Jack Bauer Lives Another Day. The Question Is: 'Why?'

Daniel Smith/FOX

The most notorious television series of the Bush-Cheney years is coming back to Fox on Monday. In 24: Live Another Day, rogue anti-terrorist agent (and poster boy for the efficacy of torture) Jack Bauer, after running amok and blowing away Russia's foreign minister four years ago, is still a wanted man. Played, as ever, by Kiefer Sutherlandwho's gotten so mulish in the role that he might as well be towing a farm cart with his teethJack is modeling a hoodie in London when new President James Heller (William Devane) comes to town to dicker with the British Prime Minister (Stephen Fry) over the lease of an island base that's apparently needed to keep those fun U.S. drones annihilating our Middle Eastern enemies, a priority our transatlantic chums are bewilderingly unthrilled about enabling.

As it happens, Heller isn't crazy about drones eitherof course not, civilized guy he is. But "the ugly truth," he says, "is that what we do has worked."

Since pretty much the only thing presidents are good for on 24 is to wear bull's-eyes on their backs, it's no surprise that Heller's also being targeted for assassination, by of a peacenik outfit that's like Wikileaks gone morehow to put this?proactive.  

Naturally, the CIA suspects that Jack is among those out to do the prez harm, but the surprisingly easy time they have nabbing him is a hint that our man has other plans up his sleeve. Several kabooms and one gutted CIA London station later, he. . .  well, I don't really need to go on, do I?  

In its Live Another Day revival, 24 plays the same game it always has: toying with ultra-contemporary moral ambiguities at more or less the level a cat toys with a crippled sparrow, then stepping aside to let Jack-be-nimble do his tactless but resolute thing. Even though it's his latter-day fate to be misunderstood and the victim of calumny by his own side, he can be counted on to out-proactive anybody in sightbrutally, sure, but you know what they say about omelets and eggs. He'd rather be soiled by his sins than namby-pamby.

Granted, I've got friends who maintain that 24 isn't as politically Cro-magnon as it looks. The dastardly foreign plots Jack foils can turn out to be provocations engineered  by right-wing baddies instead, and so on.  But while that may be truean intermittent viewer at best, I was never hooked enough to even follow the ding-dong plots, so we're not exactly talking about expertise here I doubt it matters very much. After all, way back in 1973, the second Dirty Harry movie put Clint Eastwood up against a cabal of neo-Nazi cops to prove he was no fascist, and nobody was particularly fooled.  The bottom line is that battered, determined Jack Bauer is the guy who does the necessaryeven at the cost of his own good name, because he's self-sacrificing that waywhile everybody else dithers.

It can't be a complete accident that 24 made such a habit of enfeebling or incapacitating the revolving-door occupants of the show's fictional Oval Office. (Devane's Heller is no exception; he's in the early stages of Alzheimer's from the get-go.) Half a dozen or more chief executives have either been retired or gone to glory since the series's debut, but Jack Bauer remains indispensable and constant, protecting an America whose political system is essentially irrelevant to our need for his eternal vigilance. Whatever else 24 is, it isn't what you'd call a love song to democracy.

To my eyes, though, what's most obnoxious about the show isn't its vigilante streaka pretty venerable pop fantasy, after all. Even more than the "torture works" message underlying the hero's M.O.,  the relentless self-pity coursing through the thing makes my head spin.  

Here's poor, beleaguered, badgered Jack Bauer, grimly taking care of business for nobody's thanks at allslandered by his own team,  cut off from ordinary human happiness,  but stoically carrying on for an ungrateful planet's sake. (Honest, he doesn't even like torturing people; he just knows he has to.)  In effect, his brute-force sadism is ennobled by his selfless masochism; he's a sufferer trapped in a scourger's body. As a stand-in for how America sees its role in the world,  this thug impersonating a beefier Jesus Christ hauling the cross  up Golgotha isn't a pretty sight.

 

Comments

The SS men who gunned down hundreds of thousands on the Eastern Front probably felt intensely sorry for themselves as well, but duty was duty, and God knows they knew how to do their duty.

Good grief! Get a grip on reality! It is a science fiction/fantasy story and obviously exaggerates those parts that will elicit any number of emotions from any number of viewers. You yourself admitted that you were only an intermittent viewer, so how can your realistically write an entire article condemning the entire series and its stories?

I will admit that many of the story lines are predictable and in some cases troubling, but as I said, it is fiction and fantasy and designed for mindless entertainment for the most part. I have to wonder, though, if a great deal of your animosity is a result of the "support" of the series and the tactics used in the show by the loathsome Cheney and Rumsfeld, et. al., to bolster their reasons for using torture and pre-emptive war.

Season 5 was one of the most merciless anti-Bush screeds that there ever was. Unless you watch that one start to finish, and you will be richly rewarded if you do, you're not making balanced commentary on the show.

That being said, much of the problem with the show's use of torture is that, when Jack was doing it, it always worked, because Jack magically could tell when the victims were telling the truth. There were other plot-lines and characters that explored the failures and failings of torture, but none of them involved Jack, so nobody remembered them.

Also, the show never showed a torture victim giving up fake information, and then showed bad consequences flowing from the good guys chasing false leads. For a show that was often clearly desperate to come up with plot-lines to fill screen time, I was always baffled why they didn't show this happening. It was lazy script writing at best and denial at worst.

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