On Thursday, very quietly, the first episode of Serial, season two arrived. Season one, the podcast sensation of last year, saw journalist Sarah Koenig exploring the case of Adnan Syed, who is currently in jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, which he says he didn’t commit. Season two is already very different. Here’s everything you need to know.
There’s no murder this time
After twelve episodes of cliffhangers and revelations about Hae Min Lee’s death, there were people who found the inconclusive ending frustrating. Those people should like season two more. Or perhaps they’ll hate it. This time, everyone involved in the case is alive. The investigation is not a whodunit but a whydidtheydoit. If you came for more Columbo business then you’re not going to get it.
The case is already famous
In June 2009, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier serving in Afghanistan, went missing from his post and was captured by the Taliban. It was five years before he was released. Initially he was treated as a hero, his return home announced by President Obama. Very swiftly, however, other soldiers started tearing him down, saying he deserted his squad and was indirectly responsible for the deaths of at least six soldiers killed in attempts to rescue him. A welcome home parade was cancelled.
So this is not about an unknown case. It’s an attempt to get to the heart of a news story that disappeared long ago. It would seem to match well with Koenig’s skills in getting to the heart of a story, without giving her the pressure of having to solve a crime that the whole US justice system had already ballsed up.
It might wind up as a movie
This case came to Koenig from movie produce Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty). The interviews with Bergdahl used in episode one are conducted by Boal, who had been talking to the soldier with a view to turning his story into a film. So don’t be surprised if all this crops up in cinemas in a few years with Chris Pine playing Bergdahl or something.
Sarah Koenig would quite like you to be less obsessed this time
Serial’s success became its own worst enemy. It started quietly as a spin-off of podcast-for-cardigany-people This American Life, but its juicy storytelling quickly made it a must-listen. It was never planned to be a blockbuster hit, and attention brought expectation. It wasn’t enough for Koenig to examine Adnan’s case, she had to crack it. That’s a pretty unreasonable expectation for a three-month series. Koenig has said she’d like this season to be less talked about. “I really miss the days when nobody gave a crap what I was doing,” she said in a presentation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Her co-producer Julie Snyder added, “We’re really not planning on having the same response that we had in Season 1, and frankly, we’re really okay with that.” So keep calm.
So far, it’s just as good
Koenig’s choice not to do another murder case is brilliant. It discourages comparisons to the first season but keeps the same spirit as last time, in that the aim is to pull apart every bit of the story. The investigation is the point, not the solution. The tease for episode two has Koenig talking to the Taliban. The Taliban! How could you not be hooked? This is still the smartest, most absorbing podcast around.