The XX Factor

Possibly the Most Feminist Season of “24” Ever

In seven seasons of 24 , I’ve never given much thought to its gender politics. For one, I’ve mostly tuned in for the escapism of watching Jack Bauer save the world. For another, it’s always had enough strong female characters - villains, heads of CTU, and the ass-kicking-yet-socially-awkward Chloe - to make up for the damsels in distress. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Kim Bauer.)

But two sequences at the end of last night’s finale jumped out at me for their portrayal of the women. (Warning, if you have the finale waiting on your TiVo: Spoilers ahead.) To wrap one storyline, President Allison Taylor has to decide whether to turn in her daughter for having one of this season’s baddies murdered. Given that one of the themes of this season was the Taylor administration’s opposition to torture and lawlessness (usually), it was not at all shocking to me when Taylor handed her daughter over to the Justice Department. But what was remarkable was the scene that followed. Taylor stands weeping in the hallway, sagging under the weight of a decision that likely cost her her daughter and her husband. She allows herself a good 20 to 30 seconds of sorrow, is briefly consoled by an adviser, and then straightens herself up and continues crisply down the hallway, fully in charge and ready to take on the day. She’s the president, damn it, and she’s not going to let any womanly emotions or maternal guilt get in the way of her job. The scene told you everything you needed to know about the character.

I’m still chewing over the other scene, not sure what to make of it. The FBI has übervillain Alan Wilson - who’s apparently been behind at least three seasons’ worth of mischief - in custody. Agent Renee Walker has him in an interrogation room, and she’s ready to go all Jack Bauer on him. She deactivates the surveillance cameras and handcuffs Janeane Garofalo’s character to keep her from interfering. (Oh, why couldn’t someone have done that by, say, Hour 3?) But Janis talks her down, and Walker comes to her senses. This comes not long after Jack had explained to Walker that he usually knew in his mind that the laws he was breaking were more important than the lives he saved, but that his heart wouldn’t let him not act. So, was Agent Walker repudiating Jack and his reluctant torture? Were the writers trying to say that women are less likely to torture than men? The problem for me is that the scene was not done especially well - even by 24 ‘s low-believability standards, it kind of came out of nowhere - and it’s not a perfect parallel. Jack Bauer’s torture has usually been of the “imminent threat” variety: If someone knows a bomb is supposed to go off in an hour, can you torture him to find out where it is? In this case, the threat is over and the bad guy is under lock and key. It doesn’t quite add up.

Are there any 24 watchers out there? What did you think? And do you agree that this was the most “feminist” season of 24 yet? Not only did we have our first female president and Jack’s first female sidekick (well, besides Chloe, who’s usually stuck in front of a computer), but Kim Bauer not only DIDN’T get kidnapped, she saved her dad’s life. Twice.