Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On this season of 24

Tonight, I was lucky enough to watch a screening of the last two episodes of Season 7 of "24" with about 1600 of my closest friends. Actually, it was a SAG screening, a week prior to the episodes actually airing. After the screening, cast members, director and producers talked to everyone. It was bliss. But all of that is for my entertainment page and podcast.

What I wanted to talk about here are some of the questions addressed in this season. Let me also say upfront that in my entertainment writing I'm already talking about 24 taking the Emmy for Best Drama this season. I truly believe it deserves it.

My thesis, though it was applicable moreso in the West Wing years than in, for example, the year The Sopranos won, is that the Best Drama, in large measure reflects the themes of where we are as a country. The issues we are struggling with, the landscape of what matters to us.

For me, that's what separates what is labeled "Best" Drama over just good shows. It's everything all together. The direction, the writing, the acting, the set design, the costumes, the cinematography, the editing, the music--everything that goes into a great show. But when you have five (or this year, seven) shows that all fit that qualification, what pushes a show further to finally take the statue?

It's those big question things. I'll save the discussion of the other shows I think are going to be contenders for another blog. This is in-depth on 24.

So, in case you are unlucky enough to not be watching this season of 24, let me walk you down the path of what happened in this season (and don't worry, I'll leave the key details out of the last two episodes, since most people haven't seen them yet; though I do want to talk about the themes in them).

The biggest hot button issue, ripped from our own headlines, is the subject of torture. Anyone who's seen any episode of 24 knows that Jack Bauer (our hero) is pretty much down with the torture thing. (Didya see him rip that guy's ear off with his teeth? Ok, then.)

When our story opens... well, not including the pre-story where Jack was a good guy, saving kids in Africa... the agency that Jack's worked for for six previous seasons (CTU) has been disbanded, primarily because of its torture tactics, to say nothing of its blatantly ignoring the law at its convenience. Jack, in fact, is before a Senate subcommittee as our season opens.

What you must know about Jack, if you don't already, is that although no one is completely "a good guy" or "a bad guy" in this show, Jack is about as good a good guy as you can get. His motives are pure, and driven. Through seven seasons, you can say this for sure about Jack: he does what's right. That is, if he's tasked with guarding the president, guard the president he does. If he is tasked with getting information out of someone, he does that too. In both cases, by whatever means necessary. Some of these means, I assure you, are pretty gruesome.

Along the way, he does care for his family and friends and innocent bystanders to the greatest degree possible. If he could save everyone and torture no one, I genuinely believe he would do that. But he deals mostly with some pretty shady characters, and sometimes has to go to their lengths to fit in (as he did this season). So even just there, it got into some grey area. But that's the gist of it. He drives, pushing through concrete, to get to his objective. 

That is why, in short, he is our hero. He can filter through all the competing agendas and distractions and multiple things going on to get to the main point: save the president, extract information from the bad guy, whatever.

So, as the season starts, he gets taken out of the hearings, to help the FBI with one little case, which lasts a very long 24 hours. So much happens in this season, it's unbelievable.

But at the beginning, he is tasked to work with two FBI operatives who absolutely and unequivocally don't believe in torture. They work within the confines of the law, and that's it. They are appalled by Jack Bauer's brutal tactics, and tell him so, frequently.

Of course, as the season wears away, they are put into situtations which require a change of attitude on that score.

And that, then is what is different about this season of 24. The characters this season really have more of a conscience. Even the smaller characters. There is one, bombs are armed and ready. One guy says: Push the button. He actually refuses. Little things like this never happened on 24 before.

What are the repercussions of our actions, it seems to be asking. When is torture justified? Ever? This conversation is being played out on our political stage right now.

What I wanted to look at is the bigger picture. If our new President Obama is indeed rebooting our ship of state as this season of 24 is rebooting the fictional government picture, let's look at what really needs to happen here. We can argue endlessly about how we all got off course exactly, but this is the deal. We need to all reboot ourselves individually so that what is at our core is not cynicism and sneaking around doing the most convenient thing. No cutting corners and saying, It's good enough.

But simply this: DO THE RIGHT THING. The most humane, the kindest, the most letter of the law. We all know the difference between good and bad. CHOOSE GOOD. Simply that.

We have three characters now whom we can count on to do the right thing: Jack Bauer (our hero), Renee Walker (introduced this season, who has been built up to be like the female Jack Bauer, but with more of a conscience) and our new female president (and btw, 24 had the first black president too!), Alison Taylor.

They have goodness at their core. We can count on them for this, we can root for them because of this. It's good to have good people to root for again.

Like I said, there were 1600 fans of 24 filling the theatre. It was exhilarating and thrilling, first of all to be watching the show with all of them, but what was also remarkable to me: they cheered, loudly, when the right choices were made. When characters chose to do the right thing.

Believe me when I tell you that all choices on 24 are difficult ones. But we, as a country and individually, need to get back to the place where what guides us forward is doing the right thing. Whether that is giving a quarter to the person begging for it on the corner, and not asking questions about it; or refusing to commit felonies just because our bank manager boss asks it of us; or whatever our own personal situation is.

Hone in on what is the right choice. Instill it in ourselves. Make it part of our makeup. And when we are faced with a choice, we choose the right thing. Every time. That is truly what President Obama is tasking us with. That is what we, collectively, need to be doing right now. Bringing back that crazy thing called integrity that totally disappeared during the Bush years.

Prosecuting those who condoned waterboarding, instead of looking the other way. That's what we have laws for. There is no "putting the past in the past" crap. Wrongdoers are punished. Criminals are brought to justice. That's how this country really works. Part of our job as citizens is enforcing that.

I love 24 as a show because it reminds me, through Renee Walker and Alison Taylor and Jack Bauer, that this is what we need to do. In every small action. In every big action. In every case, at all times: The right thing.

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