This American Life’s wildly popular Serial podcast came to fame in 2014 with the story of Adnan Syed, a young man from Maryland who was convicted in 2000 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend and high school classmate Hae Min Lee. Syed’s case was clouded with a number of possible discrepancies and suspicions not mentioned in his trial. The case was wild enough to merit retelling via the first season of the podcast, which earned the convicted Syed another hearing based on the new evidence.
The much-anticipated second season of Serial features the story of accused deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl is a U.S. Army soldier who spent nearly five years held in captivity by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani Network after walking away from his outpost in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province. His captors allege he was captured after getting drunk while off-base, while some of his fellow soldiers say he simply walked away from his post. Others say he was captured from a latrine. Bergdahl has, until now, mostly remained silent.
The episode opens with a vivid description of Bergdahl’s rescue and tells the story of his capture and rescue, laying out exactly what happened and why through the lens of host Sarah Koenig and filmmaker Mark Boal, with whom Bergdahl regularly speaks directly.
Boal, a producer and director whose work includes many war films, including “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “In The Valley of Elah,” spoke with Bergdahl about everything from his experience in captivity to “motorcycles, God, and how good spicy salsa is.”
Through the context of Boal’s discussion with Bergdahl, Serial attempts to address how Bergdahl’s decision to walk away has “spun out wider and wider… played out in unexpected ways from the start.”
It reaches into swaths of the military, the peace talks to end the war, attempts to rescue other hostages, our Guantanamo policy. What Bergdahl did made me wrestle with things I’d thought I more or less understood, but really didn’t: what it means to be loyal, to be resilient, to be used, to be punished. – Sarah Koenig
Bergdahl reveals in his own words why he left that base in Afghanistan in 2009, which led to a massive search where other U.S. troops died trying to find and rescue him. His story is the same as it always was, he wanted to create a crisis to get a meeting with higher-level commanders to address what he saw were leadership problems in his chain of command, but Bergdahl doesn’t stop there. He wanted to show everyone he could be an outstanding soldier, the outstanding soldier.
“I was trying to prove myself,” he told Boal. “I was trying to prove to the world, to anybody who used to know me, that I was capable of being that person.”
After 20 minutes into his sojourn, Bergdahl realizes he’s made a huge mistake.
“I’m going, ‘Good grief, I’m in over my head,'” he says in the podcast.