If you think the answer to every national security crisis is to violate international law, torture people and kill without pity, then “24” is clearly your show. But what if, like me, you think patient diplomacy, adherence to civilized norms and non-violence resistance is the way to go?
Well, you can still like the show.
Jack Bauer, the main character, is a superhero masquerading as an agent for U.S. counter-terrorism, working out of the Los Angeles bureau, because it’s conveniently close to Hollywood, not because it makes sense in real life. One consequence is that when bad guys launch a nuclear-armed rocket from Iowa, it doesn’t incinerate Chicago. It flies instead all the way to L.A., which was a good thing, because the government just barely managed to shoot it down even then. And when other bad guys blow up a suitcase nuke, it doesn’t take out Reston or White Plains, it wipes out Valencia, a tragedy that nobody much minds, at least on the show.
It’s useful to think of the entire show as one of those old movie serials, where the most important thing was to keep the action flowing and to leave a cliffhanger each week so that everybody would want to come back the following Saturday to find out what happens next. In “24,” that’s the whole ballgame. Surprise twists are critical. Sensible plots are shoved aside. It’s amazing, really, that when CTU needs to tap a phone call, it pulls the words right off the satellite. But when an arch enemy whizzes off in a helicopter, nobody tracks it. That’s the sort of everyday idiocy that you have to ignore.
But it’s all kind of thrilling. It’s fast-paced, vaguely realistic and fun despite all the gore and evil. Maybe it’s that we all secretly hope there are squads of Jack Bauers out there across the globe, protecting us. It’s too horrible to contemplate that our defense lies mostly with ourselves.