The ‘24’ Absurd-O-Meter: Jack Bauer in ‘Matlock’

In Daily Intel's 24 Absurd-o-Meter, we each week count down the most incredibly ridiculous (ridiculously incredible?) plot points in the last hour of Jack Bauer's crappy day. Last night saw the return of two cherished elements of 24: The great Powers Boothe as spooky Vice-President Noah Daniels, and Jack Bauer's Nev-R Fail Torture Technique®. There was also Tom Lennox's thrilling spinal growth, Bill Buchanan dramatically removing his glasses to [pause; remove glasses] dramatically deliver exposition, Jack breaking out his Russian skills — and, of course, a fair amount of absurdity.

3. Strange sets and props. Because a nuclear bomb went off on U.S. soil, the president and his staff have moved to an underground bunker deep below the White House. No problem there. This bunker gets excellent cell-phone reception. Maybe a stretch, but we're still with you. But the president's way-way-underground office has windows (!) with raindrops on them (!!!). Also, crazy Russian military man Dmitri Gredenko has a huge cell phone with two huge antennas. Now we admit that we don't have firsthand experience with heavily encrypted Russian-made satellite phones, but a man who can configure unmanned drones to deliver nuclear weapons should really get his hand on a cell phone that could fit in his pocket.
Absurdity factor: 3 (out of 10)

2. Jack Bauer is Matlock. When Jack forcefully interrogates Anatoly Markov, the Russian consul-general (played by John Noble: Denethor!), he confirms that Markov's lying through the lamest cross-examination trick in the book. "I haven't spoken to Gredenko since he arrived in United States," Marvok bellows. "I never said he was in the United States," replies a triumphant Jack, who only needed to change into some seersucker, hitch up his suspenders, and compliment Markov's "right purty speech" to fully inhabit the role of Ben Matlock. Absurdity factor: 4

1. Torture: Always the right call. It's only been a few weeks (er, hours) since Jack has tortured someone with great effectiveness, but this is the first time it's happened since the publication of Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece about the politics and the consequences of torture on 24, which argued that these make-believe scenes are doing tremendous real-world damage. So it was jarring to see Jack threaten Markov with a cigar cutter that'd been artfully introduced a few scenes prior. It was also jarring to see Jack use the cutter on one of the guy's fingers. And then for the torture victim to start singing like a canary — and to keep singing, piling on detail after detail: Gredenko's location, Gredenko's plot, Gredenko's timing, Gredenko's favorite flower. As Mayer reports, and U.S. military personnel have told 24's producers, that's unrealistic: Torture doesn't make people tell the truth, it makes them say what they think the torturer wanted to hear. And that, rather than the always-100-percent-truthful responses Jack Bauer gets, would make torture an interesting element on 24. As is, the torture scene isn't just bad politics, it's lazy writing. Absurdity factor: 9 —Ben Wasserstein