Shiny Shelf

24: Redemption

By Stephen Lavington on 05 December 2008

There are few ‘24′ fans, no matter how devout, who would seriously defend the weak sixth season. If the show has often had problems with long-term plot arcs (especially over the last few episodes) season 6 took this to a new level with barely a pretence of any planning or direction after the, admittedly spectacular, nuclear explosions of episode 4.

It came then as something approaching relief when the writers’ strike kicked in to keep Jack Bauer out of action for longer than a spell in a Chinese prison. Even so the wait has been a tortuous one (ironic given the character involved) especially with the tantalising prospect of a ‘24′ movie steadfastly refusing to escape development hell. This seems to have been appreciated by Fox who, in place of the usual ten-minute teasers that precede a season, commissioned a full-blown 2-hour one-off story, relocating Bauer to Africa and setting up the intrigue and backstory that will steer season 7. At least until the writers get bored.

There are few signs to indicate what Jack has been up to since we last saw him – swimming to shore after, apparently, letting his evil dad die. Basically he’s been on a jumped up gap year, swanning around India before heading over to Africa to help out in a school. However, this is no charity scheme populated by 18 year-olds taking time out before their Art History course at Bristol. This is the pet project of Jack’s old special forces mucker Carl Benton (an indeterminately accented Robert Carlyle). The school swiftly becomes the target of a group of African militamen, intent on recruiting child soldiers (it is a measure of the show’s ever-present crassness that it can take such a serious and poignant subject and reduce it to a scenario based on a reimagining – it appears – of the child-catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’). Jack is torn between the bonds of loyalty and decency in helping Benton and protecting the children and avoiding the local American embassy man (Gil Bellows, looking eerily like Jermaine From ‘Flight of the Conchords’) carrier of a subpoena from the U.S. senate who wish to have words with Jack about mistreatment of prisoners in his charge.

It is a no-brainer to guess which way Bauer jumps, and the remainder of a breakneck couple of hours ties in this story with the wider narrative of a coup in the same fictional African country, masterminded by renegade General Benjamin Juma (played by the totally evil Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd). Not that ‘24′ avoids the American side of the equation. In Washington we witness the last few minutes of Powers Boothe’s presidency as he hands over to Allison Taylor (the makers, having already given America two black presidents in six seasons, presumably felt they should try to get away from the norm and put someone really radical in the White House – like a woman). As per usual in the ‘24′-verse he government is brimming over with conspiracy and sinister mystery man Jon Voight appears to be behind it all. That said there are some worrying signs of a lack of imagination in the writing. One of the most promising concepts –the repercussions of a crisis arising during the handover of power between two utterly ideologically opposed presidents – is rapidly done away with, when it could potentially have fuelled an entire season.

When all’s said and done, this is little more than a dressed up version of the ten-minute previews we’ve seen before. It’s there to ease us into the warm, familiar bath of whispered plotting, frantic technobabble and ultra-violence, and set the scene for the seventh day of explosive action and unlikely plot twists. If you don’t like ‘24′, this really won’t convert you and it doesn’t bode well, in that sense, for people expecting a radical redirection following the panning of season 6.

‘24′ has always been a brutally simple concept lurking behind a façade of complexity. The show is the perfect manifestation of the utter, blinkered conviction of the political right: the idea that whatever Jack does is in the best interests of every one, and that any opposition to this is a sign of foolishness, weakness or treachery. The attempts at ambiguity (for instance the idea behind the title of ‘Redemption’ that Jack Bauer needs redeeming for his past sins) utterly fail for want of sincerity. The show pays lip service to the idea that it might be wrong to torture people – in fact it is obvious to the writers that it is absolutely necessary and that to suggest otherwise would be crazy, and they expect such truths to be similarly obvious to viewers. This total lack of irony gives the show much of its entertainment value for masochists such as myself and there is every sign that this will be the case with season 7 too. ‘24′ is at its best when it ploughs its ideological furrow with utter sincerity while simultaneously throwing desperate plot gambit after plot gambit at the viewer, in an escalating tide of convoluted nonsense. It may be the same joke after 144 episodes but there’s a little mileage left in it yet.

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By Stephen Lavington

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