WELL, THAT HAPPENED: ‘Serial’ Strikes Back

By on December 15, 2015

Season 2 launches with another gripping tale of mystery.

The case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl will be dissected in the nation’s most popular podcast. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl will be dissected in the nation’s most popular podcast. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Jackson Hole, WY – A little more than a year ago when this column was just gaining its legs, I wrote about “Serial,” the podcast that was taking the world by storm. The first season fell into my lap while I was driving around Iceland with some friends from Wyoming. I’ll never forget it because it was the day I saw my first real live reindeer. Last Thursday I was driving with some new Icelandic friends near Egilsstaðir when, sure enough, the first episode of “Serial” Season 2 was released. In traditional Icelandic, weird, fairylike, why-does-this-shit-always-happen-here fashion, there were also a few reindeer next to the road. It was the second time I’ve ever seen them.

But enough about Iceland’s weird way of making beautiful magic happen. Let’s talk about Season 2.

When I got back home, I asked my Polish coworker, Maja, if she was interested in listening to the podcast. Podcasts, I learned, are quite an American pastime and haven’t really caught on overseas. Maja had never listened to one, but she is always down for something different. Even my young, hip 19-year-old Icelandic coworker, Tristan, asked me, “So, what’s the deal with podcasts?” So we sat on my bed, pressed play and let host Sarah Koenig’s voice wash over the room.

Last season, “Serial” covered a little-known murder mystery that took place in Baltimore, circa 1999. Over 12 episodes, listeners got to experience Koenig’s personal investigation into the murder, hearing from suspects as well as witnesses despite the case happening 15 years ago. This season, Koenig veers away from small-town crime to the big leagues: The much-lauded case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s five-year imprisonment by Taliban forces. Just like the previous season, Koenig kicks off “Episode 01: DUSTWUN” with a massive kick to the proverbial groin.

Bergdahl’s case is something of an anomaly when it comes to POW stories. While he was allegedly captured against his will, his actions leading up to his capture are subject for debate. As outlined in the first episode, in 2009 Bergdahl abandoned his platoon, filled his CamelBak with water and set out on a 20-mile journey on foot to the U.S. Field Artillery Battalion base. At some point during that journey, he was abducted by the enemy and eventually held prisoner in Pakistan.

Five years later, in 2014, Bergdahl was exchanged for five Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody in a controversial trade that continues to be hotly debated and investigated among the branches of U.S. government. President Obama calls him a hero. Republicans call him a deserter. In October, Donald Trump said he was tired of Bergdahl, calling him “a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed.”

“Thirty years ago,” Trump added. “[Bergdahl] would have been shot.”

The question that lingers is why Bergdahl abandoned his post in the first place, and why the Taliban, an organization notorious for executing American soldiers on camera, kept Bergdahl safe for five years before allowing him to go home.

To answer that question and many more, Koenig is not afraid get her hands dirty. She teams up with screenwriter Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), who has been in contact with Bergdahl since his release and has personally recorded nearly 25 hours of interviews in hopes of making a film about Bergdahl’s story.

But just like with Adnan Syed’s story in Season 1, something doesn’t feel right with Bergdahl’s account. If the ending of Episode 01 (and holy crap, what an ending!) is any indication, it appears that this season will be delivering twice the intrigue, quadruple the controversy and, hopefully, plenty more of the famous “Mail…kimp?” advertisements.

Welcome back, Ms. Koenig.

Listeners? Atten-shun! PJH

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