24: The Longest Dead Series Discussion of Our Lives – Season Two

“DOING IT ALL FOR THE NUKE-IE”

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24 is a groundbreaking and important television series. Beyond the thrills, kills, twists and tragedies is a show that reached a new level of serialized storytelling and set the bar for action and suspense on network television. Lasting for 8 full seasons–192 Episodes plus a TV movie–24 is one of the longest-running shows of the past 15 years. Others, like Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Smallville, all three CSIs and three of four Law & Orders, may have run longer, but the argument can be made that none of those shows are equally as worthy of contributing to the debatably labeled and vaguely-defined “Third Golden Age of Television Drama” that began with The Sopranos in 1999 and is now fading with the end of Breaking Bad and the impending finale of Mad Men. Perhaps 24 doesn’t quite reach the dramatic heights of those shows, or others like The Wire and Deadwood, or even The Shield, Lost or Battlestar Galactica, but it was always a strong awards and ratings contender and it was just so addicting and fun to watch.

Please join us—Patches, Zach, Jeff and MegaMix—as we take a look back at this series, discussing one season every month until the premiere of the new 12-episode miniseries 24: Live Another Day in May 2014.

This month’s discussion is focused on Season 2 of 24, which premiered in October of 2002.

It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of 24 and strong language. Parental discretion is advised.

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Patches

24 premiered just two months after the 9/11 Attacks. Although 24’s first season was closer to a family drama than the espionage drama/thriller it would become, no other show on television has become more closely associated with the War on Terror.

And it makes perfect sense. When confronted with a tragedy, especially such a shocking one, it’s only natural to seek comfort and strength. As the nation grieved, those traits propelled President George W. Bush to approval ratings as high as 90%.

Seasons one & two proved that Jack Bauer had those traits as well. He loved his family, loved his country, and would do anything to protect both. Simply put, Jack Bauer was exactly the person America wanted on September 12, 2001.

Although 24 was frequently criticized by civil libertarians and Islamic organizations for perceived Islamophobia, I think 24 generally did a good job dealing with Islam and terrorism.

24’s Islamic terrorists, such as Syed Ali, Habib Marwan, and Abu Fayed, were never portrayed as any simpler than their real-life counterparts. Most importantly, they were never terrorists just because they were Muslim.

24 was also careful to positively portray many Muslims or to negatively portray Islamophobia. In season two, the racial profiling of Reza Naiyeer led to the torture of an innocent man. Later, a Middle Eastern intelligence agent was beaten to death by racists as he brought critical evidence to CTU. In season four, two Muslim entrepreneurs helped Jack fend off American mercenaries. In season six, the US’s Muslim detention center was portrayed in an extremely negative light. In addition, Nadia Yassir competently led CTU that entire season.

24 reinforced the notion that not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslim. At the end of the day, 24’s critics wanted a show about international terrorism to pretend that no radical Islamic terrorist organizations existed. That’s more unrealistic than Dennis Hopper’s Eastern European accent.

Criticism of 24’s use of torture was better founded. Throughout the series, Jack never hesitated to use torture to help end the season’s terrorist plots. Jack’s philosophy was that he should do whatever is necessary to protect the nation and its people. It’s an understandable philosophy, especially for a counterterrorist agent, especially post-9/11.

My major issue was that everyone who disagreed with Bauer’s methods was portrayed negatively. The lawyer who represented a potential terrorist connection was a sleazy collaborator. Jack’s bosses who limited his methods did so because they were weak, selfish, or more concerned with covering their own asses or advancing their own careers. It takes seven seasons for Jack to have a principled philosophical opposite.

Perhaps even worse, 24 portrayed torture inaccurately. Jack’s torture always works, despite overwhelming evidence that it produces unreliable information and leads to subjects telling the interrogator what they want to hear. If you don’t believe me, check out the US Army Field Manual on interrogation. And on the rare occasions when Jack brutally tortures an innocent person, we don’t need to worry about it. They understand. It’s totally cool.

24 also promoted the idea of the “ticking time bomb” scenario. Whenever Jack wanted to use “enhanced interrogation techniques,” he always did so because time was running out, damn it!™. Jack’s decision was always framed as a choice between torture and massive civilian casualties. Although this is arguably necessary for dramatic effect, especially in a real-time format, it also misleads viewers.

These sorts of scenarios simply don’t exist in real life. Although on TV, and in public opinion, governments are portrayed as powerful and efficient, the realities of bureaucratic inertia, general uncertainty, and extensive chains of command make for far less drama. Terrorists foiled on the day of an attack are never tracked down by the CIA, FBI, or DHS just in the nick of time. The result is that many people support the use of torture, at least as an option, because they mistakenly believe it works or because it may be needed for a situation that doesn’t actually exist.

