Let's talk about drones. This isn't the place for a politically charged discussion of any country's policy regarding drones and drone warfare, but I do think it's safe to discuss the morality of a world filled with these insanely advanced killing machines. Obviously, much has been made over the years about 24's politics, its portrayal of torture, and ultimately, its supposed influence over the American people in the aftermath of 9/11. But it's worth talking about how Live Another Day has used drones, particularly after "5:00 PM-6:00 PM" really doubled down on the drone-aided explosions and destruction.
24 has frequently pulled from current events to create a familiar(ish) world for Jack to roam around in. However, I never expected that the scenes featuring the mass protest of drones in the first few episodes of Live Another Day would result in a meaningful conversation about how much control we're ceding to these machines and whoever's controling them. But as this week's admittedly entertaining episode progressed and Margot decided that the best way to handle her daughter's possible betrayal was to blow up a hospital with a drone missile, I realized that Live Another Day's casual use of drone attacks is just as uncomfortable—if not more so—than the show's deployment of torture over the years.
The problem with this hour, and the season's treatment of drone warfare altogether, was how... casual and detached it seemed. Jack torturing one person in a small room? That's very personal. But using a drone to obliterate a hospital and firing off additional missiles in what appeared to be nothing more than a residential area? That's impersonal—and the feeling was only intensified by the show's framing of the explosions through Ian Al-Harazi's computer screen (which was surely done for budgetary reasons). In a few short hours, drone attacks have become just another plot device, which isn't too surprising. But the degree to which 24 has used the device—and the damage that it's caused—is kind of awful.
In some ways, "kind of awful" could be the point that 24 is trying to make. Much like the aftermath of the safe house attack a few episodes ago, this week's post-explosion scenes honed in on the damages, the severed and bloody limbs, and the pure horror that accompanies any huge disaster. But those scenes lasted, what, 25 seconds? They were, as they always are on 24, just brief interludes to illustrate that the show isn't entirely blind to the consequences of the stories it tells. As this episode proved, drone attacks are almost too easy not to use to raise the stakes and to put characters in danger. But while the show certainly shouldn't drop everything just to lecture the audience about the dangers of drone warfare (or any kind of terrorist attack), callously and repeatedly using said warfare as a plot device doesn't work either.
ANYWAY, end rant. I know that a lot of you are going to tell me to just shut up and enjoy the show for what it is, and you know what? This was an enjoyable hour of 24, despite my queasy drone feelings. The last 20 minutes, which were primarily driven by the aforementioned drone attacks, were well-paced and well-edited. The scene chugged along with a purposeful speed, and director Jon Cassar and his team made good use of the street locations. Details like the narrow streets gave the sequence an extra shot of adrenaline (while presumably limiting the damage to human life). You'd have to be dense to not see Jack's car swap and brick-on-the-gas-pedal trick, but hey, apparently Ian and Margot are exactly that!
Plus, how can I be that disappointed in any episode of 24 that includes, by my count, FOUR utterances of DAMMIT? Big ups to the writers for keeping the D word locked down in the early episodes. Making us wait for that kind of classic Jack Bauer behavior was the right choice. This installment also managed to incorporate that vintage shot of Jack jumping out of a car and strapping on his bag before going into battle, as well as a very brief scene where Jack kinda-sorta tortured Simone by preying on her mangled finger; there were times when I felt like it was 2005 all over again.
While 24 has failed me a bit with the drone stuff, Live Another Day continues to at least try to make some of the prototypical 24-y stuff less awful than it could be. Last week's reveal that Navarro was involved in framing Kate's husband for selling state secrets to China—and is thus our first mole of the season—came out of nowhere. However, this episode did some solid maneuvering to A.) explain what the heck is going on, and B.) show us that Navarro doesn't feel especially great about what he's done.
Relatively early on, we learned that the mysterious voice on the other end of Navarro's phone calls is none other than Adrian Cross, the leader of Open Cell. It's still unclear to me exactly what Cross's role is in Navarro's dealing with China; did he help Navarro complete the sale as a way to hurt the U.S. government? Is he simply more corrupt than we initially thought? I'm not sure. (Maybe you guys understood the scene better than I did, and if so, let me know in the comments.)
Nevertheless, Cross informed Navarro that tech dweeb Jordan was digging further into Kate's files, which meant that Jordan had to go, and Navarro had to set up the execution. What I liked about this series of scenes was that Navarro appeared to feel some regret about leading Jordan to his death, and perhaps even for his role in framing Kate's husband. Navarro could've easily been a sniveling villain, but Live Another Day and Benjamin Bratt have done a nice job of adding some extra shading to the character. Of course, Jordan survived his execution, so there's still time for a full-blown heel-turn from Navarro as early as next week.
If only 24 would treat its use of drones with the same decent level of care to these stock character types, right? I guess there's still time for a turnaround there, too.
– It's too bad, but William Devane and President Heller are a bit hamstrung by the character's health issues. This episode gave us that solid scene between Heller and Stephen Fry's Prime Minister, but we've probably gone far enough with the "You're sick!" "I'm fine!" banter.
– The Prime Minister made the call to let the public know about Margot's reign of terror, so I'll be curious to see whether that plays any real role in the story going forward. How do people react to multiple drone attacks in a random neighborhood?
– BIG week for the DAMMIT TRACKER; I think we're up to five now, but let me know if that's wrong. The KILL TRACKER didn't increase this week, and Jack seemed generally sad that MI5 agents died in the raid with Rask.
What'd you think of this hour? What's your take on the drone stuff?
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24