So Serial Season 2 is over.
If you didn’t know it had started, was still happening, or ended wouldn’t surprise me all that much. The water cooler chatter has been decidedly low; in fact, I barely have anyone at work to talk to about it because no one seems to be listening. If you’re a binge listener who has been waiting for the season to end to listen, apologies but ~*spoiler alerts ahead*~ (sort of?) so you may want to go do that before you read on. Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.
If you’re just joining us after being kryrofrozen for the last 10 years and don’t know what Serial is – it is a podcast of a true story told week by week, changing and adjusting as it unfolds. The first season was a massive hit, telling the story of Adnan Syed and his conviction in the murder of his high school ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, back in 1999 in Baltimore. Maybe it was a little hometown pride (not exactly the right word – recognition? Just liking hearing street names I actually know?) but I was totally hooked. I still follow the process of Adnan’s story, and have listened through the season more than once.
Then Season 2. The story of POW Bowe Bergdahl, captured in 2009 in Afghanistan and held for five years by the Taliban. His return, in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay prisoners, was at first widely celebrated, then quickly turned against him. Labeled a deserter and a traitor, Bergdahl was eventually charged with two crimes following a military investigation. Until this point, he hasn’t spoken publicly about his time in captivity, or to any press at all.
Through recorded interviews with filmmaker Mark Boal, it is finally Bergdahl’s time to speak. Why did he walk off the base? What was his captivity like? How did this escalate to a national security issue being debated by presidential candidates? Koenig and her team attempt to pull back the curtain – trying to understand both the man behind the media frenzy and the war none of us seem to know very much about.
According to an interview with EW.com, producers Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder say that season 2 was downloaded more times by the end than season 1 did when it wrapped, and that they still expect many more from the binge listeners (or those who didn’t to wait two weeks between episodes – another series first.) But no one seems to be talking about it – no think pieces bouncing around the internet, no Facebook sharing of updates and spoilers (at least not on my feed.) So was season 2 successful?
Sure, I don’t have the real numbers or stats to tell you if it was a “true” success, I can only speak to my own thoughts and impressions. Serial claims to be a true story, told week by week. If that is the only parameter they work within, then sure, consider it a success. They told a story, albeit a much more complicated and disjointed one. It almost felt that they bit off more than they could chew this season, when they started to realize they would need to dive into foreign policy, Afghani politics and geography, and the military mindset to even begin to explain what has transpired in the last 5+ years. I believe the real magic of the first season was the characters – Adnan, an obvious choice by the police but with no physical evidence to convict him, the mysterious and polarizing Jay, the alibi who was never called in Asia McClain. Season 2 had almost too many characters, yet you couldn’t connect to any of them. Bigwig military people whose rank I don’t fully understand, anonymous intelligence agents, various soldiers with southern accents and uneasy answers. Even Bowe, who Koenig never (on record) spoke to, I never felt like I really got to know or understand him. The desperation in her voice when she tried to understand why Adnan couldn’t remember his afternoon or her disbelief that Adnan’s counsel never called Asia when she heard her story – Koenig’s ability to interview and ask exactly what we’re all thinking was mesmerizing. No offense to Mark Boal, but hearing him eating his lunch or washing dishes during these lengthy interviews with Bowe just doesn’t hold the same magic to me.
Season 2 was somewhat successful in telling a story. Or at least as much of the story as it could. There is no ending, as Bowe is currently awaiting his hearing in August, and the story of the war in the Middle East is simply to big and complicated to be told this way. I heard Bergdahl’s reasoning for walking off base, I heard why his platoon mates felt betrayed and upset. I heard from his friends what kind of person he is and from his leaders what kind of soldier he wasn’t. So the research is there. In fact, Serial seems to be the only group (including the Army) to determine if any solider was killed during the search for Bergdahl – a no, unless you count that they were on duty and deployed at the time. But I don’t feel any more certain I understand what happened to Bowe, why it happened, or what is going to happen going forward than I did before I started.
All in all, Serial season 2 was not my cup of tea. It felt very much like classic sophomore season syndrome: much like your second year of high school you try to rebel against your youthful image and change drastically so people will respect you more. In reality, you ended up with a class picture in a Hot Topic tshirt and too much black eyeliner, and go back to being a normal human by the time spring break of junior year rolls around. Hopefully for all of us, Serial season 3 decides to be human again.