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March 7, 2006


24: Suspension of suspension of disbelief

Edgar Stiles!

With regards to recent storytelling techniques on 24, Amy and ADM have some opposing viewpoints...

Amy says:

Last night's 2 episodes of 24 were like a breath of fresh, bloody air. People got shot! Tortured! Gassed! Did the plot progress logically and make sense? Of course not! But if there's one thing we've all learned about 24, it's that logic sometimes has to be sacrificed for the sake of good television.

Here's what I'm talking about. When Curtis and the other CTU field agents get to the hospital where they've determined one of the canisters of nerve gas ("weaponized" nerve gas, whatever that is) is going to be released, they start evacuating the hospital, then find the gas. They pace around it. They look at the wires. They think about what they should do. Finally one of the guys realizes that the timer says the gas is going to be released in one minute, and then they have to rush the canister up the stairs and out to the containment chamber thingy they brought with them... which is outside the hospital... in the van... out in the parking lot... and stick it in there. The canister explodes inside the chamber. Hooray! Everybody's saved. How lucky that they got the gas contained in time!

Yes, this was completely silly and doesn't make any sense. But watching Curtis and a bunch of other space-suited guys hurtling through a city hospital, dodging around lots of sick people rolling around in wheelchairs and hobbling on crutches who are also trying to get out as fast as they can, while holding what looks like my office coffee maker, is what this show is all about.

I'm also relieved to see that Kiefer is finally starting to break some rules and go renegade again. When Kiefer follows orders, nothing gets done. When he does things his way, a lot more people get killed, but it's all for the good of the country.

Which brings us to a theme raised in the last few episodes: husbands betraying their wives. President Logan was all set to let his wife get blown up along with the Russian president. Henderson's refusal to tell Kiefer how to find the nerve gas led to Kiefer shooting Henderson's wife Miriam in the leg, and he made it clear that Kiefer could pump the poor woman full of lead, he wasn't talking. The combination of shock, betrayal, and excrutiating pain in Miriam's face when she realized she was getting shot on behalf of her crooked lout of a husband was fantastic.

I also liked the dialogue leading up to Kiefer torturing Henderson. Henderson knew what was coming, recognized standard torture techniques (like "showing respect for the subject's agenda") and still kept his mouth shut.

The nerve gas attack on CTU was also sort of ridiculous--why not just shut down the building's ventilation system?--but it was still a shocker that wiped out a good portion of CTU. Including the only CTU staffer from the Bronx (and proud of it!) Edgar Stiles. Sniff. A lot of major characters have gotten killed over the course of 24, but I don't think any of them got such a sentimental moment as the final countdown to 7:00 at the end of the show, with a solemn silence replacing the usual beeps. Edguh Stiles! Sorry to see you go.

This week we also met C. Thomas Howell, who plays Kim Bauer's ratty little boyfriend/lawyer/therapist Barry Landes. It's hard to like a character that tries to tell Kiefer what to do within 10 seconds of meeting him, so we're hoping he won't be around much longer. Considering all of Kim's other boyfriends have either gotten killed or dismembered, he doesn't stand much of a chance.

ADM says:

But the problem is that 24 fails, show after show, to be internally consistent with the rules of its own universe. I am happy to suspend disbelief and believe that the terrorist attack could be thwarted just in time by shutting down the ventilation system at the mall. But when the exact same method of attack is used on the hospital and CTU headquarters, and no one even mentions the possibility of shutting down the ventilation system, how can I help but think, "What the hell is wrong with this show?" It has a tendency to create suspense just for the sake of creating suspense, not because either the plot calls for it or because any logical sequence of events would lead to the suspense. And that's why, year after year, I get fed up with the show a few episodes into the season and stop watching. To put it simply, it's not exciting if it's stupid.

Watching Kiefer navigate the swamps of his psyche is always interesting. Watching CTU agents die unexpectedly is interesting. But watching yet another cliff-hanger moment just because it's time to break to a commercial or because no one realized they could just throw a garbage bag over the nerve gas device is not interesting to me. The hospital scene that Amy loved was so preposterous and unbelievable to me, I couldn't enjoy it as "exciting television"...I could only see it as laughable. They had the thing isolated in the basement, the hospital was all but evacuated, and they're all standing around in bio-suits, yet the show's writers decide to have Curtis pick it up and run through the hospital like OJ in the Hertz commercial, endangering dozens of people in the process, people who for some reason were gathered RIGHT NEXT TO THE CHEMICAL WEAPON CONTAINMENT VAN. In most shows, even this wouldn't really bother me...What bothers me is that according to the show's own internal logic, turning of the air conditioning and leaving the building would have achieved exactly the same thing. But since that is much less "dramatic" than watching Curtis run with the deadly nerve agent in one hand and the timer in the other, we get the more foolish scene.

And this happens again and again and again on this show: the writers invent easily solvable crises out of whole cloth, but present them as difficult to solve, even when the exact same crisis has been solved by the same exact characters just a few hours before. After several instances of this, I can't help but suspend my suspension of disbelief and start laughing at the show instead of being engaged in it on its own merits.

Roger Ebert has been making a point lately of defending his reviews of movies like Flightplan and the incredible Running Scared by saying that it doesn't matter if gigantic plot holes become apparent to him hours after he leaves the theater. What matters is that he was able to enjoy the movies while he was watching them. That's all I'd ask from 24: Tone down the ridiculousness and inconsistencies just enough for us to enjoy it while we watch it. If I don't realize until a few hours later that there is no way Julian Sands could have secured a second army of terrorists within twenty minutes of losing his first one or that Robocop would never have waited seven minutes before detonating the bomb in the bunker, then I'll be happy.

categories: TV
posted by amy at 4:28 PM | #

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Holy crap, that was C. Thomas Howell?? I saw his name in the opening credits, and was wondering how I missed him. Soul Man is all skin and bones (and goatee)!

Posted by: Matthew Saunders at March 7, 2006 8:04 PM

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