Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is back, and he’s ready to engage in his patented brand of kick-assery.
Let’s bitch it out…
I always felt that 24 would have been a better show had the creators simply abandoned (or never conceived of) the whole “events occur in real time,” 24-hour clock gimmick. The notion that some sort of convoluted, well-planned, catastrophic terrorist plot could be discovered, and stymied, within a single day is absurd. That’s just not how intelligence gathering and operations work. Stretched out over a longer time frame (weeks or months), the ideas that 24 explores could be better developed, and we would never be left with annoying filler subplots because Jack Bauer needs time to get from point A to point B (although, granted, Jack Bauer always seemed immune to Los Angeles traffic). But I learned a long time ago that 24 never aimed for realism – it was aiming for intensity. And it does intense very well.
Escalation was always an issue for the show, too. The first episode of S1 saw Jack shoot his superior with a tranquilizer dart. The terrorist plot in that first season involved an assassination attempt against a Senator running for president. While a little extreme, those events didn’t stretch belief too far, but they did provide a high baseline for where the show could go. Things obviously weren’t going to get tamer with each season. Season 2 involved a full-size nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Where do you go from there? Biological weapons, government conspiracies, more nuclear bombs, and 734 CTU moles later, 24 ran out of gas, and limped to a weak finish.
Which brings us to 24: Live Another Day. Four years removed from the last episode of 24, Jack Bauer has returned. The show opens with an action scene, because, well, it’s 24. Jack’s been off the grid for four years, and has suddenly popped up in London. The CIA is on his tail, as Jack is still considered a traitor for, you know, saving the country seven times. This leads to the introduction of the CIA’s London branch, which is headed up by Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt). The real key player, though, appears to be Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), who correctly discerns that if Jack Bauer was captured, it could only have been because Jack Bauer wanted to be captured (which inevitably means that she’ll be helping Jack along the way, likely against her boss’ orders). There’s some sort of inter-office drama going on involving Kate being forced to transfer because her husband (and fellow agent) was selling secrets, but it doesn’t seem all that interesting. I assume it’s only in place to set Kate up as an outcast in her own right, as well as provide a reason why none of the other supposedly intelligent agents would listen to her reasonable arguments.
Meanwhile, former Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane) is in London with his daughter, and Jack’s former love interest, Audrey (Kim Raver). She’s now married to her father’s chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan, though he’ll always be Jimmy Cooper to me). So I’m sure this will lead to some awkwardness when Jack and Audrey inevitably come face to face.
From a thematic standpoint, the president’s plotline is probably the most interesting – he’s in town to try and sign a treaty with the Brits to keep U.S. drone stations up and running. Except that there’s a lot of public opposition to that idea, so it’s unclear as to which way the British Prime Minister (Stephen Fry, always a welcome surprise) is going to go. 24 has always had the fortitude to throw real-life political issues into the show (debates about torture, anyone?), and drones are a good example. The Obama administration’s use of drones is a very interesting topic for discourse. The problem is that, given the nature and pacing of 24, the show historically just glosses over these issues without really digging into them.
Things go a little wonky for the president’s plans when a hacker seizes control of a drone and uses it to blow up a joint U.S./British convoy in Afghanistan, pinning the blame on an innocent drone pilot (so much for the treaty!).The drone hacking is all part of the major storyline that’s laid out after Jack breaks out of the CIA black site, with fellow prisoner, and former CTU pal, Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Chloe is now sporting the goth look, and is part of a Wikileaks-esque freedom of information cyber group – she was imprisoned for leaking thousands of secret Department of Defense documents for public consumption. This is another chance for 24 to engage in a little political discourse, and I’m hoping that the show does a better job of it than it does in this episode, with Jack basically just insisting that what they’re doing is wrong because hypothetical people in the field might die (audiences tend to just side with Jack’s views by default). It looks like Chloe’s boss, the Assange stand-in, Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott), is around for the full stretch of episodes, so I’m hoping that there’s more to come on this issue.
So apparently Jack’s been on the run for four years, keeping his head down, but somehow is still abreast of terrorist plots that even the CIA isn’t aware of. He’s even got a sidekick who is part of the Serbian mob, which is a fun touch. I’m intrigued to know just how Jack has been spending his time, so I hope that the writers delve into that a little more.
By the end of the double dose premiere, Jack’s been cornered by the CIA for the second time in two hours (this time against his will). He escapes, as expected, but not before (hopefully) putting Agent Morgan onto the trail of the assassination plot that he’s is trying to stop, fronted by a shadowy figure (Michelle Fairley) who wants President Heller killed by his own drones. So now it’s up to Jack, Goth Chloe, and Serbian Mafia Guy to track down the bad guys and save the day.
- I’m going to have a hard time keeping track of all of these familiar faces – Catelyn Stark, Jimmy Cooper, Hannah McCay, Chris Partlow, Julia Roberts’ ex-husband, Walter Steele, and Stephen Fry! 24 sure doesn’t skimp on guest stars.
- I always love how simple they make hacking look on TV. And I’m pretty sure that Goth Chloe was just smashing random keys when that USB started deleting itself.
- I hope that the president’s memory loss subplot doesn’t become too annoying. When he slipped up about FDR and the ships in the early 1900’s, I actually thought that the writers had made a mistake – but, no! It’s a dementia storyline!
- I liked how a few characters randomly pointed out Jack’s torture history. 24 has been in a lot of hot water over the years due to it’s depiction of torture, and I’m curious to see how the writers are going to play that angle this time around. I’m sure a situation will arise where Jack needs quick answers from some reluctant individual and some kind of blunt instrument will be put into service.
- Finally, the action scenes were excellent, as expected. 24 is never going to be Breaking Bad or The Wire (even though it did bag an improbable Emmy win for Best Drama one year), but it’s still an enjoyable hour of television, particularly when Jack goes on a rampage and slices people in the neck or blows shit up.
Your turn: what’s your take on the two-part premiere? Are you happy to see Jack and Chloe again? Is Morgan the new female-agent sidekick? How bad will Boudreau turn out to be? And do you think the show will handle its new topical elements responsibly? Sound off below.
24: Live Another Day airs Mondays on FOX. It moves into its usual 9pm EST timeslot next week.