I’ll admit that Kim Bauer’s cougar-venture was the only thing I originally remembered about season two. That was it. If you asked me, “What happened in season two?” the only thing I would have said was “Cougar.”

However, a lot of other stuff happened, including David Palmer avoiding going to war based on bad information on literally the same day the United States actually went to war on bad information. Season two’s finale aired on the same calendar date that US units rolled across the Iraqi border. What did everyone else think about the rest of season two?

Or cougars?

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Zach

Effing Cougars.

Naw, I’m just jackin’ ya off.

A lot of cool info there that I hadn’t heard of, Patches– especially the last bit about the coincidence of the finale and the war in Iraq. Nuts.

Regarding my thoughts on the season: If you asked me what I remembered from season two, I would have jokingly said cougars, but what I really would have been thinking about was George Mason’s Amelia Earhart impersonation. Xander Berkeley made his last appearance as my favorite name in the history of TV credits, and as ridiculous as it was, ended up having my all-time favorite death of a character on 24. Mason talking Jack off of the same self-sacrificial ledge upon which he’d spend much of the rest of the series was a highlight of the season for me.

But on the larger topic of 24 as a social statement on terrorism: I agree, 24 spoke to a very certain desire in America. There were folks who just wanted to see a good ol’ fashioned ass-kickin’ action movie once a week on Fox, sure; but the notion that a person like Jack Bauer actually exists and is out there protecting ‘Murica was comforting, no matter how obviously ridiculous it was (is). I think, too, that it helped serve to reduce the actual scope of the fear that was fogging up the early 2000s: 24 portrayed how one man (no matter how incredible, he was still only one man) could single-handedly stop terrorism in its tracks. Obviously, this is ridiculous, but the conceit that it’s even possible is, I think, a more subtle one than that a “Jack” exists, and easier for the audience to start accepting without questioning. Does Jack Bauer exist? Of course not, that’s ridiculous! Do four people exist who, together, could do what Jack does… maybe…

Of course, that’s not enough.  But in 24land it is.

One last thing: remember that the villains of season two were western businessmen.  I think that the only criticism you could level in the vein of Islamophobia (and maybe a valid one) is the extent to which the producers’ bending-over-backwards-ness ended up making the Islamic terrorists look like puppets of their eventual western terrorist masterminds.

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Jeff

Oh Kate Warner. I used to like you a lot, but now I don’t. It’s not your never-completely-hidden Australian accent. Nor is it your rank on the season two’s “Four Hot Blondes” list. In fact, I’d still take you over your sister. No, the problem is how over the top you (or the writers) are with your suspicions of Reza. To be fair, early in this season, someone says the word “terrorist” in a meeting with David Palmer and the screen immediately splits to introduce Reza. What else are we supposed to do with that? I originally did exactly what you did Kate. I was on your side. Unfortunately for you, I can only watch this season in hindsight. Knowing Reza is innocent makes your behavior look even worse.

It’s not just you, Kate. The writers made Tony Almeida give a Good Will Hunting-esque “how’s that for racial profiling?” speech to Reza. Then, after proving Reza was wrongly accused, and that I was wrong to suspect him, they still made me like you and Tony and tried to make me forget about how I was profiling poor, dead Reza earlier, right along with you. Did you learn your lesson? Did I? I don’t know about you, Kate, but I think the Middle Eastern racial issues on 24 are sometimes confusing or manipulative, even if they’re not over-simplified or entirely stereotypical. I’ll usually give the entertainment-minded writers the benefit of the doubt, though.

Oh, but don’t get me started on the “Muslim entrepreneurs” from season four. It’s like getting hit with a 24-ton sledgehammer that says “See, not all Muslims are bad!” Gimme a break.

Patches, your take on torture is well-reasoned and I generally agree with you. I want to mention one odd exception to Jack’s torture-happy behavior from season two. In episode four, Jack corners CTU bombing mastermind Joseph Wald (Uncle Rico!), in an armored shed. He manages to get Wald to open the door by talking to him. This is NUTS! It seems like a writers cheat, but it’s not entirely unbelievable. It’s just so out of character considering what would happen later this same season.

As for cougars, I’m putting out a theory right now that if you took the entire season two Kim Bauer narrative on its own, it would play out like an awesome, campy, horror movie-esque, hilarious Murphy’s Law adventure that would be just as fun as it is awful. Of course, I haven’t re-watched Johnny Drama in the woods or the convenience store yet.

