Serial S2 E1 Recap: Bergdahl, Don’t Be a Hero

It has been over a year since I learned about the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee through the Peabody Award-winning podcast Serial, yet certain details of the state’s case against Adnan Syed still eat away at me. I mean, who out there hasn’t woken up in a cold sweat over the Nisha call?

Like most Serial addicts (my BuzzFeed post 27 Signs You’re Addicted to “Serial”), I have re-listened to season 1 several times, kept up closely with Adnan’s case, followed most podcasts about Serial the podcast, come up with a few theories of my own, and–most of all–anxiously awaited season 2. In the 2nd season of Serial, our girl Sarah Koenig explores the story of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Since I have no previous knowledge about this case, my recaps will be totally unbiased, albeit uninformed. I apologize in advance for any incorrect terminology.

As the episode begins, we learn that this season is sponsored by MailChimp again, whatever the hell that is. Later, Audible. Then it all becomes very Homeland. One might wonder if Sarah Koenig is going to pull a Carrie Mathison and fall in love with the man she’s profiling, especially since Adnan might not be out in time for prom. Plus there’s already a “Scott-Not-His-Real-Name” to replace “Not-Her-Real-Name-Kathy,” so I would say season 2 has a lot of promise.

She starts with the video of Bergdahl’s release. I am so glad to see that her rhetoric hasn’t changed a bit since season 1. As she describes the scene, which includes hostages and death threats and helicopters–oh my!–she notes that Bergdahl’s eyes are irritated. I guess the Taliban doesn’t provide its prisoners with Visine. And I guess Sarah Koenig thinks this is worth mentioning.

Here’s the deal with Bergdahl. He was a U.S. soldier (Private First Class when captured, promoted in absentia to Sergeant) who disappeared from his outpost in Mest, Afghanistan. Mest is like the college dorm no one wants to live in because it has no air conditioning and there’s mold growing on the bathroom ceiling. The worst part about Mest is there’s this melting pot out back, and not a cool melting pot of different cultures or the kind you make fondue in. You know when you’re at a holiday dinner and you ask why so-and-so isn’t there and your step-dad makes a “stirring the pot” motion because you’re stirring shit up? (No? Is that only in my family?) Well, in Mest, there is a literal pot of shit that they take turns stirring. I wouldn’t blame Bergdahl if that alone was enough to push him over the edge, but he says there was also “leadership failure” so serious that it might be a matter of life or death. Instead of filing a formal complaint against his boss with HR (or whatever the military equivalent is), he decides to take matters into his own hands because he worries no one will take him seriously. So he takes some cash out at the ATM, and then goes to the canteen to buy clothing that will help him blend in with the locals. He’s gonna work that headscarf like it’s his hijab. *ba-dum-ch* Then he peaces out, hoping to trigger a DUSTWUN–Duty Status, Whereabouts Unknown–that will call enough attention to his base that he can blow the whistle on his higher-ups. Then he’s going to run, like, 20 miles across the desert to another outpost, where he figures they will put him in jail, until the whole thing blows over.

This took place on July 1, 2009, when Bergdahl was 23, the same age as I am now. I will be the first to admit that I have made some pretty questionable decisions lately. I left France to be with a boy, for crying out loud! But I cannot imagine willingly leaving my American base in the middle of the night and wandering into the deserts of Afghanistan. What if he twists an ankle? What if he gets mugged? These are things I think about before leaving my own house at night, and I live in small-town Tennessee.

It turns out Bergdahl wants to be a hero. He thinks this will be his claim to fame, a way to prove to himself and his pals at home that he can do anything. This guy’s thought process could not be further from my own. If I were in the military, I would be like, “Gee, I hope no one ever notices me for anything I do in Afghanistan because my time over there is so uneventful.” I would accept my veteran’s discount at the liquor store and call it a day.

Unfortunately, Bergdahl’s crucible mission doesn’t go as planned. He forgets to look at his compass for a couple hours and gets totally lost in the desert. I get that. Sometimes when I’m walking around Walmart I glance at my cell phone for a minute and when I look up I’m in the “Outdoor Home” aisle when I thought I was in “Pet Supplies.” Bergdahl considers going back, but he’s worried they will shoot at him. So he decides to look for people planting IEDs–improvised explosive devises–so he will at least have some intel when he returns. I still don’t understand how this will help if they’re going to shoot at him anyway, but I guess ya just had to be there. However, as the sun comes up, his cover is blown, and he is captured by the Taliban. Hate it when that happens.

Sarah Koenig is so Sarah Koenig about all of this. She asks, “How did you end up with the Taliban?” the same way you might ask a couple who went to different colleges, “How did y’all end up together?” Way to play it cool, Koenig.

She wraps the episode up by casually dropping the biggest bomb of all. She plays a phone recording that says, “This is Sarah,” followed by her commentary, “That’s me calling the Taliban.” Um, what? Can you just call the Taliban from your cell phone? Are they listed in the Yellow Pages? Only time will tell. Next week, on Serial.

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