Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fox's 24 - My review of Season 7

I just finished watching this season's 24 on Fox. All things considered, I enjoyed this season. I haven't gotten to see all previous seasons. I saw 1 and 2, and I saw a few other seasons in there somewhere, though I'm not sure which they were. Some of them were really good. I'd rate this last one as good, too.

Before I get into what I liked, I just want to make perfectly clear. 24 is right-wing torture porn. The deranged right seems to think Jack Bauer is a real person and that his torture techniques really save lives. I want to ask those same people if they think "Alf" is a real "person." After all, Alf is also on TV.

This season, they did something interesting with that. They did an exploration of the whole notion of ends justifying the means. And they did it in a way that was dramatically consistent. Because Jack doesn't change his ways. Jack is Jack. It would be totally out of character for him NOT to be a right-wing torture porn poster boy. So the way they explore the notion is through other characters.

NOTE: Spoilers ahead.

The first character they explore this with is an FBI agent who in a way becomes Jack's protogee. She is a straight-arrow at the start, but as she watches Jack do what he does, she gradually starts to do some of the things he does. He has to really push her to do it at first, and she feels sick about it, but she does it, and apparently sees it get results. (Of course, this is contrary to the real-world experience of torture, which generally is useless at anything but getting the tortured person to tell you what you want to hear). But she never quite crosses the line that Jack has crossed. She feels badly about it and stops... until the end. More on that in a moment.

Jack's friend Tony is back from the dead in this. He seems to be on Jack's side the whole day, until it turns out at the end, he seems to be working for the big bad guys. He goes so far as to launch a biological warfare attack in a subway that would kill thousands, all to get in with the big honcho. But in the end, Jack finds out that he has no interest in anything except killing the Honcho for his having killed Tony's wife several seasons earlier. Tony is the ultimate ends-justify-the-means character. He fully believes that it was ok to sacrifice thousands to get to this guy. He is motivated by revenge, and yet really, he is just an even more extreme version of Jack - willing to break the law and kill people to get a "greater good" - taking out the man behind so many of the bad things on earlier seasons of 24.

At the end, Jack stops Tony from killing the Honcho. He is taken into custody and you see the Honcho "lawyer up." (Despite the fact that he was caught in the middle of a shootout with the FBI, meaning he'd rot in prison for the rest of his life, the show makes it seem like he'll get off somehow). The FBI agent has one last talk with Jack. He tells her he regrets nothing, but that also he has lost a lot. He asks her to consider that. I wish I had the exact conversation, but I can't recall it now.

Then Jack goes off to die. The FBI agent takes the Honcho and is going to question him. And when it seems like he is not going to cooperate, she pulls a gun on another agent (played by Jeanine Garofoalo - quite humorous that she is in this, btw, given her political views - which the character does stay true to, in that her agent refuses to violate the law) - anyway, Jack's understudy pulls a gun and then handcuffs the other agent and goes into the room - and that's the last you see of her in the show. It is clear she's gone over the line, the same as Jack. She's sacrficing her career, everything. She's gone to the dark side. Watching it, you get the sense that the cycle is just continuing - that Jack's immorality is spreading like a rot. That what spread to Tony has now infected her. At least that is the sense I got. Maybe that is just my take on it. I'm sure the right-wing zealots who worship Jack won't see it that way. They'll try and make some distinction between her and Jack and Tony. But really, I think the writers are cleverer than that. Tony really is just what Jack is heading toward becoming. Jack, in a way, senses this, and in the end, as he is about to die from the bioweapon, he asks for a Muslim Cleric who he ran into earlier in the day take what are essentially his last words. I'm sure the right-wing nuts went crazy about that - Jack going Muslim! Not that it was particularly muslim what he did, but there is certainly symbolism in it. Jack seems to be asking forgiveness for all the bad he has done.

So while I enjoyed the show as it was going - despite all the usual plot holes and ridiculousness, in the end, what I really enjoyed most was the comparison you see between the three different characters - Jack, the FBI woman, and Tony - and how they all were different versions of the same thing. It showed that once you crossed that line that Jack and Tony had crossed, it leads down a bad road - Jack makes some errors on that road that he finally sees are wrong - jumping to conclusions too quickly about an apparent muslim extremeist. Tony is clearly in the wrong. And then you see the basically decent (to begin with) FBI agent make more and more compromises with morality and the law until she finally crosses the line, where there is no going back, and she goes totally rogue. You know that can't end well for her.

What I get from that is that ultimately, that line into illegality can never be crossed - once you do, you are no different than Tony. You are part of the problem or will ultimately get there. Maybe that's just my wishful thinking, but I saw that in the show and I really liked that.

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