||| 24: Parallel Stories Must Converge ||

Lawrence Russell

24: created & produced by Joel Surnow & Robert Cochrane | written by Surnow, Cochrane, Loceff, Gordon, Aubuchon, Grant, Cosin, Williams, Ehrman, Katz, Hurley, Johannessen, Newman, Hertzog, Cohen, Chernuchin, Kronish, Demetrius | directed by Hopkins, Kolbe, Spicer, Guggenheim, Cassar, Keller, Shapiro, Cassar, Whitmore, Charters, Toynton, Turner, Hooks

star: Kiefer Sutherland, Elisha Cuthbert, Dennis Haysbert, Sarah Clarke, Leslie Hope, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carlos Bernard, Xander Berkeley, Kate Warner, Dennis Hopper, Lou Diamond Philips, Reiko Aylesworth, et. al.



|| It's no coincidence that Jack Bauer's initials are the same as those of James Bond. Historically speaking, Bond was a projected fantasy of the near future, whereas Bauer is the blunt realization of the sordid present. The Bond dramas were dreams, products of the sleeping mind; the Bauer dramas are insomnia, the paranoid clippings of surveillance cameras. If Bond was Demerol for the Cold War and nuclear anxiety, then Bauer is an amphetamine fix for the Age of Terrorism.

Bond was a form of social control, a way of disguising reality as absurdism, a purge for the mind, a forgetting. Bauer is absolutely the reverse, a cardiac resuscitation, a preparation for the apocalypse. The psychic structure of 24 is concomitant to 911, a game model that interacts with the hyper voltaic transfer of information by TV, cell phone, computer and the occult senses twenty-four hours a day. Circadian rhythm is no longer a bio vibration of the planets and Nature, but rather a binary pulse as people are hard-wired into the electro-psycho megalopolis of the 21st century. Synaptic overload? Hallucinations? Better believe it. Welcome to the world of pro-active nihilism and moral relativism.

24: Season 1

parallel stories must converge

|| Midnight, Pacific Standard Time. Word comes from an operative in south Asia that an assassination attempt on Sen. David Palmer, the first black candidate for the Presidency of the United States and odds on favorite to win the California primary, will happen within the next 24 hours. CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) in Los Angeles is alerted, and the section chief, Agent Jack Bauer [Kiefer Sutherland] is called in to deal with the crisis. Perfect casting here: he's not pretty, he's not ugly, he's on the edgy side of generic... as if the sculptor left him slightly unfinished. He drives a domestic guzzler SUV and packs a couple of automatics... and cell phone which is connected to both heaven and hell. He's masculine, with a feminine declension: no son, just a wife and teenage daughter.

Very quickly you learn that Bauer's unit is compromised, that someone on the inside is working with the terrorists. Who can he trust? He shoots his immediate superior George Mason [Xander Berkeley] with a dart gun, because Mason denies him information, and when Mason revives, blackmails him, gets the information. Is this the guy to get the job done? Better believe it. Yet other actions are moving to thwart his determined modus operandi. Split screen, triple screen, quad screen, matte-box boogie, the P.I.P's insert the parallel actions in real time. A jumbo jet is blown out of the sky over the Mojave as it approaches LAX, the female terrorist using the bomb blast to bail the carnage, rendezvous with a rogue operative who has a media lab in a shack somewhere in the desert. Two metal punks kidnap his daughter Kimberly, and his wife Terri is snatched by a terrorist masquerading as a concerned parent.

Meanwhile Senator Palmer [Dennis Haysbert], the intended assassination victim, gets no sleep either because a female journalist is threatening to expose his son as a murderer. As he tries to figure out what to do, his retainers and wife plot and scheme with such smug deviousness the approaching assassin(s) might be the lesser of his problems. Bauer in parallel motion just shoots and hacks his way through the issues and problems as they happen. His lieutenants plot and scheme too, spy on one another through computer screens, surveillance monitors... channels between furniture, windows, fellow workers, bodies. The watchers are watching the watchers.

|| The paranoid gestalt of the CTU work deck is like the gloomy stone vault of a Renaissance court... yuppy workers troll corridors of light and shadow between flickering desk monitors and large suspended LCDs, hunting evil in the collective electronic mind, their own actions and motives often indistinguishable from those of the enemy. Sometimes the action is a montage of eyes, faces, silhouettes... you read expressions, ignore dialogue. Techno-gothic, crypto-fascist. Go-betweens shuttle back and forth between work-stations, offices, hotel rooms, malls, parking lots, wrecking yards, bunkers... yet, virtual or real, this is no courtly love convention. Like an executive secretary in love with her boss, Nina, Bauer's No.1, works the subterfuge of good and evil with psychic efficiency. Tony, No. 2, watches every move with the jealous obsession of a teenage hood in love with teacher. Yet the true chain of command always remains in doubt -- orders are routinely disobeyed or reinterpreted, agents killed, bosses reassigned.

