One of the things I love about writing these 24 recaps is finding literary and historical parallels to the plot twists, especially those that mirror classical themes that have been used for many hundreds even thousands of years in western culture. Of course, the writers don’t consciously use the same plot devices used by Sophocles or Shakespeare. But the reason they don’t have to think about it is because many of the conflicts, the moral choices confronted by the characters, and even the characters themselves are so ingrained into our oral and literary traditions that it becomes second nature for any writer – even one who writes for a weekly TV drama – to use the threads of history and literature supplied by the masters.
Take last night’s episode, for instance. For some reason, the effort of Philip Bauer to save his son Graem from jail reminded me of Arthur Miller’s first successful Broadway play All My Sons. Miller himself used themes as old as drama itself; retribution, purification, and responsibility to your fellow man, themes he would explore even more boldly with his next play, the American classic Death of a Salesman.
But in All My Sons, Miller tells the story of a father whose overweening greed causes the company he runs to ship defective airplane parts to the army during World War II that results in the death of 21 pilots. The father convinces himself that what he did was right because he was building the business for his son and that he had a responsibility to the future of the family – even though he lied about his true involvement in the matter and covered up the fact that he had actually signed off on the shipment of the parts that he knew were going to get young men killed.
Returning home from the war, the son is unaware that his father let his business partner take the fall for what actually was his decision and he believes him when he says that he had no knowledge of the defective parts. As the play unfolds, we discover that the other son, a pilot who died during the war, actually committed suicide when he found out that his father was the one responsible for killing the 21 pilots. And the fiancee of the son who returned from the war (a powerful “messenger” character found in plays and literature from the Greeks through Chaucer) has the truth of what happened in the form of a letter from the dead son that, once revealed, causes an emotional upheaval that has the father finally being able to admit to himself that he is responsible for the deaths of the pilots.
The father talking about his dead son and the 21 pilots who perished as a result of his greed and pride:
“Sure, he was my son. But I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.”
The universality of these themes is what attracts us to drama in the first place. Yes we like to watch things blowing up and we love to experience the tension that builds as the clock ticks and Jack races to save the country. But on a deeper level, what engages our emotions are the classical themes that have made audiences think and react for more than 2,000 years.
Philip Bauer was faced with a dilemma (or so he thought); save his son Graem from prison by covering up his “incompetence.” Most of us have already guessed that Graem is involved in this plot up to his neck but Philip can’t even imagine the evil that Graem has perpetrated on the country and his own family by facilitating the sale of nukes to a terrorist as well as his efforts to kill his own brother. In this respect, Philip’s ignorance is reminiscent of the son who returned from the war convinced that his father was innocent. And while Graem doesn’t have the conscience or the moral fiber (we think) to face up and admit to himself how evil has actions have been, it is clear that there will come a time of reckoning where Jack confronts his brother not only for his involvement in this terrorist act but also for his sins committed last year as well.
Ironic convergence as Philip realizes too late he has a bad seed for a son, recognizing a singular responsibility to mankind, and what is shaping up to be a tragic and complex denouement to the relationship between Jack and his father all call to mind the best that drama has to offer. It’s why we watch the show and get so emotionally involved in the characters. And it is what keeps us coming back week after week to experience the universal themes that the show explores, always with a silent nod to the masters whose imprint on our culture and traditions can never be erased.
President Palmer continues his rather earnest and empty speech to the nation, upsetting Tom to no end because he thinks that the President isn’t facing reality. By reality, of course, Lennox means a Muslim round up and loosing Big Brother measures on American citizens.
Once again, we are treated to a dialogue on civil liberties and this time, the writers make absolutely no attempt to disguise their contempt for those who advocate an aggressive security posture:
TOM: The Constitution is wonderful, Karen, but back in the days of the Founding Fathers, the weapon at hand was a single shot musket. It took a half a minute to load and fire. Fayed just killed 12,000 people in less time without even taking aim. I love the Constitution. But I won’t be ducking behind it when the next nuke goes off.
KAREN: I’m a realist too, Tom. And I am willing to do what it takes to protect the country.
TOM: No, you’re not.
KAREN: But I’m looking a little farther down the road. These warrantless arrests and detention centers will cause irreparable damage to this country.
For the record, I would like to point out that here, as in every other civil liberties argument on the show so far, Karen has not offered one alternative action above and beyond what we assume would be normal peacetime procedures for law enforcement for either trying to track or catch the terrorists who are operating in our midst. All we get from her are platitudes and high falutin calls to honor the Constitution.
This raises some interesting questions that the show – and indeed the country itself – has failed to discuss. Are there any measures the civil liberties absolutists would endorse beyond what law enforcement is currently vouchsafed by law? If no “Patriot Act,” what then? Business as usual and a “so sorry” to the families of victims who might still be alive if measures were taken to protect the citizenry?
