Serial S2 E7-8 Recap: The Midnight Ride of Bowe Bergdahl

Clearly Sarah Koenig does not read my blog because she opens episode 7 by saying “cootchie” five times, followed by the word “concocted.” Maybe podcasts seem like the type of medium that would attract a more sophisticated audience, but doesn’t Sarah Koenig know that her listeners’ minds are in the gutter? If Sarah Koenig read my blog she would also know that making two episodes of season 2 in one week (4x her bi-weekly promise) is unacceptable when Adnan Syed was on the stand a mere 200 miles south in Baltimore. Okay, I don’t think Adnan was ever technically put on the stand, but maybe I would know that if Sarah Koenig had stuck around to cover the rest of the hearing.

I’ve mentioned this before, but to me, the kuchi tent is this season’s Best Buy payphone. The Taliban insists that they found Bergdahl hanging out in or near a kuchi tent, just like the state of Maryland is sure that Adnan called Jay from a payphone outside of Best Buy. But there were a lot of rumors circulating around the time of Bergdahl’s abduction, many of which have nothing to do with a kuchi tent. And there are several blueprints of Best Buy and its parking lot, none of which mention a payphone. Both are key details for one side of the story, but no one can verify their existence.

To Sarah Koenig, the kuchi tent is this season’s Neesha call. She can totally get with the defendant’s story up until this point. In the case of Bergdahl, it’s plausible that he wandered into the deserts of Afghanistan, and there he was kidnapped by the Taliban. But then why did so many people report seeing Bergdahl in a kuchi tent that day? In the case of Adnan, she wants to believe that he was at the library and that Jay had his cell phone all afternoon. But then why do the cell phone records show an outgoing call to the girl Adnan was dating?

Now that I know the Baltimore police were full of shit I suspect Jay was coached to make those statements, I don’t think the Neesha call is as big of a deal as I used to. We need to focus on the big picture of what happened that day. So was Bergdahl fraternizing with his Afghan neighbors when the Taliban took him, or was he lost in the open desert? We’ll never know, and maybe as we “zoom out,” we’ll see that we don’t need to.

This week, soldiers from Bergdahl’s unit elaborate on a point Koenig touched on in the first episode: his relationship with the Afghan community. Some of the guys say it seemed like Bergdahl was getting a little too chummy with the locals and that sometimes he even showed up late for shifts because he was talking to them. At my last job, all hell broke loose when someone was five minutes late for a shift, and I worked in retail. I can only imagine how serious the consequences would be in the U.S. freaking ARMY.

Bergdahl often talked about running away, faking his own death, or joining a Pakistani gang. The other soldiers say they all made dark jokes like this. Bergdahl’s fantasy was to become a mercenary, find a Russian gang, move up their ranks, kill their leader, BECOME their leader, make his way into the Russian mob, and ultimately transition into a hitman. That’s not oddly specific at all. Mark Boal says (paraphrasing here) yeah, this story makes no sense if you’re a normal, functional person. However, it makes perfect sense if you’re Bowe Bergdahl.

Just as I was asking myself the question, “What is wrong with this guy?” Sarah Koenig answered it: he was homeschooled. Of course he was.48-mean-girls-gif (1).gif

About his home life, Bergdahl says, “I just wandered around and followed cats.” People who grew up with Bergdahl say that yes, he was kind of an oddball–he once taped his mouth shut for a few days just for fun–but they loved him. His childhood friend Kayla describes him as sweet. One year for Kayla’s birthday, Bergdahl walked around town and got as many signatures as he could, even though he suffers from severe social anxiety. Yeah, that is sweet. He also used to come to the restaurant where Kayla worked and help her make crepes. That’s sweet too. “But mostly he just hid weapons everywhere and sat in a corner and watched people.” Um…what? Yeah, Bergdahl made freaky makeshift weapons just in case he needed to rescue anyone. Koenig says that’s the one thing that’s consistent across the board–everyone says Bergdahl wanted to protect them.

Bergdahl considered joining the Foreign Legion, but decided to give it a go in the Coast Guard instead. Boot camp was too much for him, though, and he was sent home for “adjustment disorder with depression.” They found him on the floor in fetal position, covered in blood (nosebleed, but still). Part of why Bergdahl joined the army was to prove to everyone that he could do it. He wanted to show them that he wasn’t a failure. He didn’t tell anyone he was enlisting though. Bergdahl’s mom says he had been acting stroppy (is that British slang? Do Americans say stroppy? #expatproblems) for months. He insisted everything was fine, but she knew something was up. Then, Bergdahl came home wearing his uniform. He didn’t say anything. He just walked through the front door. That’s how Bergdahl chose to break the news to his family. I don’t know what to say to this except that it will be an intense scene when Bergdahl’s story is made into a Lifetime movie.

In spite of Bergdahl’s meltdown at the Coast Guard, he was cleared as psychologically stable enough to join the army. Actually, 17% of the people who enlisted that year were granted waivers like this. Given what we know about mental illness and weapons, doesn’t that seem like a lot of unsound people to send overseas with machine guns? But apparently this is pretty standard for the military. It’s basically up to each soldier to report his mental state, so unless Bergdahl was showing any serious signs of psychosis, it makes sense that they would say he was good to go.

But Bergdahl was struggling with big existential questions, like “Should I have red or white wine with dinner?” “What is right? What is moral?” Bergdahl followed such a strict moral code that it was a handicap for him. No one else could live up to the standards he set for them, but he couldn’t wrap his head around why. Imagine what it was like when Bergdahl joined the army, an organization he held in such high esteem, and saw that his sergeants were just like everyone else–flawed. I think it’s safe to say General Petraeous didn’t abide by the Bushido Code. Sarah Koenig says Bergdahl never meant to get so much personal attention. He didn’t ride a horse through Pashtun villages yelling, “The British are coming.” Like the ancient Samurai he so admired, Bergdahl believed in self-sacrifice. It was Bergdahl’s moral compass that led him away from Mest.

Sarah Koenig asks soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit if they believe him. Some do. She also asks if they can ever forgive him. They can’t.

One response to “Serial S2 E7-8 Recap: The Midnight Ride of Bowe Bergdahl

  1. Hey! Funny recap. Two things: 1) That’s not his mom, it’s his pseudo-mom, the woman who owned the restaurant who he got really close with. It’s Kayla’s mom, and he got really close with their fam. Maybe you knew that and were just doing shorthand. 2) More importantly, 17% of people who APPLIED for those type of waivers were approved, where as before it was 3%. So it’s just of people who applied for the waiver… the rate at which they were accepted rose. Don’t worry, it’s not 17% of the people accepted to the army total. It’s probably still a small fraction of all the people who enlisted, but of the ones who needed a waiver, more got it. Funny recap.

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