I’ve been watching 24 lately as I frantically try to accomplish all the things this week (finish my mom’s Christmas present, finish editing Fairyland 2, and the play I’m directing goes up on Saturday, too).
I pay attention to some seasons and episodes more than others–it’s not really hard to follow, even with only half a brain focused on it. A lot of the show is like a YouTube montage of people yelling WE’RE OUT OF TIME/RUNNING OUT OF TIME/WE DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME!!! only it’s not a montage, it’s just the show.
But the thing that frustrates me is such a writer thing to be frustrated by.
The villains, we just never know where they’re coming from.
Oh sure, America sucks, blow things up, yes, we get that they’re Bad and want to Do Bad Things. But we never hear why they want those things, what specific beef they’ve got, what their history is (I want to hear Marie Warner’s story, you guys) and how they got to that point. Most importantly, we never hear what sort of world they hope will follow their apocalypse party.
So you want to meltdown all the nuclear reactors/release a virus in all kinds of cities/whatever. You basically hope to bring about the end of America as a civilization, right? Because that’s what will happen. (And money is not a good answer either, even though they occasionally try that one, because it will not be worth much when everyone is dead and you are hoping to trade non-irradiated water for uninfected food.) And many of the effects of the 24 crises would actually be worldwide. So you want the zombie apocalypse. What is it you hope will follow that? I’m willing to hear that you want a pre-industrial Caliphate–I won’t like it, but it’s at least a concrete goal. I’m willing to hear that you think nixing half of humanity with an incurable 100% mortality virus will heal the earth because overpopulation or whatever.
What I do not like is the constant YOU CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND that the villains spout, and then clam up. Like, somehow that’s an acceptable response during an interrogation? It’s as good as asking for a lawyer, it would seem. We could never understand? Well then! No more questions, sir! Would you like the light or dark cell? Right this way. There’s something to be said for villains monologuing. At least we get to understand. No wait, we couldn’t understand, so I guess we won’t even try?
And I am always interested in the why. When I was editing Apex I asked for a rewrite on a story to give me more “whyporn”. I want it laid out, at least a little, why the villain does what they do, and more than that–why they feel they are righteous. Because they all do believe they are doing the right thing, the hard thing, but the right thing. To act as though those motivations are incomprehensible is to simply dismiss those who commit terrible acts as inhuman and beyond understanding–and really, most of the time they’re terribly human and very understandable. We just feel better about our own stupid, petty, venal motivations when we shrug them off and say they’re monsters, who cares why?
But most of the time, in real life, villains are acting out those stupid, petty, venal impulses on a large scale, that’s all. And it pays to understand the process by which the small ugly thoughts we all have blossom into this horrible angry all engulfing Thing.
That’s how you write a good villain. An interesting villain. And 24 makes interesting villains and then just stubbornly refuses to examine them or even allow them to speak. I know it’s supposed to be this Rah Rah Jack Bauer Punches People In the Soul show, but in its first seasons it was often quite deft and interesting–right up until we should actually hear the whyporn, and then the YOU JUST WOULDN’T GET ME scowly crap starts up, every single damn season.
Show, I am frustrate. WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME.