“I’m Just Not That Into You”
Addressing 24 Season 7
On a quiet sunday evening, with television in repeats and still recovering from a bout with strep throat, I did what I’ve been putting off for two weeks: I sat down and watched the first five episodes of 24’s seventh season.
I had considered not bothering, you know. Part of me thought that, like with its timeslot competitor Heroes, it might be better left alone. But there is a part of me that was still curious, still wondering what the show considered a reasonable reboot from a disastrous sixth season. And so I decided to spend some time with Jack Bauer as he fight yet another threat in what is likely to be the show’s penultimate season.
I had thought there would be two likely outcomes. First, I could actually really get hooked on the show, going back to my old routine and that I’d currently be watching the sixth episode as opposed to writing this reaction piece. Second, I could be even more opposed to the show than I was before, and retreat back into the bitter cynicism with which I have approached my more recent criticism of the series.
Surprisingly, at least to me, I had neither reaction: I do not feel that the seventh season is without merit, nor does it lack a certain awareness of the show’s recent string of problems. Instead, it addressed some major concerns while providing a 24 that is very back to basics, zombie Tony or no zombie Tony. But at the same time, I don’t care about it. I can’t muster any enthusiasm of any sort, positive or negative, a sign that my tuning out towards the end of season six was driven not only by the show’s quality but by my own changing tastes and interests.
I’m just not that into 24 anymore, I guess…but let’s take a look at the seventh season anyways.
There’s a lot to like about this season: I like that the threat at the show’s center is personified by a political regime, and that there isn’t a shadowy leader at its center. Things are much more clear on the enemies front: placing Jack within them makes it so we’re less asking questions about “who is behind it” than we are about what it all entails and how far it stretches. Similarly, while I was skeptical at first, Tony’s resurrection makes some modicum of sense, and I think it makes this whole thing more personal for Jack. Sure, it’s a huge stretch that all of a sudden Bill and Chloe are back on the team, and there’s this undercover operation that he never knew about, but I find that it’s made for some intriguing scenarios.
This might not seem like a lot at first, but it goes a long way to the show’s quality when its broad storyline and the justification for Jack’s actions are both fairly simply defined. While there is still the enormous MacGuffin of this device that controls all of the firewalls and lets them take over air traffic control, it feels more like this is a personal thing for Jack and this is always a good thing. The elimination of CTU has made this seem much less like “oh, right, another time the world is in danger from terrorists, CTU’s doing it again,” and even if it’s just an optical shift I find it effective.
Unfortunately, it is only at this very broad level that it all works. On the very basic level, what they’ve done is take all of 24’s cliches and make them even more readily accessible for the writing staff. The best example is the very idea that Tony/Bill/Chloe needing to work off grid is required because anyone, and I do mean anyone, could be a mole. It’s the show’s mass paranoia at its worst: every thing people do, and Rhys Coiro’s character especially does some enormously stupid things, feels like we’re supposed to think it’s them. It’s nothing but a giant pile of red herrings that will eventually lead to an illogical conclusion, and this particular rendition feels amongst the show’s most transparent.
There’s a transparency to the entire proceedings, especially with the political side of the storyline. Of course there’s a reluctant member of her administration who doesn’t believe in her course of action, and of course there are people who are out to undermine her efforts. And of course her husband is distracted by their son’s death in enough to make some very silly decisions and put himself into danger. And of course his handler is dirty, and hatches an elaborate plan to kill him. It’s all a bit too convenient, and predictable, without any reason for us to care about it: while the material in Redemption gave us some sense of President Allison Taylor, we have had too little time with her to care enough about her son, her husband, or anything about her. We care more about the politics, so the rest feels like a waste of our time no matter how much I enjoy Colm Feore (who after playing the former President of the Colonies on BSG and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is taking a step down here).
But the season’s real lynchpin, and the thing that keeps me at arm’s length the most, is this question of torture. I’ve read in some places, including in Dave Chen’s thoughts at /Film, that there is a dialogue on the subject this season, but I’m not seeing it: the show isn’t glorifying torture, but it is using the FBI’s Renee Walker as a walking disciple of Jack Bauer’s school of interrogation, and it is clear that the message they’re sending is that Senate committees are mean and that since you can’t negotiate with terrorists you need to crush their breathing apparatus instead. It’s a heavy-handed message that feels a bit too tongue-in-cheek for my personal tastes, and isn’t helping me engage with the season from an entertainment standpoint. I can’t escape the feeling this is a broader show being manipulated by the writers, and that’s not a good thing with a show this escapist.
The escapist stuff works well, still: it’s fun to watch the car crashes, even if they’re stolen from the Bourne Ultimatum, and who doesn’t like a good gun battle? Similarly, seeing Chloe again for the first time was still a thrill, and letting her and Janeane Garofalo go head to head in split screen was a lot of fun. But it isn’t enough to make me care: it might be enough to save some episodes for a rainy day and burn through them while absent-mindedly chatting on MSN or writing other blog posts, but it certainly won’t be enough for me to revisit the show critically for quite some time.
But, I didn’t watch tonight’s episode: did anything change from the first five, or was it just more of the same? Feel free to share your thoughts below, as I certainly can’t write off Jack Bauer entirely.