Many of you may have woken up with a surprise on your podcasts app this morning: Serial season two premiered with absolutely no promotion, not that it needs it. It will likely be a huge topic of conversation for the next two months.
What is that topic? Bowe Bergdahl, the United States Army soldier who walked off his base in 2009 and was captured by Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan and held captive for five years, until President Obama had him released as a part of a prisoner exchange. Bergdahl has since been charged with one count of desertion, while President Obama and the White House generated controversy by exchanging prisoners in Guantanamo Bay for someone many consider a deserter.
The question on everyone’s mind, and what Sarah Koenig is exploring this season is this: Did Bowe Bergdahl intentionally go AWOL? To explore that question, Koenig has the assistance of Mark Boal, the journalist who also wrote the screenplays for Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. Boal is working on a movie about Bergdahl, but he’s also providing support to Serial. While Koenig was not allowed to interview Bergdahl himself, Mark Boal was. He collected 25 hours of interview tapes; Bergdahl has allowed Koenig to air them. They tell his side of the story.
That’s what the first episode of Serial season two offers: Bergdahl’s version of events. According to Bergdahl, he didn’t really mean to desert the base. He’s meant to become a DUSTWUN — an acronym for Duty Status - Whereabouts Unknown. In other words, he wanted to disappear briefly so that he’d get the attention of the leadership, so they’d actually listen to his complaints about what he believes to be his incompetent command. The living conditions on the base were apparently disgusting — people were getting ill, morale was low, and the leadership on the base wasn’t offering any help. Bergdahl wanted to get himself thrown in the clink so that someone would listen to him.
Unfortunately for Bergdahl, his attempt to temporarily disappear got him captured by the Taliban — he left the base, he recognized that he was going to get in trouble and tried to ameliorate his situation by snooping out some good intel he could bring back. In the process, members of the Taliban rode up on motorcycles and abducted him.
That’s Bergdahl’s story, but this is Serial, so there will obviously be differing accounts. In fact, in the second episode, Koenig will cover the account of the Taliban. Yes, she interviewed the Taliban. God bless you, Serial.
The mystery this season — and it’s an intriguing one — is whether Bergdahl meant to desert the base or if merely meant to call attention to the unsatisfactory living conditions on the base. We should also find out what happened to Bergdahl while he was being held captive. Will there be a Homeland situation — in other words, did he ever sympathize with the politics of his captors? Is Bergdahl a hero? Or a traitor? Or just a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Click here to listen to the first episode.