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Friday, January 08, 2016

Serial 2:4

Okay, so it is pretty apparent that this season is not setting up as a big legal mystery.  Fans of the first season are likely to be a little let down.  After the breakout debut album, maybe we can write this off as the sophomore slump.  Even more, there is a new band in town (Making a Murderer on Netflix) that is getting all of the attention.  The third album is always the best, anyway, so we’ll see what the next season has in store.  (Steve Vladeck shares some of his angst about this season here.)

This week’s episode focuses on the conditions of Bergdahl’s confinement and while pretty interesting, it is pretty straightforward.  We hear a little bit about what I discussed in the last blog (can we use his mental health to explain his crime when it doesn’t seem like his mental health was an issue while he was in captivity).  At one point in this episode, Bergdahl says that while he was in captivity he didn’t revert to his normal fantastical thinking as a coping mechanism.  That might be a clue that his diagnosis includes something on the schizo-spectrum.  I still hope we’ll learn more about that in a future episode.

Koenig introduces some new themes, including the impact of GTMO and Abu Ghraib on our strategic goals in the region and on Bergdahl’s captivity in particular.  She also brings up some about some of the strategic issues in the region and how they contribute to the existence of ungoverned spaces in Pakistan (ungoverned by Western standards) where Bergdahl was kept.  It turns out that one of these issues – Pakistan’s relationship with India – helps to explain why Afghanistan is still unstable and will likely be unstable for years to come. 

Pakistan needs Afghanistan to be unstable.  Pakistan is a narrow country wedged between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s primary competitor, India.  If Pakistan is invaded by India, its forces have no place to go to recoup and refit – other than Afghanistan.  If Afghanistan has a strong central government, that government might be able to prevent Pakistan from doing that.  And a strong central government would also be easier for India to influence and could more effectively implement India’s goals than a weak central government that has no power beyond Kabul.  Solving the problem in Afghanistan probably requires solving the problem between Pakistan and India first.

Serial might step up the mystery factor next week as Koenig hinted that she is going to explore some quasi-conspiratorial explanations for why the American military seemed to give up on looking for Bergdahl.  I hope she goes there because there may be some interesting social psychology explanations for that.  We’ll see next week.

Posted by Eric Carpenter on January 8, 2016 at 09:21 AM | Permalink


There seems to be a disconnect between expectations for the show and what the show is. The show pitches itself as "one story told over the course of a season." It is not (at least not necessarily) a mystery or true-crime series; it wants to tell a story, not limited as to particular types of stories. But the listeners seem to be expecting a mysterious true-crime story, because that is what happened last year. And that is why the perception is that it has been passed by the flavors of the month (MaM or Jynx). But Serial is a far more open forum.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jan 10, 2016 1:09:02 PM

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