But I don't miss an episode. When this season began in January there was with speculation that 24 had reconsidered its position on torture -- which just about everybody this side of Dick Cheney has labeled irresponsible -- to suit new times. The season even began with Jack Bauer testifying before a Senate committee that had summoned him to answer for his sins.
Eight hours in, I'm here to say Jack Bauer has not reformed. He's harder than ever. His anguish at doing what he does has wormed its way in so deep he may not even feel it any longer.
Here's what happened Monday.
Vossler, a renegade FBI agent, needs to be captured and interrogated. Only Vossler knows where Dubaku is holding President Allison Taylor's husband, And Dubaku has just told her that if she doesn't call off the invasion of Sangala and deliver Motobo, the rightful leader of Sangala, into his hands by 4 PM, her husband will die.
It's approaching 3:30.
Bauer meets at the Reflecting Pool with FBI agent Renee Walker and her boss, Larry Moss. Walker is working with Bauer, and Moss is reluctantly going along because he's secretly nuts about Walker. Moss has brought Vossler's file.
"Does Vossler have a family?" Bauer asks. Moss and Walker blanch. This doesn't sound constitutional.
"Vossler was Special Forces," Bauer snaps. "There's no way we're going to break him in the time we've got. The only way to make him cooperate is to make him think we're going to hurt his family. His wife and his kid."
"Absolutely not," says Moss.
Walker: "That's stepping over the line, Jack."
Bauer has no patience for this. "When are you people going to stop thinking everyone else is following your rules. They're not! Dubaku is going to kill Henry Taylor within the next 45 minutes unless we find him. You've got one of two choices now. You can phone the president and explain to her that your conscience wouldn't allow you to do what is necessary. Or you can simply do what is necessary. Pick one!"
Bauer needs Moss's car keys. Moss flings them at Bauer. But he and the scriptwriter aren't done yet.
"Jack. Jack," Moss cries out, as Bauer storms off. "The rules will make us better."
Bauer barely looks back. "Not today," he says.
So there you have it. How more explicit can this show get? How can anybody but a waterboarding buff stand to watch this show?
Here's one reason why 24 works for me...
About four minutes later, by my clock, Walker pulls up in front of Vossler's home. By now Moss -- who must have gotten a lift from someone -- is back at his desk tracking Vossler by satellite. (You'll recall from earlier seasons how difficult it was for the characters to drive across Los Angeles in 15 minutes. They're in Washington DC now, which is smaller. and they can get anywhere within 10.) Another six minutes go by and Bauer, who's been careering the wrong way down one-way streets, broadsides Vossler's car. He drags Vossler into a nearby building, gets Walker on his cell phone, makes sure Vossler understands that if he doesn't talk his baby's brains will be blown out, and finds out Henry Taylor's being held in the basement of a convenience store. Breaking Vossler took under four minutes. (Then there's a skirmish and Bauer has to kill him.)
Twenty minutes later, Henry Taylor's captors have been killed and Taylor rescued, though not before taking a bullet in the chest (no episode ends happily).
On 24, if you're a man who believes men do what needs to be done, files are always a fingertip away, cell phones always work, computers download immediately, satellites somehow get an immediate bead on the hostiles, and there are no traffic jams. Furthermore, wives are never out shopping, there are infants at home when you need them, and the evildoers are good family men.
In other words, 24 champions torture but the claims it makes for torture are absurd. That's called having it both ways. 24 is the rare show where half the people who watch it hope they never run into the other half.