Obviously, Lennox’s draconian ideas about security are so broadly drawn, so cartoonish, as to be useless in this debate. But the question remains unanswered by those so vociferous in their opposition to anything and everything the government has done since 9/11 to make us safer: What would you do, if anything, to protect the people of the United States from getting killed by terrorists?
Lennox, meanwhile, has had it with Karen and plots her downfall.
At CTU, Nadia discovers that Homeland Security has flagged her because she is of Middle Eastern descent. In what I thought was a rather realistic conversation, Bill reminds Nadia that he told her at the outset that because of her background, she would be subject to unfair measures. He promises to do something about it after the crisis has passed.
Jack is really starting to party down with brother Graem, keeping a plastic bag over his dear brother’s face for nearly 6 minutes. It doesn’t surprise us that Graem is a wuss, that any physical discomfort or the threat of torture will make him spill the beans. When Jack threatens to give Graem more of the baggie treatment, the lickspittle breaks down and tells all.
Apparently, the company contracted with the Russians to decommission some small nukes and Graem didn’t vet one of the contractors thoroughly enough. The contractor – Mr. McCarthy, tooling around LA with his dizzy blond girlfriend looking for a scientist who can build a trigger for the other nukes – absconded with some of the nukes and sold them to Fayed. Jack’s father is staking out McCarthy’s office to apparently get the contractor to hide any involvement by Graem and the company in the stolen nuke caper. Anyway, that’s his story and he’s sticking to it. We know it’s a lie and that Graem knew full well that the nukes would end up in Fayed’s hands. What we don’t know yet is why. Is Graem just a greedy, amoral, slimeball or does he have another agenda at work?
Jack immediately calls CTU despite Graem’s protests that he’ll go to jail if it comes out that he was negligent. But Jack doesn’t tell Chloe (or Bill who calls later) that his father is trying to fix it so that Graem stays out of jail and that both men knew the nukes were stolen for 24 hours prior to the blast in Valencia. Disgusted, Jack takes Graem to McCarthy’s office to see if he can pick up any leads while telling Chloe to send two TAC teams to the area.
Meanwhile, McCarthy is having a devil of a time trying to find another scientist who can build a trigger that will set off the remaining nukes. To make matters worse, his stupid girlfriend is bored and wants to go to Vegas. Is she really that dumb or, as we are led to believe, does she only care about the money? And why does she remind me of a much older Kim Bauer? (Don’t go there.)
At the detention center, Walid continues to play secret agent under the admiring and not so watchful eyes of the FBI. His girlfriend, the President’s sister Sandra, is having a cow. She realizes the danger he is in but the FBI is adamant about using the businessman as an undercover operative in order to get information from what they believe is a terrorist cell in the detention center.
Back at CTU, Milo confronts Bill about how slow Nadia’s work output has gotten. Bill tells Milo about Nadia, who has been here since she was 2 years old, being flagged for her Middle Eastern origins. Of course Milo knows exactly what to do; he covers for Nadia with Morris (who has a pitch perfect sense of sarcasm and irony about everything) and then logs on to the computer using his own screen name and password so that Nadia doesn’t have to deal with the restrictions.
You know what this means, don’t you? If there is a mole at CTU this season, Nadia will almost certainly fill the bill. She’s perfect because 1) We like her; 2) She’s gorgeous; and 3) She’s such an obvious choice for the mole that we dismiss any chance of her being a traitor.
How’s that for logic?
When Bill calls Karen to get Nadia’s clearance reauthorized, Karen is shocked that a Muslim working in such a sensitive position would be flagged like this. She calls such security measures “The paranoid delusions of Tom Lennox” which very well might be true but seems a little harsh given what’s been happening recently. The mushroom cloud over Valencia can still be glimpsed if you look out the window.
And to make Lennox even more the villain, he has found a way to pressure Karen into resigning. Apparently when Bill was head of the Seattle office of CTU, they rounded up some of the usual Muslim suspects and detained them briefly before letting them go for lack of evidence. The problem for Bill is that Fayed was one of the detainees. The problem for Karen is that when she was at Homeland Security, she evidently made the file that contained that information disappear.
Lennox is a devious lout but he has a point of sorts. Can you imagine in the real world if the Washington Post got a hold of that information? Realizing that, Karen reluctantly agrees to resign.
The President is mightily displeased at Karen’s decision and tries to talk her out of it, saying that he needs opposing points of view. Karen responds that the President is his own best counsel. “You know what to do,” she tells him. She requests reassignment to CTU and the President agrees, approving her for military transport which means that we’ll see Karen again in a couple of hours.
At the detention center, Walid discovers that the inmates have been able to track what’s going on outside the fence because of a smuggled cell phone. Tasked by the FBI to steal the phone, Walid pulls a pretty nifty trick, feigning illness while falling against the inmate with the phone and taking it out of his pocket.
