When Sarah Koenig’s podcast Serial was first released in October of 2014, critics approached the weekly installments as a well thought out, intriguing, and engaging critique of the current United States justice system. Within the first season, Koenig structured her podcast as an objective presentation of evidence surrounding the murder of a Baltimore high school student, Hae Min Lee, and the incarceration of her then-boyfriend Adnan Syed. Week by week, the podcast presented listeners with evidence surrounding the case and encouraged the audience to make their own interpretations of the events. Koenig presented her listeners with the unique opportunity to be directly involved with a murder case; she gave the evidence, and the listeners searched for the answers. Her unique approach to broadcasting earned her a Peabody Award in April 2015, in which it was noted that “Serial rocketed podcasting into the cultural mainstream.”
Serial released the final episode of its first season in December 2014, and for a period of time went silent. However, on December 10, 2015, Koenig released her second installment of the podcast and intrigued audiences when she chose to abandon the case of Adnan Syed and started from scratch once again. The second season is interesting in that the audience is already aware of who is at fault for the crime at hand, since Koenig opted to report on the case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, and the fact that he deserted his post in the U.S. army and was ultimately captured by the Islamist militants in Afghanistan. Claims have been made that Bergdahl may have actively been seeking out the Taliban, while Bergdahl himself has stated that he was attempting to leave his post in an effort to bring attention to the poor conditions faced by soldiers at his outpost. Ultimately, Bergdahl spent five years held by the Taliban, and was only freed after U.S. officials negotiated the release of five Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for one American soldier.
Within her second season, Koenig encourages listeners to consider the moral repercussions of the case surrounding Bergdahl. Considering that we already know the events that have occurred, it is up to listeners to determine whether deserting should be excused in the event that he did it for the greater good, and whether serving five years in Taliban captivity has been enough punishment. Koenig extends her reporting to allegations that Bergdahl has struggled with mental health, as well as whether or not the exchange of five Guantanamo Bay detainees was worth it for the sake of a single American soldier.
Serial prides itself on being a presentation of facts interspersed with the editorial backdrop of Koenig’s interpretation. Within her reporting, Koenig approaches the events of the case with remarkable dignity, and her investigation is interesting in that it seems to bring up more questions than it answers. At the end of the season, the audience simultaneously has a comprehensive understanding of the events in Afghanistan, yet a complete lack of answers. It is impossible to understand Bergdahl’s motives with absolute surety, but Koenig makes a sincere effort to do so.
However, it is worth noting that the second season loses a bit of the spark associated with the first; because the listener already knows who is at fault; the mystery that made the case of Adnan Syed so intriguing is missing. It is no longer a case that seeks to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent in black and white; the case of Bowe Bergdahl will be handled by lawyers who will determine whether reprimand is in order for his desertion. There’s a sense of drama that is simply missing, and it largely has to do with the type of case that Koenig has chosen.
The new season of Serial still does it’s job as presenting one story week by week, but it’s not necessarily the kind of story that the listener is desperate to hear. Koenig has continued her legacy of smart reporting and clever interpretation, but it’s almost impossible to avoid the sting of disappointment as the listener will never have the same impact on the case of Bowe Bergdahl as it did on that of Adnan Syed.