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MegaMix

So far, ya’ll bein’ hatahs.

It seems a bit unfair.

But, LET’S KEEP THE HATE TRAIN ROLLING!!! AMIRIGHT!?

I’m on board with pretty much everything that has been stated so far, especially Jeff’s theory on the Kim Bauer season two horror biopic that could be subtracted from the entire “day.” As a quick sidenote on that, I also believe that if you took Kim Bauer out of season two, it would basically be the exact same season. Only potentially more enjoyable. BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE!!!

Anyway…I would sum up what our reader(s) have viewed so far (assuming you’re still reading) by saying that season two is where 24 really starts to get unrealistically over-the-top and proportionately awesome. Now, obviously I don’t think this is a bad thing. I’m sure the writers/producers of the show were feeling pressure from the network and within themselves to give ‘Murica a national representative of what we all hoped the U.S.A was actually. Good or bad.

The specific moment in season two that I would like to rip on for this notion finds itself both stemming and playing itself out during the second half of the “day.” I refer, of course, to the use of the Twenty-fifth Amendment against President Palmer. This was one of the few moments I remember negatively in the entirety of the series, let alone season two. This entire subplot seemed to me to be incredibly fake and forced.

The idea of a room full of the highest powers in our government conspiring against the President of the United States simply because he hesitated to start a retaliatory war is beyond comprehension to me. The people are obviously politically savvy if they’ve gotten this far, but our nation’s politics almost never get this clouded in What-the-Fuck (Other than when one side shuts down the government, tantrum style. TOPICAL HEYO!!!). Along with the unbelievableness of this storyline, the timeframe in which it happens seems silly.

As another point of discussion, keep in mind the slightest of possible undertones regarding an all-white Cabinet invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment against the nation’s first African-American President. For stupid reasons. The fact that they balanced this without ever mentioning it was actually well done. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t save the concept and use of the Amendment in the slightest and ultimately didn’t save the season from being one of my most forgettable.

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Patches

Yeah, I suppose I am something of a season two hater, but once again, only in comparison to later seasons. I talked about it last season, so I won’t again. Suffice it to say that season two wouldn’t have hooked me. I’d have kept watching. I would have enjoyed the show. It would not have been mentioned in the same sentence as my favorite programs.

When our season four DSD rolls around, I’ll talk about how 24 went the way of Sylvester Stallone’s arm-wrestling. But MegaMix is right; it starts here. Jack’s plot in season two is still pretty believable, as it would be in season three. However, the 25th Amendment for disagreeing with the president? Did Palmer stock his entire cabinet full of Republicans? Did anyone in that room actually read the 25th Amendment? MegaMix didn’t say “ugh,” but “ugh” is right.

When combined with Kim Bauer’s catrocious subplot, it’s clear that 24’s writers didn’t know what to do with Not-Bauers. So, instead of making their stories better, they made them bigger.

By the way, here’s video of Kim Bauer being attacked by vicious felines.

Although I enjoyed season two more than season one, it followed up the best ending of any season with the worst.

I’m all for Bauer getting by with a little help from his friends. After all, how many times did Tony or Chase or Curtis help Jack chew everything he had bitten off?

I’m also all for Western businessmen being the puppet-masters. Let’s spread the evil around a little bit. If they want to bitch, they can sob into their tax cuts and feel better in a hurry.

Put it all together, however, and we get a recipe for anti-climax.

Jack Bauer rushes into an empty stadium, engaging in shootouts with goons armed with assault and sniper rifles. After dispatching several baddies, and snapping a dude’s neck by running up a wall, Bauer finds himself disarmed and at the mercy of Jigsaw. As Kingsley is about to pull the trigger, Jack is saved by some random, unnamed sniper.

That’s the climax. Plus, Peter Kingsley was more a middle-manager than CEO of Evil Inc.

Heck, Season 2’s evil mastermind wouldn’t even be taken down until 24: The Game on Playstation 2.

Lots of good elements there, but, but the timing and the execution left much to be desired.

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Zach

Enough of the haterade, time for some Love Juice.

I really like season two. Of what I consider the SuperJack seasons, this is the one I remember most fondly–granted, I haven’t rewatched the shit; I have a job and stuff. Perhaps it’s because all of the things which happened in this season and also happened at least one other time in the series (Islamic terrorists with nuclear bombs in LA, invocation of the 25th Amendment (invoked THREE TIMES, and each time against a Palmer, no less), “successful” presidential assassination attempts, Kim doing stupid shit) happened in this season first. Maybe I would have thought this story was the crappy one if it happened in season four, but it didn’t, and I don’t. Things were all still fresh, and I frankly enjoyed the shit out of SuperJack. It was like the raid on the compound at the end of season one, but every time Jack crossed a street.

