attractive in being able to say “I walked for 24 hours by myself through Afghani desert” than in “I wrote down that my officers sucked on a piece of paper, and that started an administrative action, which started an investigation, which began zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” That may just be me, though.
In other news, how shitty (no pun intended) does OP Mest sound? When listening to stories from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I am always struck by how much of their experience of these conflicts is, “Wait around and hope something bad doesn’t happen.” War doesn’t sound like war. At least not in the way we tend to imagine it. There’s a lot of sitting around, gazing out onto a vast landscape. A lot of time to think, to consider your life, your choices, to wonder what the fuck you’re even doing out there, to hope that that guy or that car or that fruit cart doesn’t explode. Walk around a bit, try to maintain some semblance of sanitation, thank God nobody died today, pray that nobody dies tomorrow. Most people have nothing in their life experience that in any way mirrors what that must be like.
I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from the other guys in Bergdahl’s battalion. Even if they shared Bowe’s beliefs about their commanders, Bowe is the only one who left. He’s the one who got himself captured. He’s the one who had millions of dollars in resources spent on ensuring his safe return to his Mommy and Daddy. It takes arrogance to be a whistleblower, to decide that you know better than everybody else, even if you are ultimately right. They all did their jobs. I wonder what they think of Bowe deciding that he didn’t need to do his.
-I mentioned it earlier, but I thought the inclusion of Trump was a nice touch. It’s as if Sarah was saying, “There are rational ways to think about Bergdahl, and then there’s this”.
-Serial Season 2 Theme >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Serial Season 1 Theme.
-Mark Boal, the guy who the Serial teamed up with for this season and spent all that time talking to Bergdahl, wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. I haven’t seen The Hurt Locker (I know), but Zero Dark Thirty is one of the best movies of the decade. It’s a wonderfully nuanced, complex look at why we’re fighting this endless war and what we’re supposed to get out of it when it’s all said and done. People who say it’s “pro-torture” either didn’t see the movie or didn’t understand it. I promise it’s great.
-“That’s me, calling the Taliban.” Stay gold, Sarah Koenig.