Give me the jelly donut OR I WILL KILL YOUR FAMILY!!!

A note on 24, which I’m watching religiously this year, although I haven’t yet watched this week’s two episodes (so no spoiling them, you bunch of lubbers!). While the various plots and schemes Jack is working to thwart are entertaining as always, it seems to me that this year’s theme deals with the nature of the kind of work Jack Bauer does.

Everyone who has watched the show knows that Jack occasionally does things that are morally questionable in the name of getting an upper hand on the bad guys. He tortures. He threatens family members. He threatens good guys at gunpoint. Jack does a lot of frankly awful things, always under the belief that the end justifies the means. There are no rules he won’t break in order to save lives. This year, the show is grappling with this aspect of Jack’s character by contrasting him with FBI Agent Renee Walker, who is his strong ally this year but constantly finds herself blanching at the things he has her do, and some things she does on her own.

Agent Walker does the same horrible things, but she feels horrible doing them, and more than that, she is increasingly appalled at Jack’s ability to not be affected by the things he does. No matter what they do, Jack is able to brush it off in his constant desire to move on to the next part of the mission, and when Agent Walker breaks down in his arms sobbing after their actions have caused the death of a young woman who one hour before had no idea what she was involved with, the only wisdom he can offer is “You learn to live with it.” The show seems to be admitting that Jack is doing things that are wrong, but is also contending that sometimes you have to do something wrong to prevent something even worse from happening. Call this what you will: Lesser of two evils. Ends justify the means. You have to break eggs to make omelettes.

While it interests me that the show is addressing this stuff, I don’t think it’s doing so completely honestly. It would be easy for them to show Jack going too far, wouldn’t it? Sometimes I wonder if they’re not suggesting that, but pulling back slightly. Take Dubaku’s girlfriend, for example. Jack and Agent Walker put that girl in a terribly dangerous position, and her position became even more perilous when something unforeseen happened to take Jack and Walker out of the equation for a moment and into a place where they couldn’t protect her. If the show really wanted to unflinchingly look at the implications of Jack’s actions, they might have had Dubaku kill the girl before attempting escape; then we’d have to wonder if Jack really did the right thing or not. Instead, they had the girl attack Dubaku’s driver while in mid-high speed chase, thus causing the crash that results in Dubaku’s capture but also results in her death. That girl died a hero.

That leads to my main complaint: all of Jack’s dark actions are portrayed as working out the way he needs them to, and that’s terribly unrealistic, isn’t it? Not that I’m expecting realism from 24, but if they really want to explore the darker nature of Jack’s work, then they need to confront the awful reality that sometimes Jack is going to go too far, and worse, that sometimes his actions aren’t going to work out. Take torture, for example: when Jack tortures, it always works! When he threatens a villain’s family, it always works! Jack’s “extreme interrogations” invariably result in him getting the information he wants. Nobody ever stonewalls him. Nobody ever feeds him a bullshit story in an attempt to buy time. Nobody ever looks at Jack as he threatens to blow up their home planet if they don’t tell him the location of the Rebel Base and tells him that they’re on Dantooine when they’re actually on Yavin IV.

How effective would that be, anyway? Wouldn’t that be an incredibly gripping tale? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Jack’s techniques failing him and seeing the bad guys gain the upper hand on him that way? I wonder if we’ll ever see this happen? In any event, it seems to me that the producers are saying this year: “Sure, Jack does bad things, but hey, he’s got to and they always work so it’s all good.” I find that less than satisfying, morally and dramatically.

Share This Post

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Give me the jelly donut OR I WILL KILL YOUR FAMILY!!!

  1. JPDeni says:

    Very good points.

    I don’t expect realism from television either, but some seem to. I’m on a politics discussion list where the subject of torture has come up a number of times. There are those in favor of it and they fall just a millimeter short of saying “If it’s okay for Jack Bauer, it’s okay for the US government.” There are hints along those lines, though.

    I would love to see it not work, just once. There are always several points in a “day” of 24 when you think “He’s got it all finished. What are they going to do for the rest of the season?” That would be a perfect point for a “the torture didn’t work” moment.

    WV: actorb: the one who takes over when actora quits.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “Nobody ever looks at Jack as he threatens to blow up their home planet if they don’t tell him the location of the Rebel Base and tells him that they’re on Dantooine when they’re actually on Yavin IV.”

    You know, it just occurs to me… what would Leia have done if Tarkin said, “okay, Dantooine it is, set course and prepare the prime weapon to blow away the planet as soon as we come out of lightspeed.” There’s a nice moral quandry… she’s saved her beloved Alderaan at the sacrifice of another totally innocent world.

    I suppose we can infer that Dantooine is uninhabited, so she was gambling Tarkin would take the bait and spare her homeworld, but still, what did poor Dantooine ever do to anybody?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t watched 24 in several years so I could be all wrong about this but my guess is that they’re not exploring anything. They just want to have Jack do all this really bad stuff because it’s fun but they realize there’s a moral problem with it so they throw in a little angst or soul searching or something like that to sort of soothe more sensitive viewers (not that there actually are any)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Or… not to “soothe more sensitive viewers”. That wasn’t a good way to word that. Just, I guess, to make it look like they (the writers) aren’t totally amoral. Or something.

  5. Roger Owen Green says:

    It was the amoral nature of 24 – second season, first episode most notably, that just sent me off the show. Ends justifies means. And my gut tells me that Jack Bauer has become the blueprint for some folks, though, of course, that’s secret stuff and unprovable.

Comments are closed.