Friday, 25 April 2008

Things That Have Occurred To Us While Watching Season Five of 24 (5-7)

We've finished the season (a bit of a drop in tension by the end, but it was still a terrific run), and there are many more things that caught my attention in the middle of all the craziness.

5. A lot of the tension created on this show is awfully mechanical.

I know, this is hardly news. There are lots of examples of it, but the most common one is the satellite retasking conversation that keeps happening. Pretty much every episode, Jack loses whichever lower-level terroristic person he has been chasing (usually someone he found out about at the end of the previous hour), and after leaping into whichever Hummer he has at his disposal, will phone Chloe and bellow at her for a while. As Canyon pointed out midway through the season, the format for these conversations is always the same.

Jack: [out of breath even though he is driving and not running] Chloe! ::pant:: I lost DuPrez! ::pant:: He got into a car and headed south on I95. ::pant:: I need you to task a satellite to track him and download it to my PDA/supercomputer! ::pant::

Chloe: [rolls eyes] I can't do that, Jack. Miles Papazian is sitting opposite me, watching my every move. And Karen Hayes has got a spybot installed on my hard drive and if I do anything that she hasn't authorised my computer will shut down automatically. And Bill and Audrey have been locked in barrels and rolled out of the building. And an armoured robotic sentinel is guarding the server room. And I'm chained to my chair and can't move. And my arms have been amputated. And there are mines embedded in the floor around my chair. And I'm in a glass case. [pouts]

Jack: Dammit Chloe! ::pant:: If I don't find DuPrez in the next twenty minutes he'll rendezvous with Farquharson and my cover will be blown! ::pant:: And if that happens I'll never find the disc with the locations of the fifty nuclear bombs hidden in each of our United States! ::pants again::

Chloe: [rolls eyes] Okay fine, Jack, you don't need to shout. [begins sewing arms back on using teeth]

Ten minutes later, the satellite is retasked and Jack gets to stare at his PDA while driving, and doesn't even veer out of his lane once. Of course, this reliance on false conflict is the worst kind of lazy McKee-esque contrivance, but in season five it was a lot more entertaining than usual. In previous seasons there have been dreadful sub-plots used to keep characters occupied. I'm thinking of the famous cougar in season two and the baby-minding in season three (which was far worse and infinitely stupider). Season five had no boring plot threads (even the dead ends like actually-not-evil Vice President Hal Gardner were fun), and if that meant Chloe spent the entire season evading her bosses and retasking satellites (at least fifteen episodes featured her doing that impossible thing) instead of looking after a baby, then that's fine by me.

Oh, and what happens with DuPrez? Jack catches him, tortures him using an ironing board, a bottle of Diet Coke, and a roll of wallpaper, and in agony and terror the weaselly DuPrez gives up his contact, Dash MacKenzie, the aerospace engineer who mysteriously spent four years living in Chechnya. Upon finding him, Jack is frustrated in his efforts when he is arrested by over-zealous police officers sent to his location by whichever short-sighted neckless pencil pushing loser is in charge of CTU at that time.

Dash speeds away as the clock ticks down, forcing Jack to make his angry face. Next episode, Jack is released without charge, and he calls Chloe about tasking a satellite to chase Dash. Jack Bauer, breathless Sisyphus for the 21st Century!

NB: The use of the words "Tasking" and "Retasking" drives Shades of Caruso into incandescent rage, just so you know. My repeated use of those words do not qualify as endorsement. We're not crazy.

6. Why is no one weeping for Carl Mossman?

The body count in 24 is incredibly high for a TV show, but then our hero Jack is perfectly willing to kill and maim and torture any number of people in order to save, "hundreds! ::pant:: Of thousands! ::pant:: Of lives!". This list of dead characters is filled with names I don't recall, though I think they're padding the list out a bit. Some of the names are from the 24: Declassified series of novels, but even taking that into account, there are a lot of redshirts and Terrorist Lackey #4's in that list. I didn't really care when they died, and I don't care now. However, I do care about poor, noble Carl Mossman, the bank manager kidnapped by Jack and Wayne Palmer at gun point, dragged to his workplace to open a vault, and then killed by Christopher Henderson's men during their escape.

