Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Wow. There's a lot in the show's season finale to digest. I don't usually do TV blogging, but there were a couple of points I wanted to throw out.

First of all, I think I've found the struggle for the soul of Renee Walker to be one of the most interesting plots to watch all season. In season 1 we got Jack Bauer as a fully-formed Promethean terrorist-stopping machine. There must have been an initial moment somewhere when Jack first stepped over the line, but we really never got to see it like we have with Renee. One thing I've always appreciated about 24 was its acknowledgement that fighting the bad guys is messy. Anyone who sees a full-throated endorsement of torture in the show is obviously not paying attention. Jack makes the decisions he makes because he believes they are necessary, but the show never pretends for a moment that they don't come at a price. A wife, a daughter, a grandchild, a friend, etc., Jack is always hurting and losing the people he cares about because of his job and the way he goes about it. Fighting the enemy effectively requires him to become like them in some ways, and shedding your humanity always comes with a price. Renee understands this, and with full knowledge of the consequences, she is still taking a step forward into Jack's world.

I read a good analogy recently over at National Review. Think of civilization as a herd of sheep, while terrorists are the wolves prowling outside the fold. Sheep can't protect themselves. They don't have the tools or temperament. Who does? The sheep dog. He has the muscles, the fangs, the claws, and the temperament to go toe-to-toe with a wolf and win. But, he can never be a sheep. He is with them, but not one of them. They'll never feel as comfortable with him as they do with other sheep. He shares too much in common with the wolves he fights.

It looks like 24 has at least one more season, which most likely means Jack will be surviving the bio-agent currently ravaging him. A less likely, but possible outcome is that 24 has a final season centered on Renee, not as a replacement for Jack, but finishing Jack's final mission. On an emotional level, that's the outcome I want, despite my certainty that it will not happen. Jack will never get to walk off into the sunset. He's tried it too many times, and each time he gets pulled back in. Even if the show ended on such a note, deep down we all know it won't last. Terrorism will be back, the normal rules won't be sufficient, and Jack will again have the weight of the world dropped on his shoulders. The only rest for Jack would be the grave.

On a side note, were I Muslim, I would be offended by that final scene between Jack and the imam. Moralistic therapeutic deism, America's unofficial religion, raises its ugly head, this time covered in a taqiyah, telling Jack to forgive himself, as if God's concern is for our self-image rather than for our holiness. Apparently the producers of 24 think Muslims are a pretty cheap date. After CAIR's incessant objecting to a show about terrorism that might dare to use Muslims in some of its plot lines, 24 started using a bait-and-switch routine. Usually about halfway through the season we would end up finding out that the Muslims were really just a front for evil, corporate white guys. (Which is mildly insulting in itself, isn't it? I mean after all, are we supposed to assume the brown guys are too dumb to mastermind anything without a white guy making all the tough decisions?) Now, we get another ill-conceived sop in which the Muslim imam comforts Jack with the kind of platitudes I'd expect from Oprah, not a spiritual leader.

Lastly, I wanted to point out the parallels between President Taylor and Jack. On the surface they seem so different. She works in the open, using charm, and playing by the rules. Jack works in shadow, often on the wrong side of the law. And yet, both of them have felt the devastating cost of allowing others to depend on your for their safety. Both have lost and alienated those closest to them through no fault of their own, simply because they had to do what was necessary to guarantee the country's survival. And while they work on opposite sides of the law, both are trapped by it.