Monday, May 15, 2006

Two Presidents in One Night

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Tonight we were all treated to the spectacle of seeing two presidents on TV in one night. One was our oh-so-beloved President George W. Bush talking for about 20 minutes about how he wanted to proceed with immigration reform. The other was treacherous president/terrorist Charles Logan, the fictional president in the universe of 24. President Bush probably had the more interesting night---but, of course, I'm going to discuss 24 first. I guess TV serial action entertainment wins with me every time. (My priorities are fucked up like that.)

While tonight's episode wasn't lacking in suspense---our hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was forced to have to comply with Christopher Henderson's (Peter Weller) demand that he be sent out into the field to get information about recently-escaped Russian terrorist Vladimir Bierko's (Julian Sands) next move, and it seemed for a few seconds as if Henderson actually had something devious up his sleeve again---it was mostly a savory set-up for what looks to be a pretty hot two-hour finale next week: not only do they try to stop Bierko from using those missiles on that submarine, but it looks like President Logan---who was revealed many episodes ago to not only be covertly working with some slick shady terrorist organization led by some bald guy named Graham (Paul McCrane)---will be forced to really own up to this actions not only Jack, but to his newly emboldened wife Martha (Jean Smart), who discovered noble security agent Aaron Pierce (Glenn Morshower) about to be killed for his knowledge about the President's treasonous actions and shot his to-be killer. I mean, who didn't get a thrill from seeing, in the preview for next week's final two episodes, Jack say to President Logan that he was finally going to mete out justice? Such a badass mofo!

Some interesting notes from tonight's episode. No surprise that Miles---who, in the final minutes of last week's episode was seen giving a call to President Logan promising that he'd "intervene" and erase the contents of an incriminating recording---would be found out fairly quickly. What was just a little surprising is that he'd admit it so quickly and say "I work for the President now." Does this guy have even a shred of morality, or does his ruthlessness know absolutely no bounds?

Well, cynical Kenji might say that Miles was basically used as a plot device to create a new twist for last week and help lead the way for Henderson's return to the swing of things. In this current season, they've been seemingly using a lot of characters and then figuratively tossing them aside. We haven't heard anything more from Diane (Connie Britton) and his son (Brady Corbet), who had taken Jack in while he was still in hiding, since, say, the sixth episode or so: once Jack had officially come out of hiding, they were dispatched with quickly. And daughter Kim's (Elisha Cuthbert) reappearance was rather disconcertingly brief---but I guess, considering that she seemed to be trying so hard to distance herself from her father, there's not much one can do about that. (Besides, the character had gotten so much flak for being plain dumb in previous seasons that most people probably didn't mind that she only stuck around for two episodes.)

Also interesting tonight was seeing poor Jack Bauer feel really frustrated at having to use Christopher Henderson in the field---Henderson, of course, being the same sorry sonofabitch who ordered the hit on ex-President David Palmer in the first five minutes of the season and led to the deaths of Tony and Michelle (two former beloved 24 characters, for those not in the loop). It just feels like the first time we've seen Jack really get frustrated about having to grant someone his wishes for freedom in exchange for information. Sure, he's done it in the past---the whole immunity-in-exchange-for-information routine has almost become its own cliche on this show---but letting someone like Henderson potentially walk free? After all he's done to try to keep terrorist conspiracies under wraps for whatever patriotic cause he thinks he's furthering? This one really bothered him; it was clear as a bell in Kiefer Sutherland's reactions.

And then Henderson is brought out into the field to gather information about Bierko's next act, and he says something to his contact---he tells him that there are CTU agents all around---which understandably leads Jack to jump the gun and move in before Henderson once again gets away. This time, though, it turns out that Henderson actually wasn't trying to get away, but that it was part of his plan to get the information needed. He couldn't have found another way? Still, it points to one thing I love about 24: its fidelity to its characters (as well as its willingness to occasionally plant ethical gray areas regarding certain characters' actions, particularly Jack's at times). Considering how much Jack distrusts Henderson, and considering how much he hates seeing him out of handcuffs, he acted just as most of us probably would have in his position. And even though, in hindsight, he may have jumped the gun, it ended up not blowing up in his face, luckily enough.

Aaron Pierce returned again, looking all tortured and beaten up as a lot of noble characters on this show sometimes do. It was fun to see him stare President Logan down and call him a disgrace to the country right to his face. Once the quiet man who took orders, he's now the near-casualty of a secret terrorist conspiracy that extends into the presidency. If this season is anyone's year, it's Aaron's.

In fact, this season has actually gone a long way in accomplishing what I thought was impossible: it has actually managed to top itself. After Season 4 threw in pretty much everything but the kitchen sink, piling terrorist threat upon terrorist threat, I came into this season a little nervous about how it could possibly outdo it. But turning the season into a race against time to implicate the President of the United States in a terrorist conspiracy plot? In my mind, that beats even the three or four threats that populated Season 4. And now that Bierko is back in the mix, these last two episodes may make up one of the most gripping finales yet. (Not that it really has to try very hard to beat last season's final episode, which was a relatively anticlimactic disappointment until its powerful final image of Jack walking into the L.A. sunrise, which actually redeemed most of the unevenness and occasional predictability of Season 4.)

Sorry if all that makes me sound insufferably fanboyish. Maybe after the season ends next Monday I'll have something more sober and critical to say about what may end up being the best season of 24 since Season 2.


At 8 p.m. tonight, President Bush spoke about his plans for reforming illegal immigration policy in this country. Conceding that this country has a problem with curbing illegal immigration, he outlined a bunch of steps to try to not only stop more illegals from coming in, but try to help the illegals that are currently residing in the country, and also maintain our "melting pot." Not only did he suggest installing more National Guard people at the borders, but he also once again pushed his guest worker program to try to provide a legal path for illegals to be able to live and work for a temporary amount of time .

He also stressed that employers had to be taken to task for hiring illegal immigrants, and here's a question that popped up as I watched his televised address: Why all the emphasis on punishing employers? Tell me if I sound ignorant when I say this, but don't employers usually hire illegal immigrants to fill particular jobs for good reason---often, because no one else will do the job? I agree that something should be done to stop illegals from being able to sneak across the border and stay here so easily---they should go through the same channels for citizenship as a lot of honest immigrants do, I'd say---but why all the stress on punishing employers who often cannot find anyone better to fill the position? Or am I just being naive or something? (Don't worry; when it comes to political issues, I can be a little naive.)

Not much else to say about the speech, really---there wasn't really much to cause controversy here as President Bush's foreign policy comments usually automatically do---except that it left my mother, not normally a Bush supporter, saying "that was probably the best speech I've seen him give." I suspect she probably said that because he said stuff she agreed with, but whatever. My only question about the content of his speech: if we're deploying National Guard troops to guard the border, aren't we stretching them a little thin, considering some of them are not only trying to make our country safer from terrorists, but others are actually fighting in Iraq right now?

One thing that did bother me a little bit was the discussion post-speech. I watched it on Channel 13 as a special Newshour with Jim Lehrer report, and when the two political commentators he had on started talking about the speech (and the Democratic reaction, delivered by Illinois senator Dick Durbin), much of the talk veered into political strategy, about how this would affected the 2006 elections, etc. This kind of talk always kinda demoralizes me: some of these political commentators treat this like some kind of game, a horse race to win. Sometimes it seems like these talking heads occasionally forget that politics---at least in my mind---should be about issues, not who wins elections. Even Dick Durbin, in his response to President Bush's speech, accused the President of being insincere and "political" in addressing the illegal immigration issue head-on now rather than sooner. Sigh.

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