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24 Problems But a Bitch Ain’t One
tech failure

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.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.

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(Deleted comment)
It's not quite that bad. In fact, many of the seasons kind of drag in the middle.

They often have plenty of tedious subplot about various team members kids and/or the kids those kids babysit (seriously) that does not pertain at all to the main plot. So they've got the time.

(Deleted comment)
Free association: Have you read the Daybreak books by John Barnes? In those, there's a self-reinforcing internet meme to get some people to make a serious attempt (aided by nanotech) to destroy civilization.

The third book isn't out yet, and I'm betting a little bit that there's an alien conspiracy behind the onstage conspiracy.

Perhaps it's a case that the show either deliberately or unconsciously, reflects the "America f**k YEAH!" mentality, with a complete lack of insight into opposing view points and simplistic morality.where the terrorists need no other motivation other than they're evil etc...

Either that, or the writers are clueless.

I think it's a function of 24's political issues. If the bad guys got a legitimate chance to speak, they might not only be persuasive about spotlighting America's problems, but then we'd have to establish a real baseline for who these guys are as opposed to the generic rogue Arabs and ex-Russians and whatnot. Which could get those guys genuinely angry.

So instead, we just float in a sea of generic American discontent. Why do they hate us? We don't need to know. It's just enough to know that they do, and they'll come at us in waves like some sort of human Space Invaders, and they will never stop.

It's interesting to note that in Season 2 (and I only know this because I'm an Arnold Vosloo/Mummy fan), they cut the dramatic scene of Marwan saying goodbye to his family, because that would have made the villain "too sympathetic", which in this country is seen as, you know, unAmerican to sympathize with or even try to understand our enemies.

I don't think for a moment that the writers at 24 are incapable of including the whyporn in their show, or that it's an oversight. I think it's quite deliberate, either because they don't want to draw criticism that 24 is playing sympathy notes for terrorists, or because they've decided that all the focus should be on the interaction between the main characters, and that they've done enough explaining to prop up their baddies. It's like the nazi's in the Indiana Jones films: they're bad guys. That's all we need to know. Now let's get back to watching Jack!

Marwan is in season 4. ;)

*commits ritual seppuku in disgrace* :)

Seppuku: for those days when a "Doh!" just isn't enough.

I honestly expect, at some point, to write a story where the villain admits, "Well, I sure fucked *that* up. I was trying to cure cancer/stop hunger/eliminate spam[1]."

[1] Actually, Charlie Stross already used that brilliantly, in "Rule 34"

I think your assessment here is spot-on. I do think part of it is the format. 24 is greatly hindered in its character development because it can't include flashbacks. So we never get to look back in time and see what happened over time to make this person like this today. And no one has much patience for a villain pontificating about the nuances of her motivations.

That's not to say it can't be done -- it's just that it's a lot harder, and it probably requires a level of prewriting that they just don't do for that show.

I guess I look at a scene like the final one with MArie Warner, where shes in interrogation and just says you wouldn't understand over and over and the scene drags on with these long silences, as a perfect example of the Right Time to explain things. And they just don't.

I don't watch the show because my schedule means I have to be very picky about what I watch. Plus, I know I'd hate it.

That said, I have noticed this phenomenon elsewhere. Villains are rarely fleshed out. I think this is one reason why serial killers have become such a handy (i.e. lazy) standby. They have a compulsion or they are doing it for kicks. You do not have to explain any further than that because the killer does not think he is righteous. Indeed, he is often incapable of thinking this way. He is just a really smart dog with rabies who needs to be put down. No other understanding is necessary. This type of villain is just a lurid and lazy crutch.

Serial killers are as overused in TV and movies as ninjas are overused in comic books.

A suburban couple in The Tick:

"Oh dear, I think we ran over a ninja back there."

"Keep driving. It's not like we hit a collie or anything."

Absolutely agree. But it's a fox show, so it's hero centric porn, focused on American exceptionalism. Giving the villains motivation attacks that.

That's why I like shows like Sons of Anarchy, where the heros are also the villains in service of protecting their space. It's more of a chess game than a John Wayne swagger.

And brilliant writing that milks the drama of plot by digging into motivations. 24 is more of a carnival ride thrilling.

But isn't Sons of Anarchy a reality show?

Hell no. It's a drama about a motorcycle club. And the inspiration for the writers is Hamlet. I'd skip 24 and go for that. Or Rescue Me. Californication is in my top 5. Nip/tuck is also excellent, although you'll probably want to punch all the characters.

I watch a lot of TV to keep me sane while editing alone. Those shows have consistently great writing when it comes to dramas.

Oh, and MI-5 is a way better version of 24 in the same genre and it's first few seasons are on Netflix. Those writers are merciless.

not at all. It's scripted TV and some of the best. Ron Perlman and Katy Segal are brilliant

Would people hate me if I said that these villains sound like whiny teenagers or people with communication issues? (I was going to say 'women', because really, sometimes we do that, but we're not the only ones.) Because, "You don't understand, so I'm not gonna tell you!" sounds *exactly* like that non-tactic.

I never watched 24, although I generally don't mind that sort of show. I think it clashed with something else I was following. I always thought the 2nd season should have been called 48.

From watching the first two seasons, I got the impression that the creators didn't even want to think about the villains' reasons. To write out an explanation, they'd have to spend a few minutes trying to think up a justification righteous enough for them, and that would have been trying to understand the enemy which shares an apartment with sympathizes with the enemy, and they don't even want to drive through that neighborhood. Not when Jack Bauer has to torture those people to move the plot along.

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