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Cette contribution est issue de l’ouvrage collectif : Sylvie Allouche (éd.), 24 heures chrono, naissance du genre sécuritaire ?

Conflicting Modes of Moral Reasoning; The Case of 24*

Introduction : Maddening Narratives, Serial TV

In the 1990s a new kind of film emerged. Scholars have given it a variety of related names: Janet Staiger and Jan Simons speak of “complex narratives”, Elliot Panek and Warren Buckland call the films which employ these narratives “puzzle films”. Allan Cameron and Lev Manovich use the terms “modular cinema” and “database cinema” respectively, while Thomas Elsaesser speaks of the mind-game film – fans who are less confined by the conventions of scholarly writing call it the “mind-fuck film” instead1. As Elsaesser points out, the kind of film under consideration occurs in a variety of genres and across the northern hemisphere: they are produced in Hollywood, in the North-American independent film scene, in Europe, and in Asia. The following list of titles and names will probably give some idea: Lost Highway (1997), The Truman Show (1998), The Matrix (1999), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Memento (2005) ; Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar-Wai, Kim Ki-Duk, Park Chan-Wook. These mind-game films tend to present characters who are being “played” with. Their sense and perception of reality is not just tricked but challenged on a deeper level, such that they cannot grasp the meaning of the events that happen to them. As a result, their mode of being-in-the-world becomes subject to a fundamental disturbance. Elsaesser points out that these disturbances tend to be caused by a manipulation of time: along with the characters, viewers have to find their ways through incommensurable universes, impossible simultaneities, sudden identity switches, and incomprehensible reactions. Causal relations and chronological narrative linearity give way to loops, Escher-twists and Möbius strips. These do not offer different points of view on the same event or different interpretations of them ; they radically reshuffle the premises such that everything turns out to be different from what both hero and viewer had thus far assumed. To the latter, the films provide the special pleasure of figuring out the “algorithm” (hence Manovich’s term database cinema), or as they say in The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008): we are invited to seek out the (often changing) “rules of the game”.

Drawing on this tendency in film, Jason Mittell argues that narrative complexity characterizes contemporary US television series as well. He is, to be sure, cautious not to map a model of storytelling from feature film onto television series. This is something Kristin Thompson did, for example, by applying David Bordwell’s characterization of the narrative form of art cinema to “art television” series such as Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991) and The Singing Detective (BBC, 1986)2. Instead, Mittell sets out to develop a vocabulary and to determine the specific facets for complex storytelling that are “uniquely suited to the series structure that sets television apart from film and [at the same time] distinguish it from [TV’s more] conventional modes of episodic and serial forms3”.

These “conventional modes” of serial TV include two opposite poles : on the one hand, the soap operas from the 70s and 80s – think of Dallas (CBS, 1978-1991) or Dynasty (ABC, 1981-1989) – proceed by way of infinitely delayed narrative closures and subordination of plot developments to relationships and character drama. On the other hand, we find cop shows, medical dramas, and sitcoms, in which the individual episodes have a more distinctive identity, but then the narrative continuity between them is minimal ; it is as if each episode starts off from the same initial situation. As opposed to these conventional modes, the complex narrative TV series, starting in the 1990s with, among others, Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991), X-Files (Fox, 1993-2002), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB Television Network, 1997-2003) and Seinfeld (NBC, 1989-1998) are characterized by what Mittell calls “a redemption of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration4”, that is : while each episode retains a somewhat distinctive character, the emphasis shifts to ongoing stories. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to take an example I discussed elsewhere, picks up on the idea of the “monster-of-the-week” developed in The X-Files and merges it with the teenage girl concerns from the short-lived cult-hit series My So-Called Life (ABC, 1994-1995). Moreover, the monster-of-the-year (“big bad”) provides narrative consistency and continuity during the individual seasons, while other storylines (such as Buffy’s coming of age or Willow coming out of the closet) are developed throughout the series as a whole5. 24 likewise balances episodic and serial narration, as Chamberlain and Ruston pointed out :

In any given season of 24, the programme is constantly inscribed by the tension between the openness of the two or three driving storylines for the entire season, the two or three ongoing minor storylines which get resolved and replaced every few episodes, the hour-by-hour cliffhangers timed so that multiple events coincide, and the closure promised by the day/season. This opposition of openness and promised closure (how many arcs can be opened when they must be closed by the end of the season ?) creates a tension through structure, just as narrative creates a tension through plotting6.

