'Serial' Returns To Tell The Story Of Army Deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
Remember when you spent weeks obsessively listening to the Serial podcast and ignored all the responsibilities and relationships you’d spent years fostering? Say goodbye to your friends and family, and kiss your holiday plans good-bye yet again, because the Serial team just pulled a Beyoncé and dropped the first episode of season two without notice. The enormously popular spin-off of This American Life captivated everyone from grandmas to bloggers last year with their story of the potential innocence of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murder in 1999. That first season brought home a Peabody award, was downloaded 100 million times, and led to a metric ton of backlash (and backlash against the backlash)—and that was for a story nobody had even heard of.
Sarah Koenig, the narrator and executive producer behind the series, has gone a different route with her new case. Say goodbye to the obscure case files and local cops (the infamous MailChimp ads will surely stick around). This new series is taking the “go big or go home” mantra to heart; they’re exploring the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the infamous Army deserter who abandoned his post in Afghanistan in June 2009, and spent nearly five years in brutal captivity under the Taliban. His nightmare ended in May 2014, when the Obama administration swapped him for five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay—a move that prompted intense backlash from Republicans. A year later, and Bergdahl is in the midst of a legal battle over what charges—and prison time—should be levied against him. Koenig’s new case also brings in 25 hours of taped interviews that Bergdahl had with Mark Boal—the Academy Award-winning screenwriter and producer who wrote the scripts for Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker.
“I’m going, ‘Good grief, I’m in over my head,’” Bergdahl recalls in the first episode. “Suddenly, it really starts to sink in that I really did something bad, or, not bad, but I really did something serious.”
It was the walk-off and disappearance that prompted the military to dispatch American troops to follow his trail. The search for Bergdahl led to a number of deaths. It then was called off when he was captured by the Taliban—making him the only U.S. service member ever to be held captive by enemy forces in Afghanistan. The release of his story comes a day after the House Armed Services Committee released a 98-page report on the trade of the so-called Taliban Five. Lawmakers were outraged by Obama’s decision to not give Congress a 30-day notice about transferring the detainees to Qatar, as required by law. He’s also facing the prospect of life in prison, after Army prosecutors accused him of desertion and endangering troops. Though, it should be noted that both the Army’s investigator, Lt. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, and the hearing’s presiding officer, have expressed discontent over the possible life sentence.
The first episode is called “DUSTWUN” (“duty status—whereabouts unknown”), and focuses on Bergdahl’s explanation about why he left his base. Just like his statement in the federal investigation, he maintains that he wanted to create a crisis in order to get an audience with high-level commanders to then tell them about leadership problems that could endanger troops.
With that said, it’s time we all stop what we’re doing and start listening to our new obsession. Whisper “hello darkness, my old friend,” put on those headphones, and listen to the first episode.
Images via Will Yurman, Stephen Lovekin, and the U.S. Military.