I was SO excited for Serial Season 2 to begin. Season 1 was really groundbreaking – it introduced us to Adnan Syed, who in 1999 was charged and convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Serial S1 was riveting in that it brought us a case we weren’t aware of. Most people outside of Baltimore had not heard about this case, but now, the entire country knows about Adnan, and the fact that he was convicted on really flimsy evidence at the hands of a defense attorney whose health was failing.
Serial S1 also spawned two “spin-off’s” – Undisclosed and Truth & Justice. These spin-off’s weren’t your typical podcasts – none of the hosts were podcasters by trade, or even journalists. They were people who felt that Adnan was wrongfully convicted and set out to make a difference in his case. And they have. During Serial S2, Adnan had a Post Conviction Relief hearing, based on evidence discovered by the Undisclosed team. Adnan is awaiting the judge’s decision on whether he will receive a new trial. So to say that S1 was a success would be an understatement. It’s successful not just because of the podcast itself, but based on the fact that someone’s life may change based on the podcast even airing.
Serial S2 followed the story of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who in June of 2009, walked off his Army base in Afghanistan in the middle of the night and was captured by the Taliban, where he was subsequently held for five years. Bergdahl was interviewed for this story not by Sarah Koenig (SK), but by Mark Boal, a filmmaker who is making a movie about Bowe’s case. Sarah never spoke with Bowe directly (at least not that we heard). This is itself made the season less interesting. One of the things I loved most about S1 was hearing SK talk to Adnan on the phone. It brought something to the story that was just missing from S2.
I also had a hard time feeling anything really about this story. SK would talk to people in Afghanistan whose names I can’t pronounce or remember. She talked about place on the map I couldn’t visualize and used a lot of military jargon that went right over my head.
In the end, we know that Bowe walked away to make a statement about the way his commanding officers acted. Was that a smart decision? No. He ended up paying dearly by being held captive for five years, tortured and starved.
There were some moments in S2 that were interesting. Hearing Bowe’s back story, about his upbringing, being home schooled and a little “socially awkward” to hearing about his stint in the Coast Guard not working out. In a way, the Army should hold some blame for accepting a soldier who was clearly not cut out for the kind of life he’d be expected to lead. What’s more, there won’t be any spin-off podcasts, because nobody can help Bowe with this predicament.
Overall, I found Serial’s second season to be a disappointment. This story just didn’t have the appeal of the first season for so many reasons. But it’s not going to prevent me from listening to Season 3. I’m hopeful that the subject of season 3 will be similar to that of season 1. But I’d honestly listen to SK read me the phone book…..