The Logan Presidency came to an end the other night on the season finale of 24. It did, and in a sense it didn't: The larger, more conventional aspects of the plot resolved themselves, pretty much, with the customary three-seconds-until-the-nuclear-sub-launches-a-missile-attack breathlessness. But the depiction of a single day in the life of an American president -- technically, the final day in the career of a very wicked American president, one who would rank at the bottom of those Wall Street Journal surveys -- had an eerie, unsettling resonance that outlasts the show itself.
Over the course of the season President Charles Logan's machinations, double-dealings and endless decision-making reversals and counterreversals grew into an intense, pinched psychological drama, one that spoke much louder than Kiefer Sutherland shouting orders into his cellphone. It was the show's inner nautilus, where the quiet echoed. As the president, his staff and, most significantly, his frequently deranged First Lady pussyfooted around the paneled rooms of his West Coast ranch compound, eavesdropping on each other and then communicating in whispers the latest fragment of update, it began to feel like one of those Kurosawa dramas about feudal lords -- the Macbeth-based Throne of Blood, say, courtesy of FOX. You could almost hear the chief executive's agonized teeth-grinding.
Gregory Itzin, who played President Logan, pulled off a feat that I would have assumed was genetically impossible: He looked like Richard Nixon cross-cloned in a petrie dish with Jimmy Carter. He was always quaking with moral rectitude or neurotic anger over some fresh injury to his pride. He would order someone assassinated or a plane shot down with the petulance of a busy man asked too many questions about what greens he wanted in his salad. This was not an enjoyable performance of the power-mad school, like Ian Richardson's in the BBC's House of Cards or Philip Baker Hall's in Secret Honor. Not at all. It was revolting in its weakness, its cunning, humorlessness and opportunism and stupidity.
The president's relationship with his wife might, perhaps, have humanized him, except that in their moments of intimacy he often seemed like an oversexed teenage virgin being ushered into a deflowering session with a mature hooker. (That may have had something to do with having the First Lady played by Jean Smart, an actress whose womanliness is both commanding and camp.)
Yes, it was all melodrama, but it felt genuine -- President Logan somehow epitomized the pathetic aspect of abused, great power. How it corrupts, isolates, disorients, dehumanizes.
Man, it sure can tangle a president up in blue.