24: The Tropes of 24

By Dom Sinacola · Aug 27, 2012

I watch 24. A lot. Watching 24 is like drinking a warm glass of milk—if I knew what warm milk tasted like. I don’t, and I realize I could easily rectify this dearth of warm milk familiarity by just popping some dairy in a kettle or into the microwave or on top of the radiator, but I actually don’t want to drink any warm milk. I’d rather just watch 24, which to me represents all things soothing—the white of white noise—something I let exist while the much more complicated world/beverages spin/s endlessly about me. I also only floss while watching The League; I only watch The League when I floss. These facts feel related.

In case you’re unawares (no judgment here, though if you don’t know how 24 works you’re probably a dummy): Each season of 24 is 24 episodes long, each episode covering one hour in the course of a terrible day for the United States. Everything happens, we’re told, in “real time.” And it’s usually guaranteed that every “new” “day” will be worse and more harrowing than the last.

What’s great about watching a lot of 24 is that once you work out the show’s most excessive allowances for its high-concept format (how no one really eats or goes to the bathroom; how major life events happen in exactly 24 hours; how L.A. can apparently be traversed in a matter of minutes; how the Counter Terrorist Unit HQ is apparently located in the most magically convenient place in L.A. so that CTU agents can traverse all of L.A. in a matter of minutes; how Kiefer Sutherland is so obviously out of shape but no one seems concerned), it can be a lot of fun to recognize all the show’s functional patterns.

So recently, while making it through Season Five (which I will use as a perfect example of the show cranking on all cylinders, right at the height of its critical acclaim), I made a comprehensive list of 24 24 tropes with corollary explanations. My hope is that a drinking game will spawn or that, at the very least, you will ignore all of co-creator Joel Surnow’s support for Rick Santorum and give 24 the old college try. (By which I mean: you get stoned and talk through seven episodes in a row while sitting on a greasy futon where your roommate recently masturbated.)

It probably helps to introduce some characters. Far from comprehensive, I hope the following gives you a better sense of the people at play in the list of 24. I’ve littered spoilers about willy-nilly, so…BEWARE.

Jack Bauer

Jack Bauer.

I balk at even attempting to describe Jack Bauer: he’s an Everyman as much as a superhuman exemplar of mankind’s most beloved ideals. He is our hero, and he’s a fucking mega super badass. His greatest love and his greatest enemy is the United States government, which is predominantly corrupt and just keeps shitting in his face. The harder he loves them the harder they shit in his face. Another thing Jack Bauer excels at is torturing people. He tortures a mighty number of folks.

Bill Buchanan

Bill Buchanan.

Bill runs the CTU in Season Five. This is a picture of him in Season Seven when he lets his hair grow a little longer to match his roguish lifestyle. He’s a real solid guy.

Chloe O’Brien

Chloe O'Brien, this time upset.

Chloe works at the CTU as a senior data analyst or computer-whiz or something, and is always on Jack’s side. She communicates primarily through tortoise-like facial twitches and androidal explanations of technical malarkey no one ever gives a shit about. Season Five starts with her banging one of her attractive subordinates, who turns out to be working for the government conspiracy behind the season’s terrorist plot. It was a nice reveal on the show’s part that she has human genitalia.

Audrey Raines

Audrey Raines.

Jack met Audrey while working for her father, the Secretary of Defense. During Season Five, Audrey is working as a DOD liaison at the CTU, pulled in for the investigation into former President David Palmer’s assassination. And yeah: David Palmer gets killed, which is absolutely heartbreaking, leaving him open to do all the Allstate commercials for which his heart desires. Audrey and Jack are in love, which means you know some terrible shit will happen to her. Everyone Jack loves is murdered (his wife), double-crosses him (old partner Nina; the government; and later both his dad and his brother), or goes fucking crazy (Audrey, who was tortured in a Chinese prison for like six months). I’m not sure what else to say about her; for a supposedly smart, resourceful bureaucrat she’s awfully useless most of the time.

Tony Almeida

Tony Almeida.

I love using pictures from Season Seven, because all the main characters got out of the government and so made the hairdo/facial grooming choices they’d obviously always wanted to make. This means Tony grows a wicked goatee and scowls more than usual. Tony used to run the CTU where he fell in love with former colleague Michelle Dessler. At the beginning of Season Five, Tony is almost killed as part of a plot to blame David Palmer’s assassination on Jack Bauer, who, in order to escape imprisonment by the Chinese, faked his own death at the end of Season Four. Tony, Michelle, and Chloe are the only people who know Jack’s still alive. Michelle dies for this knowledge. Tony never smiles again and fosters an adorable beer gut.