During that time he put up with a bunch of shit, watched as his wife was pushed around by Jack, dragged across town in the middle of the night, bonded with Wayne Palmer, found out President Logan arranged to have David Palmer whacked, announced he was all Team Bauer and stuff, gained their trust, and then got killed with bullets until dead. Time elapsed between being kidnapped from his wife's side to being iced: 40 minutes.

Normally the gratuitous death of a minor character wouldn't bother me at all, but this time the guy was at home, probably watching Letterman, chillaxing after another day having to deal with grumpy Californians bitching about yet more armageddon being visited upon them, and then all of a sudden some out-of-breath dude storms in with the former President's brother in tow, and even before Letterman got around to doing that night's silly stunt (playing baseball with Johnny Damon), he's been shot by goons who manage to completely miss the two large guys standing on either side of him. That's some crappy luck.

For the first time ever, the death of a minor character really pissed me off. Oh sure, I was furious when Tony "died", and hated to see George Mason go out (even though he was both heroic and radioactive), but usually the chumps who get momentarily involved in Jack's life die and I don't care. This time, I got actively upset. In the next episode Wayne tells Jack of Carl's death, which, if I recall correctly, isn't even greeted with a "Dammit", let alone a "Son-of-a-bitch". They carry on driving, with a corpse in the back seat not caring about the increasingly ripe smell. By the end of the episode they have ditched the car and are running around trying to capture evil Christopher Henderson, and after that Wayne disappears into the night, not to be heard of again (at least until he improbably becomes President in season six). Meanwhile, Jack is too busy getting his on-off girlfriend almost killed and sneaking onto planes to care about anything as trivial as a dead guy. I hope that while that was happening Wayne at least made his way back to Carl's house to hand the corpse over to his wife, because otherwise there's just some dead guy stuck in a car on some industrial wasteland in LA. Man, this show can be cold sometimes.

7. Someone working in 24's casting department is a big fan of Robocop.

And so they should be, as that is a wonderfully sweet film, delightfully ribald, romantic, reminiscent of the classic MGM musicals of the early 50s with its innocent charm and endearing sentimentality. The casting for this season featured some surprises for fans of Paul Verhoeven's satirical classic, including Peter Weller, Ray Wise, and Paul McCrane.

Weller played one of this season's many bad guys, the monotone and eternally duplicitous Christopher Henderson (which is a disappointingly mundane moniker in the same vein as former antagonists Peter Kingsley and Stephen Saunders), and Ray Wise and his barely present grin played the red herring is-he-good-or-bad Vice President Hal Gardner (a name that makes me suspect there are also some Green Lantern fans working on the show). McCrane barely ever gets to play good guys, and here continues this trend by playing the vile and oddly spelled Graem Bauer (yes, I read a spoiler).

At the end of the season Henderson gets blasted to death by the righteous weaponry and rage of Jack Bauer, who has spent most of the day killing everyone responsible for the deaths of David Palmer, Michelle Dessler, and lovely Tony. Fair enough, but it amused me that every time he shoots one of the big bads he acts like they were the only ones involved, which I thought meant he would just keep on killing people with even a tangential involvement in the plan, all the time glowering at them and ominously reciting the list of friends he has lost, until he's the only person left on the planet, at which point he will realise that actually he is a shit magnet who gets everyone who knows him into terrible trouble, at which point he would shoot himself with enormous solemnity and humourless vengeance. Because that is the way of The Bauer (a Bauer being the Western equivalent of a Samurai, obviously).

As for Gardner and Graem, they live to fight another day, which is interestingly the opposite of Robocop, where Weller, as Robocop, lives on, Leon (Wise) gets blown to smithereens by Nancy Allen, and Emil (McCrane) gets melted by toxic waste and run over, in a scene which no one who has seen it will ever forget.

The only thing that could improve 24 (other than a musical episode) is to get Verhoeven on as a guest director. Imagine the carnage! Time to start a new futile internet campaign, methinks.

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