To Mittell, however, such adeptness at “juggling the dual demands of serial and episodic pleasures” is but a minimal condition ; in and of itself, it does not suffice to characterize a narrative as “complex”. What really marks complex narrative television is the alteration of multiple interweaving plotlines. Different threads do not merely function as parallel stories or counterpoints, but are being dropped and picked up again in a (chrono-)logically challenging manner. They collide and coincide in surprising ways, and push precise distinctions between episodes and seasons. For example, a complex comedy series like Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-2006), Mittell argues, expands the number of coinciding plots per episode, “with often six or more storylines bouncing off one another, resulting in unlikely coincidences, twists, and ironic repercussions, some of which may not become evident until subsequent episodes or seasons7”.

By comparison, the plot of Fox show 24 may seem relatively straightforward. While it certainly juggles serial and episodic pleasures, it hardly confronts the viewer with warps, twists, and Möbius strips. On the contrary, the series is premised precisely on the parallel unfolding of all storylines “in real time”. That is : each season consists of 24 1-hour long episodes so as to cover an entire day, whereby the story time equals the discourse time. I suppose this very postulation of a straight-jacketed chronological time, and the many inconsistencies measurable against it, is the source of disappointment on the part of Mittell, who is not alone in finding the series “conceptually muddled and logically maddening8”. Yet I would argue that the series is not remotely as conceptually or logically muddled as it is morally ambiguous. In other words, 24’s complexity does not concern its narrative framework, but the maddening shifts of its ethical positions. More specifically, the series provides paradoxes and conflicts between consequentialist and deontological forms or moral reasoning. After recapping the basic conceptual and narrative outlines of the series as a whole, I will discuss two episodes from different seasons in detail to underscore this point. Far from claiming that the complexity of the series as a whole can be deduced from an analysis of two single episodes, the comparison, with its various moral implications resonating in episodes several seasons apart, will serve as an example to show how multifaceted the show can be.

Teleological and Deontological Arguments

Aired by Fox for 8 seasons between 2001 and 2010, 24 centers on the actions of federal agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who, as the show starts off, works for the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) in Los Angeles, one of two government intelligence agencies assigned with the task to investigate and prevent terrorist attacks on US soil. Every season recounts the events of a single space of 24 hour during which Jack has to prevent terrorist attacks. These attacks come in different kinds, and include nuclear threats of various sorts (seasons 2, 4, 6), biological weapons (seasons 3, 7) and nerve gas (season 5), as well as assassination attempts on the various fictional presidents, including David Palmer (Dennis Heysbert), the “first African-American president” (on air before Barack Obama got into the running). In a world peopled with spies, moles, conspiracies, double agendas, and facing the imminent threat of thousands of victims, Jack Bauer cannot always play by the rules to protect his president or to prevent any of the other attacks.

