Jack Bauer Must Die
It’s midnight on a Tuesday. The laundry is a massive multi-colored heap lying unattended on the mudroom floor. The computer flashes, “you have 312 new emails”. The dishes ferment slowly in the sink of what looks like a neglected soup kitchen. The dog gnaws on a Ferragamo shoe while the cat temporarily passes out in a fetid litter box reeking of ammonia.
Upstairs there is thumping indicating the resident adolescents have yet to fall asleep. The absence of authority permeates the house like the smell of a recent fish dinner. The television beeps like digital clock and a monotone voice announces, “The following takes place between 2am and 3am.”
My wife looks at me and asks rhetorically, ” You think the kids are asleep?” With my best codependent face, I reassure her. “Oh – – yeah. I’ll check them in a minute.”
We hit the “play episode” button – pathetic addicts in a deep cocoon of denial. We are in the middle of a debilitating video blackout watching the television show “24”. I cannot sleep until I find out whether the president will call back the bombers or he will permanently excommunicate his annoying, conniving Lady Macbeth ex-wife. My wife is praying a new character – an urbane, handsome middle-eastern Oxford graduate will not be killed. ” Oh, I hope Raiza lives,” she squeals anxiously clutching a pillow. I am not jealous. He has that “ I am a dead man “ look written all over him. I give him two episodes tops. I have become conditioned to not get attached to anyone on this show.
We are together but alone – each trapped in our own inescapable web of emotional knots tied to this soap opera serial drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a seemingly indestructible instrument of US counter terrorism in a world that demands morally ambiguous actions to defeat the forces of evil that threaten our American way of life.
Wherever Jack Bauer goes people die – usually bad guys. However, if you get too close to Jack Bauer – not unlike a career as a stunt man, living among New Guinea cannibals or raising a 200lb chimpanzee as your own child, your life expectancy is reduced by about fifteen years. And for goodness sake, don’t hire Jack’s daughter Kim Bauer as your baby sitter or au pair. This kid is a tornado of bad karma.
Kim’s misadventures make teenagers that have ended up in their hometown police blotters look like cherubim. In just 24 hours, innocent Kim rescues a young girl from her abusive father, discovers the girl’s dead mother, gets in multiple car accidents – one that results in her boyfriend losing his leg, pulls a gun on four different people- killing one at her Dad’s urging, endures a siege as a hostage, escapes from police custody, witnesses a nuclear explosion, and is trapped inside a bomb shelter with a reclusive survivalist. Tough day at school, hon? Throughout this entire period, Kim keeps interrupting her father on his cell phone as he is trying to save Los Angeles and/or the President of the US, David Palmer, whining “Dad, just come get me.” Kids just don’t change – they still see themselves as more important than the future of the free world.
Jack does not eat. He does not go to the bathroom. Jack does not sleep. He is the ultimate warrior. He makes the tough decisions and employs brutal methods that waffling bureaucrats cannot make in the face of danger. While interrogating a smug bad guy who displays indignant bravado given the government’s weak knee decision to grant him immunity, Bauer simply shoots the creep and asks his colleagues for a hacksaw so he can cut off the snitch’s head off and use the prize to insinuate his way in with some domestic terrorists. As we watched “the head in a bowling bag” scene, we heard a noise behind us and to our dismay, realized our ten-year-old son had been spying on the episode from the doorway. As my wife ushered him out of the room to bed, I could hear her talking to him as they went up stairs. “ Honey, you know that cutting people’s heads off is not very nice, right?
Each hour is a heart pounding shot of epinephrine with soap opera lack of resolution that leaves a viewer aching and feverish for more. My wife calls the library at 1am to extend our rental. “Hi, we rented DVDs for “24” for Season 2. Can we recheck them for another two days? I assume you are not there right now but I wanted to call anyway.” ‘I assume you are not there?’, I say mocking her. Most librarians are not fiddling with their Dewey decimals at 1am; And yes, sweetheart, please get “24 -Season Three” tomorrow. If I am lucky, I may get sick from no sleep. We can stay home and put a blanket over the windows like trailer park crack addicts and do “24 in 24.” We can parcel the kids out to neighbors and send out for pizza. We can be Sid and Nancy.
The problem with our “24” addiction is not only the need for constant injections of Jack and his Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU); it is the fact that we are only on Season 3. As we race to catch the “24” train, it keeps moving. “24” is now on season 7 and in our sprint to present day, we are subordinating health, hygiene and domestic responsibilities watching consecutive episodes which leave us completely over stimulated and vulnerable to odd dreams.
After a disturbingly symbolic dream where I cut my boss’ head off and present it to our private equity owners in exchange for some restricted shares of stock, I awake in a cold sweat realizing my obsession with “24” is threatening my sanity. When my son would not confess to using his brother’s computer, I found myself wondering how quickly he would crack if I water-boarded him. I routinely now refer to my children as ” hostiles” and ” friendlies” and suggest to my wife that when we have teens over we establish a soft perimeter around the basement. When my daughter claimed she was in town but was in fact, at a friend’s party, I briefly considered using Google Earth to triangulate her location, “neutralize” the entire group and then drop them off at the local police station courtesy of “A Friend of 24.”
I realized that we are now in the grip of a mania and that for the bad dreams to end, Jack Bauer must die. The problem is the guy won’t expire. He has been injected with more drugs than a Jersey milk cow, stabbed, shot, clubbed, injured in a plane crash, suffered numerous brain damaging head blows – and like Jason from Halloween, keeps getting up.
There is a side of me that understands that art sometimes imitates life. Does the US employ spooks and shadow agencies like CTU who fight clandestine battles right under our noses on US soil? Do I approve of Jack Bauer’s tactics? Will democracy prevail over authoritarianism? Will Kim Bauer get through a day without breaking the law or maiming her latest boyfriend? Will Jack Bauer ever shave, eat or have a bowel movement? Perhaps some fiber might loosen him up literally and figuratively.
It’s late and we have just secured the first episodes of Season Three. As I read my column to my wife, we chuckle at our obsessive behavior and get the kids off to bed.
We have a civilized evening – cleaning up the house, walking to retrieve the DVDs and watching just three episodes – trying to convince ourselves that we can get
the “24” monkey off our backs any time we like. As we turn out the lights, she is still. I can tell she is thinking. This is our last private moment before sleep where we discuss kids, the future and any other important unattended issue.
“You know, if you tell everyone in town that they can rent those DVDs from the library for free, we will never make it to Season 7. The secret will be out.”
That’s my girl.