A Holistic View of 24 (With Major Spoilers)
I settled down yesterday to watch the entire third season of 24 (minus the
first and 18th episodes, becaues I missed them for some reason and
BitTorrent was predicting I was going to be able to finish getting them
sometime after Bush gets kicked out of office).
As I watched it, I found myself annoyed by what I was seeing. In the
beginning, it was the points of absurdity -- I even wrote a "things I learned
while watching 24" list (enclosed below). But the more I watched it, the
more revolted I was, and the more it made me to recoil away from my TV.
This is because I found the behavior of the main protagonists so grossly
offensive, and so reminiscent of the things that trouble me about our
Forgive the spoilers (or, you know, don't read this):
We've got the main CTU protagonists -- Gael, Jack, and Tony -- conspiring
to do a renegade mission to recover a vial of some really nasty virus.
Since it's so bad, it's perfectly OK for them to do this mission without
getting any sort of approval from anyone else. There's some grumbling from
the POTUS about this, but it's clear they're not going to be punished for
There's the situation where Bauer creates a prison riot to bust out Ramon
Salazar, at the cost of several guards' lives.
We've got, again and again, a complete disregard for the basic structure
and controls of an intelligence agency in favor of cowboy action and
deception practiced against anyone who'd stand in the way, even if they're
allies. So ... basically, the cowboys engage in massively illegal action
to recover some WMD.
Even Palmer, traditionally the squeaky-clean POTUS, ends up being
incredibly dirty eventually.
So yeah, it was really bothering me.
And then, at around 4am, it finally hit me.
What if Joel Surnow (Exec Producer of 24) is just really, really brilliant?
What if what we've been seeing over the last three seasons of 24 is
actually a brillian story arc, a-la Babylon 5, about how the best
intentions in the world and the smallest moral compromises can cause us to
serve the causes of the Shadows?
Anyone watching the three seasons of 24 would notice that in some respects,
they feel repetitive. In general, they are:
1. Massive terrorist threat;
2. People have to engage in a whole bunch of unsavory action to protect
against the threat;
3. People have to engage in a whole bunch of unsavory action to protect
their loved ones from physical or political damage;
4. Kim gets kidnapped;
5. Kim takes a shower [OPTIONAL]
Yes, they're repetitive. But each time, Surnow's been ratcheting up the
volume on the moral decisions, and each time they've become less and less
easy for us to accept. It's a road into hell, and Surnow's set it up so in
hindsight, we can't help but look at the road we've travelled and say "yes,
it makes sense, every decision we've made led to this."
In season 3, Bauer murders (yes, the word is appropriate there) a senior
CTU agent -- Ryan Chappelle -- because a terrorist requires it. It's a
heinous act, and despite the fact they set up Chappelle to be a total dick,
to me it was still devastating.
Remember, though -- in season 1, he DOES THE EXACTLY IDENTICAL THING with
Nina, for similar reasons, though in that case he actually manages to save
her (which, err, was somewhat unfortunate all things told).
In season 3, Almeida disregards a most heinous threat to his country's
safety and lets a terrorist that has the credible means to kill millions of
people loose, because his wife is in danger.
Sounds familiar? In season 1, Bauer let terrorists run free because they
had his wife (or his daughter; or his wife and daughter sometimes).
In season 3, Palmer ends up paying Fox -- the same person he spurned in the
first season -- to take care of some damning evidence. In season 1, he was
covering up for his son's potential involvement in the killing of his
daughter's rapist, but didn't actually stoop down to using Fox.
And of course, toward the end of the season, we see our hero -- once Bauer,
then Palmer -- lose his wife, the mother of his child[ren].
In all of these cases, we saw actions -- fairly benign actions -- take
place during the first season, then saw them magnified throughout the
second season (where Palmer, for example, kidnaps a journalist and Jack
murders a man -- though a bad man -- in cold blood, and then saw them give
fruit, give birth to the decisions throughout the third season that leave
our characters seemingly unredeemable. Jack caused, directly, the death of
many innocent Americans throughout S3. He executed Chappelle in cold
blood. Palmer, through the chain of events surrounding Wayne, his chief of
staff, ends up having partial responsibility for the death of three people,
only one of whom deserved to die (well, maybe none. Depends on what you
think about Sherri :) ). Wayne, skiring legal, ethical, and moral rules in
trying to help his brother in whatever way possible, ends up being involved
in the death of the woman he loved. Tony, doing something very similar to
what Jack did in season 1, ends up putting millions of lives at risks and
hopefully going to jail for a very long time.
