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11/21/2008
JACK BAUER: ‘REDEMPTION’? OR DESCENT INTO SILLINESS?
CATEGORY: "24"


Jack is back in a two hour Season 7 preview this Sunday on Fox at 8 EST.

On one level, the question asked in the hed is on every 24 fan’s lips: Can the show come back and return to its former high level of excellence? Always technically flawless, there is universal agreement that Season 6 last year failed on numerous levels; the hackneyed and stale plot, stilted and stupid dialogue, not believable supporting characters, and a general feeling of aimlessness that the producers and writers claimed afterwards was the result of them getting to mid season and not knowing where to take the show.

So the question of whether the show has run its course or whether it has one more slam bang, shoot ‘em up, edge of your seat, thrill a minute year left in it is definitely an open one. This is true especially for those of us who saw 24 as if not a “conservative” show then certainly one of the few TV dramas with an unabashedly pro-American viewpoint on the war on terror. Despite all the opposition Jack got from the politicians and the bureaucracy, there was no mistaking who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. And the bad guys were really bad - especially the American collaborators.

Unlike other political shows like West Wing, a self consciously liberal show that had one dimensional characters and an unrealistic view of Washington, 24 has been enjoyed by both liberals and conservatives for mostly different reasons. It has been called “The guilty pleasure of the political class” because of its 14 million viewers, a large segment of the Washington establishment watches the show religiously. Conservaties love the fact that, with a few glaring exceptions, the show has been true to who we are fighting and why. Liberals love it because it portrays moral choices in nuanced ways - not everything is black and white. This is especially true regarding the issue of torture as 24 may be the only TV show in history that stands accused of encouraging our men to abuse prisoners.

I have written that Jack Bauer is something of a goon, programmed for violence and whose methods epitomize the ends-means motif. Even the early years of the show when Jack’s motivations were built on love of country and devotion to duty, the character routinely stepped over the line. Not just in his use of torture but also his refusal to play bureaucratic games. There were times when Jack was as much at war with the national security bureaucracy as he was with terrorists. The lone hero fighting nature (the government) as well as the enemy has been a powerful theme in our myth making since our founding. Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Davey Crockett, and the legendary lawmen of the frontier such as Wyatt Earp and Bill Hitchcock all to one degree or another have been portrayed as heroes who lived life according to their own set of moral precepts and beholden to no one.

And what of Jack Bauer, a modern American hero whose persona, perhaps more than any other cultural indicator, has reflected the changing attitudes in America toward the war, the Bush Administration, and our role in the world.

It really has been a unique experience watching the show these last 7 years. From the first season, which began in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to the uncertain and conflicted season 6 that saw a public soured on Iraq, moody and unsatisfied with the direction of the country, there is no show on television, no other comparable yardstick that we can measure how we have changed as a nation. There was a gradual, almost imperceptible change of focus as the fight with international terrorism went from a straight up clash between good and evil to now a muddled panorama where the good guys are fighting their own government as much as they are battling the real foe.

There have been complaints in recent years also of a more PC-outlook on the war. I think this is overblown somewhat but there is no denying that the focus has moved from Islamic terrorists to others who could be Islamists (Chechens) and most especially, their American collaborators that included Jack’s own family last year. This was a culmination of what I termed Jack’s “descent into darkness” as even his slavish devotion to duty took second place to his personal motives for revenge; against the Chinese for kidnapping and torturing him, against the murderers of the only friends he knew, and against a father who betrayed not only the country, but Jack both as a child and now as a grown up.

At the top I said that “redemption” had several levels of meaning. And perhaps the truest significance of the title for Sunday’s two hour preview of Season 7 is found in Jack Bauer’s personal journey.

I have spent a lot of time chronicling the development of the Bauer character over the years (See my contribution to this book Secrets of 24). Jack’s character has developed logically and independently from the changes wrought by our changing society. They reflect what has happened to him and those around him during the course of the show.

The first three seasons of the show, Bauer’s overwhelming devotion to duty and country made him an easy hero to like and admire. When he tortured someone, you were sure there was no other way to save millions of American lives. But as the years went on and he lost his wife, his family, his friends, and finally, losing his one connection to the world of the ordinary (his putative fiance Valerie), something happened to Bauer.

The devotion to duty was there but he began to see the people who were giving him orders to “get the job done” (kill,torture, to break the law) as an even bigger enemy. Now he was killing for revenge, for spite, to settle old scores. He had descended into a hellish nightmare of blood where his morally questionable decisions became not the actions of a hero but the coldly calculating brutality of a thug.

In short, he had become what he had been fighting against all those years. Inured to violence, it seemed at times that his only release would be a violent death - something he was willing to see happen on several occassions. He was, he believed, “irredeemable.” Hence, this upcoming TV movie preview of Season 7 may either give Bauer a new lease on life or, allow him the release he has so often craved these last few seasons.