Members of the Bush administration and US army regiments in Iraq loved 24 no less then West Baltimore loved The Wire. The New Yorker portrays 24-creator Joel Surnow as a right-winged neo-liberal and quotes him saying that, in Hollywood, it is “easier to come out as gay than as conservative9”. Yet I would rather side with Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer and rebuff those who reject 24 on the grounds that this Fox series uses terror hysteria and patriotism, if not to celebrate George Bush’s politics in general, then at least to justify the use of torture or other extreme measures for the “greater good” of US homeland security10. Far from defending Bush politics, I want to defy that claim by showing that the consequentialist moral logic behind much of the action does not necessarily justify that action. In so doing, I will use the general term consequentialism instead of the more specific (though more widely used) term utilitarianism. Consequentialism is basically a teleological form of moral reasoning according to which the ends justify the means, as opposed to deontological forms of moral reasoning, which are based on intentions of actions rather than on their consequences. A consequentialist would be interested in knowing whether a given action is good, whereas a deontologist like Kant would rather ask whether an action is right (in accordance with certain rules and laws). Utilitarianism is a specific form of consequentialism, one that suggests to determine whether an action is good in terms of a certain measure called “utility”, usually pleasure or happiness. Since utilitarianism comes with a set of specific problems that need not distract us (such as the difficulty of measuring and differentiating degrees of pleasure), I just stick to the more general notion of consequentialism.

While Jack Bauer typically relies on consequentialist moral reasoning, 24 takes the classic objections to consequentialism seriously as well. For example : Jack time and again fails to balance his own desires and individual interests (as well as those of his daughter or lovers) against the requirements of the greater good (same goes for David Palmer). Moreover, if the ends are to justify the means, it is necessary to be able to predict the outcome of one’s actions with some degree of accurateness. Every season we witness Jack Bauer knowing better than anyone else how to predict the consequences of his own actions, but then he never counts on the actions of others interfering with his own, however well intended. To mention a few occasions : he would have stopped Salazar if it were not for Chase following him into Mexico ; he would have captured Habib Marwan if it were not for president Logan to order Jack’s arrest ; and he would have rescued Audrey Raines and prevented a crisis with the Russians at the same time if it were not for the CTU to botch the plan. However, the objection I am most interested in takes the form of a paradox : if the moral value of an action depends on its results, if the ends are supposed to justify the means, then it might be justified to lie about someone’s guilt, to publicly punish a person you know is innocent, or indeed to use torture if it prevents a greater harm. So when I claim that 24 does not necessarily justify actions that from a deontological point of view would seem wrong, I mean to say that the series time and again runs into these paradoxes rather than that it resolves them. Violations of the rights of individuals are not always balanced by the need for public safety, nor is the assassination of one man always excusable because it prevents national security to be compromised, and so on. I shall compare two episodes, one from season two and another from season four, in order to argue that 24’s strength lies precisely in the fact that it shows how both teleological and deontological arguments can be won and lost, so that it depends on the individual case whether we tend to endorse the one or the other. Rather than celebrating or selling a moral position – let alone a political preoccupation –, 24 invites us to keep checking our own moral stance against its actions.

David Palmer’s Trial

The first episode I want to look at was broadcast in 2003, and its plotlines were written immediately after Colin Powell, as first African-American Secretary of State, addressed the U.N. Security Council. Prior to this event and several months before 9/11, Powell had declared that sanctions against Iraq had successfully prevented the development of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in that country. Upon the terrorist attacks in 2001, he did not support the idea of overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime, thus resisting the urge to retaliation shown by most other members of the Bush administration. When Powell addressed the abovementioned plenary session of the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003, however, he showed a slideshow with videos and audio fragments in order to gain international support for the invasion of Iraq precisely on grounds of the existence of WMD.

In March and April 2003, 24, which was then in its second season, addressed this topic with unheard-of explicitness. Several plotlines addressing the question “What counts as sufficient evidence to invade a country as a retribution for a terrorist attack ? ” culminate in what the (fictional) president of that season himself dubs “the trial of David Palmer” (season 2, episode 21). In this “trial”, Palmer faces an evocation of the 25th amendment of the Constitution – a factual amendment that has been used in US political history but was more frequently employed, as Monica Michlin pointed out, in recent fictional TV-series such as The West Wing, Commander-In-Chief, Heroes and Battlestar Galactica – which states : “Whenever the vice president and a majority of the cabinet determine that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall immediately take office as acting president11”. A brief outline of the second season’s plot will introduce the controversy over this amendment.

