24: Season 8, Episode 11
2:00 a.m.-3:00 a.m.
24 has done a lot to hurt the productivity of the discussion around the effectiveness of torture in this country (see, didn't I warn you we'd get to a discussion of torture at some point this season?). The idea of a "ticking time bomb" situation like those we've become accustomed to on the show actually occurring are slim to none. Therefore, any of the things that Jack Bauer does when he is in these entirely impossible situations must be viewed under a lens of pragmatism, and with the idea that Jack Bauer is a fictional character, not a political talking point, and certainly not evidence of the effectiveness of torture.

The show knows how politicized its become, and it has taken steps in the last few seasons to point out how ineffective torture can be and what horrible consequences it can entail for the victims, the perpetrators, and for our country. Tonight we got our first real torture scene of the season (discounting Jack's few moments of Lethal Weapon style electrocution at the hands of the now defunct Russians), and it played pretty much like it usually does. Jack tried talking reason into Marcos, then brought in Marcos' mother (a solid Mare Winningham) to try and get at him through empathy, and finally, Jack threatened to torture and kill Marcos' mother if he didn't surrender. It was pretty standard 24 fare, yet the show has never lost its skill at drawing tension from torture scenes, especially as Jack has become more and more morally compromised by his actions. When he tells Marcos he will personally expose his mother to radiation poisoning and let her die in agony, there is no doubt in the mind's of the audience that Jack would be capable of such things. Kiefer Sutherland has a coldness to his gaze as he locks eyes with marcos, and there is no doubt that Jack is not bluffing.

Yet the torture scene plays out slightly differently than we might expect this time around, which is to the show's credit. Jack's threats are not immediate; that is, he and Marcos are separated by the chamber Marcos has barricaded himself in, and Jack cannot use physical violence to get what he wants. This fits well with both Jack's image of himself now as more of a Grandfather than a federal agent (or, as he called himself this week, a specialist brought in for today). He is still the world's ultimate badass, but the acts of overt and immediate violence he used to take part in without hesitation now give him pause. Earlier in the season, when Renee cut off the man's thumb, Jack was shocked by the action, even though any die hard fan of 24 has seen Bauer do much worse over the last 8 seasons. Jack Bauer is changing, and his change fits in perfectly with a show that's more conscious of the effects it has on the national debate over torture.

Tangents aside, the episode's biggest flaw is that it didn't spend more time drawing tension from Jack's story, which is always the most compelling, especially when a situation like this arises. Instead, we saw that Stephen Root's parole officer is out looking for Kevin, and needs to speak to Dana about him. Also, there was a bit too much of Tarin and Kayla being lovey-dovey, which I'm sure was meant to lull us into submission before thw big twist, but mostly it just felt like more stalling from the series. As for the big twist, I'm sure I should have seen the "Tarin's a traitor" twist coming, but honestly I was giving the show a bit too much credit. I thought his character was being used to show the danger's of Hassan's dictatorial style and the pitfalls of his paranoia, and his character was all the more interesting as an innocent man indicted wrongfully by a dictator losing his control and his reason along with it. Instead, 24 has made Hassan's madness seem almost logical by proving his paranoia correct, which really underplays a perfectly valid plotline they were building this year. This is a general issue for the show, and they've sort of painted themselves into a corner. The writers seem to have fairly pragmatic views on torture, the corruptibility of government officials and many other issues, yet going to the extremes creates much better drama on a show like 24. While the writers may begin each season with an eye on being realistic and on tacklign serious issues in a pragmatic way, they eventually write themselves into a corner in an effort to feed the beast that is suspense, the driving element of their show. That being said, I was a bit shocked by the twist, and I have to give the show a little credit for that.

For the most part, this episode avoided focusing on the things that were actually interesting in favor of still more stalling, but if next week's preview is any indication, we should be in for a seriously good time, hopefully not at the expense of any solid themes or easy to call twists along the way.

Grade: B

-Apologies for the late publishing, I've been on Spring Break, which means things are slightly more hectic and delayed.

-No Renee this week. And here I assumed she'd get into some tomfoolery en route back to Jack's apartment...

-Dana and Cole's plot is mostly boring because its obvious they'll get caught, and almost as obvious that she'll take the fall to let him keep his job. But I won't object to more Stephen Root...
Tags: 24
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