The plot of the movie is simple. Jack is wanted for his testimony before Congress and, rather than play that game, he escapes to Africa where he hooks up with a former special forces colleague who has become a missionary in the fictional country of Sangala.

Jack is in Sangala working at a school run by Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle) a friend of Jack’s from when he was in Special Forces. This works out well, because when Juma’s henchman Col. Dubaku (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) comes looking for the kids it means Benton has a convenient stash of semi-automatic weapons on hand for Jack to play with. A well-choreographed and exciting firefight ensues, and Jack does his usual bang-up job of taking down the enemy, but in the end Juma’s men get the upper hand.

The Tables Are Turned: When Jack is captured by the bad guys, he ends up being subjected to torture (they want him to give up the whereabouts of the kiddos), and then we happily learn that he has at least one move in common with fellow TV badass Sayid Jarrah. Care to guess what that move might be?

The New President Rocks: Cherry Jones is perfect as new President Allison Taylor, a woman who is simultaneously warm and chilly. You get the sense that she’s a softie on one level and a very cool customer on another. The scenes where she meets with President Daniels (Powers Boothe) to finish up the transition between their two administrations positively crackle with tension and conflict.

Beware the Butterfly Effect: Jon Voight’s Jonas Hodges is going to be a brilliant villain. He has a downright evil gleam in his eye as he rearranges the globe in to his personal satisfaction, despite the fact that his self-interest ravages the health and happiness of millions of others. In addition to the children who are brainwashed and destroyed by Juma, there is one scene where a Sangalan woman essentially volunteers herself into sexual slavery if only State Department official Frank Tramell (Gil Bellows) will help her escape the country. Somehow that one scene illustrates the debasement of an entire nation, and it all leads back to Hodges.

I’m sure you can see the potential for both a huge success and unmitigated disaster as represented by this plot outline. Will Jack go all PC on us? I believe this to be a definite possibility because one of the show’s creators, conservative Joel Surnow, said goodbye to the production last April. It remains to be seen whether Howard Gordon - a great television man but with questionable politics - can keep the show from degenerating into a weepy, politically correct exposition on how bad the world is with America not making things any better.

However, if the show concentrates on “redeeming” Jack Bauer, there are also definite possibilities for an emotional and dramatic success. I still think the only ending possible is the death of Bauer - the only ending that would make sense given what has transpired in his life previously. But if he could face his end with the knowledge that the rivers of blood he has had to navigate these last years was but a prologue to his selfless demise, it may prove to be some of the most captivating drama in the history of the tube. Not relief at his own death but a simple act of giving - without remorse - would put a emotional coda on the series and send all of us fans away satisfied.

Is this too much to ask? Probably yes. But like you, I will be watching every minute and cheering Bauer on as he battles both the enemy and his own personal demons, willing him to win out in the end.

By: Rick Moran at 12:15 pm
6 Responses to “JACK BAUER: ‘REDEMPTION’? OR DESCENT INTO SILLINESS?”
  1. 1
    yaksha Said:
    12:30 pm 

    “there is universal agreement that Season 6 last year failed on numerous levels; the hackneyed and stale plot, stilted and stupid dialogue, not believable supporting characters, and a general feeling of aimlessness”

    Its funny, that is exactly how I would describe season 2. 24 is by far the worst ‘good’ TV I’ve ever seen. Everyone was telling me how good it was so I gave it a shot. It was so bad that I couldn’t believe people actually watched it, much less raved about it. I don’t know where the disconnect is, because I like the genre.

  2. 2
    P. Aaron Said:
    2:43 pm 

    I read Ludlum until Clancy came along. I was a democrat until reality crept in. I’ll like ‘24′ until it stops being good.

    We’ll see.

  3. 3
    Below The Beltway » Blog Archive » Redeeming Jack Bauer Pinged With:
    8:08 pm 

    [...] Moran, meanwhile, hopes that the show sticks with the theme that has held it together through six sometimes difficult to fathom seasons: [I]f the show concentrates on “redeeming” Jack Bauer, there are also definite possibilities for [...]

  4. 4
    busboy33 Said:
    2:07 am 

    I’ll have to watch the older seasons at some point . . . I hate jumping into a series like this right in the middle, and I could never watch 24 while The Shield was still running. Since it seems that F/X just dropped it, looks like its time to see what all the 24 hype has been about.

    I’m going to miss The Shield. Hopefully 24 can take some of the sting away.

  5. 5
    tjbbpgob Said:
    3:36 am 

    Who in the hell is Bill Hitchcock?

  6. 6
    ‘24: Redemption’ « My Thoughts Pinged With:
    10:01 am 

    [...] Instead of the usual show being presented in real time, the movie will be a “normal” show with time compression. Rick Moran has a write-up on his blog. [...]

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