Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Posts Occur in Real Time

So "24" is back in our lives now! Are you psyched? I am psyched. So psyched, in fact, that I watched a full 60% of last night's 2-hour premiere of "24: Live Another Day".

Jack. Is. Back. (#jackisback) 

I confess it, "24" was one of my favorite shows during the college/post-college years. Ever since some determined friends convinced me to start watching around Season 5, I had been hooked. When I signed up for Netflix in 2009, it was mainly so I could binge on the first few seasons and catch up for the final two.

Yeah, I realize that the show was sometimes kinda terrible, in several ways. In terms of quality, it was all over the place. Seasons 1 to 3 were great, season 4 got weird, and Season 6 was pretty widely considered to be an all-around disaster. And even at its best, the show was really good at making progressives squirm. Clandestine, questionably legal activities conducted by quasi-military intelligence agencies, torture of both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, just a real grab bag of Constitution-flouting by the people charged with defending the American way of life (including, one assumes, the principles of the U.S. Constitution.) You'd think all those things would have gotten the way of my enjoying the show, right?

Not in the slightest.

The contradictions between Jack Bauer's values and mine never bothered me all that much- in fact, I think they actually fueled my enjoyment of his escapades.

To an extent, I've always embraced contradiction- I have a Master's degree in peace studies, but I'm hooked on violent video games, for instance. And because escapism/suspension of disbelief has always been easy for me to achieve, I could never understand how someone shooting a gun at their classmates could possibly be blamed on a video game, since one was clearly fiction and the other was clearly reality. In the same way, I felt comfortable distancing myself from some of 24's more distasteful aspects while still enjoying it as entertainment. I suspect I wasn't alone in that feeling, and no amount of "Jack Bauer is a war criminal!" declarations from friends could convince me otherwise.

And the show had a deeper significance that added to its value, beyond simple entertainment. "24" came of age at a time when the security vs. liberty debate was just beginning to come back into our national dialogue in the post- 9/11 era, and the show was a near-perfect parable of the security state. Sure, sometimes (often) the actions of Jack Bauer or his colleagues at the virtually omnipotent Counter-Terrorist Unit represented an America I wasn't sure I wanted to live in. But my doubts were always assuaged because I, the viewer, knew who Jack was. For all his flaws, he always had the country's best interest at heart. Not only that, but Jack's character arc made the costs of his actions very clear: someone who works waist deep in blood and gore while playing fast and loose with the rule of law does not get away clean. The damage to his humanity became more and more apparent with each season, and in the end, Jack lost everything he had in pursuit of an ideal that even his patron, the U.S. government, had seemingly abandoned.

In a way, Jack Bauer was both the hero we needed and the hero we deserved- he did whatever had to be done, but the toll his career exacted on him was a warning to all of us about the toll we could expect to pay for our country's dangerous slide into ethical relativism and "ends justify means" philosophy. When Chloe O'Brien wrapped up the 8th season with the simple instructions: "Shut it down," it was about as good a closer as we could have hoped for. Chloe was the closest thing Jack had to a friend, and his one remaining ally. She helped him evade capture, yes, but she also cut his final tie to his once-powerful support system.

So when I got word that Jack was back, I was honestly a bit skeptical. How were they going to revive the series without damaging the effect of the 8th season's ending? Why does this add value to the "24" story?

Because JACK is BACK, obviously. 

And not only is he back, but he's back with a new conversation to start. Spoilers for the premiere ahead, I guess?

The opening is exactly what you'd expect (in a good way!): 4 years on, an aging Jack gets himself captured by a London-based CIA team led by Detective Rey Curtis and Sarah from "Chuck."  We soon discover that getting arrested was all part of the plan because The Legendary Jack Bauer does not make mistakes: he's there to bust out Chloe O'Brien. Chloe, who has apparently been both persecuted AND prosecuted by the US for her role in Jack's disappearance, has been reborn as a sort of punk-rock hacktivist. Chloe, despite her brilliance, was hapless enough to get bagged by the CIA and "enhanced interrogation"ed because of her association with English Julian Assange-Edward Snowden amalgam Adrian Cross.

Jack punches his way free, Bauers Chloe out of custody with the help of a guy with a rocket launcher, and then shows up to question Chloe's crew of hipster geniuses about one of their former members who is maybe/maybe not a terrorist (turns out he is.) Jack takes some time out of the ensuing battle of wits to lecture Chloe about her involvement in leaking classified DoD secrets to The Internet. Chloe counters that the only reason DoD classifies everything is because what they do is unlawful. Jack then deploys his signature "You're too smart to not see things my way" verbal judo, reminding Chloe that real people on the ground are dying because of the secrets she and her friends have exposed. 


Wow, how very relevant, I thought to myself, we've totally all been talking about this! See, the question raised by 24 is no longer "Is torture justified," because we figured out the answer a couple years ago and it was "no." The question is now "how much secrecy should we allow in the service of national security?" But something seemed...different. Gone was the feeling that meta-Jack was trying in good faith to start a conversation that needed to be had. Instead, I got the sense that Jack-as-father-figure was trying to tell Chloe, and by extension, the viewers, that the "Free Information Movement" is misguided and childish. That those of us who find ourselves ideologically aligned with the Edward Snowdens and Chelsea Mannings of the world, even a little bit, are putting the people who protect us at risk, and that's unacceptable.

I can't quite explain why the atmosphere seemed so different. Maybe it's because I have a hard time buying the idea that Jack, after all the suffering the security state has visited upon him, still wholeheartedly believes in it. Maybe it's because the scene had Kiefer Sutherland standing up and growling his lines while Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe) sat and looked sulky- the perfect parent-teenager dynamic. Maybe it's because I'm just way more skeptical of the establishment and their logic now than I was during the original series, after years spent watching our nation's leaders eschew the conversations that we needed to have in order to shore up their national security credentials. It seems like EVERYONE is a potential candidate for president these days, so no one can afford to look soft on terrorism. But it felt like the show knew the answer to the question it was asking and, like Jack, was trying to tell me I was too smart to see it any other way. Unlike Chloe, that kind of argument rarely convinces me.**

My faith shaken, I stuck around for a few more interstitial beeping clocks to see what would happen next. But around the time that Catelyn Stark was revealed as the season's mid-level villain, I decided I'd had enough for one night and would go read about post apocalyptic desert SCUBA divers before going to sleep.

Maybe I'll watch the rest of the season, maybe I won't. Reviews so far seem to be glowing, so maybe I'm wrong in my discomfort. But I'll certainly be relying on Hulu rather than carving time out of my Monday night for a show that is going to frustrate me without offering very much fodder for debate at my next happy hour. I can't imagine convincing too many of my friends that freedom of information should take a back seat to the efficacy of our security and intelligence services, and even if I could, I'm not sure it's an argument I want to make.

Michelle Fairley's great, though, huh? Nice to see her back in front of the camera after, well... you know.

**And that's another thing. Chloe's like, the poster child for how everyone Jack touches basically has their life ruined. One of the things I was most thrilled about at the end of season 8 was that she'd finally get to break free of Jack's mess and live her own life. Obviously, that was naive, because his mess followed her, but when we find her at the beginning of "LAD," she's at least fighting for something she believes in, and not because Jack told her to. If I do keep watching, it'll be at least partly out of a desire to see Chloe become Jack's equal, her philosophy serving as a refreshing counterpoint to his. Who knows, maybe that's naive too, she def-o wasn't standing up for herself too much in the first hour and 15 of the premiere.

Of course, she had just been tortured and probably didn't feel too good, so there's that. **


...you were always to be a dagger floating straight to their heart.

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