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24: Officially Insane

I admit I’ve seen nearly all of 24′s seven seasons. John McQuaid gets it just right in his post on the current season:

This season, the show has layered the earnest action and farce with something else – a straight-up advocacy of torture (at least in the “ticking time bomb” scenario, which is 100 percent of the show but in real life, exceedingly rare).

So last night the show went completely bonkers, featuring a) Jack Bauer torturing a guy – a traitorous aide to “Blaine Mayer,” the insufferably self-righteous senator who has been investigating Jack for torture – in the White House; followed immediately by b) a terrorist assault on the very same White House in which the president and Sen. Mayer are taken hostage, presumably to be rescued by Bauer.

Watching this, I was trying to figure out what the hell it meant, if anything. Obviously, Joel Surnow’s position is that torture is useful. But was the show saying the president should condone it? (She didn’t. Nor did that seem like a good option for her.) Or is it saying that only Jack Bauer – someone willing to cross any line to get the job done when necessary, then face the legal/moral consequences – should do it (implying those lines should remain in place)? That’s the impression you’re left with; Jack at one point urges good-guy Bill Buchanan to go start tasering the traitor again, and he won’t do it.

On the other hand, the show is reveling in its own transgressions. The torture-ee is a smarmy young asshole who obviously deserves it. So we’re rooting for it. And Jack’s doing it in the West Wing, maybe in Dick Cheney’s old office. It’s appalling. Sen. Mayer (a joke on writer Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side), is a terrible, nattering caricature of torture opponents. Yet his preening senatorial pompousness really is spot-on, so it’s hilarious to watch him get a comeuppance. So: appalling, hilarious, provocative, farcical: a solid hour’s entertainment – if you don’t take it too seriously. But not a particularly good guide for those devising Obama administration’s interrogation policies.


  1. I was watching this episode as well wondering what the hell they were trying to say. If they had made Bauer into an anti-hero from the beginning, instead of the All American Hero TM, they could have given a lot more nuance to this issue. I guess in 2001 they weren’t thinking torture would be a big issue as it is now.

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  2. CTN wrote:

    I’m surprised you made it this far, Halden. I gave up after season 3, when the formula became all too clear: ticking-time-bomb/virus/nuclear bomb/biological weapon + Jack kicking ass to save the world. Although, on a particularly bad night, I might just have to catch up on the fun. :-)

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

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