This was the last season I watched non-live, and I remember being absolutely blown away by the ending–not like, “holy shit that was amazeballs” blown away, but “what the eff are they going to do from here?!?” blown away. Excited to see season three, to figure out how they were going to catch Mandy. When season three opens with Palmer having to take like three extra aspirin a day (and a healthy dose of bedside manner) to deal with it, let’s just say I was retroactively really, really pissed about the ending. It was like they knew they needed a huge climax to get people hooked and excited for season three (which, admittedly, totes worked) and just said, “Let’s assassinate the president, we’ll figure out what to do with it later.”

All-in-all, I will remember season two as the season which set the tone for the series. I’d call it the standard bearer, but I don’t think it’s really holding the highest standards the series would come to know–it’s just the first real formulation of the Jack Bauer we would all come to expect. I think there are some slight nuances added in season three, and from then on it’s full steam ahead SuperJack. And as much as I bitch about that, let’s be real–it’s why the show was ever as fun as it was. And season two was fun as hell sometimes.

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Jeff

Save me a seat on your season two bandwagon, Zach. Continued rewatching has raised season two in my estimation to the point where it rivals season one. Like Miguel’s right leg below the knee, the last quarter of the season leaves much to be desired, but it gets really good in the middle.

My dislike of Kate Warner gave way to simple disinterest. My surprisingly positive acknowledgement of the quality of Kim’s bizarro-world story diminished with the damn convenience store but improved when Kim disappeared for a couple of episodes only to show up and kill Gary Matheson. I’ll even second Zach’s motion about season two’s silly stuff getting a pass because season two did it first. These were new bad ideas, damn it™!

And that ending. I LOST IT when I saw this live. 24 didn’t always deal in season-ending cliffhangers, but this was its best (sorry Chinese Surprise). Seeing my man DP go down (and out?) was nuts. Teri dying was more awesome and gutsy, but it didn’t make me crazy with anticipation. Zach’s right, however, that the “everything’s okay three years later” non-resolution was underwhelming, if inevitable considering the logistics of the series (24:The Game aside).

While rewatching I was surprised how much I was enjoying nearly each episode. I developed a theory that once the bomb went off, the season would take a Mason-esque nosedive in terms of quality. The dive was a bit more gradual, but things did get pretty dark before the dawn with BS complications and the 25th Amendment atrocity. Trying to stop the bomb was way more fun than dealing with its aftermath.

Patches says this season wouldn’t have hooked him, and that makes sense considering the rough final quarter. Random sniper and non-payoff aside, in the moment, season two had a fairly strong finale, especially factoring in the cliffhanger and the hints of a larger conspiracy. Personally, I’d say that while season one hooked me, season two set the hook deeper.

My love for the early seasons probably comes from watching live from the beginning and not knowing what would happen in the next episode, let alone the next season. I was in the front seat of the locomotive, watching the brand-new track being laid directly ahead of me, and it was exciting.

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MegaMix

Wow.

This group flip flops more than flip flops. (Nailed it!)

With the exception of Patches, we went from hate-fest to love-fest in 24 seconds flat. (Is that fast? I have no idea.)

For me, it’s not really about how good or bad this season is in comparison with other “days”, but much more on whether or not I remember liking it when I first watched it. To that end, this season felt right on par with the heightened reality that was consistently present in season three (when I started watching the show live) and would continue in various forms for the rest of the series. So, love? Hate? I’d say neither.

The final point I wanted to make about season two was the rise of Tony Almeida as a main character in the show.

In season one, Tony is used pretty much like everyone else on the show. He helps a little here. He screws up a little there. He helped move the plot in the direction the writers wanted the show to go. Ultimately, he was a foil for Jack. But, he never really seemed like he had a solidified place on the show. Season two changed that.

Tony grows up during the second day. He goes from a supportive character to one of the only characters during the series that could (at times) stand toe-to-toe with Jack and not back down. This is exemplified by him having an altercation with Bauer in the second season and living to tell the story. There aren’t many characters on the show that could say that.

In the second season the audience is shown that Tony is also willing to go as far as necessary for the country (i.e. taking out Chappelle in order to aid Jack’s efforts). He goes from being the “Nice Guy Tony” opposite “Bad Ass Jack”, to the much needed balancing force for Jack’s willingness to bend/break the rules. He becomes necessary in order for Jack to pull off his stunts from day-to-day, and that’s a HUGE deal, because without that balance, Jack would’ve flown off the rails for sure.

