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In Defense of Kim Bauer

I don’t think that I have ever read anything positive about Elisha Cuthbert’s role as Kim Bauer on 24, nothing that wasn’t in TV Guide or E! Online at least. It’s safe to say that the general response to Kim ranges from ambivalence at best, to lament, contempt and pure hatred at worst. What is more remarkable is the universality of this sentiment. It is understandable for critics like Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle — whose m.o. is apparently to try to hate what everybody loves before they start to hate it, or to love even more what everybody already loves a lot — who have turned against 24 to single out Kim’s storyline as a turnoff. But even the show’s biggest supporters are likely to say that they would like 24 more if Kim’s nine lives ran out sooner rather than later.

In a way, I’d like to see such a development only for its emotional effect on Jack — we might see parental warnings about graphic violence after every commercial break if that were to happen. But that is beside the point. I want to be the first to say that 24 might be a different show when Kim is phased out next year, perhaps for the worse.

To be sure, I can understand the reaction to Kim. Her plotline interrupts Jack’s and she does so many “dumb” things that make her a big pain in the ass if you’re her father and also trying to stop freedom-hating evildoers. If she only did what Jack told her to, like we all would, she’d be OK, right? Why DO the writers keep her around, and why do they use such ridiculous plot points to do so? Something can be said about that gratuitous nipple shot in Kevin Dillon’s bathroom, but her presence on the show isn’t as superficial as that.

From interviews with 24’s creators regarding the show’s conception, we know that the fundamental structure of the show is a conflict between work and family, which is at least as fundamental a component as the counter-terrorism angle. Every character, good or bad, goes through the exact same dilemma. And there you go, there’s your answer, that’s why Kim has stuck around for so long.

But more importantly, I think that Kim actually adds a very interesting dimension to Jack’s storyline. Without question, it’s Kiefer Sutherland’s show. We know it, the critics know it, and the producers know it, even without the studio’s audience polling, which tells them the same thing anyway. However, because the show is so much about the “present,” we have very little idea about Jack’s past beyond little resumé factoids. This is where Kim fills in those blanks. She really isn’t some ditzy piece of eye-candy to get young boys to watch 24, as much as she really is Jack’s daughter in so many ways.

Forget about how Elisha Cuthbert, like Kiefer, has pointed eyebrows, a slightly downturned mouth and cleft chin. Kim is so much like Jack mentally that we get this weird insight into Jack’s past, how he might have been when he was younger and how his character would exist in different situations. Think of all the times that Kim has walked right into danger with little regard for consequences — you know, all those little subplots that tick people off? Maybe she really does know that it’s unsafe. In the very first episode, doesn’t it just sound perfect that the guy who shoots his boss in the office with a dart also has a kid who does things that drive her parents up the wall? Could it be that on all these occasions, she did so because she has Jack’s hard-headed, headstrong independence and absolute sense of right and wrong? Remember, Jack is da man exactly because he puts those values ahead of authority. Maybe he wouldn’t do everything Kim does, but people fuck up when they’re young, and maybe Jack fucked up a few times before. After all, Kiefer did pick some bad movies too. And he gets into these drunken bar-fights, although, that’s actually a plus where I’m concerned.

I don’t want to make excuses for every absurd thing that happens on 24. Goodman’s big gripe is that the show lost its “realism,” which I think is redundant and silly anyway. I just think that Kim was always an integral and interesting part of the psychological narrative, even without the nipples.


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