Serial Season 2 Episode 3 Recap: “Escaping”
Welcome to National Ave’s weekly Serial recaps. This recap covers Episode 3 of Season 2: “Escaping.”
As Americans, we tend to struggle with nuance. Perhaps that is a product of our two-party system, where politics frequently becomes a demented Color War. Perhaps it’s our continuing inability to reconcile what it says about our country that the guy who wrote our oft-repeated creed “All men are created equal” had a few hundred slaves back at his house. Maybe people of all nations struggle with nuance and I just feel it’s an acutely American trait because, well, I live here.
This inability to grasp complexity manifests itself in an unwillingness to accept that two things can be true at once. We see this all the time: People can’t believe that Bill Cosby is a horrible rapist because he was also a great entertainer, or that because Darren Wilson was never charged with a crime, there is no problem with policing practices in this country, or that because the world is rid of an evil, genocidal dictator, the Iraq War was a good idea.
We want the world retrofitted for us in a way that is easy to swallow, with good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, winners and losers. It makes everything seem less random and chaotic to believe that there is order, and in the end it all sorts itself out.
Bowe Bergdahl is such a lightning rod of controversy because he exists in this grey zone that discomforts us. He contradicts American ideals of strength and toughness in war, while embodying the very notions of courage and resilience that we tend to hope define our national character. His story articulates so many of our anxieties about our place in the world, about our assuredness that we are right, that we all know that our reaction to him defines who we are as a people.
So…all of that being said: What do we make of this guy?
That’s the central question of this season so far: Does Bowe Bergdahl deserve our scorn or our pity? Does what he went through as a prisoner outweigh or negate the fact that he abandoned his post?
At this point, who fucking knows. Last week, The Koenig did a fantastic job presenting the anger of those tasked with tracking him down without judgment or commentary. In her mind, they had a right to be angry. Their lives got tangibly shittier because of Bowe. This week’s episode does not serve to undermine their resentment; it only manages to complicate it.
It’s not that spending five years as a prisoner of the Taliban doesn’t sound awful on its face. Nobody in their right mind would ever sign up for that. It’s that the concept is so foreign to us, so, as Mark Boal put it, “incomprehensible” to our normal life experience, that it’s simpler to consider only in the abstract. It’s easy for those who hate him, for those who want to see him punished by the Army, to ignore the everyday reality of what that must’ve been like. To maybe even assume that he enjoyed his time with the Taliban, that he was “sympathetic” to their cause, because that further justifies their hatred.
To consider the harrowing details of life as a POW is to consider that maybe he’s been punished enough, that it’s not worth throwing the book at a guy who has already been through so much.
On the other hand, how do you say that to those who looked for him who sacrificed so much? All of this happened because of Bowe’s colossal lack of judgment. How do you say to a guy who went through the hell described in last week’s episode, “Yeah, but Bowe’s hell was worse, so he doesn’t have to answer for what he put you through?” It feels unproductive to get into that weird game of comparing and contrasting pain.
I have a grand total of none of the answers to this one. Maybe we’ll get closer to one as the season goes on, but I doubt it. This story is only going to get bigger and bigger. There will be more complications to consider.
Which is ironic, in a bizarre sort of way, because Bowe’s life as a prisoner was astonishingly simple: Survive. Stay sane. Try not to cooperate too much. His world became so small that it almost seems like everything else ceased to exist for him. At least the rest of the world doesn’t get mentioned in this episode.
But he will have to reckon with that, just as we all have to reckon with his nightmarish experience before passing final judgment. It’ll only get crazier from here. As indicated by the teaser for the next episode, governments’ll get involved, the will of the American public will change, and foreign policy along with it. So much has already happened, and so much is yet to come.
Goddammit. I love this podcast.
-“…And also maybe because the Taliban thought sunglasses looked cool, which, agreed.” The Koenig=GOAT
-I can’t believe I have to wait an extra week for the next episode. What am I supposed to do until then? Actually interact with other humans? Inconceivable.