- US Army/Reuters
Season 2 of everyone’s favorite podcast is back.
“Serial,” the hit spinoff from “This American Life,” aims to cover one story, week by week, in serialized fashion (hence the name).
Narrated and driven forward by “This American Life” producer Sarah Koenig, the debut season dug deep into the 1999 murder of a Baltimore high-school student – with a particular focus on the boy (now man) who has been incarcerated ever since for the crime.
Serial fans have been waiting for the second season of the show to drop, and on Thursday morning, they were treated to a surprise.
Season 2 of Serial focuses on Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who was held prisoner by the Taliban for almost five years – the longest any US citizen has ever been held captive by the Taliban. The twist is that after he was welcomed home, Bergdahl was accused of being a traitor. Now he’s been charged by the US military.
“Bergdahl has been quiet. He hasn’t spoken to the press or done any interviews on TV. He’s been like a ghost at the center of a raucous fight,” Serial says on its website. “Now, in Season Two, we get to hear what he has to say.”
The first episode, called “DUSTWUN,” is available to listen to now. This season, Koenig and crew have teamed up with journalist Mark Boal and Page 1, the production company he formed with Kathryn Bigelow (Boal and Bigelow worked together on “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”).
This proves immeasurably helpful to Koenig, since Bergdahl isn’t speaking to the press right now. Boal has hours of taped conversations with Bergdahl that Koenig uses with Bergdahl’s permission as background in the first episode. “DUSTWUN,” much like the first episode of season one last year, sets the scene. (“DUSTWUN” is an alarm signal, which means “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown.” Bergdahl was a DUSTWUN when he disappeared from his base in 2009.)
The first episode
There’s no need for a spoiler alert for this episode because most of the episode is background information. So if you didn’t follow the initial news about Bergdahl last year when he came home, it doesn’t matter. The episode starts with the news of Bergdahl coming home, and then zeroes in from the geopolitical conflict surrounding Bergdahl (the ongoing US occupation of Afghanistan) to speaking about Bergdahl himself.
Koenig has also spoken with a bunch of soldiers who knew Bergdahl on his Army base in Afghanistan, and the tapes of Boal’s conversations with Bergdahl are illuminating.
In one tape, Bergdahl describes being held in captivity by the Taliban. The first episode of the podcast seems almost sympathetic to Bergdahl, who some regarded as a deserter when he came back to the US. Bergdahl explains in one phone call with Boal why he left. He says he did it because he wanted to draw attention to what he considered wrongdoing in his unit by his superiors. Koenig even refers to him as a “whistleblower” in the episode.
He says to Boal in one tape: “I would wake up not even remembering what I was. You know how you get that feeling when that word is on the tip of your tongue? That happened to me, only it was like, What am I? I couldn’t see my hands. I couldn’t do anything. And I can’t scream, I can’t risk that, so it’s like you’re standing there screaming in your mind.”
He goes on to say: “In this blackened dirt room, it’s tiny. And just on the side of this flimsy wooden door that you could probably easily rip off the hinges is the entire world out there. It is everything that you’re missing, it is everybody, everyone is out there. That breath that you’re trying to breathe, that release that you’re trying to get-everything is beyond that door. And, I mean … I hate doors now.”
You can download Season 2, Episode 1 here.