24 is over. It’s a bit of a shock. Don’t worry, there will be a movie. At least, they promise there will be. Eventually. In fairness, long before the news that the show was going off the air, this season had the feel of a final season. Eight years is a long time for any television show to be on the air, not least of which one founded on such an interesting gimmick (though, admittedly, “real time” had its definition stretched over those eight years) and Day 8 felt like a perfectly dignified send off.
Those feeling a pang of nostalgia during the final year of the show could be forgiven. From Jack’s perspective, the year was a veritable “this is your life” montage and collection of reiterations of important scenarios and themes which had played through his life over the course of the show. We open with an assassination threat against a politician (Day 1), segue into the story of a former agent who has gone over the edge drawn back in to help find nuclear materials through an undercover contact (Day 2), have an EMP denotated (Day 4), before rounding out into a presidential conspiracy to cove up a rake of assassinations (Day 5), which in turn leads to a former CTU operative crossing several moral boundaries in the quest to avenge the death of a loved one (Day 7).
Along the way, we have various hints of recurrances. Cole finds himself becoming Jack, even down to the betrayal of the woman he’s sleeping with and the death of his wife (of course, in this case, they are both the same person). Hell, even Dana’s early “I’m a secret redneck” plot tumour could arguable have been intended as a parody of the various ridiculous subplots the show has indulged in the past (Teri Bauer’s amnesia in Day 1, Kim and the cougar (and most of her subplot) in Day 2, the boss’s daughter in Day 4, the boss’s druggie sister in Day 5, etc.), although one suggests it could have been executed better. Despite the fact that it did actually play into the main plot (she’s a mole!), it doesn’t exactly hold up as fine viewing televison.
Still, for the most part, the day worked. CTU got a shiny new design (having had many a previous “shiny new design”) and quite possibly the best (or least irritating) supporting cast in quite some time. It helps that the cast were played by extremely skilled actors (in particular, Mykelti Williamson, who turned what could have been another “irritating bureaucrat” head of CTU role into one almost as nuanced as Xander Berkley’s portrayal of George Mason). Indeed, many of the threads that had been “borrowed” from earlier seasons were played significantly better this time around (particularly the “young Jack Bauer” angle, which was handled much better with Cole than it had been with Chase).
I generally liked the structure this time around – in that the “villain layouring” which 24 has indulged in since its inception actually made sense. With the exception of Day 4, most series followed the pattern of “the man behind the man behind the man”, with Jack frequently carving his way up an evil chain of command. Which can be a bit irritating when, as with last year, the audience falls in love with a particularly villainous link in the chain (we’re looking a Jonas “I’ll smash your head in with a decanter if you mess with me” Hodges here, played by Jon Voight) is replaced with… well, someone a whole lot blander. This year, we got the peculiar situation where the main bad guys were encountered relatively early on – the Russian “Red Square” group, which Renee observed was made up of “ex-military” types (which was, in fairness, a neat bit of foreshadowing) - but but the plot led elsewhere, leading to the story doubling back. It didn’t really seem like an ass pull in the way that some of the show’s transitions have seemed to have emerged from god-knows-where.
Indeed, was it just me or did the whole season hang together pretty damn well? I have the luxury of watching each season roughly twice – once with my aunt and uncle, and once with my parents – and I noticed a lot more foreshadowing going on, such as when Hassan noted that his death would be “a small price to pay” for peace only two hours into the season, or the tiny compromises that President Taylor begins to make (hiding the threat to Hassan’s life from him, for example). When most seasons seem to be made up on the fly, it’s nice to see a little bit of planning thrown into this one.
That said, there were no shortage of dead ends and pointless occurances thrown into the mix. Remember that NYPD officer beating the snot out of Jack in the basement? Or Chloe’s ten minutes in charge of CTU? Or the conspiracy within the US government to hand over Hassan to the terrorists? Still, I thought there was a lot more good than bad this year.
