Networks in 24 and The Wire

25 Nov

Despite their different subject matters, The Wire and 24 both center on networks.  The Wire explores the interconnectedness of the drug, policing, legal, political, education, journalism and industrial worlds.  24, on the other hand, is obsessed with the realms of politics, terrorism and counter-terrorism.  Besides the different components of these respective networks, the two shows also diverge in the ways that they depict networks themselves.  In The Wire nodes within the network are highly responsive to changes within other nodes; however, in 24 these networks are immutable and unresponsive.

Many events in the The Wire can be broadly defined as moves and countermoves.  D’Angelo’s comparison of “the game” to chess is particularly appropriate in this discussion.  Players do not move randomly across the board; instead, they base their own moves on those of their opponents.  During the course of the show, this parallel is drawn repeatedly.  As soon as the surveillance equipment begins to yield results, McNulty and the other detectives fear that detection of their ongoing case will cause the organization to “change up” and prevent further investigation.  This fear was not without warrant.  After the raids on the stash houses, for instance, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell begin to make changes within their organization.  They order the murder of anyone who might have incriminating information, eliminate the use of cell phones, and switch headquarters from Orlando’s to a funeral home.  Even before this when they suspect that the pay phones in the low rises are being monitored, Bell instructs the hoppers to rip out the pay phones and use other ones.  The networks within The Wire are constantly expanding and changing.  And the institutions within them constantly respond and adapt to changes within connected institutions.

In 24, however, there is not the same degree of responsiveness.  The terrorists’ plot does not at all change according to events taking places within CTU and the president.  The hostage-takers have an insider in the president’s circle who controls their actions and has a special knowledge of the state of the treaty signing.  But this special knowledge never causes them to formulate a new strategy.  Capturing Jack also provides the terrorists with an opportunity to respond to the intelligence that he holds, but their plan basically remains the same.  The communication and surveillance that occurs within this network, unlike that of The Wire, is one-way: from the CTU to the terrorists.  There are no counter-moves within the show, only CTU’s moves which inevitably lead to the foiling of an unchanged terrorist plot.  Moreover, this lack of responsiveness and adaptability prevents 24’s network from evolving or rising  above the level of abstraction.  Though individual characters and organizations change throughout the series, the terrorists remain the bad guys and Jack and the CTU are always the heroes.

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