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Beyond Bergdahl, Season Two of 'Serial' delves into emotional tolls of war

What comes through in interviews with Sergeant Bergdahl and his fellow soldiers is a 'need for a belief in a sense of purpose.'

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A man believed to be Bowe Bergdahl (at l.) is seen in this image made from video released by the Taliban and obtained by IntelCenter on Dec. 8, 2010. Sgt. Bergdahl, a US Army soldier, went missing from his outpost in Afghanistan in June 2009 and was released from Taliban captivity on May 31, 2014 in exchange for five enemy combatants held in the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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To fans’ delight, the first episode of season two of the hit podcast "Serial" was released at 6 a.m. on Thursday.

Whereas Season One focused on Adnan Syed and “a murder case few people had heard about,” the authors say Season Two tackles larger questions about the human condition and war by telling the story of US solider Bowe Bergdahl.

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After walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, Sgt. Bergdahl was captured and held captive by the Taliban for almost five years. He returned home in 2014, when the Obama administration swapped him for five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

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Listeners will hear Bergdahl’s experience in his own words through phone interviews recorded with screenwriter Mark Boal, the writer and producer of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” who talked with Bergdahl for almost twenty-five hours while Mr. Boal was doing background research for a potential new movie. 

And while Season Two boasts similar candid interviews as heard in Season One, host Sarah Koenig uses Bergdahl’s story to explore greater themes of war and politics. 

“Unlike our story in Season One, this one extends far out into the world,” Ms. Koenig writes in a statement. “It reaches into swaths of the military, the peace talks to end the war, attempts to rescue other hostages, our Guantanamo policy. 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.” 

Koenig interviews Bergdahl’s fellow-soldiers who explain their emotional responses to Bergdahl’s desertion. His fellow platoon-mates felt pain, fear and anger after Bergdahl left his post.

“An overall thing I’ve gotten from the other soldiers and from Bowe is the need for a belief in a sense of purpose, their purpose in the war,” says Julie Snyder, a researcher and writer on Koenig’s team.

The first season of Serial was downloaded over 100 million times and earned a Peabody Award. And the main character, Adnan Syed, has been granted a hearing to introduce new evidence, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in November.

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“The basic fats in the case of Bergdahl are known, and most parties involved agree on what they are,” explains The New Yorker. “But what those facts mean, what Bergdahl actually experienced in the Army, his motivations for leaving his platoon, and the many terrible consequences of that decision are more complex, even existential.” 

Sergeant Bergdahl is awaiting a ruling on whether his case will be heard before a court-martial. 

Ms. Snyder said the second season of Serial strives to make listeners hear and think about the larger issues of Bergdahl’s case. 

“You have these things that you think of as these monolithic institutions, like the Army, the Administration, the Taliban. And you break them all down, and you’re like, 'Oh, they’re all made up of just people.' And it’s really interesting to start seeing it through the eyes of people,” Snyder told The New Yorker.