So what if we can't just take season 3 and compare it to season 2 or season
1? What if the whole point here is to see our heroes reduced through their
own minor faults to pale ruins of the Gods they were in season 1? What if
Surnow's telling us the story of how the Shadows are taking over the
government, with government employees believing they're doing the right
thing, believing that any action is appropriate in the pursuit of national
interests, believing that ethics, morality, and even legality are secondary
to doing what they believe needs to be done? What if he's telling us how
we're going to hell?
Wouldn't that be a kicker?
Here are some of the more amusing things I learned while watching this
Things I learned by watching the third season of 24:
1. Nepotism's no big deal. That's why it makes sense to have your daughter
work for you, for two of her coworkers to be married, and for her to date
another person who works for you. Corrollary 1: It makes perfect sense for
you to intentionally, explicitly, and flagarantly keep your daughter's SO
out of harm's way, and there's no disciplinary measure you need fear due to
this. Corrollary 2: If your daughter works for you, it's best if she
refers to you as "my dad," or "dad" when talking to her coworkes so they
can remember she's special. That's not going to cause discipline or morale
problems; Corrollary 3: It makes perfect sense for your closest political
advisers to be related to you by blood. That won't cause any problems AT
2. As always, the best thing to do is to send your very highest-level
operatives into the field;
3. In a mall crawling with cops and security personnel with a clear target,
someone can still be 10ft away from the target, take out a handgun, shoot
someone, and then dissapear without a trace;
4. Every office needs one good insensitive whiner who thinks it's all about
5. Every confrontation between the bad guy and a good person with the good
person holding a gun on the bad guy and the bad guy having no leverage
where the bad guy is taunting the good person and daring them to shoot will
end up with, at minimum, the bad guy making it out alive and unharmed;
6. Cell phone reception in Los Angeles is universal with no weak spots
whatsoever, even inside garages;
7. Every young, attractive woman who works at a law-enforcement agency
wears low-cut clothing;
8. A man smart enough to win the US Presidency is, in fact, thoroughly
incapable of judging the trustworthiness of his closest advisers. Even
after having been screwed by them once. Even after having been screwed by
them twice. OK, maybe I can give them that one, but Palmer's not a Texan!
9. Bureau of Prisons has bought into the PC tablet concept BIG;
10. The ends _do_ justify the means. No matter how heinous the means;
11. Got a deadly terrorist threat? Are there hundreds of thousands of lives
threatened? Perhaps now would be a good time to pause and have a
good relationship conversation. Please don't rush Kim -- when you rush
Kim, she feels like you're devaluing her feelings;
12. The daughter of a renegade officer helped him violate protocol and
start a deadly riot? Because she was his daughter? Well, heck, poor girl --
lets cut her some slack and keep her at her post. Because, after all, what
are the chances she'll screw up AGAIN? [side-note: Is there ANYONE in CTU
we can like and respect? Because so far, I'm coming up short]
13. Running a time-critical agency with thousands of lives at stake? Make
sure your network infrastructure isn't redundant because hey -- we can
afford large LCDs, G5s, and tiBooks for everyone, but redundant networks? What,
are you nuts?
14. civilian authority helicopters have sensors that are capable of knowing
when someone locks onto their heat signature (in other words, they're
capable of sensing passive sensors. Cute);
15. We really need to neuter all our government personnel. Whenever
their libido, emotions, or feelings get in the way, people die;
16. It's perfectly reasonable to screw the chain of command and go rogue if
your goals are righteous;
17. If your network is completely screwed up and unusable, your VoIP phones
will still be perfectly serviceable (yes, they could have put the phones on
a different network. I know. They didn't establish that);
18. In a highly-sensitive security-driven agency, if the person who most
knows your IT systems is found out to be a malicious mole, there's no
reason to audit your systems as soon as possible;
19. A heroin addict who hasn't gotten his fix in three hours will suffer
horrible withdrawl symptoms. Good thing is that six hours later he'll be
perfectly fine and cured of his addiction.
20. Who the FUCK puts their kid in an active, put-your-life-on-the-line,
counter-terror agency so they can keep them safe? What's next, sending your
son to a whorehouse to keep him a virgin?
21. Your guy lets a terrorist threatening the lives of millions of people
loose because his wife's in danger? Eh, no big deal. I mean, come on!
22. GPS receivers work perfectly well underground with no line of sight to
23. If an officer falls in the line of duty, it makes sense to leave his
widow to collect his things from a high-security environment with lax
enough supervision to allow her to pick up his sidearm;
24. If you're carrying an automatic knife, it's best to store it in your
pocket in the open position, because otherwise you'll have to press the
button between the time you take it out of your pocket and the time you
stab someone which could take, like centiseconds!