Serial: S02 Episode 04: The Captors
January 7, 2016 4:07 PM - Subscribe

What's happening on the other side of the door?

From the serialpodcast blog:

"On Nov. 10, 2008, David Rohde and two Afghan colleagues—Tahir Luddin, a journalist and interpreter, and Asad Mangal, a driver—were kidnapped on their way to an interview with a Taliban commander. At the time, Rohde was on leave from The New York Times to write a book about Afghanistan.
The Taliban held Rohde and his colleagues in Waziristan for more than seven months. On June 20, 2009, he and Luddin escaped from a compound in Miram Shah. Just 10 days later, the Taliban captured Bowe Bergdahl.
There were many similarities between Rohde’s captivity and Bergdahl’s. The Haqqani network, a group aligned with the Taliban, held both men captive, for one. And both were moved to various locations in North and South Waziristan, parts of the tribal region of Pakistan. But Rohde had two advantages over Bergdahl: As a reporter, Rohde already knew a fair amount about the region. And, perhaps more important, Rohde was held with two Afghans, one of whom spoke English and could translate what was happening around him. So his account of his captivity gives some context to Bergdahl’s."
posted by jenfullmoon (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know some people have said they find Bergdahl an "unreliable narrator" in all this. I don't quite understand that. Particularly in his descriptions of his captivity, he seems completely believable to me. His descriptions of his mental states - I don't think you could make those up unless you'd lived it. So what, exactly, is he supposed to be lying about? Except maybe he might be trying to put the best face he can on why he walked off in the first place, ok, but I see no indication that he's hiding actual "Taliban sympathizer" tendencies.

Anyway. Fascinated by the explanation of the relations between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani government.
posted by dnash at 7:08 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the unreliable narrator jab is really just about his reasons for going off base and what he thought would happen, and what happened immediately afterwards. I don't think many serious observers are doubting that he spent years as a prisoner. But the details of his going AWOL are fairly fuzzy and his purported reasons are so amazingly stupid that it's understandable that people want to think there's something else there. I tend to think he's mostly telling the truth.

I think the stuff about Haqqani family and Pakistan is great too, but there's not that much of it, and I felt kind of bored, I got enough of a sense how much it sucked to be a prisoner last episode, I felt we didn't get much more in this one. I'm starting to feel like this season is running out of gas, is there really another 6 hours worth of stuff to say about his situation?
posted by skewed at 7:44 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wish that she would get to some of the bigger issues already, including what Bowe wanted to report to superiors after he surfaced from his DUSTWUN.

Also, I would totally listen to an in-depth thing on the Haqqanis... that stuff sounds fascinating.
posted by theartandsound at 9:46 PM on January 7, 2016

I thought this episode laid bare the problem with this season of Serial not having direct access to its main subject and instead relying on someone else's interviews with him that create an additional layer of distance between the listener and the subject. Instead of just asking Bergdahl directly what the experience of being captured was like and how moving from place to place worked and what his interactions with the people holding him were like, instead we get this weird, "So, here is this completely different guy who was also captured who can maybe sort of kinda approximate what life was like for Bergdahl but also not since the circumstances were very different".

Obviously some of the reason that this season feels less compelling than Season 1 is simply that the story itself, by definition, doesn't have the same intrigue as a whodunit based around young lovers. But the way this season is taking shape really makes it evident how important Sarah Koenig's direct access to Adnan was to the success of Season 1. I don't feel like I "know" Bergdahl in the same way I knew Adnan.
posted by The Gooch at 9:56 AM on January 8, 2016

I didn't feel that was why we were talking to David - I thought it was more for confirmation. They seem to be going back and forth between Beegdahl's account and corroborating sources frequently, probably because a lot of people will reflexively doubt his story.
posted by bq at 10:29 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't really want to know Bergdahl. I'm not intrigued by him at all. I feel sorry for him, but also think he sounds like he was a dumbass. Which isn't super nice of me.