The action in season 2 centers on a Middle Eastern terror cell called Second Wave, which threatens to detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. It turns out that an American special ops unit called Coral Snake supports the terror cell. Once again, Jack uses all his “Bauer Power” to prevent the deaths of thousands, and this includes killing and torturing suspects. Most notably, Jack attempts to force terrorist Syed Ali to speak up by ordering the execution of his son while Ali is witnessing the event in real time via satellite TV (season 2, episode 12). With a typical Bauer move, Jack “justifies” his action by accusing Syed Ali for making him do this.

It should be noted that president Palmer explicitly forbade Jack to kill Syed Ali’s family in order to obtain information. In dubious compliance with this order, Jack staged the killing instead. The result is no less effective : believing that he may save his family, Syed Ali breaks and reveals that the bomb will be launched from Norton Airfield. It allows Jack, in the plot’s denouement, to have the plane carrying the bomb crash in the desert and thus save Los Angeles.

This denouement, along with many other occasions in the series, might be taken as justifying Bauer’s actions, as commentators have done indeed. Even when individual cases of torture may be motivated or need to be interpreted differently, the sheer frequency of the event has a normalizing effect, as Slavoj Žižek argued, especially given the perpetual state of emergency on which the show is premised12. Yet I want to counter that such an argument overlooks the subtleties to which only a case-by-case analysis can do justice. This case just described, for example, gets more complicated when the context of the episode is taken into account.

For at the same time that Bauer does his dirty job, president David Palmer, who had sought to prevent the outbreak of mass hysteria by keeping the nuclear bomb threat secret to the public rather than evacuating L.A., is now called upon to retaliate for the nuclear attack. The so-called Cyprus recording is an audio file which implicates that three (unspecified) Middle Eastern countries were behind the attack and sponsored the Second Wave terrorist group. Although the Cyprus recording passed several authentication tests (including CTU’s own), Jack Bauer has reason to believe that the recording may have been forged, though his lead is thin and the evidence keeps escaping him. More specifically, his reason to believe is grounded in a brief conversation between Syed Ali and himself13. When Ali is about to be transported to Guantanamo, Bauer tells him that the murder of his son was staged. In return for this “confession”, Bauer wants to know if Ali was speaking the truth when he claimed that the Cyprus recording was fake. Ali’s confirmation is meaningful to Bauer, but perhaps even more so to the viewer. For whereas Bauer previously relied on coercion and threat to force Ali into a confession about the location of a nuclear bomb, he now removes the conditions for such a consequentialist deliberation on Ali’s side by asserting that his family’s safety is not (and never has been) in jeopardy. While Ali may still have reasons to lie about the forgery of the Cyprus recording – he may want to prevent or delay US retaliation on Middle Eastern countries – Bauer is now paradoxically reaching out to Ali in a relation of personal trust as a ground for exchanging information. What could be less reliable than the personal trust of an enemy of the state whom one has personally subjected to torture ? Yet this brief exchange, which concludes with Sayed Ali being shot dead by an unknown sniper, in fact does urge Bauer to keep looking into the possibility of the tape’s forgery and to urge president Palmer to be “certain of his ground” before declaring war on the suspected Middle Eastern nations. Against all odds and again on the basis of personal trust, the president gives Bauer a chance to prove his point in time. Time pressure is on, however, since a delayed response will blow the chance of a US surprise attack on the involved countries and cause casualties of US soldiers to increase by tens of thousands of lives – so the army generals and the hawks in the cabinet predict. The president’s trust in a “lone CTU agent” over and against the independent verification of multiple intelligence agencies combined with his continuous deferral of action leads vice president Prescott to invoke the abovementioned 25th amendment of the Constitution. Without informing Palmer in advance, Prescott assembles the cabinet members in a room to which Palmer is connected via teleconference – yet another real-time form of communication that abounds in the series14. Palmer objects to Prescott’s invocation of the 25th amendment, arguing that it is designed for cases in which the president is ill or incapacitated, and does not give Prescott the right to reverse a policy under the pretense of some disability. But Prescott counters that the reasons for the disability are not limited to any particular cause, and he wants to make the case that Palmer’s actions have shown a pattern of erratic and irrational behavior proving him unable to act in times of great distress. As proof of this pattern he calls upon a journalist who has been kept in custody by the president’s order so as to prevent him from making the news about the bomb public, as well as on NSA Director Roger Stanton, who has been tortured by order of the president, who even witnessed the operation. A video of the torture is shown to the assembled members of the cabinet, upon which the president does not deny that he ordered Stanton to be tortured, but objects that the videotape has been truncated. What has not been shown, he claims, is that Roger Stanton provided details that were soon corroborated and hence proved Stanton’s knowledge of, if not his implication in, the terrorist attack.

