The new “Live Another Day” season of 24 delivers another new episode tonight, with ratings having plummeted twenty-nine percent since the premiere three weeks ago. Bringing a television series back to live several years after it went off the air is automatically a risky proposition. But with so many former fans of the show having only tuned in for the first episode or two before quickly giving up on the new season, it’s time to ask the question: is Jack Bauer a relic of a post-9/11 landscape in which we were all paranoid to the point of being stupid?
To its credit, the new 24 is managing to hit all the same notes of the first eight seasons. Bauer is as no-nonsense as ever, the action comes fast and furious, you never know which characters to trust, and you’re just waiting for the plot to pull the rug out from underneath you rollercoaster style in a manner that has you questioning everything you think you’re seeing on the screen. But all the familiar old conceits of 24 are present as well, and here in 2014 they read a little differently.
Within the first few hours of the season Jack Bauer is already threatening to shoot people if they don’t reveal the information he needs. Another agent tells a suspect she’ll let him bleed to death if he doesn’t give up his conspirators. People are still being tortured for information. CTU is still run by bosses who don’t have a clue and love to assign blame to underlings who openly defy orders yet somehow remain on the job anyway. Military bosses are idiotic enough to believe that a drone pilot committed mass murder because he was told he had to work on the weekend, without stopping to ask themselves whether he might have been framed. The President’s right hand man is a putz, and naturally has a French name, because in the days after 9/11 we all hated the French for some reason. In the world of 24 everyone working in the government is a ne’er do well or, at best, a principled buffoon. And if it weren’t for Jack breaking every rule and law in the book, the entire United States government would collapse. But back in the days after 9/11, we were dumb enough to view this kind of thing as plausible.
A lot has happened since then. Most Americans have rejected the neoconservatism that got us into far more trouble after 9/11 than the attack itself. We now know that torture doesn’t work. We don’t tolerate government agencies violating our most basic rights in the name of chasing down every paranoid lead about a supposed terrorist attack. And we no longer view our intelligence agencies as the kind of Keystone Cops who allowed 9/11 to happen. Instead our collective focus has shifted to how to rein in agencies like the NSA who used 9/11 as an excuse to spin out of control. We know they can get the job done. The shattered pieces of what’s left of Al Qaeda are proof of that. The question we face now is whether their methods are worth it.
And now here comes Jack Bauer again, the Lone Ranger who saves us all from ourselves by violating everything we hold sacred, as if it’s still 2002 and we’re still hiding under our desks. As the ratings likely take another dive for tonight’s new episode, those who do tune in will be attempting to overlook the fact that in hindsight, the only reason we bought into 24 in the first place was because our paranoia had cut our collective IQ in half.
There are only eight more episodes left, and most or all of them have already been filmed, making it unlikely that FOX will pull the plug no matter how much the ratings fall. But if the return of 24 is indeed a failure, perhaps it’ll be the final sign that we as a nation have finally recovered from anything-goes paranoia that 9/11 instilled in us. Ironically, America’s rejection of Jack Bauer might be the best sign yet that we’ve finally recovered from the attack. Tonight’s new episode of 24 airs at 9pm eastern time on FOX.