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24 - Season 5

(Fox; US DVD: 5 Dec 2006; UK DVD: Available as import)

The fourth season of the hit TV series 24 had a powerful, and perhaps even poetic, conclusion. After faking his own death to avoid being captured by revengeful Chinese agents, the intrepid Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) defiantly walked towards the horizon. If Jack had fallen in the hands of a foreign power, then the nation’s security and reputation would have been in peril. Thus, the hero who several times saved America from brutal obliteration became a pariah, forsaken by all.


But then again, Jack never hesitated or showed second thoughts, even after he knew that he was being denied of a future with his daughter, girlfriend, and friends. Such a finalé clearly embraces the main conundrum posed by 24; that is, should patriotism be above everything, including our own morality and personal interests?

Indeed, 24 continuously questions how far we should go in the name of country, society, and freedom. In doing so, the series expertly exploits the paranoid anxieties that were awakened by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the subsequent military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and by the enforcement of the Patriot Act. Such complex issues are nowhere clearer than in season five of the series, which has recently been released on a set of nice looking DVDs with rather interesting bonus content.


Perhaps the most notable extra feature is the audio commentaries by actors, writers, and directors found in selected episodes of the season. However, even though the speakers offer a substantial amount of remembrances and trivia information, they never delve into the analysis of the cultural impact of the series. Truth be told, most of the bonus content found in the disks exclusively concern, one way or another, the technical issues involved in the making of the series. For instance, a short feature is dedicated to composer Sean Callery, where he discusses the challenge of scoring nearly 24 hours of music on a short schedule.

As season five begins, we find out that Jack is living under the pseudonym of Frank Flynn and working at a refinery. After leaving his previous existence behind, he has built a new life with Diane Huxley (Connie Britton), and her troubled son Derek (Brady Corbet). However, Jack’s artificial sense of peace is altered once more when he is swept into a massive conspiracy that threatens the future of the entire nation. Framed for the assassination of former president Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), Jack is forced to go out of hiding and hunt those responsible for such an evil deed.


However, as all the previous seasons of 24, nothing is what it seems to be. Full of deceptions, double crossings, and plot twists, 24 has more layers than a garden onion. Indeed, Palmer’s assassination is revealed to be a diversion created by some terrorists to take over a Californian Airport. And this hostage situation is actually a distraction employed by some other bad guys to steal 20 canisters of a potent nerve gas. And so on…


In this regard, 24’s narrative structure continuously questions our perception of reality, and challenges the way we decode and interpret newscasts. In the fictitious world of 24, for instance, nothing is as simple as a mere terrorists attack. As a matter of fact, most of the plot developments in the series have a deep political impact. Clearly, 24 is as much about Jack Bauer’s brutal confrontations and gunfights on the streets of Los Angeles, as it is about the presidential response to such events.


Arguably, all these complexities reach a zenith in season five, when it is revealed that President Logan (Gregory Itzin) is the mastermind behind the day’s nefarious events (even though at the beginning of the season he appears to be a weak man, unable to make a rational decision on his own). As the series eventually exposes, President Logan’s plan is to secretly provide the terrorists with access to the nerve gas, and once they deploy it on American soil, use their chemical attack as an excuse to invoke the military terms of a US-Russia treaty signed early that day.


According to President Logan, a massive mobilization of American and Russian troops will allow him to terminate, once and for all, all the terrorists groups around the world. As an intended side effect, such an action will secure America’s oil interests in Central Asia, making President Logan one of the most successful and influential leaders in history.


Simply put, President Logan may well be the greatest fictional villain since Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard. Just think about it: in order to accomplish his cyclopean objectives, President Logan condones the murder of an ex-president, facilitates an assassination attempt against his Russian counterpart, provides terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, and even forfeits the mental health of his own wife Martha (Jean Smart). But then again, it is also very difficult to characterize President Logan as a simple, evil man bent on world domination. Indeed, even if his methods are far from being commendable, he certainly upholds noble and patriotic values. Thus, President Logan is an embodiment of the moral and cultural conundrums revealed by the show.


Needless to say, 24’s staggering plot developments and eccentric characters deeply resonate with real life events and persons. While watching 24, for instance, it is difficult not to think about Bush’s ambitious militarism and the failed search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Intended or not, President Logan comes forward as a crude caricature of President Bush, Jr. As a consequence, adding to the endless debates about America’s troubled presence in Iraq, 24 appears to suggest a chaotic power structure at the head of the American government.


Still, 24 is much more complex than simple anti-Bush propaganda. While some plot developments appear to suggest a leftist orientation, some others reflect a hearty support for ultra-right ideologies. For instance, the show presents terrorism as a vicious disease that can only be fought with even more brutal police action. As such, in a rather indirect and ambiguous way, the series condones the use of military action against anybody who does not conform to western ideologies.


In this regard, more often than not, the savagery of the terrorists is only matched by the brutal punishment that Jack inflicts on them. However, Jack’s unruly behavior is invariably excused because of his fervent patriotism. Case in point is his faithful reliance on excruciating torture to extract information from uncooperative evildoers. While a few times the series brings up the moral conundrum associated with these techniques, it is always clear that Jack’s duty and nationalistic ideology justify any type of action. Thus, confronting effectiveness against morality, the series recalls the recent controversies about the legal and ethical legitimacy of these interrogation methods.


Unfortunately, sometimes one feels that 24 is missing a great opportunity to explore in further detail some of the difficult problems that currently shape our world. For instance, it often ignores the historical, religious, political, social, and cultural intricacies that lead to terrorism, racism, and warfare. Instead, and quite predictably, the series tends to concentrate on frenetic action, spectacular pyrotechnics, eye-popping acrobatics, deafening gunfights, and hearty melodrama. Thus, all the cultural and political complexities that haunt our post-9/11 world are reduced to a simple moral opposition.

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Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


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24 Season 5 -- You're a Traitor to this Country
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