So I happened to see the beginning of "24" on Sunday night -- I stopped watching it a while ago, after Los Angeles was nuked for the third time -- and there, grilling Jack Bauer, was a self-righteous and squirrelly senator named Blaine Mayer. Get it? Blaine Mayer?

Anyway, I e-mailed my friend and ex-colleague Jane Mayer, who sliced and diced "24" a couple of years ago in The New Yorker, and asked what it felt like to be immortalized on television's leading pro-torture show. She wrote back:
 

"Well, there's kind of a balancing sensation. The elevation to the U.S. Senate is a nice start to the year, but the sex change is a bit disappointing, since if I have to be male, I was hoping for a younger, more fit body, and a better head of hair.  It does however fulfill one of my greatest fantasies, which is that I have long had subpoena envy."

I asked her if she thought Joel Surnow was behind this:

"I don't think Surnow is really the instigator here, since he's largely moved on to other brilliant work, such as the unending search for a successful right-wing humor show.  Howard Gordon is the main creative force at "24" now. He's said he invented "Blaine Mayer" to "amuse" himself. He's a Princeton grad, and conflicted "moderate" Democrat, who seems in real life to be a very likeable guy, but one who is having trouble rationalizing the truth that his professional and economic successes are derived from mainlining political poison into America's bloodstream. If he was honest about the debate over torture, he'd cast the critics of Jack Bauer as the heroes of the show, and they would be the stand-up military men, the proud FBI agents, and the lawyers inside and outside the government who have risked their careers to say that as a country, we're better than this. They're the real protectors of America."

"I notice by the way that the ratings for the season opener tanked. The show lost a third of its audience. The zeitgeist has changed. At the moment, fear has migrated to the economic sphere.  If they move quickly, maybe they can start waterboarding Hank Paulson."

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