The '24' Political Review, Issue No. 1

94222__24_lAs most viewers have become aware, 24 is not about terrorism or counterterrorism. It’s about politics. Office politics, yes — it’s the only show that’s at once audacious, fatuous, and, sadly, realistic enough to show officials dithering over desk space and protocol while the world goes to hell. But 24 is also about American politics, on micro and macro scales. Each passing season is a mirror of our national and political self-image.

Season 1, conceived and begun before Sept. 11, gave us an idealized presidential candidate, David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert). He was somewhat Clintonesque in bearing (both, after all, were jockeying to be the first black president), but morally far superior. His only stains were acquired: His son had screwed up and killed someone, the guy who’d raped his sister. (On 24, such circumstances constitute an automatic pardon.) And his wife Sherry (Penny Johnson) was Lady Macbeth, and the first in a misogyny parade that would become one of the show’s trademarks.

The tone of the show was set: The world is a dangerous place, and so America needs dangerous men — like Jack Bauer — to protect her. Bauer steadily loses his humanity throughout that first season, and he’s never regained it. He’s been shorn of family and morality, and now serves only a reflexive notion of patriotism (which is challenged on a daily basis by all the traitorous "patriots" he encounters inside the U.S. government), a purely numerical sense of righteousness (choose the option where the fewest die, regardless of any other moral or legal consideration), and instinctive get-the-bad-guy bloodlust. (Dude loves to torture. At the drop of a hat, he will acquaint key parts of your anatomy with the wall socket.)

addCredit(“24; Kelsey McNeal/Fox”)

The presidents have evolved, too. Post-Palmer, we got a blandconservative, John Keeler (Geoffrey Pierson), a nice anodyne buffer whocoincided with Bush’s wartime popularity boom. But the producersmust’ve sensed the jury was still out on this vaguely Reaganesque(Vague-anesque?), benignly large-and-in-charge vision of the Americanpresidency, and, as public opinion shifted, so did 24. Keelerwas keelhauled (pesky terrorists!), and his vice, a wonderfullyNixonian dweeb named Charles Logan (the superb Gregory Itzin), took thereins. Logan — detached from reality, willfully self-deluded andcompletely at the mercy of his snaky advisors — is Where We Are Now inour idea of the presidency.

Which brings us up to present episodes. Last week, we saw Jackbrutalize Audrey, the woman he loves, for her own good. (As is alwaysthe case with Jack, horrible things must be done to avert even morehorrible things. In this case, more horrible things happen regardless:Audrey is tortured. Whew, that was close — someone was almost not tortured on 24! I would’ve had to go out and kill something small and furry, just to achieve post-24 satisfaction.) We saw Edgar’s replacement, Shari (Kate Mara, who played Alma Jr. in Brokeback Mountain),make a break in the case — only to reveal herself as yet anotherhysterical woman! (Turns out she’s paranoid about perceived sexualharassment.)

These are both interesting issues for 24: In previousseasons, torture was almost always performed by Jack and almost alwaysyielded good solid information. Last season, Jack cut off a guy’sfinger in the CTU parking lot after his pantywaist ACLU lawyer almostspoiled the fun. The scumbag’s teary revelation cracked the case, ofcourse.  But now, torture is so widespread, it’s affecting Jack’s loveinterests. And that, friends, is just not right. Clearly, a newattitude towards the cattle prod is infecting the 24 writer’s room.

Women, however, are still an issue. There’s yet anotherunderinformed ballbuster running CTU, there’s a Mata Hari in HoldingCell 1, and some crazy chick is sitting in Edgar’s chair, lobbingaccusations at starchy, upright Bill Buchanan. The honeymoon is over,it would appear: After taking care to paint Logan’s first lady (JeanSmart) as the real brains of the operation (a backhanded compliment,considering the esteem in which the writers hold this particularadministration), the 24 team is back to reminding us that womenin the workplace are troublesome at best, dangerous to nationalsecurity at worst. Sure, Chloe’s okay, but she’s an asexual robot, nota woman. And let’s not forget, her one and only sexual contact inforever was a mole (the forgotten Spenser). Sex is death, kids! Especially if you’re a woman!