The same is true in Senator Palmer's court. His wife Sherry [Penny Johnson Jerald] is as snake-bitten as Lady MacBeth, ruthless as Delila, indispensable as Cortez's mistress Marina... or Ms. Hilary Clinton. Intrigue replaces sex, power replaces orgasm. She gets tossed like the Comtesse du Barry, but returns for the Revolution. The truth within her character makes you squirm, forces you right of centre, then hard left of the abyss.

Bauer? Well, he has two balls, because as often as not, he's shooting with two automatics, German SIG-Sauers [occasionally S & W's, Glocks, assorted] tuned to his body and mind like cardiac implants. He's a familiar American ideal, an unblinking patriot who functions as an official outlaw, now incarnated as a cyber-punk for the new millennium. Perceived by his rivals as an unstable vigilante, and by those who love him as an indispensable fixer, he cuts through the bullshit and political disease like a radiation pellet. Licensed to kill (apparently), revenge is just a recursive metaphor for equalization.

Can you love him? Some say love is just an exchange of bodily fluids, and you suspect that Bauer is a man who has never been truly loved, quite possibly because of the schizoid nature of his profession... or perhaps he has his profession precisely because he is schizoid. His home life is dysfunctional (naturally) because love in the free market is a zero-sum game. Ironically, even though he keeps his wife and daughter close via cell phone, they, like everyone else in this drama, are always moving further apart.

Convergence and reconciliation are a false optic. Isolation & solipsism haunts every character. Terri Bauer [Leslie Hope] tries to re-engage, fails. Kim Bauer keeps trying to get back home, but when she does, there is no home. Sherry Palmer is expelled by her husband. Etc. The freneticism of the narrative is more than an action style prescribed by the producers to keep their itchy audience away from its remote control. The edit speed becomes a flag for a deeper seismology as it suggests a society disengaging from its social and moral axis. Behaviour is cyber-reactive rather than reasoned, although there's a lot of mathematical reasoning going on as the clock ticks. Dispute resolution is a 9 mm bullet.

|| Nina Meyers [Sarah Clarke]: a modo Lucrezia Borgia... or more likely a Gundrun Ensslin, (Baader-Mienhof gang a.k.a the RAF) who hung herself in a German prison, 1977. While Sherry Palmer is old school, Nina represents the death of the nuturing female, becomes a de facto feminist harridan of the post-gender world. There's no rhetoric, no ideology, only the transgender role. Sexual identity is merely a facade, a costume, like a nice paint-job on a Lexus. In fact, the only sex you see in 24 is Black Widow, a prelude to execution or political humiliation. Trap and kill, or trap and extort.

Operation Nightingale. Alexis, Andre & Victor Drazen emerge from the recent nightmare of the Balkans with unlimited monies (it seems) and a mythological desire for revenge. Typically, any war America becomes involved in is never finished, despite the score. Seems Jack was sent to Bosnia on a clandestine search and destroy mission by a Senate sub-committee chaired by Palmer... hence parallel lines converge.

Is this a good plot-line? Despite the unwieldy absurdity of it all, and that the "game" seems more important than the desired result, the revelations are cleverly advanced. Scripting by committee has its advantages, especially when blocking a 24 frame narrative. Cochrane and Surnow, the creators and producers of 24, wrote scripts for the seminal Miami Vice series in the eighties, and certain characteristics follow through. Stylized violence is one, nihilism is another. Vice was the first television drama to embrace nihilism via the death-wish of its villains. Death is always the preferred exit of the existential criminal, and includes the mysterious psychology of "suicide by cop".

|| Quite often the art style of 24 looks as if it has been story-boarded for gamers. The industrial warehouse sequences during the abduction of Kim Bauer [Elisha Cuthbert] and her friend could be from Hitman or Grand Theft Auto. In the DOD secret prison -- an underground bunker somewhere outside of L.A. -- the action becomes a direct facsimile of a video game. Concrete tunnels, bare interrogation rooms, AV rooms, cells, blind corners and stairs descending into darkness... a chiaroscuro maze, shadow lit, CCTV wired, a dungeon for robots and insane marauding killers. The set becomes techno-medieval as the characters assume the grim body armour costumes and spastic homicidal combat pursuits familiar to those who play such virtuals.

