Monday, March 20, 2006

The Taking of CTU

I also have to mention how much I've enjoyed the last few weeks of 24.

They did a great thing at the halfway point and had the terrorists bring one of the nerve gas devices into the heart of CTU, slaughtering much of their personal and leaving the remaining series principals' locked in a few sealed rooms -- with those seals degrading quickly the following week.

They've also brought in Vice-President Hal Gardner, who's come to advise President Logan with his own agenda. He wants martial law declared in Los Angeles, instead calling it a nonthreatening euphemism, with no plans for how and when it might be ended. When the chief of staff questions him, Gardner tells him, "You can take that up with my working group."

Our fearless first lady, Martha Logan, is going to have to try and rein in the nefarious Vice-President Garnder -- or, as I call him, Vice-President Cheney.

I have to say, it is kind of amazing, given 24's conservative bona fides, the degree to which they've pilloried President Bush and now Cheney this season. Remember in the first few episodes how Logan was more concerned with his legacy than anything else? Add to that his completely inability to make any decisions on his own, instead preferring to delegate everything to subordinates.

And now we have a scheming vice-president with an independent staff cooking up plans so he can manipulate the nation to his own end. Gosh, wherever did they get that idea?

Now, for the victims. It was of course a sad moment when Edgar went down, most especially because the camera cut to Chloe's complete horror, looking on from inside the sealed room it was too late for him to enter. (How much do I love Mary Lynn Rajskub? Let me count the ways . . .)

But that was nothing over last week, as the survivors had to find a way to clear out the gas before the seals on their rooms were completely obliterated. Jack couldn't get through to the computer controlling the A/C, and so it was up to disgraced Lynn McGill, played to a T by Sean Astin, overcompensating for his youth and lack of experience with an insistence on formality and protocol. And of course, this ends up being his flaw, as he was too embarrassed that his access card was stolen by her sister and her druggie boyfriend (and then sold to the terrorists, who used it to get into CTU and plant the gas) to tell anyone about it until it was too late.

So Lynn has a chance to redeem himself by holding his breath long enough to get through the contaminated areas to the computer to unblock the A/C so Chloe can have it flush out the gas. Only two problems: Lynn won't have a sealed room to get back to, and the gas won't be flushed out before he has to breathe again -- so he will die. He'll have to sacrifice himself to save the others.

But of course, that would be too neat and tidy. So there's a CTU guard in the room with him (he was in custody, after all), and the guard, Harry, will die as well. And Harry's got a wife and kids at home. Now, there isn't really any choice, because help won't come for another 15 minutes, and by that time they'll all be dead. So it's a question of two of them vs. a few dozen in total.

It was heartbreaking enough when Harry had to call his young daughter on the phone and she asked when he was coming home. But the best moment was after Lynn had come back from the computer, they'd saved the day, and finally couldn't hold their breath any longer. Harry let go first, took some breaths, and was surprised -- the gas didn't seem to have any effect. "I'm okay," he said in wonder. "I'm okay!" And then, a few seconds later, he started to go into convulsions.

Lynn followed suit a few moments later, watched on closed circuit by the remaining survivors in their respective rooms. And that was a hell of a sacrifice on his part, perfect closing-out for his character. But I was still thinking about Harry and that brief hopeful moment where he thought it might have gone the other way.

Now that's some writing.

And then, on top of all that, the writers are further re-jiggering things for the remaining hours of the day by bringing in some new characters to mess up things at CTU. There's a blond woman from Homeland Security, along with her creepily efficient/power-hungry assistant, played by Stephen Spinella (how cool is that?). They're heading over to take control, because as the woman explained, CTU can no longer function on its own. Stephen says he has configured their servers to DHS standards (because, when terrorists have sixteen remaining canisters of nerve gas, we all know the most important thing is that everyone's servers are configured to the same standards).

And then Stephen asks Blondie, Will I have to consult Bill Buchanan on everything? I don't want to have to check with him before I fire someone. And she tells him he won't have to. So you know that's not going to end well.

And again, I have to say, the writers are really following the news this season. In past seasons, the main question would be which one of these new people is really working with the terrorists. Now, I'm struck thinking how much this reflects what happened after Hurricane Katrina, with the Department of Homeland Security continuing to bungle relief efforts (they just recently started looking for bodies again, some seven months later).

The problem is we have bureaucrats in charge of security in our government who are more concerned with preserving bureaucracy and their own power than they are in serving the people who pay their salaries. In the case of a natural disaster like Katrina, this priority on bureaucracy is criminal negligence. In the case of an ongoing terrorist attack, it might well aid and abet the terrorists.

We'll have to see how it plays out.


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