There isn't the same level of mystery to this one. It's "Dude made incredibly dumb decision, went through five years of torture for it." I don't think there is mystery to that, it's just frustrating, depressing and sad. And I'm not really interested in the military or the Middle East (again, frustrating, depressing and sad). I'm pretty much slogging through this to keep up, especially since I'm seeing Serial folks in a couple of months.

And while I think he's guilty, I don't think he should go to prison again. Dude's already been in prison quite enough. Call it time served and be done.

I think I end up saying this on like, every Serial thread.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:35 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

jenfullmoon, you definitely just summed up my thoughts on this season. I'm not even sure why I'm still listening.

The Gooch, I agree that listening to someone other than Sarah interview Bowe is not as compelling. I think that the interviewer's motivations are different. Mark is trying to get a story so that he can make a feature film. Sarah is making a documentary podcast. She would arguably be asking different questions. She also has training in conducting interviews that she knows are going to be recorded and used as part of the final project, whereas Mark was doing the interviews to get information from them to make his movie.
posted by radioamy at 10:39 AM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm finding it interesting not because I'm particularly fascinated by Bergdahl (I'm British, I'd never heard of him before) but for the window it's giving on what was going on in Afghanistan/Pakistan - the realities of the different factions of the Taliban, their relations with non-Taliban (both the governments and the population at large) etc. I'm sure I could maybe have got that information from being more attentive to news stories at the time, but I wasn't, so hearing it play out with a narrative to hang it on is useful. (Also how ill-equipped the Western military were to cope with being in Afghanistan, but that's really no surprise).

But mostly:
what Bowe wanted to report to superiors after he surfaced from his DUSTWUN.
posted by penguin pie at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I thought it was an excellent episode - to the point I'm surprised to see so many initial negative reactions. I like that they are painting a broader picture & expanding the scope. And I'm fascinated by the inside view of the tribal areas, the Hakkani, and the fundamentalist young men. As much as I already knew the general details, the specifics are what hooks me in.
posted by kanewai at 2:17 PM on January 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it, but my husband told me about a series that Rohde wrote for the NYT about his ordeal. Turns out that Asad Mangal, the driver who was kidnapped with them, was radicalized during their captivity and that's why he didn't escape with Rohde and Tahir Luddin. I had been wondering what happened to Mangal, because in this episode they glossed over the fact that 3 men were kidnapped but only 2 escaped. I had assumed that Mangal had been killed or they hadn't been able to get him out. I'm not sure if my imagination or the truth is worse.
posted by radioamy at 11:05 AM on January 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I find this season as intriguing if not more than season 1. But this season isn't a whodunnit, it's not a mystery of facts, it's a whydunnit, a mystery of ethics and meaning.

There are six more episodes, and I have a hunch there's going to be a knifetwist or two in there. The desperation theory, that they just cobbled this together because they didn't have anything better going, seems pretty uncharitable considering the consistent history this crew has both on Serial and TAL of quality work.
posted by turntraitor at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2016

I am just not totally sure where this story is going, perhaps because last season was also so unsure. I get that we're doing a lot of background/history/setting, and a lot of the details are fascinating. I just wish I had an idea if there was supposed to be a narrative thread or not.
posted by jeather at 3:00 PM on January 12, 2016

I wish I was more excited about them adding another episode.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:58 PM on January 12, 2016

It just feels like yet again she has no idea where the story is going, which was a problem last time. Also, I'm not sure this is the kind of story that works well with a long break between episodes.
posted by jeather at 5:23 AM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Serial Might Be Making Bowe Bergdahl's Life a Whole Lot Worse

Concern Trolling as Strategy, by Robert Bateman.
posted by Etrigan at 3:56 AM on January 14, 2016

I really enjoyed this episode. Not for Bergdahl's story, although I remain interested in that. But because it was really strong, intimate reporting about how the Haqqani Network operates and what being tortured by Islamic militants might be like. I think it's fine if there's no central mystery on what really happened. I'm here for long form journalism about an interesting story, no matter whether I know the rough structure of it already or not.
posted by Nelson at 1:31 PM on January 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

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