It’s not totally clear why 24 was recently resurrected, considering the show died a natural death by ratings, and has been good and buried for four years. It’s especially confusing considering that 24 came to embody more than any other show the morally blinkered, Bush-era attitude to the war on terror, which now feels so outdated. For that reason alone, I feel the show deserves a round of applause for having the sheer nerve to turn up, even though in doing so it just proves itself to be hopelessly (often hilariously) irrelevant.
The writers obviously felt obliged to at least reference some aspects of the moral quagmire that currently makes up global perspectives on the US-led struggle with terrorism. Protests against the use of drone strikes and Snowden-style military leaks are placed right at the centre of the story, albeit in a form that doesn’t have much to do with the reality of either.
In the first series – which, though it seems impossible now, had bugger-all to do with Islamist terrorism – our fictional representative of US authority was David Palmer. A vigorous and, at the time, pretty radical symbol of progression and national strength, Palmer is here replaced by an elderly white man with Altzheimer’s, whose ongoing decline is one of the show’s many subplots. It seems significant that, now that the US actually does have a black, Democratic president on the throne, the show’s symbol of American power is instead an embattled old man, trapped in an irreversible slide towards his doom.
Chloe O’Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is back, after being promoted at some point in the last few seasons from office-oddball to Jack’s chief sidekick. Her prominence in Live Another Day is presumably owing to the fact that she was the only long-running cast member willing to fly to England for the proposed fee. In a token gesture towards current affairs, her character is embroiled in a WikiLeaks style hacker collective led by Michael Wincott – best known for playing the Sheriff of Nottingham’s more eviller cousin – whose casting as the group’s apparently benevolent leader should really qualify as a spoiler in itself. He also appears to have a stencil of his own face on his wall, which is legitimately fantastic (pictured).
Chloe is also given a fresh new look, to go with her disillusioned, Occupy Wall Street, hashtag Y2K attitude. Now, it wouldn’t be fair to say that her makeover is in the style of Noomi Rapace from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It would be fair to say she is literally dressed up as Noomi Rapace from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in the manner of someone attending a cosplay event for which they were given very little notice. In fact cosplay or some kind of subterfuge are the only explanations which make sense, as it’s a style of dress which runs totally against Chloe’s characterisation, both in the earlier seasons and all throughout this one. The look really is a lame, laughable stab at borrowing some faint trace of cultural relevance – although, to be fair to 24, that’s what it was in the 2009 film too.
Another interesting choice is in the nature of Jack Bauer’s ever-present and often controversial acts of violence. Indiscriminate killing and torture were staples of 24’s particular brand of heroism for most of its run, which endlessly depicted good and noble characters forced to do terrible things, in the interests of the greater good. Like that other recent propaganda piece Zero Dark Thirty, the show was always careful to justify its protagonists’ treatment of ‘enemy combatants’ by emphasising the terrible consequences which they were averting. If Jack Bauer doesn’t saw off that man’s kneecaps, right here and right now, the terrorists will unleash their nuclear bomb/lethal virus/Africanised honey-bees!
Here, strangely, the writers either haven’t bothered to write in those justifications, or they deliberately chose to leave them out, giving the impression that Jack’s less a heroic saviour, and more a vicious psychopath. In one early scene he shoots a random anti-drone protester in the leg, without hesitation, in order to cause a distraction for some nearby guards. It’s not agonised over – there’s no ticking clock, no moral question mark, and absolutely no consequences depicted for either Jack or his innocent victim. It just happens, and the episode continues on its way without blinking.
Of course, he isn’t really “innocent” as such – he’s part of a group protesting against the US use of drones and waving placards demanding “world peace” which, hilariously, the show characterises as a vicious, bloodthirsty mob. At one point a military officer who is guarding a captive drone pilot looks at him fearfully and warns him that, if the pro-peace brigade knew who he was, they would literally tear him “limb from limb”.
Jack’s greatest ire is reserved for the family of Margot Al-Harazi, a terrorist cult who have hijacked America’s drone systems, and who represent 24’s long-standing practice of cloaking its deeply entrenched Islamaphobia. A White British family, whose sole Arabic member redeems himself by trying to foil their evil plans, they are designed to defend the show pre-emptively against accusations of racism.
However, it’s made clear numerous times that the family’s terror activities stem solely from the Arabic ex-husband of matriarch Margot, who infected her with the moral disease of Islam before he died. His faith and death are the only motivations the show offers for her actions, which send the clear message that it’s not the poor old Arabs who are to blame at all – it’s just their foul, murdering Arab religion that’s the real problem.
And of course, the show still gets to enjoy the racial frisson of having Jack and his US compatriots refer to Margot by her adopted Arabic surname “Al-Harazi,” snarling it like the name of a venomous snake. When he finally bursts into their lair, Jack apprehends Margot alive. She makes no attempt to resist and, in cold blood, he hurls her out of a window to her death without hesitation. In the first series, I seem to recall compelling scenes of Jack struggling with the consequences of not showing due deference to his administrative superiors. Now, when he murders a ‘high-value’ terror suspect out of pure spite, nobody even brings it up.
The show ends with my personal favourite of 24’s recurring tropes – Jack Bauer’s patented vengeance-fuelled rampage. It’s established at the end of the first series that having a female love-interest murdered is basically Jack’s equivalent of the flashing stars in Super Mario, temporarily turning him into an invincible killing-machine. Much like the infamous “women in refrigerators” cliché in comics, 24 has always demanded a supply of pure and innocent women to be sacrificed, providing our hero with the necessary motivation and righteous fury. Here it feels a little more perfunctory than usual, as despite having a good amount of screentime over Live Another Day’s twelve hours, the writers never bother to give Kim Raver’s Audrey any more depth than a recurring extra.
I can’t seem to hold any of 24’s flaws against it, somehow. I enjoyed watching Live Another Day for its goofy ineptitude, and if the show survives for another ill-advised jaunt I’ll likely watch again. I think it’s because at this advanced old-age, the appeal of 24 is so limited to its core audience that it feels effectively de-fanged. It was quite an alienating experience in this age of mass-targeted entertainment to see something so obviously designed to appeal to a specific audience – which definitely does NOT include me.
Unlike Zero Dark Thirty, which promoted roughly the same ideological/political agenda in a more far-reaching, skilfully coercive package, 24 clearly has no ambition to reach beyond its core audience of middle-Americans, who already firmly believe that Russians, the Chinese, and Arabs (or Arab-substitutes) are inherently evil, and want to see them get punched in the face by an all-American hero. Who am I to spoil their fun? As long as it remains goofy enough to make me chuckle, rather than shiver.