I’ve teased my wife all season for the enjoyment she gets out of watching this final season of 24. For a variety of reasons, we’ve been behind on our TV watching for awhile now, which means we look at the DVR and decide what to watch first. If I’m the one who is choosing, I always go with Treme. After that, I tend to pick shows that have buzz … I don’t like Lost more than other shows, but if I don’t keep up, I’ll end up reading spoilers, and I hate spoilers. If Robin is choosing … well, she has several shows she watches but I don’t, but we’re talking about the ones we watch together. And she is always ready to watch 24. Last night was a good example. We got home from dinner around 8:30, watched Treme, and then I assumed we were done for the night. But no, she wanted to watch 24 before bed.
Well, I suppose I owe her an apology. I think it’s been a largely forgettable season, as have been most of them the past few years. I hated what they did with Katee Sackhoff’s character, even if she was redeemed near the end when she went psycho. But with the end of the series upon us, we are finally offered the logical conclusion of the story of Jack Bauer. He’s always been on the edge, he’s always been willing to do “whatever it takes,” but in the last several episodes, he has gone over the top (and yes, I realize he does this every season, but this is the pièce de résistance). And it’s very entertaining.
Jack is taking people out like he’s target shooting at a carnival. On a show where torture is a given, and where some of the torture scenes have gone far beyond what you’d expect from a non-cable series, Jack gave us arguably the most brutal and discomforting torture session in the show’s history. It wasn’t just the things he was doing (although that was bad enough … when he realized the bad guy had swallowed the data card from his cell phone, and that the data card had vital information, and he grabbed his knife and looked at the bad guy’s stomach … well, we knew what was coming), but the pleasure he’s taking from it. In revenge mode, Jack no longer justifies his actions on a moral ground … he gets information any way he can, and then he kills the informant.
Meanwhile, the usual pace of 24, where everyone runs around like a chicken with their head cut off, is amped up beyond the usual, as if, knowing the show was about to end, they just decided to empty all their splooge in a final gigantic orgasm. It’s like at the end of a fireworks show, when they blow up anything that’s remaining just to get it over with. It makes no sense, it leaves you feeling a bit dirty, but there is no question these are adrenaline-filled episodes.
The politics of the show are no better than in the past. I once wrote an essay titled “Can a Leftist Love 24?” where my conclusion side-stepped the original question to a certain extent. But I (accurately, I think) identified misgivings from leftist fans about the political underpinnings of the show. This final season offers even more reason for misgivings, which is why I was startled to read a few weeks ago that some conservative viewers think 24 has veered sharply to the left, and the key to this is President Allison Taylor. In Season 7, Taylor was presented as a female version of the most beloved President on 24, David Palmer. She was a strong, decisive leader, willing to make the tough choices but also able to see the human side of each equation. And just as some have argued that Palmer’s fictional presence helped set the stage for a real-life African-American president, some thought perhaps Taylor would be the kind of popular trend-setter that would open people’s eyes to the possibilities of a female president.
But in Season 8, Taylor only looks good next to Charles Logan, the delightfully despicable former President. Taylor is obsessed with a peace treaty (a nice liberal cause), so obsessed, it turns out, that she “does what it takes” to get it done. The problem here is that “what it takes” involves the kind of covert maneuverings that remove Taylor’s sheen of moral superiority, replacing it with an odd insecurity that leads her to make bad decisions. Her decisiveness becomes a detriment to world security, making her not inept but dangerous. Cherry Jones plays Taylor as ethically divided … like a good liberal, she worries about doing the right thing … but her actions are inevitably in the wrong direction. Next to her, Gregory Itzin’s hilarious and devious Logan at least seems single-minded in his efforts … he’s not ethically divided because he has no ethics, he’s just out for himself. The viewer wishes nothing more than that David Palmer could come back to life and save the country. How Taylor’s wrong-headed fumbling could be seen as a positive portrayal of liberal politics is beyond me.
Ultimately, these last episodes suggest that 24 would have been better if it only lasted two seasons. The first season established the premise and gave us a classic TV character in Jack Bauer; the last season finally allows Bauer to fall off the cliff. As long as another season was on the horizon, that cliff was bogus, because Jack always had to return. Now, all proverbial bets are off, and the payoff is tremendous. First season necessary, last season necessary. All those other seasons are just pretty girls getting caught in cougar traps.