The other part of this growth is much simpler and definitely more subtle. Throughout the drama of season two, we see that Tony may be one of Jack’s only real friends. Someone who will be guaranteed to disagree with Jack frequently, but will also ALWAYS be there for him when he needs. My question is this; Who is Jack without Tony? I’ll let you decide.

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KILL COUNT

Jack Bauer’s Season 2 Kill Count: 30

Jack’s Overall Kill Count: 40

PARTING SHOTS

Patches

Best Moment: I’m a sucker for “Holy Shit!” moments. Jack’s hard sell of murdering Syed Ali’s son was ice cold. Jack’s bluff was only effective because Ali believed Jack was willing to follow through if necessary. And the suspense only worked because we believed it too.

Parting Shot: 24: The Game (which was released in 2006) was mostly successful at taking the real-time conceit and transferring it to a video game. You controlled many characters (including heels-wearing, SMG-wielding Michelle Dessler), interrogated prisoners (with facial “cues” a bit short of L.A. Noire), and hacked electronics and bombs with mini-games. Heck, you even got to kill season two’s mastermind. It wasn’t a great game, but it was fun as long as we pretend the driving missions didn’t exist. Fleets of bad guys chasing you in cars both faster and stronger than yours, ramming you to death if you made the tiniest mistake? SOUNDS LIKE FUN! I’LL TAKE ALL OF THEM!

Zach

Best Moment: George Mason’s Swan Dive Song. Won’t reiterate what was above, except to say it was super cheesy and ridiculous and I loved the shit out of it.

Parting Shot: Actually, guys, they did make a full season of storylines like the cougar one! It was a show called 2.4, and it aired from January to May in 2007, and was a fuckin’ HOOT. I’d describe it as follows:

Adam West’s 1960s Batman : Nolan’s The Dark Knight :: 2.4 : 24

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Jeff

Best Moment: Nina Myers’ return. From the instant she reentered CTU to the moments after Jack’s (pre-Lost In Translation) whisper to her it was great. It was never clear whether Jack genuinely intended to commit revenge homicide or if he was just playing her, and Sutherland and Clarke pulled it off well. Good stuff.

Parting Shot: Holy crap what a “God-awful, shitty mess” episode 19 was. It made me feel like I was enduring torture along with Jack, only he was lucky enough to die at episode’s end. Although we got Michelle and Tony’s first kiss, every non-Jack story had some element of terrible. Mike Novick gives a gross misinterpretation of the 25th Amendment and then locks Lynne Kresge in a storage closet. Ryan Chappelle calls Tony to tell him he’s coming to CTU to do the exact same thing Brad Hammond did 6 hours earlier. Michelle’s brother Danny (remember him?) comes to CTU and tries to choke out Carrie who we learn drove him to leave his wife and later attempt suicide after she dumped him. Yusuf and Kate are attacked by Arab-hating rednecks, including Breaking Bad’s own Tuco (or Clear and Present Danger’s own Chavez–Raymond Cruz) and Parks and Recreation’s own Ron Swanson (a trucker hat-wearing Nick Offerman). The kicker? Surprisingly absent from all of this is Kim Bauer, taking an episode off for the first time ever.

MegaMix

Best Moment: I can’t believe this moment hasn’t really been mentioned yet, but the end of episode one of season two shows Jack pull out a gun and shoot Goren from point blank range in the chest. Bauer then utters one of the most bone-chilling lines that he ever delivers in the entire series by telling a surprised and freaking out Mason that “I’m gonna need a hacksaw.” COME ON!!! That’s some serious craziness right there.

Parting Shot(s): In episode seven of season two, George Mason gives his son access to a special account containing $200,000. In season one, Jack accused Mason of skimming that exact amount of money from a CTU operation. For a small moment in the first quarter of the second season, this sheds a ton of dark light onto Mason that is never mentioned or referred to again for the rest of the series, let alone the second season. Also, little known fact about the cougar. It actually bit Elisha Cuthbert while filming and “Kim” had to go to the hospital to get treated for it.

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Season OneSeason ThreeSeason FourSeason FiveSeason SixSeason SevenSeason EightSeason Nine

Bonus screen-grabs (because I don’t want to feel like I wasted my time)

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Ron Effing Swanson

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Lefty

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Max, we hardly knew ye

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George Mason earns his silent clock

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8 thoughts on “24: The Longest Dead Series Discussion of Our Lives – Season Two

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