Not All Violence Is Created Equal on '24'

On Fox's '24,' violence is natural and inevitable, but it’s not very important unless it happens to people we know.
When bad things happen to good people such as Chloe O'Brian. Source: FOX via Getty Images

Midway through last night's episode of "24," Lieutenant Chris Tanner, accused of using a drone to fire a missile at allied forces in Afghanistan, is being transported to the U.S. Embassy in London through a crowd of furious British protesters. His escort turns to him and says, "If they knew who you were, they'd tear you limb from limb."

Perhaps the writers were trying to make a deep point about violence begetting violence. But the episode winds up making a more nihilistic point: Violence is natural and inevitable, and it's not very important unless it happens to people we know.

Let's consider.

Jack Bauer and Chloe O'Brian (whose rapid recovery from being drugged at a Central Intelligence Agency black site just two hours ago continues to amaze) are on the track of Simone Al-Harazi, who is riding on the London Underground, carrying a metal briefcase that will allow her mother Margot to take over U.S. drones and cause them to rain destruction on London -- and kill the visiting U.S. president.

We'll get to the Al-Harazi family in a moment. Let's stick with Jack and Chloe: They're in a car. A magical car. Simone is on the train. Anyone who's ever driven in London knows the car can't possibly keep up. But it does. In fact, the magical (if stolen) vehicle actually moves faster than the train. It beats the train to the next stop, giving Jack plenty of time to hop out, descend the escalator, pass through the gates and be waiting when the train pulls in.

Simone, making her escape, cuts herself with her knife and smears the blood on her face, then shouts that Jack is attacking her. Of course brave Londoners rally to her rescue, but Jack fends them off, punching one bystander in the neck, a blow that can be fatal. But never mind. Jack's the good guy.

He races upstairs, but Chloe has let Simone get away because she thought she saw her dead husband and son -- murdered, she says, by someone who was trying to kill her. Now we know what's happened to Chloe over the past four years. A horrible moment, genuinely moving. Chloe and Jack share a hug -- a scant second or two of screen time -- and then he tells her that they can't bring back their loved ones, and it's back to the violence.

Consider the CIA team we saw earlier in the episode, ineffectually interrogating suspects they captured during the shoot-out with Jack. (Jack was shot, but evidently it was just a flesh wound, per "Last Action Hero.") The agents learn that the London police are (finally!) on the way, having received reports of shots fired by armed Americans. (That'll get them rolling.) Naturally the agents snatch the leader, a tough drug kingpin named Basher. He refuses to talk until they threaten to turn him over to his gangland enemies -- implied horrific violence -- at which point he tells them everything he knows. (Drones and the name "Tanner.")

Meanwhile, Simone makes it home safely to her obviously insane and filthy rich mother, Margot Al-Harazi (aka Catelyn Stark), who turns out to want revenge on the president for ordering the drone strike that killed her terrorist husband, and is hoping to spark a worldwide conflagration. (The writers struggling desperately to get their message in.) But Simone's husband Naveed is having second thoughts about killing the innocent. Mad Mother is spying on the youngsters by webcam, and Simone is staring at him as they lie in bed, and it's a safe bet that Naveed doesn't have too many episodes left in his arc.

(Story note: The CIA has plenty of operatives available to send after Jack Bauer, but nobody is keeping an eye on the obviously insane and filthy rich widow of a terrorist the president ordered killed, even though she lives in Yorkshire, which is, in the "24" world, a quick cab ride from downtown London?)

Anyway, at this point, knowing who the Al-Harazis are, and knowing that they plan to take over the drones to rain fire and death and so forth, the unsophisticated might suppose that Jack and Chloe might, well, tell somebody. Not on your nelly, says Jack. Not without proof. Because never in the history of the U.S. intelligence establishment has an investigation of a terror plot been launched without proof.

Naturally, Jack has a better idea: How about breaking into the embassy and talking to Tanner himself? (About what?!) Tanner, I should explain, is about to be turned over to the U.K. for questioning, but so far we've seen no sign of his lawyer.

We're aware, and Jack is not, that going to the embassy is a bad, bad idea. And not only because he's being double-crossed by Chloe's hacker friends who are supposed to help him sneak in. I haven't yet mentioned that conniving White House chief of staff Mark Boudreau (whose wife Audrey doesn't know that her former paramour Jack is alive but is obviously going to run away with him any minute) has forged the president's signature on an order that Jack Bauer, if captured, be turned over to the Russians.

So Jack goes to the embassy with a fake identification that sets off alarms, as the hackers planned. Not to worry. He escapes. He mixes with the demonstrators, beats up a cop and steals his gun, then shoots into the crowd, striking one or two protesters. The ensuing riot allows him to race into the embassy, and into next week's episode. (By the way, did anyone else notice that "Game of Thrones," "Mad Men" and "24" all ended this week with exactly the same cliffhanger: Our hero, tortured and desperate, voluntarily places himself in the hands of his enemies?)

Now, understand me. I'm still having fun watching. And everybody understands that "24" is a violent show. But this week's episode was disturbing, because of the juxtaposition of Chloe's loss -- about which we are obviously supposed to care, and do -- with Jack's easy facility at beating up and shooting innocent bystanders. Somebody loves them, too, and should they die from those gunshot wounds or punches to the throat, the relevant moments of loss will occur off-screen.

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