24: Season Three

Prods: Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran
2004
Season Three of 24 finally got into our greedy little hands this month,
and it wasn’t long till we had blasted through the series, sitting through at least two five-episodes-in-a-row viewings. Unfortunately this season pales in comparison to the first two for a couple of reasons.
One is that, under pressure from Fox execs, I believe, to make the show accessible to any damn person who may join the show at any point during its run, the script and its structure got dumbed down a lot. Agents told other agents things they already knew, stating and restating the obvious for the benefit of nobody else except the chance viewer.
Second is that the faithfulness to the 24-hour, real-time narrative has been eschewed for a plotting structure that feels like regular TV. Yes, these events still happen in an hour during each episode, but now things happen way too fast. Despite being located near downtown L.A., nobody seems to take any time to drive to locations, with most trips taking ten minutes at most. Hell, it takes 2 minutes just to get to the car from CTU, I bet. Whoever is working the Powerpoint at CTU should get a medal, as well, because 10 minutes after data is requested, there’s a brilliant presentation full of animated graphics and multiple click-throughs to be screened for the agents. 24 has never been the most realistic of shows, but so much of the suspense from Seasons One and Two came from the time it took to just achieve simple tasks. When time was broken down to the minute, suddenly every minute counted, and we counted along with the show. Now the show feels like a 72-hour bad dream.
The show continues its balance between one of the most moral administrations in the history of fictional presidencies, and between the ruthless, cold agent assigned to protect it. Jack Bauer never speaks of his country or of the freedoms he (or others) enjoy here and that he’s protecting. He’s there to protect the President and by proxy the American people (usually presented as a mob of extras, as all other characters are agents, villains, or victims). Jack’s victory over emotion (which cost him his wife in the first season) is now contrasted with the “weak” agent Tony, who acts selflessly when his wife is threatened and is punished for it by show’s end. Like George Romero’s zombie films, 24 punishes those who acts out of emotion and a sense of family, and rewards those who don’t. That may include the villain, but his undoing is when Jack threatens the life of his daughter.
Like Season Two, this season presents torture as a common practice for both sides. In a year that has brought us Abu Ghraib and torture’s legal architect Alberto Gonzales, these scenes disturb, though set up as being as a desperate last option. And torture in 24 always leads to vital information, unlike in real life.
The structure of the season began to show more this time ’round. There’s a “beta criminal” that takes up the first half of the season, whose death or capture leads to the surprise revelation of “alpha criminal” whose death or capture caps the penultimate episode, with loose ends tied up in the final episode. There will also be a sacrifice among the CTU staff. And emotional women will wind up ruining everything as usual. (Exception: Reiko Aylesworth’s Michelle, who plays by the book, leaving husband Tony as the emasculated male).
So, for now, we’re sticking with the series, though we were disappointed. In a year we’ll have Season Four to contemplate, and see if the show got back on track.

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