One Day at a Time: The New '24'
Fox Network Thriller's Season Begins
By: Jane Hudson - Jan 17, 2007
Regularly scheduled: Monday, 9-10
Starring Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer
I remember as a kid being taught 'duck and cover' as a response to possible (even inevitable) nuclear attack. Even up to the late 80's and the fall of the Berlin Wall, I still had dreams of the moment of detonation, and the sinking feeling that life as I knew it had come to an end. That paranoia, the Biblical Armageddon redux, haunted my generation. With the end of hostilities against the Soviets (I'm still not entirely relaxed about their potential for mischief) my dreams ceased, to be peopled by various archetypes of contemporary instability but none with the scathing implications of the former holocaust.
Not until the new season of '24', Fox's premiere drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as the dogged, be-numbed, brutal/brutalized and ever loyal black-ops agent of the United States government, has the memory of that primal fear been reconstituted. As Jack is released by the Chinese having been detained for two years after killing a Chinese diplomat in a raid, the season begins with multiple attacks on American cities by suicide bombers, and the securing of many Middle Eastern and other 'suspect' citizens in newly organized detention camps. The culture is pervaded by xenophobic anxieties, which occasionally lead to violence. In one such situation a family notices a neighboring man being taken into custody by FBI-type police (black glasses, bad suits, ear-pieces). The father of the 'Anglo' family rushes to the aid of the 'other', protesting his innocence and intervening as the son of the detainee has a violent reaction. We learn later, however, that although the father is innocent, in fact the son is connected to an active terrorist plot. So one never knows!
If you've watched '24' on a regular basis you know that the producers do not abide in any particular political camp. We are treated to betrayals within the government at the highest level (last season's President was in cahoots with Russian terrorists), seeming terrorists who should be bad guys, but are in a position to help our side as in the current situation where 'Asad', a past assassin, is now helping us locate 'Fayed' who is responsible for the current rash of attacks. There are moles within the CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) on occasion, and there is always a struggle on the part of the leadership to recognize the worth of Jack Bauer's unorthodox methods.
So far this season we have a crisis of confidence at the level of the President (Wayne Palmer, brother of slain President David Palmer) whose Special Advisor, Thomas Lenox, supported by a slightly doubting National Security Advisor, Karen Hayes, insists upon draconian measures in response to the terrorist acts. Unforgiving dragnets yield both innocent, and without a doubt, actively guilty parties.The survival of the Constitution as a guarantee of accountability is failing in the light of public hysteria and the repressive response by the government.
The fourth hour of the season premiere leads to a botched raid on the terrorist hideout where escaped detainee Numair is installing the triggering mechanism for a Russian-made suitcase nuke. Jack Bauer is on the other side of town. He has just shot Curtis Martin, CTU field agent who was about to kill Asad for crimes committed in Iraq against members of the US team. Asad was known to have beheaded two Americans at the time, and Curtis is unwilling to allow a pardon from the President to take effect. Curtis is down, and Jack is devastated at having shot his long time friend and compatriot. He speaks with the President by cell, and declares that he cannot work the case any longer. Just at that moment we see the mushroom cloud rise over LA, and we know the nightmare scenario has become a reality. Jack gazes at the sight with a mixture of despair, fury and exhaustion. Just the feelings we might have, at least in our fantasies. I suppose for real I'd be Â…I really can't even conjure it. At the tail of the episode we learn, in fact that there are four more nukes ready to blow, and we are left with faint hope when Jack declares that he's back on the job 'after seeing this."
There has been some flack about the nuclear image raising its ugly head right now, a kind of xenophobic manipulation by Rupert Murdock that some see as egregious. It is, of course, our worst fear, and so does play into the atmosphere of fear that has carried so much weight in our country since 9/11. At the same time, like all good serial stories, we are left on the edge of our seats waiting for the next move. Good showmanship, if not citizenship.
I wonder, though, how long the format of '24' will remain exciting. The cut up screen with multiple story lines moving simultaneously is now normalized. We've learned to think in multiplicities. The 'calamity Jane' ticking clock tension with the same interactions of President, administrators, technicians, terrorists and the goofy public may wear thin. I will be loyal for this season, as I also am to the OC (which has been rumored to be in its last hurrah) because I love the Story as a phenomenon, and these are still pretty good stories. As Bill Cosby used to say, "Scare me to death, man, scare me to death!"