I liked that the show could still surprise me. I enjoyed the fact that the Bazhaev kids storylines went next-to-nowhere, with the radiation poisoning and the doctor and such, only for both characters to die rather anti-climactically. I like not knowing which characters are important and which aren’t – cynics may describe subthreads like that as wasting character development on characters who are ultimately going to be killed off, but I justify it by suggesting that 24 is a suspense show, before it’s a drama. It isn’t suspense if you kill of the characters you haven’t spent any time developing. The death of Hassan and (to a lesser extent) the death of Renee were great twists which reminded me that the show is at its best when it’s unpredictable. There’s probably some unfortunate subtext to the fact that only head of the state the show has actually killed on screen was a foreign one (though two US Presidents were put in comas while in the Office and one US President was killed after his presidency), but I enjoyed it for what it was – a shocking and powerful moment, and a reminder that sometimes Jack can fail. Anyone on this show, with the exception of Jack (and, very possibly, Chloe) is living on borrowed time and any one of them could die in a horrible fashion at a moment’s notice.
And then there’s the last third of the season. It was, arguably, again a retread of the “conspiracy against the truth” and “Jack goes rogue” subplots that have been peppered through nearly every year of the show so far. However, it was always a sign that the show hasn’t lost its edge. Do you remember in the first season when Jack looked like he would do anything to reunite his family (including the downright chilling “towel” sequence)? Here we got the confirmation that Jack, despite his attempts to be a loving father and grandfather and a decent man, is – at his core – a weapon. When he looses Renee, he goes over the edge – and, to be fair, the show didn’t pull its punches. He killed an unarmed woman who had no direct involvement in the death and tortured a Russian assassin with a pliers and blowtorch (possibly a reference to Pulp Fiction?), ultimately leaving his guts on a steaming pile on the floor. One of the season’s most powerful images showed the aftermath of Jack’s siege on the Russian consulate, complete with a poker through his target (all of which was done while Jack was wounded, no less).
It’s very daring to present Jack as an anti-hero who effectively goes on a beserker killing spree that ends with him attempting to assassinate a world leader, particularly for a show that has focused on terrorism and threats to national security in the past. It’s to the credit of the writing and Keifer Sutherland’s phenomenal portrayal of Bauer (which can’t be as easy a role as he makes it look) that we remain sympathetic to Bauer, and yet repulsed by him. We flinch and cover our eyes, but we can’t help hoping that he might be saved – that he can be reached and stopped before he goes too far. Not for the sake of the people he’s hunting, but for his own sake. It’s powerful stuff which is a lot more complex than the show’s standard “action movie” style would lead you to believe that it is capable of.
It was nice that the series ultimately boiled down to a conflict been the lawful abstract good (the peace treaty) and the less tangible, but more honest, personal morality (Jack’s desire to do right). The show has always consciously divorced the legality of actions (and their content) from any inherent morality – morality which stems from its cast. For example, the use of violent torture upon Jack repeatedly during the day is ‘more’ wrong than the show’s earlier uses of the ‘advanced interrogation techniques’. Thus it was fitting that the show closed on the notion of Jack against the system (the image of Jack staring down the barrel of a gun at a politician reminded me of a similar image during Day 1).
It was a very good year for performances. Once again, Anne Wersching demonstrates that the Emmy went to the wrong actress on the show last year. Her Renee Walker, here pushed over the edge to the point of being suicidal, is a kindred spirit with Jack – much more so than Audrey Raines or even Teri. Sutherland and Wersching sell the chemistry, which gives you hope that maybe the two of them can save one another, even though you know that if she can make Jack happy, she’s going to die. Anil Kapoor was great as Omar Hassan, even though there seemed to be a period in the middle of the day when the show wasn’t quite sure what to do with him. And he handled a gun pretty well for a former salesman. All joking aside, Kapoor managed the same sort of gravitas that Dennis Haysbert gave David Palmer early in the show – and with better hair. Seriously, that hairstyle was wonderful. And, at the risk of being shallow, wasn’t Necar Zadegan absolutely stunning as his wife and successor? Very talented, but very stunningly beautiful as well.
So, it was a good day. Not the best day, but one with more good than bad. Despite lingering subplots that went in ridiculous directions, the series didn’t ever seem to get as mindlessly lost as it has in some years. And it got to show that it still has some teeth.
Now, when’s the movie?