A reflection on the final season of my favorite televison series, 24. This piece centers on the actions of President Allison Taylor.
The road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. The actions of President Allison Taylor, during the final season of the Fox drama 24, demonstrated this axiom. Taylor sacrificed her lofty idealism for a liberal dream. She wanted to sign a historic peace accord with the Russians and the Islamic Republic of Kamistan (IRK). The president hoped this accord would define her administration and cement her legacy; it did—but for all the wrong reasons. In the pursuit of the greater good, Taylor compromised her principles and betrayed the tenants she swore to uphold. She condoned any means necessary to achieve her goals.
Taylor represented the liberal dreamer. She had a quixotic mission; her administration aimed at signing a historic treaty between the West and an Islamic country. She went about this by finding Western leaders willing to jump on board with this endeavor. The Russians, led by its president Yuri Suvarov, agreed to join the United States in fostering an accord. Such a treaty would potentially revolutionize international relations; to do this, the Western powers needed a legitimate partner and a progressive leader from an Islamic regime. Omar Hassan offered Taylor a perfect partner; he wanted to bridge the gap between East and West, between Muslim and Christian, and he aspired to join the two Western presidents in an arrangement that would form a lasting alliance. These leaders worked behind the scenes for months finding diplomatic language both sides agreed on and making preparations to sign the peace document at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The final season of 24 took place on the day the parties met to sign this diplomatic truce. Then, the unexpected happened. Russian operatives ambush and assassinate President Hassan. Chaos reigned for a few hours—it appeared as if rogue IRK agents, not the Russians, orchestrated the attacks. No one knew how to proceed. President Taylor consoled Hassan’s widow, Dalia Hassan, during these trying times. The American leader did everything she could to encourage the IRK to move forward with the peace accord in spite of the assassination. After the IRK delegation consulted with members of its parliament, the country awarded temporary presidential powers to Mrs. Hassan—with the understanding that she would sign the peace and return home.
During this turbulent period, President Taylor received a call from ex-president Charles Logan—Taylor’s predecessor who was impeached for abusing his powers and trampling on the Constitution. The disgraced former president wanted to step in and offer assistance during the, now turbulent, peace process. Against her better judgment, Taylor took the call and listened to his message. Logan told her that he heard the Russians were leery of going forward with the peace treaty after Hassan’s assassination. He promised to use his Moscow connections to keep the Russians on board.
Fearful that months of hard work would go down the drain, Taylor allowed Logan to begin negotiations with the Russians and serve as an official representative for the American government. She let a snake into her inner circle; deep down, she knew he could not be trusted. But, desperate times call for extraordinary measures. Taylor wanted to make her mark. She felt the diplomatic alliance had begun slipping from her grasp—like sand escaping through a clutched hand. So, she made her first idealistic compromise.
Logan had the ear of the president for the next several hours. He served as the essential conduit to the Russians; he was the indispensible man. Playing such a vital role promised to rehabilitate his shattered legacy. He seemingly had as much invested in a signed treaty as Taylor did.
Then, Logan’s old enemy reared its ugly head. Jack Bauer, the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent and 24 protagonist, uncovered the truth of the Russian’s involvement in Hassan’s assassination. He alerted President Taylor of this discovery. The news shook Taylor; her knees buckled when she heard this revelation. She then made a hasty decision. She called Logan and asked for his advice. The former president told her to cover the information up.
Allison Taylor stood at a cross roads during this conversation. She could sacrifice her principles for the greater good (i.e. signing the peace treaty without alerting IRK officials the Russians, a treaty party, were responsible for the assassination of Pres. Hassan) or she could reveal this information and watch the peace treaty fall apart.
Hubris made this decision. Taylor followed her ego instead of her head. She knew signing this peace was a once in a lifetime opportunity. This was a legacy maker; it would be in the first paragraph of her political obituary. To make this happen, she believed that she do must keep Bauer quiet at any cost.
In doing so, Taylor betrayed her liberal principles. When the character was first introduced (during season 7), she was a leader who put severe constraints on intelligence units. She refused to condone torture techniques—which proved so useful when CTU needed information. Taylor respected habeas corpus and insisted that enemy combatants receive their rights when law enforcement incarcerated them.
These principles, which defined the Taylor administration, went by the wayside after the president decided to sign the peace at any cost. She took steps to destroy Bauer’s evidence and credibility (labeling him an enemy combatant in possession of falsified evidence that threatened national security), she ordered CTU operatives to arrest journalist Meredith Reed (who Bauer contacted and gave information to leak the story), she condoned murder (after listening to Logan, she ordered CTU to kill Bauer). These actions shredded the Constitution. They betrayed everything that Allison Taylor was; after all, Taylor famously had her chief of staff (who happened to be her daughter) arrested for similar actions during 24’s seventh season. In short, she began to embody the mindset she abhorred. She became a reincarnation of Charles Logan.
During the show’s fast paced final hours, the new President Taylor showed the lengths she would go to cement her political legacy. Dalia Hassan, the acting head of the IRK government, learned of the Russian’s involvement in her husband’s assassination. She felt betrayed and wanted no part in the peace signing. Taylor turned on her ally in an instant; she threatened a nuclear attack on the IRK. Hassan had no choice but to go along with the peace accord, in light of this existential threat to her homeland.
The reckoning arrived during the last hour. After Hassan and the Russian president signed the accord, Taylor stepped to the platform with a pen in hand. She stood ready to cement her legacy. And then, her conscience stepped in. The enormity of her moral compromises and her crimes hit her like a stack of bricks. Taylor refused to go through with this endeavor; she could not sign the document. She made a brief statement to the international press and then rushed from the room.
Taylor began making amends during the last few minutes of the show. She reneged her order to take out Jack Bauer, she confessed her crimes to advisor Tim Woods, and she promised to own up to her crimes and accept punishment (i.e. impeachment) from Congress.
She began salvaging her character during the final minutes of the season. But, the damage was done. The president’s desire to achieve peace at any cost led her to betray her principles for “the greater good.” Dorothy Rabinowitz described Taylor’s mentality, as well as the 24 depiction in the May 28th edition of the Wall Street Journal: “seldom has television offered so lethal a picture of delusion in high places, of idealism that knows no bounds and recognizes no realities, and paints it with such zest.”
The president’s actions showed the unintended consequences that often accompany lofty aspirations. Taylor wanted to establish a lasting peace between two quarreling factions—the West and an Islamic nation. She expected her principles would play a role in fostering this diplomatic alliance and cement a partnership. Outside events thwarted the peace treaty. President Hassan’s assassination threw everything into limbo. Instead of recalculating the situation, Taylor insisted on going forward with the venture. When she learned that the Russians were responsible for Hassan’s assassination, she covered this news up from IRK officials. This Machiavellian impulse demonstrated that Taylor believed the ends justified the means. She sacrificed everything: her friendship with Dalia Hassan, her character, and ultimately her presidency—for the glory this event would bring her and the significant impact it would make on the world. Ego took the front seat as Taylor set foot on an odyssey that led to her undoing.