This episode thus presents us with the following, paradoxical situation: president Palmer, who is not willing to justify the assassination of Syed Ali’s family to save L.A., justifies the torture of his own NSA Director by claiming that it helped save the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. Vice president Prescott on the other hand uses the same act of torture to prove that the president’s actions will lead to the death of tens of thousands of Americans (because of delayed retaliation). Is Roger Stanton being tortured a means justified by the end, or a symptom of erratic behavior – or both (or neither) ? Interestingly, then, Prescott, who wins the support of the majority of the cabinet members and takes over the office of the president, is not objecting to the use of torture as such (on deontological grounds, that is) ; he rather argues that something is wrong with this particular case of torture, on consequentialist grounds.

To be sure : I am not making a case for Prescott, nor is 24. The vice president prefers the “positive effects” of immediate retaliation against possibly innocent countries (with the prevention of numerous casualties) to the tedious efforts, delay, and uncertainty of finding more conclusive evidence on the perpetrators. But then Bauer proves Prescott wrong: the audiotape, Bauer discovers, was in fact forged by an American business consortium led by a man named Peter Kingsley. This consortium had nothing to do with the terrorist attack itself, but produced the Cyprus audio in an attempt to use the attack to its advantage by igniting a Middle Eastern war, as a consequence of which oil prices would be driven up. Upon this revelation, Palmer is reinstated as president.

Such a scenario is not very convincing. If anything, 24 suffers from narrative simplicity rather than narrative complexity. But my interest lies in the moral complexity of the case, and in particular in the fact that several of the characters involved apply different moral positions at different occasions, or even at one and the same occasion.

An Obscene Suggestion

This muddling of teleological and deontological positions is mirrored in the final episode of season 4. In this season, another appeal is made to the 25th amendment of the Constitution, albeit less ambiguously so. Palmer’s successor president John Keeler got severely wounded when Air Force One was shot down. The attack on the president’s plane turns out to be part of a larger terrorist plot coordinated by Habib Marwan, leader of a number of terrorist cells that partake in the so-called Turkish Crimson Jihad. Keeler’s vice president Charles Logan now becomes acting president of the United States, but he seems susceptible precisely to those charges David Palmer faced in the second season: he is accused of having problems making difficult decisions, of postponing actions while time is running out, and most notably he seems unwilling to make dirty hands or to compromise his ethical stance. So when Jack Bauer tortures yet another guy to get information about Marwan’s location, president Logan orders Jack’s arrest on deontological grounds – namely that his administration does not and will not allow the use of torture. As a direct consequence of this arrest, however, Marwan manages to escape. Upon learning of this coincidence, Logan first seeks to excuse himself by saying that his order to arrest Jack was not intended to interfere with the operation to catch the terrorist. When his advisor Mike Novick points out that he would not have had an operation in the first place if it were not for Jack, Logan claims he no longer trusts his own judgments and actions, and says that he considers to step down as president. Yet Mike warns that the president stepping down at this vital moment would prove disastrous to the nation. Mike thus implies that even Logan’s acknowledgement of his own incompetence gives further evidence of his incompetence. At Mike’s advice Charles Logan brings in former president David Palmer to act as his proxy with full mandate to bring this crisis to a good end and to stop Marwan.

