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On Thursday, the premiere episode of Serial season two featured an interview with Bowe Bergdahl. This is Bergdahl’s first media interview since he controversially returned to the United States in May 2014, following a trade President Obama orchestrated to release Bergdahl from a group affiliated with the Taliban, who had held the soldier for five years.
The episode focused heavily on Bergdahl’s side of the story, although the top of the episode talked about how there’s a debate about whether he is a hero or a deserter. “This one idiosyncratic guy makes a radical decision at the age of 23 to walk away into Afghanistan. And the consequences of that decision, they spin out wider and wider, and at every turn you’re surprised,” said Serial host Sarah Koenig in the first episode.
Koenig reveals that The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty‘s screenwriter Mark Boal was conducting research for his forthcoming movie on Bergdahl and taped 25 hours of interview conversations with Bergdahl. Boal brought the tapes to Serial and the podcast is partnering with his production company to create this season. Koenig said Bergdahl has granted her permission to use the tapes for the series.
In the episode, Bergdahl says he left his military outpost in Afghanistan in June 2009 because he was trying to get an audience with people high-up in the military so he could reveal potentially dangerous problems in the unit’s leadership. He said he was also trying to “prove” himself to the world.
“Doing what I did is me saying that I am like, I don’t know, Jason Bourne,” said Bergdahl in his interview with Boal. “I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing.”
He continued, “You know, that I could be what it is that all those guys out there that go to the movies and watch those movies, they all want to be that, but I wanted to prove that I was that.”
By abandoning his post, Bergdahl said he wanted to go missing and prompt a DUSTWUN (Duty Status, Whereabouts Unknown) military search. That way, after he ran 18.6 miles to the nearest base he could report in and get an audience with military officials to lodge his complaints. He now calls the plan “stupid.” Bergdahl said he changed his plan once he left so that when he returned he’d have intelligence on the Taliban, but instead he ended up getting captured by a group affiliated with the Taliban.
In the interview, Koenig provides backstory of what happened back at the camp when Bergdahl was found missing. She said that Bergdahl’s version of events could have been concocted during his five years in captivity. This season of Serial will look into why Bergdahl left his post, as well as the reverberations it had in the military and world events.
“Unlike our story in Season One, this one extends far out into the world. It reaches into swaths of the military, the peace talks to end the war, attempts to rescue other hostages, our Guantanamo policy,” said Koenig in the email introducing the new episode. “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.”
Serial executive producer Julie Snyder spoke with The New York Times about what else to expect in the season. “Exactly how long did the search last? What were the consequences of the search? Was this all a search in the name of Bowe? Was this top cover for stuff that they wanted to be doing, but they already knew Bowe was in Pakistan anyway?” said Snyder. “All of that is super interesting, and we definitely are heading down that path.”
At the end of the episode listeners hear Koenig “calling the Taliban” on the phone. Next week, Serial devotees will be able to hear the corresponding interview.
Bergdahl’s case is still active, and his lawyer released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter about Serial.
“We have asked from the beginning that everyone withhold judgment on Sgt. Bergdahl’s case until they know the facts,” reads the statement. “The Serial podcast, like the preliminary hearing conducted in September, is a step in the right direction. We hope the Army will now do its part to advance public understanding by releasing Lt. Gen. Kenneth S. Dahl’s report, including the transcript of his interview of Sgt. Bergdahl.”
“Americans of goodwill should be afforded an opportunity, especially at this time of year, to judge the matter calmly and in its proper light. The contrast between the podcast and the strident, politically-inspired calls for drumhead justice (at best) could not be sharper.”
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