It's here that Victor Drazen [Dennis Hopper], the crazy Balkan Don of an ethnic cleansing family, is delivered, and it's here that his son Andre Drazan mounts a break-out assault. Kevlar vests are de rigueur.

24: Season 2

technique of the coup d'Etat

|| Report comes that middle eastern terrorists have smuggled a nuke into Los Angeles, plan to detonate it sometime within a day. David Palmer, we quickly learn, is now President, and he believes Jack Bauer is the person who can find the bomb, even though Bauer has left active service with CTU, traumatized by the execution death of his wife Terri at the hand of Nina Meyers. Contacted by CTU and later by the President, Bauer declines involvement... but en route to his SUV has a change of heart when he sees an anonymous mother and child walking past. Once again the usual cast of sociopaths and technopaths drive the weaponized action in a series of brutal vignettes and Bauer responds with his characteristic whatever-it-takes-to-get-the-job-done intensity.

He starts by shooting a smug petty criminal and hacking his head off, then delivering the macabre artifact to a group of mechanics who have been contracted to make the nuke detonator in their grotty garage. Why? The victim had turned State's evidence, was going to testify against the leader of the group re another matter. Thus Bauer infiltrates the cell, and, although he is unable to stop them bombing the CTU building along the way, within the hour has shot them all... and moved closer to discovering the location of the nuke.

So it goes. As in Season I, the action rocks with unexpected gun battles and creative violence, including sabotage, torture and even domestic battery. In an unrelated story-line, Jack's daughter Kim runs afoul a psycho father during her Nanny job, ends up on the run trying escape her employer, the police and the nuke. President Palmer, suspicious of his crustacean Secretary of State, tortures him with electro-shock pads. A rogue para-military unit known as Coral Snake shoots down the helicopter carrying Bauer and Nina Meyers, somehow seems to be in control of the nuke.

What's going on? Muslim fundamentalists are involved to be sure, but as is typical of 24, there are other faces below the paint. Could it be the good old American bogey, the military-industrial complex? Whether it's the producers exercising conscious or unconscious political correctness, or an opportunistic mirroring of the Bush-Cheney administration's Iraq fiasco... or simply relying on stock ideas provided by Seven Days In May or The Manchurian Candidate is difficult to say. Such measures, such actions, repeat within history. While this part of the plot is executed well, it views as propagandistic rather than aesthetic direction, even though some will argue that it reflects the increasing ambiguity of American political culture. In his famous treatise Technique of the Coup d'Etat, the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte says "a parliament that undertakes to legitimize a coup d'Etat is merely signing its own death warrant." For Jack Bauer, the verb is "attempts". Once again, as in Season One, many people plot, many people die.

|| The casting of Dennis Haysbert as Senator -- later President -- David Palmer was a great directive, not only because he owns the part completely, but because he looks big. In a world of sixes, he's a seven or an eight, literally "a giant of a man". Again, he is another isolated character, the condition reinforced by his color, height, and incorruptible spirit. What binds him to agent Jack Bauer is integrity, a quality which requires aloneness. A great leader may walk within a cadre, yet withal he walks alone, and the excoriating loneliness in this instance is scored by Palmer's separation from his wife Sherry, who has been reduced to the status of a ghetto hustler with a concealed grudge.

Penny Johnson's performance as Sherry is superb, and it must be noted that the scripting of her complex character must also be above average for a medium well-known for silhouettes. The tenacity of her ambition makes you cringe with its naked political opportunism and amoral real politic. Family, friends, country... all can used to serve the God of Power. If Jack Bauer is David Palmer's right hand, then Sherry is his left. As the left hand of darkness, her implication in the nuke and the coup against her husband certainly brings a new dimension to female penis envy... and when viewed in tandem with the killer-doll treachery of Nina Meyers, you wonder if the misogyny is Hollywood-traditional or American New Age.

Sherry is certainly a more traditional female character than Nina, as she follows the film noir tradition of the woman using a male patsy... and the history of drama is filled with such devious, manipulative women. Nina is something else... criminally fantastic, yet entirely possible in this day and age. Women as front-line killers has become a matter of human rights, not necessarily a societal ideal. A literary view of her execution killing of Terri Bauer would see the historical shift as feminine into masculine.