In order to do so, Palmer calls upon Jack Bauer to lead a covert – and illegal – assault on the Chinese consulate to capture a scientist with connections to Marwan. The operation successfully prevents Marwan from pursuing his nuclear attack, but the Chinese are furious about the raid on the consulate, which left a citizen abducted and the Consul killed (albeit through friendly fire). Showing a videotape of a CTU agent who confesses “of his own free will and under no duress” that he operated under his superior Jack Bauer, the Chinese now ask the US government to prove that they were not behind the assault and to turn over Jack Bauer.

Once this teleconference has ended, Security Chief Walt Cummings suggests to “take Bauer out” so he will not be able to implicate the government, under duress or not. This upsets David Palmer, who calls it “an obscene suggestion”. President Logan sides with Palmer and turns against Cummings. But the reason for this choice is not that he, like Palmer, trusts Jack or because he believes Jack would never break and compromise national security. Instead, he again brings up a deontological argument: the US administration does not commit murder – and never will – not even to solve “a lot of problems”. The argument risks serious embarrassment on the part of the US by allowing the Chinese to take “the moral high ground in the court of world opinion”, if not worse. Walt Cummings preempts the president’s explicit decision to hand Bauer over to the Chinese by ordering Bauer’s assassination. Cummings is thus following the kind of logic that Bauer himself might endorse, though the question remains whether the calculated result (preventing embarrassment) is sufficient to justify the cause. Logan’s stance is not unambiguous either: as his advisor Mike suggests, Logan’s “no” to Cummings may have been a cover for his real intentions – he may in fact have been on Cumming’s side all along while hiding behind a deontological façade. Palmer finds this idea confirmed when, having heard about Cummings’intentions to kill Jack, he appeals to the president to talk Cummings out of it. Logan reacts to Palmer’s “half-baked conspiracy” with an insult and another moral absolute: “it is no secret that your presidency was infected with a certain level of paranoia and scandal: I won’t allow that in my administration. Questioning my security chief would not only undermine his authority, it would compromise mine as well”. Not to compromise one’s authority as president may be a morally right thing to do from a deontological point of view, but then of course he should not have relied on Palmer to act as his proxy. If, on the other hand, the “moral high ground” of the president is indeed a way of silently okaying Bauer’s assassination, he may well justify this action on consequentialist grounds. So whereas Logan acts as if he is following a deontological form of reasoning, he may be doing the opposite. Palmer finally decides to warn Jack, whose escape prevents his assassination and being handed over to the Chinese. In so doing, however, Palmer may well be compromising national security – which is not a very consequentialist thing to do and contradicts much of what Palmer has done and justified in the past. At the same time, while Palmer is steering away from his consequentialist reasoning, he does remain faithful to his trust in Bauer. That Palmer will eventually be assassinated himself, that Logan turns out to be corrupt, and that the Chinese will have their revenge on Jack after all, do not undermine the fact that 24 keeps running into moral paradoxes rather than it resolves them.


The two episodes discussed above mirror one another in several respects. In the case of “The Trial of David Palmer”, the use of torture against NSA Director Roger Stanton was dismissed by vice president Prescott, who found this action indicative of president Palmer’s “erratic behavior”. Palmer defended the torture based on consequentialist logic, even though he himself forbade Jack Bauer to torture the terrorist Sayed Ali on deontological grounds. He was also unwilling to launch an attack on Middle Eastern countries while a consequentialist logic could have urged him to do so. The point here is not that Palmer is employing a double moral standard, but that neither the use of torture nor Jack Bauer’s behavior, let alone a political decision as important as a declaration of war, can be justified on grounds of any form of moral reasoning without taking the specific details and contexts of the individual case into account. This becomes all the more pertinent in the second episode analysed above. Acting president Logan employs a deontological form of moral reasoning without considering the specificity of the situation and without being sensitive to the nuances of the political spider web. While his categorical dismissal of the use of torture (which leads to Jack Bauer’s arrest) is presented as a failure to prevent a disaster from happening, the same categorical dismissal of the use of assassination is presented as morally superior to the idea of “taking Bauer out” in order to prevent the Chinese from discovering the US government’s involvement in the attack on the consulate. This is not to say that either of these stances is indeed morally superior (or that torture ought to be allowed in “exceptional cases”). Instead, I have argued that 24 pushes both deontology and consequentialism to their borders by continually posing such questions as: at which point does deontology becomes sterile, counter-productive, insensitive, dogmatic ? And at which point are we no longer willing to sacrifice our moral stance in the name of consequentialism ? Rather than defending either moral position or positing a chronological shift from one to another, as Douglas Howard has argued, I hope to have shown that 24 plays itself out in the grey areas of the moral and political realm, where rules no longer help to determine our position, but our judgment is called for to determine the rules on a case-by-case basis15.


