Some people think that "24" is a commentary on American post-9/11 crimefighting because it features a hero -- the One and Only Jack Bauer -- willing to torture, maim and kill to protect our homeland security. I think that the show is gradually evolving into a more interesting study of American etiquette.
It's all fine and well for Jack Bauer to cold-cock former CTU colleague Curtis at random intervals just to keep him alert. Jack Bauer knows that Curtis'll forgive him within two or three hours and be proud to work alongside him. But this week, as he does nearly every week, Jack Bauer snatches an innocent man on a plane, terrifies him, threatens him and ultimately realizes he was menacing the wrong guy. In this situation, a normal person would be quick to say, "Sorry about the interrogation, Dude. Let me at least chip in to buy you some fresh boxers." Not Jack Bauer. He gives his recent victim a knowing look that really says, "If I apologized to you, it would be the same as letting you kick me in the nads and Jack Bauer lets no man kick him in the nads."
In recent seasons, Jack Bauer has occasionally, on rare instances, been known to utter soulful words like, "I'm so sorry I got you involved with this." In almost all cases, those words have only been uttered to the poor unfortunates who got lured in by Jack Bauer's irresistible charisma, folks like Connie Britton and Brady Corbet earlier this season. Remember them? In those cases, Jack Bauer isn't saying, "I'm sorry my insane desire to kill, maim and torture put you in danger." He's saying, "I'm sorry you were unable to avoid loving me. I pity the people who love Jack Bauer, for they shall never truly know him." But you have to have slept with Jack Bauer or shared meaningful bonding experiences with him to earn that minor sign of feigned weakness.
But anyway, Jack Bauer didn't just knock around one innocent civilian on that plane last night. The poor air marshal? Entrusted with keeping a flight full of non-enemy combatants safe from lunatics like Jack Bauer? Jack Bauer knocks him out. Jack Bauer stashes him in the cargo hold. Why would it hurt Jack Bauer to explain himself occasionally?
The example of the air marshal brings me to my second favorite thing about Jack Bauer these days: The United States government doesn't negotiate with terrorists. Nor does Jack Bauer. But Jack Bauer goes the government one better. Jack Bauer doesn't negotiate with our allies either. As many terrorists and evildoers as Jack has beaten and pummeled in the past five years, he's assaulted just as many well-meaning government officials, mall rent-a-cops, bystanders and supposed friends. Jack Bauer has learned that no matter how urgent the situation, if he attempts to justify his actions to random people up front, they never believe him. If he slaps them around, holds guns to their heads and later, in brief pauses of quiet reflection (when he *really* should be eating, using the toilet or recharging his cell phone) explains everything, they almost always support him. It's like the scene in "The Untouchables" where Kevin Costner first meets Sean Connery and tells him he works with Treasury and Connery just accepts it and Costner says something like "Don't you want to see my badge?" and Connery replies, "Who would say he was that, who was not?" People look at Jack Bauer's behavior and in retrospect, they just cower their heads and say, "Who would do such wacky things and then lie about their reasons?" It never fails. Folks get Stockholm Syndrome pretty fast when Jack Bauer's the one torturing them.
The Jack Bauer Doctrine goes something like this: I'd rather be rude to 100 civilians than to accidentally express regret to a single terrorist.
On a side note, with last night's episode running three days after the release of "United 93," was anybody else expecting the passengers on the plane to attempt to come together and subdue Jack Bauer? I sure was.
And on another side note, one of these days, just once, I'd like to see Jack Bauer battling the one man in the world as well trained as he is. When it comes to a fair, one-on-one fight, Jack Bauer has never been matched in five seasons. Sure, he's been taken out to the woodshed more than a few times, but without exception, that's been because he gave himself up or because he was undercover and couldn't escape clean. I'd like to see Jack Bauer go up against some 6'4" martial arts expert and just have Jack Bauer get the beat down. Then Chloe can shoot the adversary.