Tuesday, April 03, 2007

24: If it's an even-numbered season, we must be invoking the 25th Amendment

Last night, 24 once again went to the 25th amendment well to add some tension to the politcal side of its drama. They did this in the second season -- devoting an episode to the "trial of David Palmer" and several subsequent episodes to the first President Palmer's efforts to regain the authority of his office, and less dramatically in the fourth, when the 25th amendment was used after an attack on Air Force One left President Keeler incapacitated. I understand why the producers keep doing to this -- it creates drama and tension and puts the president in non-physical jeopardy. But it's been used so often the series has started to suffer from musical chief executives -- the America of 24 has had six men serving as president in the nine years that have elapsed, show-time, since the first season: The unseen and unnamed season 1 president, David Palmer, John Keeler, Charles Logan, Hal Gardner, and now Wayne Palmer. If the creators of the show want to create drama by throwing the leadership of the executive branch into chaos, there are other, more creative ways to do so.

One simple way to achive this would have been to set this season on the day of Wayne Palmer's inauguration. We could have seen outgoing President Gardner trying to deal with whatever crisis was fomenting even as he prepares to leave office, tension between Gardner's national security staff and Palmer's people, and an untested president thrust into a major crisis minutes after his inaugural address. Unfortunately, this device isn't likely to be used anytime soon, since this season is set very early in the Wayne Palmer presidency, and setting next season nearly a full presidential term after this one would add even more years to the bloated 24 timeline and give us a Jack Bauer who's pushing 50.

Another, more dramatic way to do it would be to somehow cut off the main players in the political drama from the rest of the world -- for instance, an attack that isolates them in the White House bunker and leaves everyone outside uncertain about whether anyone trapped within is still alive. We could then have a low-level Cabinet secretary (say, the Secretary of Agriculture) forced to act as president for a few hours. Or take it a step further -- kill off or incapacitate the entire Cabinet and we're suddenly in the shadowy world of the continuity of government program, the rumored list of non-elected officials designated to take over government functions in the event of a catastrophic attack. It wouldn't even take too much narrative juggling to put someone like disgraced ex-president Charles Logan on the list.

My point is simply this: There are lots of ways to create tension and drama over the question of who's in charge without doing Yet Another 25th Amendment Plot. I think doing so would make for more dramatic and exciting television and help the show avoid the feeling that it's repeating the same handful of plot developments over and over.

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