Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jack Bauer, vampires and redemption

Jack Bauer is back—and this time he’s in New York trying to prevent the assassination of a foreign head of state by a confederation of Russian mobsters (at least, that’s what we think is happening). As I’ve mentioned before, 24 is a hit-and-miss series for me. Some seasons had me riveted while others left me underwhelmed and changing the channel. This season (or “day”) had my finger twitching on the remote, but by the end of the fourth hour there was enough going on that I decided to stick it out (for now). It took a bit, but this season seems to be finding its footing, complete with its characteristic adrenalin rushes, twisting plot lines (even if you can see some of them coming a mile away) and themes dealing with how to confront evil and whether the ends justify the means we choose to use in that fight. What's hooking me this season, however, are some newer themes—particularly one dealing with aging heroes as well as–humor me, please—a thread that reminds me of modern vampire stories.

Day Eight starts with a side of Jack we haven’t seen before: he’s a grandfather. And he’s yearning to embrace this new life and leave his old one behind—for good, this time. But his old life comes knocking in the form of a badly wounded former informant who appeals to Jack’s propensity to “do the right thing.” And so Jack is drawn back once more to save the world.

Jack isn’t the only one who’s back—so is Chloe O’Brian. And the theme of aging heroes weaves into her story as well. Back at CTU because her husband lost his job, Chloe is a little lost in the new technology and narrow-minded management of the recently reincarnated CTU. Yet, even as she flounders, her instincts (born of experience) are knife-edge on.

Both Chloe and Jack are seen by some as old-timers in a world that’s passing them by. At one point, a young CTU agent even asks, “Who’s Jack Bauer?” But others are aware of the wisdom, skill and know-how that comes with experience—and this clash could take us to some interesting places as the season progresses (and maybe the series as a whole as well.)

Renee Walker is back, too—and she brings with her one of the season’s most intriguing hooks so far (for me, at least). Walker is a former FBI agent we met last season who struggled ethically and morally with Jack’s questionable and ruthless methods (i.e., torture and killing)—but then eventually used them herself. Evidently, Walker is having great difficulty dealing with the experience and memories. She is filled with anger and self-loathing, lashing out at herself and others (in particularly violent ways). If the scars on her wrists are any indication, Walker’s been through a very dark time—and, if Jack is right, she’s not yet done with that darkness.

After watching Walker and Jack interact, I couldn’t help thinking that the relationship between the two bears a striking similarity to a kind of relationship and theme that's common in vampire stories of late. In particular, I was struck by the thought that Jack has come face to face with his own Drusilla.

As I’ve mentioned before, vampire stories appear to be going through a kind of reinvention of the myth, moving the vampire away from an irredeemable, predatory and unrepentant creature of evil and toward one in which we can explore a very personal and inescapable aspect of our human experience: namely, the darkness within each of us or, in biblical terms, our bent towards sin—a state from which we long for redemption and salvation. In other words, in a good portion of our modern vampire stories, the vampire seems to be moving from a figure of villainy with little or no desire to repent to a more human-like figure in which the darkness within is intensified—but so also is the desire for redemption and the capacity for repentance. We’ve seen this play out, for example, in Joss Whedon’s Angel and Spike, Twilight’s Edward and most recently Being Human’s John Mitchell—vampiric heroes who yearn for redemption even as they struggle with their internal darkness, addiction-like needs, the dark means by which they’ve succumbed to those addictions in the past and the consequences of their actions both to themselves and those they’ve hurt.

Jack bears more than a little resemblance to this reinvented vampire, and past seasons have delved into his awareness of that darkness within—and his longing for redemption (as seen most blatantly in last year’s Redemption and the final hours of Day 7). While Jack isn’t struggling with a traditional addiction, the methods he uses—like torture and killing—have similar consequences to himself and others. He is struggling with the internal and external effects of using dark means and methods and the isolation and turmoil related to using those methods (even though, for the most part, he believes he's using them with the aim of protecting the lives and good of the many).

An even more striking similarity to these modern vampire heroes, however, is Jack’s remorse and struggle in “siring” someone else into this dark world. As I watched Jack struggle with Rene’s choices in Hour 4, I couldn’t help but think of the angst and guilt modern vampire heroes feel when they face the creatures they’ve created. We watched this play out, for example, in Mitchell’s siring of Lauren and, more devastatingly perhaps, in Angel’s siring of Drusilla.

And all this leads me to wonder if this season of 24 will work with the most intriguing aspects of the modern vampire myth as played out in stories like Twilight, Being Human, and the Whedon’s Buffy and Angel universe (though, alas, not in Drusilla’s case—so far, at least): how the power of love, fellowship, community, confession, repentance and confronting the nature of the darkness within (sin) leads to salvation, redemption, and transformation. (For more on this aspect of modern vampire stories, go here and here.) 24 has touched on some of these themes before, but I’m curious to know if the power of love, accountability, community and repentance will come into play in a more prevalent way this season.

And that, at least for now, is keeping me watching.

(Images: Photos of 24, Angel, & Drusilla, 20th century Fox)

3 comments:

Staci Rowenhorst said...

Great insight my friend, I couldnt agree more! These themes have struck me in all of the 24 Seasons. I am very interested to see where they will leave Bauer at the end of the end. Im very hopeful for some kind of beautiful redemption for him! (and Renee!)

Carmen Andres said...

i'm wondering if this will be the last season for Bauer (though, what would 24 be without him?!). the look on his face when he's with his granddaughter and the peace and settledness with which he made his choice to go to California with them are more than a little foreboding. i, like you, would love to see his time end in "beautiful redemption"!

SarahtheBaker said...

Absolutely! The culture as a whole is identifying with its bent toward errant behavior, and the regret they feel that they can't seem to stop doing what they hate....Redemption is the desire.

These are classic themes of hope emerging from the darkness. It's just another way of saying that noone, vampire, human, alien, or otherwise, is beyond grace, forgiveness, and God's redemption.