Warning: This post will contain spoilers for the story as well as possible spoilers from media coverage. If you’re not caught up, please go back and listen at serialpodcast.org.
Zoom by Istvan Banyai
Season 2 arrived on the podcast airwaves with very little warning, which in a strange way is kind of fitting considering the topic being covered is the sudden departure of Bowe Bergdahl from his outpost at OP Mest.
The episode opens with the description of this clip, of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl being released by the Taliban to US special forces.
This cold open sweeps right into the new theme song, which is flanked by a collage of media sound clips about the controversy surrounding his return as well as an audio clip from his hostage footage. It’s clear within minutes that there are dozens of stories about what he did and why, but the truth is much more complicated to figure out.
Mark Boal, producer and screenwriter for such movies as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, passed this information onto the Serial team. They’re planning on making a movie about him at Boal’s production company, Page 1, one that they claim has no intention to cross over with Serial. But it’s hard to say that there won’t be some cross over when the subject matter and research material are coming from the exact same sources. In this first episode, Sarah has no direct access Bergdahl herself, only the 25 hours of taped interviews recorded over the course of a year with Boal.
This is an ongoing investigation, it is suspected that Thursday’s release date was chosen to coincide with the release of the congressional report (audio and transcript about the report in the link). Bergdahl is still working during the pending investigation, and he needs security detail to protect him against other soldiers who consider him a traitor among other things.
Both Mark Boal and Sarah Koenig start with the question everyone has: why did he leave? He said he intentionally created a DUSTWUN in order to get attention from higher level officials and report what he called leadership failure, failures big enough to put lives at risk. This is all questionable whether this is a Snowdenesque whistleblower move, if this is a new story he has constructed over the last 5 years to suit his departure, or something else.
His plan was to make the run from OP Mest where he was posted to FOB Shirana about 18 miles away; much like a child who plans on running away for attention only to reappear in their treehouse. He sends his personal property back home, pulls out some money, and buys local clothing to go incognito. Even he concurs his plan was stupid, but he also felt he needed to prove to the world he was capable of being a something greater. “Doing what I did was me saying, ‘I am like Jason Bourne.’” Keep in mind he was 23 at the time.
There was a lot of conjecture as to why he left, it was clear this was intentional when he left his sensitive items behind. He still left with plenty on him including his camera, two knives, water, snacks, and a newspaper clipping about a man who set a world record in sailing. He walked through Malak to the open desert, and after about 20 minutes the reality of the consequences finally sets in for him. But instead of going back, he doubles down and concocts an elaborate plan to gain intel to cover his being a dumbass. Instead he gets turned around and doesn’t check his compass for two hours. He’s essentially lost when daylight breaks and the Taliban spots and captures him.
Notable moments in this episode:
- The return of Mail Kimp
- A Trump sound bite
- The word “recalcitrant”
- The children’s book, Zoom (in the video clip above)
- The bleakness of Mest
- Stirring shit in the fiery Pit of Hell
- “All those guys out there who go to the movies and watch those movies, they all want to be that. And and I wanted to prove that I was that.”
- “That’s me, calling the Taliban.”
Next week, Sarah gets the Taliban’s version of the capture.