”24”: The Bauer of our discontent
Well, Fox may be ending The O.C. for good later this week, but its spirit was appallingly alive in last night’s episode of 24. The dialogue was glib (”You know how to use this? Point and shoot,” said Jack, handing his gun to a baffled Marilyn) when it wasn’t sappy. (”I was never good enough for you… I’m sorry,” Jack told his father — or rather, an empty room; the old coot, who’d been holding a gun to his son’s head, had tiptoed away, and who among us didn’t want to join him, rather than listen to Jack Bauer, former rock-solid hero, psychoanalyze himself?)
How ironic, a week after all our discussions of 24-torture, that the series gave us its most ickily sensitive, touchy-feely episode ever. This often-wonderful show has frequently asked us to go places we’ve never gone to before in prime time. But beseeching us to empathize with Jack while he works through his daddy issues, let alone journey with the alcoholic Morris to a convenience store where he battles the bottle — well, it was all a bit too, too Dr. Phil. I thought we might be in trouble when Jack said ”Trust me — it’s personal” to Bill Buchanan during the first 15 minutes. But I didn’t think we were really going to spend an hour getting so ”personal” that we’d be watching Jack sensuously button up a bulletproof-vested Marilyn’s shirt, or Grandpa Phillip hold a gun to his grandson’s head (little Josh is headed for either a lifetime of therapy or a crossover guest-role as the best young serial killer Criminal Minds will ever have). To quote Jack again: ”How could I have been so stupid?”
More to the point, how could this series, which has spent five seasons being so not-stupid? Silliness broke out all over. There was Marilyn saying to Jack, ”Do you think your father will keep his word?” and Jack replying, ”If I keep mine” — yeah, right, just seconds after they witnessed Phillip pressing a pistol against Josh’s neck! And earlier, there were Tom and Reed, back in their ”DANGER: HIGH VOLTAGE” clubhouse, bickering about how best to express their patriotism by debating when the President gets assassinated. (Reed won because he had a big flashlight to boink Tom over the head with.) And then there was Morris, who seems to be slowly taking over the entire series, being given about four scenes too many to dramatize how guilty he feels about the nuclear-bomb programming device. ”Me going back to work is the best medicine,” said Morris. Oh, pleeease — no self-respecting, intelligently pragmatic Brit (which is how the show has presented Morris until now) talks this way.
Let’s see; what can I say that’s positive about this episode? Okay, I liked it when Chloe went all clinical on newly minted semi-heroic Milo, and told him staunchly that Morris ”didn’t metabolize the alcohol,” her starchy way of saying he’d spat it out without swallowing.
And I liked it when Phillip sneered at Jack’s youthful rebellion from the family ”so that you could become, what, a civil servant?” James Cromwell earned his paycheck with that line-reading; a megalomaniac like Phillip really would spit out the phrase ”civil servant” with contempt like that.
But you know what’s missing from 24 right now? Layers. Layers of interesting subplots. (Yes, the nukes have placed the stakes really high, but they’ve also decimated the importance of anything else that makes for the usual 24 multiple-storyline tensions.) Layers of supporting characters we care so much about that we search those segmented boxes for them when the show starts to go to a commercial. (Some of your posts last week listed the previous seasons’ supporting characters who are nowhere to be found these days.)
Even the long-awaited return of Gregory Itzen’s disgraced ex-Prez Logan didn’t give me the goose bumps of relief and anticipation I’d hoped for. By putting him on the phone to Jack instead of thinking up a way to have Logan appear face to face with our hero, the episode remained frustratingly static. And what has Logan been brought back to do? As Logan explained it last night, he may help Jack get to one of 24‘s least interesting villains ever: the ”radical nationalist” Gredenko, who’s off somewhere muttering into his ratty beard about reviving glorious Soviet Russia. Pass the Stolichnaya, will ya? We’re all going to need a couple of good stiff shots — except for Morris, of course — to get through the next few hours, I fear.
What do you think, comrades? Can 24 pull out of this tailspin and soar to fresh new heights once again? I really want it to. I want to get enthused and really love this show again. I’m ready, I’m willing, I’m hoping. How about you? How do you feel?