Monday, January 12, 2009

Fabricated Political Drama : Thoughts On The New Season of 24

Two years ago, as 24 stumbled through it's 6th season, I pointed out several times that the writers attempt to ratchet up the dramatic tension by utilizing the security versus liberty debate was a cheap attempt to score points with viewers. The problem was, the on-screen debate was preposterous in a world where only hours ago terrorists had set off a nuclear bomb in southern California, killing millions. The debate President Wayne Palmer and his presidential circle were having may have been relevant to our world, but it wasn't relevant in the world of 24, where 9-11 would have struggled to make the terrorist's top 5. To put it simply, you don't debate the nicer points of law when you're on the brink of Armageddon.

Last night, after a nearly two year hiatus, 24 opened a new chapter, with the show's move from Los Angeles to Washington highlighted by Jack Bauer's appearance at an unusually early 8:00 AM Senate hearing. The premise was simple and we the viewers were quickly brought up to speed: CTU has been disbanded and Jack (and presumably others as well), must be made to account for their complete and utter disregard for the Constitution. However, it quickly became apparent that we were delving into more real world politics jammed into a 24 world. Unlike the real world, in 24, ticking time bomb scenarios are so common that not only do they occur multiple times a season, but they apparently occur off screen as well, as evidenced by Jack's testimony of more torture in case involving a bomb on a bus. And you would think the legal system and the political branches of 24 world would reflect that reality, but instead, what we're given is the morally righteous indignation of a Senator from our world. In a world where the country has been on the brink of at least five nuclear threats, you would think the threshold for torture would be higher, not lower than it is in the real world.

And the worst part is, it doesn't get any better. Near the end of the first hour, Jack and his new FBI counterpart, special Agent Renee Walker question a suspect- an old colleague of Jack's- who seems well aware of Jack's legal predicament. As the questioning begins, he warns that Jack had better not lay a hand on him because, "he has witnesses." It's an acknowledgment that Jack's Senate trial is not some dark secret in the bowels of Washington, but relatively public knowledge.

24: Redemption bordered on interesting because the idea of Jack's atonement was primarily personal, as it should be. From a strictly utilitarian perspective, nearly all of Jack's actions can be justified by the literally millions of lives he's saved- and you would think that should be enough for the rest of the world. But as a human being, as an individual, Jack has to live with what he's done and how it's taken away from his very humanity. And while part of Redemption was about Jack realizing just the sort of man he is, I still can't help but be disappointed that in this season, Jack seems completely at peace with himself and his past.

But beyond the torture, both the political and the personal, the new season of 24 seems to have a reasonable mix of high points and low points. Just a few other comments.

# That Tony Almeida would be this season's villain is actually more believable than his resurrection. Not to get to Star Wars-y, but Tony's passions have always led him precariously close to the dark side. After all, this is a man who through his career away and endangered innocent lives to save his wife's life.

# While the nature of this season's threat is still, as yet, not entirely determined, parts of the threat seem rather unrealistic. I get that these terrorists are able to break through firewalls and hack into the computers controlling our nation's infrastructure, as evidenced by last night's take over of the FAA's communications. But aviation seems to be a bit removed from power, water, sewage, and the other potential threats mentioned to the President. Can't the threat of cyber-terrorism be eliminated simply by eliminating the cyber, i.e., cutting these vulnerable facilities off from the internet? And as my wife pointed out, in the real world, most of these facilities are probably old and outdated in the first place.

# Lots of familiar faces and plenty of great actors. I'll leave the fun for you and your friends and family, pointing out who you remember and from what. Even when the writing delved into icky territory, the consistently high level of acting has kept 24 watchable. That being said, the writing this season is already much better than in season 6, although it does remain precipitously close to cliche territory.

# It's nice to see some mystery in 24 again, particularly some mystery when it comes to someone Jack cares about. Let's hope this season takes some clues from season one and allows the mystery unfold rather than revealing all in the early going. Plot twists are much more fun when they're unravelled as part of a mystery.

# The percentage of attractive red-headed female FBI agents is far higher in tv and movies than it is the real world.

# Traffic in D.C. seems just as light and easy to handle as traffic in L.A. Who would've guessed?

# On the whole, I'm interested, and what we've seen so far is miles and miles better than the disastrous season 6. We'll see what happens in the next two hours tonight.


Blogger McMc said...

I'm more than willing to give 24 a chance at, well, redemption after the awful sixth season. I'm intrigued by some of the things going on so we'll that at that.

But one thing that bothers isn't the fabricated political drama, but the fabricated relationships. I know it must be hard to establish characters when we aren't able to see their backstories, but that doesn't mean the writers have to flat-out lie to us. Jack and Tony Almeida were never really friends on the show. In the first season, Jack was skeptical of Tony and barely trusted him. In the second season Jack and Tony clash on how to handle the situation. In the third season, Jack and Tony again clash. It's not until season four where there is some trust between the two but even as Jack is at Tony's home, you never really get the sense that these two are great buddies. Season 7 is trying to paint a picture of Jack and Tony running and skipping through grassy fields, holding hands and singing songs, when in reality their relationship never seemed to move past work.

And by the way, if the FBI has that many hot red-headed agents (Agent Scully, "Bones", Agent Walker, Clarice Starling wasn't bad) well I'm joining hte FBI.

12:51 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

One other rebuttal:

I don't find the threat in this season to be unrealistic. In fact, I find it to be realistic. I don't think terrorists or hackers would be able to hack the government like that, but I don't doubt that a lot of things mentioned would be controlled by computers. I think in the present day, those systems would be highly computerized without much human intervention. After all, if a super smart computer can do something, why hire lots of people to do the same job? Yes, people could probably still run those systems, but as they mentioned, to remove computer influence would basically shut everything down...which would cause the same effects.

Also keep in mind, 24 is currently in 2018 I think. If things aren't highly computerized now, they probably would be a lot more 9 yearsdown the road, right?

And I know we already discussed this, but I'll mention it here. I think if REDEMPTION showed us anything, it's that Jack ultimately regains his peace of mind. When he was struggling with his inner demons, he was doing so not because of how he conducted himself, but how all of his actions destroyed his relationships. He never got recognition and throughout his heroics, he lost his wife, strained his relationship with his daughter, lost friends like Tony and Palmer and in season six, saw his relationship with Audrey AND Secretary Heller go out the window.

In Redemption, he once again loses a friend but unlike the other threats/seasons, the episode ends with Jack smiling. Jack's extreme actions and sacrifices saved the lives of 18 or so children. For once, his sacrifice immediately saw positive feedback. Kids he was close to were finally getting a better life, and all because he did what was right. That's your redemption right there. Maybe his peace of mind in Season 7 is more than you'd expect, but I think if you look things over, it could be justified.

2:29 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Good point about the realism of the threat- not only is it supposed to be 1016 in 24, but the 24 world has always been a much more technically sophisticated world than our own. We may have a crumbling infrastructure here, but that doesn't mean they have it in 24 world. Still though, however technically sophisticated these systems are, you would think you could still cut the cord so to speak and keep them isolated from the rest of the internet.

9:53 AM  

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