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Sunday, July 20, 2014

What René Girard and Jack Bauer Have in Common

After the end of the best season of 24 since Season 5, speculation began as to whether we'll see Jack Bauer again. The producers certainly left the possibility open, but Jack will have to extricate himself (or someone will have to do it for him) from a Russian prison. In fact, almost every season ends "badly" for Jack. To wit:
  • In the closing scenes of the first season, he discovers his wife had been shot by his former girlfriend (and mole)
  • At the end of season three, he's a drug addict because he went undercover in order to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel
  • At the end of season four, the Chinese government wants him for crimes against their government, so he fakes his death, assumes a new identity, and is forced to move away from his family and friends
  • At the end of the fifth season, after tricking the sitting President into revealing his criminal role in the day's events, Jack's kidnapped by the Chinese and (we learn later) spends 20 months being tortured in a Chinese prison (very similar to how this season ended)
  • In season six, his former girlfriend, Audrey, is almost non-functional after being tortured by the Chinese (she had gone looking for  him). In the final scene, Jack tells a sleeping Audrey that even though he loves her, he must let her go for her own sake.
  • In season seven, Jack is poisoned and is near death when his daughter undergoes a stem cell procedure that could save her his life but risking her own
  • In season eight, Jack wages a one man war against the members of the Russian government who are responsible for a conspiracy after the President refuses to do anything that could jeopardize the treaty. The season ends with him a fugitive of both the American and Russian governments.
  • And at the end of the ninth season, Jack turns himself over to the Russians in exchange for the freedom of his long-time ally, Chloe, who had been captured by the Russians, and safety of his family. This is after he learns that his former girlfriend, Audrey -- see above -- had been killed by a former Chinese agent (the same one who tortured Jack between seasons five and six).
In an interview with two of the show's executive producers, Manny Coto and Evan Katz discuss the tragic nature of the Jack Bauer character:
Coto: In the back of our heads, I think we always knew that there was going to be some sort of a tragic ending—that it was going to end, more or less structurally, how the finale ended. 
Katz: Kiefer [Sutherland] does have a deep sense of the character, and he did have a very strong feeling that Jack never gets a break; that he’s a true hero who has to pay for not only his sins, but everyone else’s. It’s out of that sense of the character that the ending was developed. There’s an odd sense of peace on his face when he goes over to the Russians—it is, in a strange way, his idea of paying his debt for Audrey, and for Chloe. There’s a sense that he’s not getting away from this unscathed, and that he’s paying a part of it back.
I doubt that Sutherland has ever read René Girard, but his intuition that Jack Bauer never gets a break, that he not only pays for his own sins but for the sins of others is similar to the notion of the scapegoating, which can be traced back to the Hebrew Bible (as well as other sacred scriptures).

The book of Leviticus tells how on the Jewish Day of Atonement the priest was to take two goats, one of which was to be sacrificed as a sin offering, and the other of which was to bear away the sins of the people. The priest was to “place” all the sins, transgressions, and iniquities of the Israelite people onto the goat and then chase it into the wilderness. As the goat was chased it would run by those gathered for the festival, who would “spit” their sins onto the goat as it passed by. Thus, between the actions of the priest and the people the scapegoat symbolically carried away the sins of the people, restoring the tribe’s relationship with God to one of wholeness or "at-one-ment."

In a similar way, in almost every season Jack Bauer is the U.S. government's scapegoat. Called upon to resolve situations not of his own creation, he often resorts to extreme measures that incur the wrath of those who asked him to help in the first place. And once the crisis has been averted (by Jack, of course), they knowingly or unknowingly cast Jack into the wilderness, thus restoring the U.S.'s relationship with God and the universe back to wholeness.

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