Whew! What a stemwinder! And I haven’t even broached the topic ofnatural gas, which this week proved a highly explosive energy issue.’24’ is America, ladies and gentleman. And the clock is ticking…


Comments (11 total) Add your comment
  • Buffy

    That crazy chick better not cause Bill Buchanan to get the boot from some trumped-up sexual harrassment accusation. I love Bill Buchanan. He’s the best CTU head guy they’ve had.

  • Kyle

    I don’t think the attitude towards torture has changed on the show. Jack didn’t want to torture Audrey? So what?
    He shot Henderson’s wife in the friggin’ leg to get info from Henderson himself.
    Jack will still torture anyone and everyone he can. He’d just rather not do it to someone he loves.
    And you’re really stretching with the “women are evil thing” on 24. Please!!! There have been plenty of good strong women. How about the first lady this season?! She’s the only one making any sense in the white house.
    Michelle lived 4 seasons. And you can’t say “Well they killed her though” because they killed Tony and Edgar and Chappelle and Lynn and Mason and on and on with males.
    So lay off the “women are treated poorly” on 24. Wah Wah.

  • jeff

    Overthought and overwrought. 24 breaks into all kinds of pieces if it’s analyzed in any detail. Its sole purpose is to ratchet up suspense every 59 minutes to achieve some sort of explosive revelation or cliffhanger in minute 60. Then the following week it happens again.

  • Kyle

    Oh, and BTW I agree with Buffy.
    Bill Buchanan rocks. I never thought I’d say that when he was first introduced.

  • scottb

    It’s a TV show. A terrific, addictive TV show. Not real. Real life can be dull, messy and laced with rough edges. It seems to me many of the men are terrorists. Women and men can be bad. I love “progressive,” diversity-loving thinkers who show themselves to be no less bigoted and close-minded than those they profess to despise.

  • Tim L

    Wow Scott that was an absoloutly fantastic essay man! I am truly impressed. As my time at film school runs out I really wish I had been able to write a paper on 24. I would have quoted you for sure! Really excellent!

  • Krushgroove

    You think Jack Bauer would have caught on by now that something absolutely suspenseful & cliff-hangerish happens on the hour, every hour of his day. Once he knows that, he might be able to plan his day a bit better.

  • Myrna

    I’ve heard the 24 theory before about how women are portrayed as either traitors or hysterical. I disagree. They’ve had strong, gutsy women and men and men and women who are traitors, liars, etc. In my opnion they have a lot of women on the show unlike most shows so when some of the female characters are shown to be evil it stands out more. In the end, it’s just a wonderfully exciting TV show and I won’t over analyze. I also agree with Buffy about Bill Buchanan. He’s great. I’ve loved the actor every since he was in Space, Above and Beyond.

  • Phoenician

    Actually in my opinion, Tony Almeida was the best CTU Director around, though Bill comes to a VERY close second.
    24’s Women are spectactular. From Nina Myers, Alberta Green, Sherry Palmer, Julia Milliken, Lynne Kresge, Marie Warner, Michelle Dessler-Almeida, Erin Driscoll, Dina Araz, Claudia Salazar, Chloe O’Brian, Martha Logan and of course to the ever ellusive Mandy, they’ve ALL been AMAZING Characters AND Actresses!! If Shari can prove her worth without killing anyone I like, than I’ll have no problem adding her to this excellent list.
    I remember the writers saying back in Day II how so many women turn out the way they do, and I beleive the explanation was that not only is it more unexpected, but it shows that women CAN make a tremendous difference on this show, both positively and negetively. . . but ALWAYS entertaining!

  • Buffy

    I was never a big fan of Tony or the actor, so I wasn’t too upset when he kicked the bucket.
    As for the portrayal of women on 24, as a woman, I have to say it’s just so damned nice to see some women on screen who have more to do than just stand around looking pretty. I don’t care if they’re good, bad or ambiguous. They’re actually doing something with their brains. Whether they use that brain power for good or evil, I don’t care. How many shows out there have only one or two women in the cast?

  • Turk 182

    How can they call it the World Series if the people with the best scores aren’t allowed to compete!! It’s a scam people!

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