Recap of Serial episode 5

Serial Season 2 Episode 5 Recap: Wait, Stuff Actually Happens in Tampa?

January 21, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

Welcome to National Ave’s weekly Serial recaps. This recap covers Episode 5 of Season 2, “Meanwhile, in Tampa.”

I’m watching the Democratic debate between HillDawg, Ol’ Bern, and Tommy Carcetti the other night, and naturally the issue of health care comes up. Ol’ Bern (who, as Bomani Jones recently put it, always seems to be “thisssssss close to complaining about Hideki Irabu”) had just released a six-page plan to expand Medicare to cover every American. When asked to respond to the plan, HillDawg’s reaction amounted to, “I mean, it’s not really a plan.”

And it’s not. Of course it’s not. Any plan to create a whole new comprehensive health care system in a country of over 300 million humans will necessarily have to be longer than six pages. There would be a metric shit ton of kinks to work out, both foreseeable and unforeseeable. Bernie’s initial plan addresses a tiny percentage of them.

But there’s a certain admirable idealism in what he’s proposing, right? If more by implication than by explicit statements to this effect, what Bernie’s really saying is that giving our citizens access to universal, single-payer health care that won’t empty their savings account is far more important than any of the potential negative effects of making that happen. Yes, it’ll be hard. But those challenges are secondary. So what if it upends an entire industry that is a tent-pole of the American economy? We’re saving lives.

It would be awesome if we lived in a world where the first response to “Hey, maybe we should make it so that people won’t go bankrupt if they get sick” is not a skeptical/snarky/cynical “Yeah, but how do we pay for it.” Most empathetic people wish they could say “Okay, yeah, fuck it, let’s do it. We’re gonna figure this out.” We all wish we could be that doe-eyed optimist.

Of course, there’s a thin line between idealism and arrogance. The personality trait that inspires “We’re gonna give everybody free health care and it’s gonna be fine” is the same one that instigates “We’re gonna invade this country, overthrow it’s despotic dictator, and it’s gonna be fine.” Both thoughts rely on faith that the minute details will work themselves out without too many negative consequences.

Listening to this episode, this conflict between idealism vs. pragmatism continues to weave its way through out the American government’s efforts to get Bowe home. Yes, we want to live in a world where no American gets left behind, but sometimes that’s a hard promise to keep. Sometimes that hostage just isn’t that important, or not worth risking years of international diplomacy over. If we get them back in the meantime, great, but we can’t defer from the larger mission.

I understand both sides here. Yes, if I’m Bowe’s family and friends, I want my government to do everything it can to save him. Bowe signed up to go to Afghanistan, he did his job, he held up his end of the bargain (sort of, but as Andrea and Michelle point out, that shouldn’t really matter), now it’s time for the CIA, the DOD, the FBI, and everybody else to hold up there’s. On the other hand, Bowe is one dude. No, he doesn’t deserve to be a prisoner, but international diplomacy is fragile, and it would feel unwise to throw off this delicate balance for one soldier. There are larger considerations to take into account.

It’s especially difficult to manage those considerations when the perception of Bowe as a traitor is so pervasive, even within the very government agencies tasked with his recovery. Hell, Donald Trump is still referring to him as a traitor. And yes, Donald Trump is Donald Trump, but that doesn’t change how hard it can be to uproot an initial narrative, even if that narrative is demonstrably false. Changing the public’s mind on anything is a daunting task.

Andrea and Michelle, in some ways, are trying to act as our country’s better angels. They’re trying to convince the government to live up to its principles even though it kinda doesn’t want to in this case. Their single-mindedness, whether it be professional or personal, clears away any complications: We bring our people home. No questions asked. Anything else is secondary.

This tunnel vision clearly isn’t enough to move the world; it still takes five years to get Bowe home. But in the midst of endless amounts of hemming and hawing, “Yes, but this, and that, and the other thing, and that’s why it’ll maybe be a bit tricky to free Sgt. Bergdahl,” you need those strong voices to say, “No, we are going to do what is right. Figure it out.”

For America to function, we need that voice of conscience. Even if we sometimes don’t listen to them. Even if sometimes we think that maybe that voice shouldn’t be President. We still need them to speak out, to push through the noise and remind us who we say we are, to point out the moments when we need to hear, “This is the decision that’s going to define us. Choose wisely.”

Stray Observations

-“One story told week by week…sort of.” I’m not sure how I feel about the biweekly schedule yet. While I’m glad it means that the staff gets to tell what they see as a more complete version of the story, there is something to be said for narrative momentum. On the other hand, content isn’t really generated completely for the moment it’s released anymore. Season 2 is going to be sitting on a cyber shelf when this is all said and done, and if somebody picks it up 5 years from now, they aren’t going to give a shit that it was released every two weeks.

-“And so she keeps going. Women!” One of The Koenig’s finest deliveries ever. It defies description.

-By the time the next episode comes out, the Iowa caucuses already will have happened. Oy.