Earlier this week, we touched on an interesting point of comparison between 24 and Homeland, and this was that of interrogation technique. In the pilot of Homeland, we get some flashbacks to Nicholas Brody’s experiences with interrogations, where he was both beaten senseless, and watched his fellow Marine, Tom Walker, get beaten to death by his own hand. These scenes are shown in a very blurry fashion, but serve to capture all of the brutality that comes with interrogation, focusing on the bloodshed and violence rather than the end goal of obtaining information, and using violent interrogation as a means to that end.
This is interesting to note in contrast to interrogation on 24. While the third and fourth episodes of season 5 do not show any governmental interrogations, it is clear throughout the rest of the series that interrogation is used as a means to an end, and the focus of the show is which dramatic conclusions the end result can lead Jack Bauer to discover in order to prevent a terrorist attack. In fact, immediately following the episodes we watched in class (this isn’t much of a spoiler), Jack figures out (as we already had in the episodes we watched) that the President’s Chief of Security, Walt Cummings, was helping with the terrorist plot at the airport. Storming into the President’s office, Jack forces Cummings to the ground, pulls out a pocketknife, and threatens to cut out Cummings’ eye if he doesn’t reveal more of the plot. Frightened to death, Cummings does so, and the story arc is allowed to continue. Here we see an inherent justification within the show to torture (or threatened torture), as it helps Jack to investigate the wider terrorist conspiracy.
Now, it is important for me to note that I have spent half my life defending 24. While it was on the air, people would tease me for watching it, saying it promotes torture and that Jack is superhuman and can never die. Still, for a moment I will have to stop defending it, because there has been at least one example on television where interrogation was constantly used to get valuable information, but said interrogation did not necessitate torture. The example I am citing here is Homicide, the television drama based on David Simon’s corresponding book. Here, there is a police detective named Frank Pembleton who, along with being a foil to his more emotionally sensitive partner Tim Bayliss, was best known for his interrogation techniques. Every week, viewers would tune in to watch Frank get people in the “box”, and he would proceed to manipulate people into copping to the murders they had committed through dramatic performances meant to inspire intense emotion from his subjects. It worked almost every time. That a television show can depict a detective getting important information without the use of torture suggests that 24 could maybe have gone about its interrogation scenes differently. Then again, with the 24-hour, time-pressured nature of the show, the writers may have felt the need to handle it differently than Homicide did, where there was rarely a need to solve a murder as quickly as possible.