Today in the Bechdel test: 24

[Warning: here be spoilers.]

24, the TV saga of implausible counterterrorist superhero Jack Bauer, has a whole lot of issues.

But there is one thing that Season 8 of the show 24 is getting right, and that’s the Bechdel test [warning: TVTropes link].

I picked up season 8 because it has Katee Sackhoff in it, and anything with Sackhoff in it is alright by me. Despite a fairly slow start, I’m now loving it. That’s because women aren’t sex objects and refrigerator fodder. They’re active agents, they’re sometimes in charge, they’re doing their thing – on the side of the USA, against it, or somewhere in between.

I’m trying to remember the last time we saw a mainstream television action show that included women so matter-of-factly and so across-the-board. However, it’s really not my genre, so I could be missing something.

This latest episode wasn’t the greatest ever, but here’s a clip illustrating a little of what I mean. Spoilers AHOY for episode 8 x 19; transcript below the cut.

This is pretty much a straight genderflip of what we’ve grown to expect on shows about crime, terrorism, and national security scheming. A woman President calls a woman anti-terrorism chief to talk about transferring a woman terrorist to another facility (where, incidentally, she is going to be tortured). Men are present, but they’re in support roles – offering information to the chief, answering the phone. These aren’t one-dimensional characters, either: the President fucks up and compromises herself while trying to carry through her ideals; Chloe is a complex character, fiercely loyal and stubborn, a little socially awkward, who’s been a long-time presence on the show; and Dana is carrying out terrorist acts while remaining always human and sometimes even sympathetic. We started the season with Dana working at CTU and being portrayed in somewhat of a ‘victim’ role – but that situation was turned on its head as the layers of her scheming and terrorist involvement were unpeeled, in a powerful reveal (I avoid spoilers!)

Yet the show never shouts, “Genderflip!”, or “You’re not really supposed to take these women seriously!” They’re just… there. They’re protagonists, antagonists, heroes, villains, presidents, and screwups.

What Bechdelicious shows or books are working for you at the moment? Share! Recommend!


Montage, as the show returns from a commercial break. The clock counts in at 10:16.

We are in the control centre for CTU, the Counter Terrorism Unit. An agent is showing CTU head Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) some tape of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) walking through a crowd.

Arlo Glass (John Boyd), intelligence agent: This was taken eight minutes ago on the corner of 25th and Cleveland.
Chloe O’Brian: Give Cole this information, have him redirect his search.
Phone Guy: Ms. O’Brian. I have President Taylor calling for you.
Chloe O’Brian: Put her through.

[Cut to President Taylor in her office, on speakerphone. A man, ex-president Logan, is standing in the background.]

Male voice on phone: Madam president: Chloe O’Brian.
President Taylor: Have you made any progress in finding Jack Bauer?
Chloe O’Brian: Not yet. We’re still searching.
President Taylor: I think it’s safe to assume he’s on his way to CTU and that Dana Walsh is his target. That’s, that’s why I’m calling, Chloe. I want Walsh transferred to a safe house off-site.
Chloe O’Brian: Madam President, I’ve doubled the security around Dana Walsh. I’m confident this is the safest place for her to be.
President Taylor: Your opinion notwithstanding, I’d feel more comfortable with her in a place where she can’t be tracked. Agents from a private security firm are coming there to pick her up.
Chloe O’Brian: A private security firm?
President Taylor: You know as well as I do that Jack has contacts throughout the government, some of whom might be sympathetic to his situation. I’m not suggesting that you’re one of those people, Chloe. I just, I just want to take every precaution.
Chloe O’Brian: Yes, ma’am.
President Taylor: I’m sending over the transfer order now. The agent in charge of the escort team is named Mark Bledsoe. Should be arriving there in a few minutes.
Chloe O’Brian: Understood.
President Taylor: Thank you, Chloe.

Categories: gender & feminism

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7 replies

  1. How fascinating – this is a show I’ve never watched a single episode of because I discovered that the protagonists regularly use torture to get the information they need to save the world, and this is allegedly represented as usually working (when in truth it doesn’t). I always knew, obviously, that there was probably a lot of good aspects I would be missing because of that stance, but I never expected Bechdeliciousness to be one of them.

  2. Absolutely – it’s a whole mess of contradictions, has a Great White Saviour (who’d be slammed as an impossible Mary Sue were he not a Great White Male Saviour), and not where I’d expect to find this sort of rather sensible-to-kickarse female casting either. And when I say “kickarse”, it’s not Whedon-kickarse with the tight clothes and the butt shots and the stiletto heels and the poutyness; the characters just are who they are, focused and determined and appropriately dressed for their activities.
    This latest torture storyline, for what it’s worth, has so far been portrayed as pretty morally problematic. The President ordering this is in the process of fucking up in a whole lot of (impeachable) ways, and this particular order is being shown as being part of her desperate reaching, against the objections of people around her. But who knows how it will pan out in the resolution.

  3. Spooks. Waiting patiently (well, almost patiently) for series 8.

    • Spooks is a good comparison. Plenty of ethical challenges there, and also plenty of awesome women just getting the job done.

  4. I am watching Castle, and I am watching The Good Wife. Although the last episode I watched of The Good Wife did “woman punished for having sex” and it’s really sitting poorly with me.

  5. I know it is fashionable to argue that torture never (or almost never) works, but unfortunately this isn’t true. As with most things, there is ‘good’ torture (it works) and there is ‘bad’ torture (it doesn’t). To hat tip TV Tropes once again, it’s a ‘Family Unfriendly Aesop’ where wishing really hard won’t make it go away. Those of us opposed to torture need to be aware of this.
    The best piece I’ve ever read on torture is here:
    I certainly didn’t expect a philosophy site to do a better job than any lawyer, but Aussie Seumas Miller is simply breathtaking.
    .-= skepticlawyer´s last blog ..ANZAC Day Redux =-.

    • [my response to SL deleted, because on second thoughts, the ethics of torture is way off topic for this thread ~tigtog]

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