Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Jack Bauer's Justice.
Others have written about the crisis of conscience among 24's staff over Jack's use of torture against the bad guys. (Here.) Let's stipulate, torture is bad, mm-kay. But let's also stipulate, 24 is not real. The crisis of conscience about 24's representation of torture was symptomatic of the most serious problem with the show. It takes itself too seriously. That seriousness of purpose led producers to think the show needed to have more political relevance. Big mistake. Some of the worst violence on the show recently wasn't done to the bad guys tortured and killed by Jack Bauer. No, the worst violence was done to the dialogue by the writers as they struggled to present political intrigue.
This season looks like it might be more of the same. Jack is back but he's been taken under arrest to Washington, D.C., for hearings into his use of torture. In the real world, Jack would deserve trial and punishment for the things he's done. In the world of 24, Jack should be roaming the badlands doing what a man's gotta do to set things right. Jack Bauer is Shane. He's the gunslinger from the frontier who breaks the rules to protect civilization and then rides off into the frontier once his job is done.
The producers were on to something when they put Jack in Sangala, a fictional lawless African country, to start this season. A place like Sangala could use somebody with Jack's kind of do whatever it takes to set things right morality. Unfortunately, the show's guilt-stricken producers didn't see it that way. They had him in Africa to do penance and make up for all the bad things he'd done fighting evildoers.
"In various incarnations, Jack would begin the season digging ditches, building houses, tending to orphans, providing security for an embassy or escorting around a visiting dignitary. 'One of the themes we discussed was penance, that Africa was a place Jack had gone to seek some kind of penance. Some sanctuary too, but also penance for things he's done in his life,' [head writer Howard] Gordon says." (Here.)Well, that's a mistake. Jack doesn't need to do penance and he doesn't need redemption. Jack needs to be doing what he does best. Killing bad guys so the good guys don't have to.
The mistake the producers have already made this season is pulling Jack out of the lawless frontier that is Sangala and bringing him back to civilization, with all its rules, to face justice and be tamed. Jack doesn't need taming. Tame Jack and 24 will become just another cop show. Who needs that?
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