The idea that the FBI missed the phone in the first place is pretty farfetched. But where would Walid have developed his pick pocketing technique? Must be something they teach at Harvard Business School.
The Feds tell Walid to call a special number that allows Chloe to work some of her geek magic and download all the numbers called (and perhaps called into) the phone. This was the easy part. Now Walid has to return the phone to the owner before he discovers it’s gone. This apparently was something they didn’t teach at Harvard because as the seconds tick by and Chloe tries to decipher the encoded information, Walid doesn’t even attempt to return the item.
What’s worse, we discover that the phone has been used as a browser that accessed a radical jihadist website where the information about the additional nukes was in the open for all to see. Too busy spying on innocent Americans, the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, and the rest of our vaunted intelligence community missed the message that an inmate at a federal detention center knew exactly where to look.
But the real bad news is that we are informed that the men that Walid is spying on are not dedicated terrorists but simply, as Chloe so politically correctly informs us, “spectators” and, by inference, shouldn’t even be locked up.
Okay, I surrender. It is not a crime to read about killing a lot of Americans. It is not even a crime to talk about killing a lot of Americans. But what do we do with people who have demonstrated an interest in this sort of thing? According to the civil liberties absolutists, we can’t even keep track of them without getting a warrant. And no judge in America would issue one under those circumstances. Hence, potential terrorists are allowed to operate with impunity. Is this the price we pay for freedom? If those potential terrorists have 4 suitcase nukes ready to blow, I guess so. Better that tens of thousands of Americans die than people who have demonstrated an interest in facilitating that act be watched carefully.
This is an argument that has been glossed over by the civil liberties absolutists. They can never quite bring themselves to come out and state the obvious; it is better that thousands of people die or even that the US as we know it is destroyed rather than stretch the Constitution to keep track of people who may or may not be innocent but share an interest in seeing that happen.
In the end, Walid pays for his inability to sneak the phone back to the inmate and he is attacked and brutally beaten by detainees before the FBI can intervene.
Jack makes it to McCarthy’s office with Graem in tow and starts to search for clues. He discovers McCarthy has shredded a number of files in the past 24 hours which is suspicious but he fails to uncover any useful information. Just then, Jack hears someone entering the outer office. Handcuffing Graem so that he can’t escape, Jack investigates only to get cold cocked by one of the intruders. It is here that Jack’s father Philip (played by the impressive James Cromwell) enters the scene.
Although they haven’t seen each other in 9 years, Jack and his father skip the small talk and wade right into the issue at hand; namely, McCarthy, the nukes, and why he didn’t report them stolen the moment he found out. Philip’s explanation is plausible. He didn’t want Graem to go to jail, a sentiment Graem shares enthusiastically.
When Jack tells Philip that he’s going to call CTU to get the investigation going, his father pleads with him to hold off, only relenting when he sees how determined Jack is to get to the bottom of things:
PHILLIP: We’re talking about prison, Jack. He’s your brother.
JACK:Graem knew what he was doing was wrong. He was responsible for the nukes. He should have been more careful. And the second he knew they were stolen he should have reported it.
GRAEM: Oh you always do what you should Jack. What about when Dad needed you and you disappeared?
PHILIP: C’mon, Jack. Give us a chance to clean this up.
JACK: Dad, there are four more bombs out there. I cannot – I will not be responsible for thousands and thousands of lives just to protect the family.
GRAEM: Wrong. And I think your dead wife would agree.
JACK: (Lunging for his brother’s throat) Why you Son of a…
At this point, Philip relents and tells Jack to call CTU. And in a chilling transformation that reveals just how much of an amoral scumbag Graem truly is, the security men that came in with Philip, after a signal from Graem, suddenly pull guns on both the father and the brother.
McCarthy meanwhile discovers the name of someone who can build the nuclear triggers. And unless I was hearing things, he got the name of the scientist from one of Graem’s men. This means that Philip is probably their man and will be forced to accede to the terrorists demands to help them with the nukes or watch Jack die before his eyes.
Being led away, Philip sees the car that had the CTU TAC team full of bullet holes, the two men inside dead. He realizes this is Graem’s doing and asks in a plaintive voice “Good God! What have you done?” Graem’s chilling response was “They forced my hand. Call me when its done.”
And we are left hanging, wondering exactly what “it” means and whether Jack and Philip are headed for an emotional crisis. His father was willing to save his son Graem from jail. Will he be willing to save his other son who abandoned the family so many years ago?
The Grim Reaper took a brief respite from his vacation, just to keep his hand in, I’m sure. Two CTU agents taken out by Graem’s thugs.
CHLOEISM OF THE WEEK
Chloe better start getting more face time or this feature will cease to be relevant. In lieu of anything Chloe uttered, I thought Graem’s zinger directed at Jack about his dead beloved wife was particularly cruel.