ALLOUCHE S., LAUGIER S. (éd.), Philoséries : Buffy, tueuse de vampires, Paris, Bragelonne, 2014.

BUCKLAND W. (ed.), Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

CAMERON A., Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

CHAMBERLAIN D., RUSTON S., “24 and Twenty-First Century Quality Television”, S. Peacock (ed.), Reading 24. TV against the Clock, London, I.B. Tauris & Co, 2007, p. 13-24.

ELSAESSER Th., “The Mind-Game Film”, W. Buckland (ed.), Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 13-41.

GERRITS J., “When Horror Becomes Human: Living Conditions in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Modern Language Notes (Comparative Literature Issue) 127, December 2012, p. 1059-1070.

GERRITS J., “Ici-bas et encore plus bas : la projection empathique dans Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, S. Allouche, S. Laugier (ed.), Philoséries : Buffy, tueuse de vampires, Paris, Bragelonne, 2014, p. 117-124.

HOWARD D. L., “‘You’re Going to Tell Me Everything You Know’. Torture and Morality in Fox’s 24”, S. Peacock (ed.), Reading 24. TV against the Clock, London, I.B. Tauris & Co, 2007, p. 133-145.

JEANGÈNE VILMER J.-B., 24 heures chrono : le choix du mal, Paris, P.U.F., 2012.

MANOVICH L., The Language of New Media, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 2001.

MAYER J., “Whatever It Takes: The Politics of the Man Behind ‘24’”, The New Yorker, February 19, 2007, consulted on 24 June 2013.

MICHLIN M., “The American Presidency and the 25th Amendment in Contemporary TV Series: Fiction, Reality, and the Warped Mirrors of the Post-9/11 Zeitgeist”, [].

MICHLIN M., “Narrative and Ideological Entrapment in 24: Plotting, Framing, and the Ambivalent Viewer”, GRAAT On-Line 6, Dec. 2009,, consulted on September 25 2014.

MITTELL J., “Narrative complexity in contemporary American television”, The Velvet Light Trap 58, 2006, p. 29-40.

PANEK E., “The poet and the detective: defining the psychological puzzle film”, Film Criticism 31, 1/2, 2006, p. 62-88.

PEACOCK S. (ed.), Reading 24. TV against the Clock, London, I.B. Tauris & Co, 2007.

SIMONS J., “Complex Narratives”, New Review of Film and Television Studies 6.2, 2008, p. 111-126.

STAIGER J., “Complex Narratives, an Introduction”, Film Criticism 31, 1/2, 2006, p. 2-4.

THOMPSON K., Storytelling in Film and Television, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2003.

ŽIŽEK S., “The Depraved Heroes of 24 are the Himmlers of Hollywood”, The Guardian, 10 January 2006,, consulted on September 25 2014.


