January 16, 2007
24: season 6 premiere
You know, sitting down to watch the premiere of the sixth (!) season of 24 made me think for a brief moment about the psychological phenomenon of learned helplessness: when victims of systematic abuse begin to believe that they are truly powerless to fight against whatever's being done to them. Like my life was about to start sliding away into a void of half-assed characters and sloppy writing all over again.
Then Kiefer killed a man by ripping out his neck with his teeth, and the world seemed like a brighter place again.
But it turned out that good old Kiefer is experiencing some learned helplessness himself after spending the last two years getting beaten to within an inch of his life by the Chinese. The most interesting parts of the first four hours of this season have been about Kiefer questioning his own abilities. The best scene was the one where he tries to extract information out of one of Assad's traitorous men, then gives up after looking in his eyes and "seeing" that the guy wasn't going to break. Certainly, having empathy for your torture victims isn't a very strategic tactic.
So then when Assad casually picks up a kitchen knife and slides it in right below the guy's kneecap, and immediately gets the info they need, Kiefer looks at Assad with something like adoration and nausea. Assad still has the ability to do whatever it takes, which is the very quality that's made Jack Bauer one of the best characters on TV these past few years.
Even though Kiefer delivers a couple of speeches about how he doesn't think he can do this anymore, when it comes right down to it, he pulls through every time after this one botched torture scene. Sure, he staggered off and puked his guts out after shooting Curtis, but at the moment, he did the right thing. It started to get tedious last season when Kiefer was so completely accurate in always knowing the correct course of action--and it got really frustrating when other characters resisted just doing whatever he tells them to do. Haven't they figured it out by now? Kiefer is ALWAYS RIGHT, people! So watching Kiefer screw up a little bit at least creates some interesting room for doubt this season.
Though after the smoking gun did in fact take the form of a mushroom cloud (damn you Fox!) I think we can assume that Kiefer's going to shed that self-doubt like he did his mountain man beard and get back to full-time world-saving.
Couple of other interesting things: I really loved
Zach Braff Kumar Kal Penn as Ahmed, hamming it up as the teenage suburban terrorist throwing back a whole bottle of pain pills. Assad looks like an older, more haggard Nick Stahl, and though he was only around for a few brief moments before detonation, nuclear engineer and enemy combatant Hassan Numair had the same doe eyes and chipmunk cheeks as little Sam on Freaks and Geeks. And my favorite part of the show, apart from Kiefer, is still when regular people suddenly become murderers when they're thrown into extreme situations, such as Mr. Ray Wallace, who killed the suitcase bomb parts dealer with a lamp, a cement floor, and his bare hands.
I can't believe this stuff gets shown on network TV.
Anyway, pretty good start for the season. Looks like the show's producers have figured out that torture scenes + civilian deaths + bombs = good ratings. But in every single season, the Palmer family seems to be cursed with boring plotlines. Every time a Palmer family member is on screen, you know it's the best time to go to the kitchen or switch to the Golden Globes. Those people just cannot get a break. And how about that electronic shredding program that the Palmer sister used to destroy the Islamic-American Alliance's personnel records? Wouldn't any organization also keep paper W-4's and stuff like that on file? Please.
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