Sense, shmense. Photographer: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Jack Bauer's Insane Escapism

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park” and “Back Channel,” and his nonfiction includes “Civility” and “Integrity.”
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Oh, but Fox's "24" is insane fun.

Last night's takeaway: Don't ever get Margot Al-Harazi -- or, as I prefer to call her, Obviously Insane Woman -- angry at you. More important, don't get her angry at your spouse. Last week, I predicted that Naveed, the husband of Margot's daughter Simone, wasn't long for this world, given his expressed doubts about Obviously Insane Woman's scheme to commandeer U.S. Air Force drones for an attack on London.

I might have been premature.

When Simone blabbed to Mommy, Mommy didn't kill him. Instead, Obviously Insane Woman had her henchmen begin cutting off her daughter's fingers until Naveed changed his mind. This is the daughter who just did Mommy a big favor by killing a no-longer-needed hacker by putting a knife in his ear. Interesting incentive structure.

But enough about characters whom Jack Bauer will sooner or later hasten to their graves. Let's talk about poor Jack himself. So many burdens. Not only does he have to find the evidence to prove that Obviously Insane Woman is about to unleash the attacks, but the evidence he needs is also at the U.S. embassy in London, where Lieutenant Chris Tanner, a drone pilot accused of turning his weapons on Allied forces, is being held. (Even if it makes sense to bring Tanner to Britain, you'd think he'd be locked up at a military base, or, if he has to be at the embassy, he'd be guarded by, um, guards.) Last week, Jack broke into the embassy by shooting two protesters and causing a riot. This week, Jack offers the justification that he just "grazed" them. That's OK, then.

Anyway, Jack needs Tanner's flight key, which includes data from the drone console, so that Jack's hacker frenemies can find secret clues that the military's own analysts have missed. Happily, the flight key is in the same unguarded room as the prisoner. This presumably is a special security measure to make theft easier.

So Jack has the flight key. He then escapes and -- oh, no, he doesn't escape! They've locked the embassy down! Now, you'd think they'd have locked it down already because there was a riot and demonstrators are pouring in. Nope. They only locked it down once they found out that Jack Bauer was inside.

Fortunately, there is an unguarded secure communications room nearby. Jack forces his way in and takes hostages. He then uploads the data from the flight key to his hacker friends and -- oh, no, he can't! The data are encrypted, and the secure computers won't upload encrypted data! (This seems a nutty security system. If you have to decrypt data in order to upload it, what's the point of the encryption? You try to use your credit card online. An error message pops up: "Sorry, this website encrypts credit card data. Credit card data must be transmitted in its original unencrypted form.")

Anyway, not a problem. One of Jack's hacker frenemies sends him a decryption program so that he can break the military-grade security and -- oh, no, it's taking too long! The program will need half an hour to finish, and by then the Marines will be in the room! (Also nutty. Either the hackers already have the encryption keys, in which case the decryption would take hardly any time at all; they have a way of stealing or modifying the keys as they're produced by the software, but that isn't the case here because the data are already encrypted; or they're using brute force, in which case decryption won't take place in a computationally feasible time.)

Anyway, there is poor Jack, stuck in a room with hostages, and the Marines closing in. What would you do to hold them off? Of course! Threaten to kill the hostages and open the door and shoot two Marines in their body armor! Surprisingly, these acts somehow fail to deter. The president talks to Jack on the phone. Afterward, manipulated by his evil chief of staff (and having no other advisers), he orders the Marines to attack.

The Marines discover an air shaft leading to the room. In Hollywood, there is always an air shaft big enough to walk through, and without the pesky nails and spikes and other protrusions that one finds inside actual air shafts. They decide not to use it because they would be able to go in only one Marine at a time. You'd think they'd at least put a sniper up there, to see if they could take Jack out with a single head shot, but that would end the season several episodes early and make sequels unlikely. So instead, they decide to blow the door and use flash-bang grenades and --

Oops! Kate Morgan of the Central Intelligence Agency is in the room already. Jack is her prisoner. She orders the Marines to back off, and of course they comply, even though neither Kate nor the civilian agency that employs her is in the chain of command.

Jack let Kate take him prisoner because she said she believes him about the coming drone attacks on London -- the rest of the U.S. national security apparatus stubbornly refuses even to investigate the possibility -- and she promises that she will use the data from the air key to prove his case. Jack agrees, because nobody in the history of the world has ever lied to a hostage taker to get him to surrender.

But here's my favorite part. How did Kate conjure herself into the room? She went through the air shaft! The Marines knew it was big enough to walk through but left it unguarded. Just a teensy thought: Did it ever occur to them that Jack might, um, use the air shaft to escape?

Prediction for next week: Drones rain fire on London, but the government refuses to believe it is actually happening and just goes on interrogating Jack.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Stephen L Carter at

To contact the editor on this story:
Michael Newman at