1. W. Buckland (ed.), Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009 ; A. Cameron, Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008 ; Th. Elsaesser, “The Mind-Game Film”, W. Buckland (ed.), Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 13-41 ; L. Manovich, The Language of New Media, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 2001 ; J. Mittell, “Narrative complexity in contemporary American television”, The Velvet Light Trap 58, 2006, p. 29-40 [] ; E. Panek, “The poet and the detective: defining the psychological puzzle film”, Film Criticism 31, 1/2, 2006, p. 62-88 [] ; J. Simons, “Complex Narratives”, New Review of Film and Television Studies 6.2, 2008, p. 111-126 [] ; J. Staiger, “Complex narratives, an Introduction”, Film Criticism 31, 1/2, 2006, p. 2-4.

2. K. Thompson, Storytelling in Film and Television, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2003 ; ref. in J. Mittell, “Narrative complexity in contemporary American television”, The Velvet Light Trap 58, 2006 [], p. 29.

3. J. Mittell, “Narrative complexity in contemporary American television”, The Velvet Light Trap 58, 2006 [].

4. J. Mittell, “Narrative complexity in contemporary American television”, The Velvet Light Trap 58, 2006 [], p. 32.

5. J. Gerrits, “When Horror Becomes Human : Living Conditions in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Modern Language Notes (Comparative Literature Issue) 127, December 2012, p. 1059-1070 []. See also “Ici-bas et encore plus bas : la projection empathique dans Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, S. Allouche, S. Laugier (éd.), Philoséries : Buffy, tueuse de vampires, Paris, Bragelonne, 2014.

6. D. Chamberlain and S. Ruston, “24 and Twenty-First Century Quality Television”, S. Peacock (ed.), Reading 24. TV against the Clock, London, I.B. Tauris & Co, 2007, p. 13-24.

7. J. Mittell, “Narrative complexity in contemporary American television”, The Velvet Light Trap 58 [], p. 34.

8. J. Mittell, “Narrative complexity in contemporary American television”, The Velvet Light Trap 58 [], p. 30.

9. J. Mayer, “Whatever It Takes: The Politics of the Man Behind ‘24’”, The New Yorker, Feb 19, 2007, consulted on 24 June 2013.

10. J.-B. Jeangène Vilmer, 24 heures chrono : le choix du mal, Paris, P.U.F., 2012.

11. M. Michlin, “The American Presidency and the 25th Amendment in Contemporary TV Series: Fiction, Reality, and the Warped Mirrors of the Post-9/11 Zeitgeist” [], consulted on 25 September 2014.

12. S. Žižek, “The Depraved Heroes of 24 are the Himmlers of Hollywood”, The Guardian, 10 January 2006,, consulted on 25 September 2014. For an elaboration of this argument, see also M. Michlin’s “Narrative and Ideological Entrapment in 24: Plotting, Framing, and the Ambivalent Viewer”, GRAAT On-Line issue 6, December 2009,, consulted on September 25, 2014.

13. I want to thank S. Allouche for reminding me of this important point.

14. M. Michlin convincingly relates the abundant presence of split screens and real-time communication devices to the conspiracy and paranoia-invested climate of the post 9/11 era, in “Narrative and Ideological Entrapment in 24: Plotting, Framing, and the Ambivalent Viewer”, GRAAT On-Line issue 6, December 2009,, consulted on September 25, 2014.

15. D. L. Howard, “‘You’re Going to Tell Me Everything You Know’. Torture and Morality in Fox’s 24”, S. Peacock (ed.), Reading 24. TV against the Clock, London, I.B. Tauris & Co, 2007, p. 133-145.

*. I would like to thank Sandra Laugier and Sylvie Allouche for their repeated invitations to the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, where this article was presented in its initial form. I would also like to thank Paola Marrati and Martin Shuster for organizing a series of conferences on Philosophy and American TV series; an extended version of the initial presentation was delivered at the second of these occasions, at Hamilton College, NY, 2012.


Jeroen Gerrits, « Conflicting Modes of Moral Reasoning; The Case of 24 », dans Sylvie Allouche (éd.), 24 heures chrono, naissance du genre sécuritaire ? Archive ouverte J. Vrin, visité le 24 juillet 2024,


Jeroen Gerrits est associate professor en littérature comparée à Binghamton University - State University of New York.


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