I had a morning ritual throughout last November. I would wake up and desperately search my emails. Then I would search across the Twitter, Facebook, website and all other locations I could associate with Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast.
The Serial team had said their second season would come out in fall of 2015 and, as we settled into winter I began to get more and more agitated, worrying that maybe the second season of the world’s most talked about podcast wouldn’t even happen. I bided my time, relistening to the first series for a third and fourth time, until eventually the email came: Serial, season 2, episode 1.
I decided I needed to clean my kitchen.
You can usually tell when a new episode of one of my favourite podcasts comes out because all of a sudden my house is spotless. I can tackle the repetitive and often disgusting task of cleaning a student house only when someone from NPR is chattering in my ear and whisking me along with some compelling story or another. But when listening to the first episode of the newest season of Serial I found myself stopping for a moment, as I unclogged the kitchen sink, and noticing that something didn’t feel quite right.
I wasn’t quite as invested in Sarah Koenig’s investigation this season as I had been in the first season’s tale of the trial of Adnan Syed and the murder of Hae Min Lee. My house was only given a perfunctory clean and currently I find myself looking at the second season, which I waited for eagerly for so long, piling up new episodes that I have yet to listen to. Any when I checked online, I found that many in the podcast listening community had given the newest season a similar reception.
The second season of Serial explores the capture and release of Bowie Bergdahl, the last US soldier to be freed in Afghanistan after he was taken as a Prisoner of War by the Taliban. I had a great deal of interest in Bergdahl’s story and had read about it eagerly when it first became a notable item of news upon his release in 2014. Was Bergdahl a brave hero to be saluted on his return home from captivity or a deserter who should be shamed for the way his actions negatively affected his fellow soldiers?
That is an interesting question and it is an interesting story but it has not made an interesting season of Serial.
The thing about season one’s story, the tale of the questionable conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, is that listeners came into it totally blind. I and almost the entirety of the audience knew nothing of the story prior to Sarah Koenig’s unfolding of it in 2014 and we were hooked instantly. We carefully discovered all the elements of this narrative through our listening and felt like detectives piecing together what really happened step by step in little weekly drips and drabs. But Season 2 isn’t like this.
I, and many others, went into Koenig’s coverage of the Bergdahl story already weighed down with information. I had certain preconceptions I had already reached by the time I hit play on the first episode, just from reading so many articles and blog posts, and even when Koenig uncovered something that questioned my biases it only jarred me from the story, trying to fit it together with the gathered detritus of what I already knew. And of course one of the big problems with telling Bergdahl’s story is that it’s so ideologically and politically charged. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Marxists are all going to carry their ideas about the US military and justifications for the war in Afghanistan into this story, making it more difficult for readers to unify around and follow from week to week.
Some of the other issues with season 2 have been structural and practical. It isn’t just Sarah Koenig leading us on this story anymore. The season was produced as a collaboration with filmmaker Mark Boal who conducted a series of interviews with Bergdahl which are interspliced into the story. This creates confusion and also loses the deeply human touch season one provided as Koenig also spoke with Adnan Syed himself about ongoing developments in the case. This season has also switched release schedules a few time, moving now to coming out once a fortnight.
So now the podcast I waited for impatiently and feverishly piles up and sits in my feeds and emails and my response is mostly a disinterested sigh.