Wednesday, May 26. 2010
Laura watches a lot of TV. I listen to a lot of music. The doors between our spaces are usually closed to keep those two worlds at bay, but on rare occasions I wander into her space. She had so raved about the first three seasons of 24 that I started watching it with "Day 4": the one with Muslim terrorist Habib Marwan, who causes a nuclear power plant to meltdown, shoots down Air Force 1 killing the president and bringing a weak and wobbly Charles Logan to power, and launches a nuclear-armed cruise missle which fails to detonate over Los Angeles. I figured it might tell me something about the terror-deranged mind of America, but it turned out to be too absurdly sensationist for analysis. The main point I drew from the series was that it posited a future state of America where both terrorism and counterterrorism had been scaled up to industrial levels: in other words, a dystopian warning against allowing such activities to happen.
You see, "Day 4" starts with some bus bombings that are the sort of things real terrorists could do given reasonable levels of access and munitions and dedication -- none of which actually exists in anything like critical quantities in the U.S. (Cf. the ineptness of the Times Square Car Bomb or the Underpants Bomber, or the small scale of the Fort Hood shootings.) Then they veer off into fantasy, but the key thing to realize is that every major threat in 24 is made possible by the U.S. military-industrial-security complex and/or its kin elsewhere -- especially 24's favorite target, Russia. Terrorists may love the idea of shooting down Air Force 1, but in 24 it's accomplished by an American mercenary who manages to take a USAF fighter out for a "test flight." This only gets more explicit over the next few series, especially in season 7 where Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight) and his industrial partners have thoroughly infiltrated the government and are actively orchestrating something more like guerrilla warfare than mere terrorism.
Season/Day 8 ended last night in a rather pathetic whimper, but at least the season was relatively free of the familial schmaltz and bureaucratic in-fighting that had routinely substituted for ideas (and action) in the past. That left us with more action, and the action was often impressive -- especially Jack Bauer's pickup of Meredith Reed in a crowd of Russian agents, even more so Bauer's assault on Charles Logan's motorcade, but one can also cite a few notable murders, as when Dana Walsh disposed of Bill Prady (the Arkansas parole officer) and more importantly the season's most annoying subplot, or when Renee Walker ended her affair with Vladimir Laitanan.
However, they missed a few critical turns, mostly because the writers hate Jack Bauer and have been trying to dehumanize him -- death being proscribed by the business plan -- at least since his fake death in Season 4. President Dipshit (as she's been known in these parts ever since she pompously plotted her "humanitarian war" in Africa in Season 7) had a plot-turning personal meeting with Bauer where she could have said: Logan's come to me to mediate with the Russians to keep them tied up in the peace deal, but Logan insists that I lock you down; we know the Russians are guilty in this, and I don't trust Logan for a moment, but I need to keep this quiet until the peace deal is signed, otherwise we're giving in to subversion and terrorism; so what I need is for you, Jack Bauer, to go rogue and investigate this and report back only to me. They might have worked out some details for faking the lock down, turning Bauer loose, and giving him limited support away from Jason Pillar's purview, and she might have gone further and gave him one of those immunity agreements they pass out like candy -- in effect, she could have given him a legit license to kill, justifying it because she couldn't have known who else could be trusted. Instead, she placed her fate in Logan's hands, and we then saw Logan tighten the screws one by one until she broke. But why makes no sense: Logan seems to be driven by nothing more than vanity, and Pillar, who at first looms like the agent of a vast conspiracy fronted by Logan -- don't forget, he's done that before -- ultimately appears as nothing more than an ass-kisser. Bringing in Suvarov raises the stakes, but strains credulity: why is Russia so dead set on scuttling a peace deal ostensibly between the U.S. and I.R.K., when the real Russia is perfectly satisfied to feign neutrality in such matters (e.g., U.S./Iran)? And how (let alone why) was Suvarov the one who decided to kill Renee Walker, when we saw Pavel Tokarev propose the killing to a rather indifferent Mikhail Novakovich?
While I'm relieved that Bauer didn't assassinate Suvarov, which would have created an international embarrassment if not a cassus belli for Armageddon, I'm disappointed that he backed off from a much more interesting opportunity: he could have shot Logan in Suvarov's presence. Doing so would have punished the guilty party -- Bauer had direct evidence that Logan had been in communication with Tokarev, whereas he only had Logan's word that Suvarov was responsible. And it would have made an indelible impression on Suvarov, underscoring both that he was vulnerable to Bauer and had been reprieved -- as Bauer likes to say, "if I'd wanted you dead you'd be dead already." Moreover, it would have saved us Logan's murder of Pillar and botched suicide attempt -- how'd he manage that? -- not to mention Chloe O'Brien shooting Bauer and all that.
The whole Peace Agreement is splattered with incredulity: as to the size and importance of the deal, as to its international participation (especially the critical role of Russia). And what does it mean when Dipshit backs out of the deal? Bauer's line that you can't have peace based on lies is ass backwards: you start with peace, then build trust and openness on top of it. Dipshit's moral nadir was the moment she used nuclear blackmail on I.R.K.'s Dalia Hassan to force her to sign the treaty: given that such a threat could endlessly be reiterated, this shows you what kind of "partner for peace" Dipshit, and the U.S., really is. If the Peace Agreement was fundamentally just, the only step forward would have been to sign it, even if that was for some or all parties just a matter of appearances.
Jack Bauer has had a powerful death wish for the last few years, so powerful in the last few hours that only the prospects of a movie deal kept him breathing. He dives into one suicide mission after another, gets stabbed -- twice if memory serves -- and shot by Chloe O'Brien as a way of wheedling out of getting shot by someone serious (or, more likely, him shooting a bunch of U.S. agents). Incapacitating Bauer for the last half-hour took all the remaining air out of the show. That left the ending to President Dipshit, whose warped sense of morality left her with only one way to take responsibility -- quit and go to jail with her estranged daughter -- an act so selfish that she insisted that Bauer submit to punishment as well. Again, she could have used to moment to make amends to Bauer by pardoning him, and Bauer was hardly the only one she owed something to -- debts that she would never be able to pay once she was locked away in jail. She talked a lot about peace, but didn't practice it or believe in it. She was all pompous poise, and too dimwitted to see anyone or anything around her.
The first few series I came to hate the real time format. In real life things happen more slowly, and it takes time to sort out reactions and consequences. But by constraining the story to the present, they never even ventured suggestions as to where such terror and corruption came from, or what anyone might have learned from the events. What we got instead was a series of slasher videos wrapped up in a blanket of cynical but otherwise confused politics. It was horrible, and sometimes fun, the latter only because it was sheer fantasy.
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