24’s Introspection

On 24, Kevin Drum remarks:

It’s turned into exactly the train wreck that I was afraid of when the season started.  Back when Jack Bauer merely tortured people as part of the script, that was one thing…  But this season Jack isn’t just spontaneously beating up on bad guys who know where the ticking time bombs are buried.  No.  This season Jack is beating up on the bad guys as part of a premeditated strategy and then talking about it endlessly.  And so is everyone else.  The writers are no longer content to merely suggest that (in their fictional universe) a bit of extralegal torture might sometimes be justified because it gets results.  They’re bound and determined to explicate it on screen every single time it happens and demand that we, the audience, actively approve of it.  This is not only depraved, it’s lousy storytelling too.  All the usual 24 preposterousness aside, it’s made the show cringe-inducing this season.

I am forced to agree with a lot of this. What’s been most remarkable about 24 this season is how little it’s adapted to reflect changing attitudes about the world we inhabit. Following 9/11 it was far more foregivable to produce a show — a fantasy — in which the United States is almost constantly fending off nefarious terrorist plots, but it seems that general anxiety no longer exists, I think primarily because we’ve been better able to gain perspective on the attacks. Our civilization is not under everpresent terrorist threat, and more importantly, I think there’s a better sense that terrorism does not result explicitly from “hatred of our freedoms” but from “hatred of our policies.” As such, the entire premise of the show just feels contrived — even more so than in the past — and any message the show may try to offer suffers for it.

That said, it still makes for pretty entertaining TV from time to time.


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