“What Must Be Done” : Ethical Reflection in Hour 3 of 24: Live Another Day

Although I favored titling this meditation, “It’s the Only Way Forward,” after Jack’s poignant comment to Chloe, I decided upon further reflection this episode seemed more a portrait of the twisted reasoning of this season’s terrorists, the Al-Harazis. Despite important scenes with Jack, Chloe, Audrey, Mark, and President Heller, what felt most important were Margot’s conversations with her daughter Simone and Simone’s attempt to console her husband, who is haunted by nightmarish images of women and children dying in a missile attack. Yet, on third thought, Jack’s comment does relate in an inverse way, as we’ll see.

In terms of the overall plot, this episode can be summarized succinctly: (1) Simone eludes Jack and Chloe and reunites with her mother (who tests her daughter’s resolve), her brother (who works to get Yates’ tech running), and her husband (who shows cold feet about their terrorist plot). (2) Jack then decides he needs proof of the tech that allowed for the hacking of the U. S. drone, which sends him to the U. S. embassy, while Kate and Erik get intel out of Basher that leads them to the embassy as well (to interrogate Lt. Tanner). (3) President Heller, with Audrey’s approval, yet counter to Mark’s and Prime Minister Davies’ advice, begins to address Parliament, who is in a “surly” mood. (4) Ominously, Mark forges President Heller’s signature on an executive order which will hand Jack over to the Russians (for his violation of a Russian embassy in Season 8).

There is still plenty of action: Jack’s failed pursuit of Simone through London’s Waterloo Station, Kate’s ignoring of orders to get information out of Basher, and Jack’s inciting a riot among the crowd outside the U. S. embassy when Adrian Cross has betrayed him. The episode ends with Kate chasing Jack onto embassy grounds.

But there are crucial meditations too. The first dialogue occurs when Simone returns home, after a three-week “assignment” as Yates’ lover, and viewers are introduced to the family. From a scene between Jack and Chloe, we learn that her mother Margot “radicalized” when she met Mohammed Al-Harazi. At the time she was a widow with two young children (Simone and her brother). Commander Al-Harazi worked with Al-Qaeda in several attacks, including a bombing in Cairo. President Heller, three years before the day portrayed in this season, authorized a drone attack in Yemen, which killed Mohammed and severely wounded Margot, who did survive.

In this episode, though, we see Margot as the domineering mother and terrorist mastermind, confirming that her family is indeed resolved to carry through with their plan. She first questions whether her daughter was followed, and later conversation reveals she believes Simone slipped up to allow the American agent (Jack Bauer) to find her in the first place. In an even more coercive way, Margot pushes her son-in-law Naveed to accept Simone back as his wife after her “sacrifices” with Yates, citing that she herself did similar things when Mohammed sent her undercover. Margot says Naveed’s acceptance of Simone would be best for everyone–Simone, her, and him. They are fighting a war, after all; they are doing “what must be done.”

Naveed, though, has second thoughts, not about accepting Simone back, but about their overall plot to highjack the drones and shoot missiles at targets in London. After Naveed admits to her that he’s had nightmares, Simone echoes her mother’s reasoning, saying it’s natural to be scared, it’s no small feat to kill a man, but she has done it because their cause is “necessary and just.” Although Naveed gives himself to her advances, he all too obviously still has doubts.

On the other side, in a conversation that is an inversion of Margot’s and Simone’s reasoning, Jack consoles Chloe when she finally informs him that she lost her husband and son (Morris and Prescott) in a car wreck, which she suspects was a failed hit on her (since she knows what happened to her the day Jack disappeared, at the end of last season). The portrayal of Chloe’s “distraction” and her conversation with Jack may not work entirely on the screen, but Jack’s words to her are typical 24: he tells her they can’t bring back the ones they’ve loved, they can only try to honor their lives by helping others. He emphasizes it is the only way forward for them, to protect the innocent lives that would be lost if they abandoned their pursuit. I believe these motivations are what make Jack Bauer the noble character he is, despite the body count around him. Jack sees himself doing “what must be done.”

What Must Be Done
Margot Al-Harazi: “What Must Be Done”

How much then separates Margot Al-Harazi and Jack Bauer? Margot seeks to kill others as revenge for the death of her husband (in line with many 24 villains, since the Drazens in Season One) and as a continuation of his politics, and Jack Bauer seeks to move forward, mourning his losses, by protecting others from the violence of terrorists like Margot. Both will kill to achieve their ends, but Margot’s agenda involves the killing of masses of people who have no choice (the people in Naveed’s dream). Jack’s killings are more limited, yet in this episode, he shoots two protesters, innocent bystanders, to start a riot so that he can get inside the embassy. Jack Bauer’s hands are plenty “dirty,” but 24 constantly pushes us, claiming the larger evils could not be avoided without such utilitarian use of violence. 24 excels when it truly makes us think: What is necessary? What is our duty? What truly must be done?

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