Wayne Palmer

Wayne Palmer.

Wayne is David’s brother, and used to be a chief adviser in David’s administration. Wayne was there when David got snipered right between the eyes, and he later begins to suspect ill tidings afoot in the upper echelons of the government. At one point in Season Five, Wayne follows Jack on a risky mission to kidnap a bank manager (more on that later) at gunpoint, which is hilarious to remember when later Wayne becomes President in Season Six. Wayne’s also great at holding a thousand-mile stare of pure terror in his big, gorgeous eyes. Played by the sexy doctor from Parenthood who lost Jasmine romantically to motherfucking Dax Shepherd, who’s not only goofy looking but wears a fedora. One fedora per crew, unless Dax Shepherd’s in your crew, and in that case your crew should just give up and disband.

Edgar Stiles

Edgar Stiles.

Works with or maybe under Chloe at the CTU, maybe harbors some feelings for her, but probably just wants to be her friend since she’s practically sociopathic. He always looks like this. Always. He dies in Season Five, which you see coming, and he dies pathetically, because he’s trying to run while dying, and watching this guy run is like witnessing a five-year-old desperately shimmy out of his mother’s arms to go eat dirt from the sandbox. For some reason, the whole time I was watching this, I thought he was also the secretly gay mafioso from The Sopranos, but then I found out he actually played an FBI agent in the second and third seasons. But whatever. Those Italians, they all look the same anyway.

Samwise Gamgee

Lynn McGill.

For a short while he runs the CTU, but no one takes him seriously, probably because he’s all short and gets worked up real easily. Later his junkie sister steals his CTU codecard from him, which her boyfriend then sells to the terrorists who attack the CTU with nerve gas, indirectly getting himself and Edgar and a bunch of other disposable nobodies killed. He does go out heroically, but afterwards no one remembers him and he dies in agony in the corner. PO-TA-TOES.

With that, let us begin:

1. Jack is often on his cell phone, but he’s always in a hurry—obviously—so he begins every conversation with “THERE’S NO TIME TO EXPLAIN” or the similar “I DON’T HAVE TIME TO EXPLAIN.” If he doesn’t say this then the person with which he’s conversing will ask for an explanation right off the bat, and Jack has no time for that.

2. Every episode begins with a recap of the “day’s” events, wherein main characters are introduced and their tangled fates explicated. Sometimes you may find this recap nearing five minutes long, and so you wonder if there’s any point in having watched every episode before it. But then the action begins—or continues actually—and Jack punctuates each gun battle or knife fight or fake hostage situation with a slightly condescending reminder of the direness of the situation, as if every situation on this show wasn’t already entirely tense and doom-leaden: “You understand what this means: we’re talking about taking down the President of the United States,” perhaps. It’s like when in every episode of Lost Charlie used to state expositional summaries for the audience and little else, only every character on 24 is Charlie. It gives you an idea of how stupid 24 assumes its audience to be.

For example, here’s the first scene from Episode 19, which lays out everything one needs to know up until that point:

Jack: Bill, it’s Jack.

Bill: Jack, we’ve been waiting to hear from you! Did you get the recording to Secretary Heller?

Jack: I don’t have time to explain. Henderson’s got the recording. I need Chloe to help me find him but I can’t reach her.

Bill: Chloe’s here with me, Jack. She was arrested by Homeland Security for helping you but she managed to get away.

Jack: Put her on speaker.

(Bill puts Chloe on speaker, looks slightly miffed Jack didn’t say, “please.”)

Chloe: Jack, where are you?

Jack: I’m at Van Nuys Airfield. Chloe, listen to me. Henderson left here ten minutes ago with a recording that implicates President Logan. I need you to access CTU satellite data streams so we can find him.

Chloe: If I log-on to their system they’re going to find me eventually no matter what I do.

Jack: I don’t need you to track him for long. Do you think you can do it?

Chloe: I guess I can try to slip in through the Subnet.

Jack: Get back to me when you’re in.

Chloe: I’ll set up a BPM pathway so they can’t trace our call, but it’ll only work with the phone you’re using.

(At this point Jack’s already stopped listening; no one gives a crap how you do it, Chloe, Jack doesn’t have time for explanations.)

Tune in for Part Two to get some more tasty Chloe action as well as 22 more 24 tropes.

Is that your approval I’m sensing, Chloe? Thought so.

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