Effective? Absolutely. This ugly, sordid act both demoralizes and actualizes the sleeping citizen voyeur. Not long ago such a scene would never have been allowed because the powerful documentary medium of film so easily legitimizes such criminal behaviour. Fiction becomes documentary, documentary becomes fiction. A look at the alternate ending [included with the Season 1 DVD set] in which Terri is rescued might appeal to sentimentalists, but in fact would be seen as the usual old school social engineering lie because 24 spares no sinners, no saints, no innocents.

By contrast, the ending of Season 2 might seem to fall back into the cuddly propaganda of prime-time TV. The forgiving David Palmer treats his cabinet like naughty school children, seemingly forgets the putsch in the name of some absurd pragmatism and falls back into the rhetoric of the rah rah placebo. But... is this script delinquency merely a dumbing down device to place the viewer in a happy stupor before the shock of the final sequences? You be the judge.

|| The timely story-line of 24 Season 2 has many excellent situations and dramatic moments, although it must be said that the overall dynamic is more uneven than that of Season 1 wherein Terri's convenient amnesia & aftermath might be considered the only false move... unless you see the casting of Dennis Hopper as the Balkan villain Victor Drazan as a mistake. Hopper's persona carries so much baggage now that he can only be viewed as funny, and as such his inclusion merely trades on cliche and comic relief... although, God knows, the homicidal rhythm of 24 might need "some" humour.

Season 2 includes a major counter-line with Kim Bauer, yet whatever its merits as drama, essentially has no bearing on the master story... and the sequences with the cougar in the woods belong to a Walt Disney production. No doubt the majority could care less as not only does Elisha Cuthbert look good, her acting is also good. The problem of why some villains take so long to shoot & kill, take care of business, etc, remains problematic... even when masked by the overall speed of the narrative. As usual, film cheats 24 times a second, even if presented as digi HD.

24 24: Season 3

you can spy on them too

|| You're up, you're down, you're all over town... and you've got a rig in your pocket. Seems Jack has picked up a big time habit in the last couple of years while taking down a Mexican drug lord called Salazar... and he's fighting the heebie jeebies as he tries to save L.A. from a biochem attack masterminded by Salazar's brother. Seems too that President David Palmer survived the attempt on his life... and that his choice in women still remains questionable, especially for someone who is in charge of the most powerful country on the planet.

The Daughters of Satan are at work once again, whispering their poisoned honey in the ears of their child men. Haciendas & prison breaks, closed-system gunbattles & existential moments. And once again the CTU has been infiltrated and compromised by the bad guys, which raises serious doubts about the sophistication of this agency... or has it? Just when you're thinking narrative decadence, the producers have gotten lazy, are winging it on the karma of the stars and their supporting cast, you realize you've been duped again. Reversals. Aristotle 101. Nothing is ever what it seems.

Yet the sense of deja vu increases with this season's stories, and not only because of 24's own narrative formula. Brother Hector plotting within his Mexican hacienda with his sweet scheming vixen... a plague carrier a.w.o.l. in the streets... an ugly presidential candidates' debate... a game of Russian roulette for Jack... a prison break, etc. And... yet another mole within CTU?

It's amazing too how a drama can succeed on such industrial dialogue. No rhetorical poetry, no swearing, no bon mots, no sub-text. The jargon of compuverts and killers. In a sense, dialogue gets in the way of the dreadful choices many characters are forced to make. As in Ryan Chappelle's sacrificial execution, who needs talk? It just gets in the way, drags the action.

You're staring at a mosaic of flickering screens and flickering agendas... you, citizen voyeur, resisting hypnosis, refusing to be duped... as the direction and acting remains excellent.

But don't despair: you have a computer and you can spy on these characters as well. Nice flash sites for each season, complete with dossiers and other possibilities at www.fox.com/24.

|| Kiefer Sutherland has played plenty of punks before, bad-tempered volatiles who now provide the latent, dangerous element in his role as Jack Bauer. Now he's good cop/ bad cop/ feel alright all in one. Not only is his visual presence superb, but also his voice, cadenced and measured, free of any obvious regional handicap... pure radio in the night. Sometimes soothing, sometimes malevolent... like Richard Burton with a hangover. Anyone old enough to know will recognize the similarity to his old man, the fine Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, pedigreed in Stratford. When Jack Bauer uses his phone -- and he uses it a lot -- your eyes close instinctively as you listen. A great deal of this character's power is in the articulation, the rasp & the roar.

Jack Bauer: civility is a discipline, forgetting is an art. The future is a flat line.

As the series/seasons progress, a sense of humanity is regained... just a glimmer, a flash between the coffins.

© LR 7/05


Cc Audio Files

Film Court | Book Court | Features

Culture Court | © 2005 | Lawrence Russell