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This. Is. '24'
on July 5, 2007
If one thing's certain by now, it's the fact that people sometimes have starkly different opinions on seasons of '24'...and that's fine. I'm not here to change anyone else's mind overall, I'm merely going to point out -- as I did in my Season Two review -- the specifics (that helps) of what's led to my conclusion. I'll even be fair and make sure that the categories I'm about to discuss cover both positives and negatives.
To be blunt: What we have here is pure '24' -- a consequence-ridden one-day saga of well-developed characters, cleverly-written twists, political conflict, ethical dilemma, and fantastic action.
...But before going further into that, I want to respond to some things I'm hearing by tossing out three points of my own -- each of which address what this season isn't.
-This is not the weakest season (that distinction goes to Season Three, which had a convoluted, underwhelming first half and only became memorable during the second).
-This is by no means the first season to recycle concepts that have appeared before on '24'. A woman under Jack's protection having essential info; someone from the White House deciding to make a tragic human sacrifice; CTU being attacked; Jack going undercover as a bad guy; villains laying in wait to save their leader; the families of terrorists being threatened... Some of these are features that appear again here; all of these are features that have been reused well before Season Six.
-This is not the first season to be split into two story lines and have a latter problem borne of a former; it's simply the first to make the second objective significantly shorter (about six episodes long). I found this to be a refreshing new direction (anyone who claims the writers "ran out of script and improvised" obviously wasn't paying close enough attention; the second story line is foreshadowed about halfway through the first). It's also a direction that was more believable than the idea of stretching out the first story line for as long as possible.
Now then, where this season shines...
Four words: Bauer at his best.
"You are not judged by the height you have risen but from the depth which you have climbed" -- Frederick Douglas. What makes Kiefer Sutherland's character most admirable as a hero is up to every viewer to decide for themselves. For me, it's not primarily the remarkable skill and ingenuity he possesses, but the notable endurance and determination he displays no matter how bad things get -- and for Jack, things have been bad indeed. But even when faced with the worst life can throw at him -- two years of softening captivity, the absence of several friends and loved ones, and a torturous experience at the hands of terrorists -- Jack still holds on to some of who he is, which means that no matter how many times you knock him down, he'll keep getting up again.
It seems sometimes like the only person who can really take Jack out of the game is Jack himself, and there's a scene early on in which a distraught Bauer nearly does just that -- only to realize he must endure for one more day. The events that set this moment up (at the end of the fourth hour) are at first questionable, but it becomes apparent that they occur because the writers want, above all, to make a point about Jack -- and this is part of where the show's commitment to character is displayed.
Another highlight this season is the new presence of Vice President Noah Daniels, played excellently by Powers Boothe. I liken Daniels, in some respects, to a modern-day Agamemnon -- a powerful man whose pride can be off-putting, whose methods can be questionable, but also a man who ultimately cares about the land he's in service to and the soldiers under his command. Throughout the day, Daniels often stands in opposition to certain people we've come to sympathize with, but all the while, his arguments remain logical, his patriotism remains prevalent, and a sense of compassion and respect for others begins to stand more and more revealed. This culminates in the creation of one of the show's most entertaining and best-developed characters.
The highly talented Peter MacNicol arrives as Tom Lennox, a similarly-developed cabinet member who also starts off with questionable methods, but becomes a more endearing guy throughout as he labors for the good of the country, works alongside other likable characters, and passes a few moral tests along the way.
A complement to Jack this season is Rick Schroder's Mike Doyle, an experienced tough guy with admirable determination of his own, given depth by his handling of an ethical dilemma and his limited displays of camaraderie and respect toward Jack and other co-workers.
In addition to these nicely handled new characters, this season has some of the few returning favorites that are left, like Bill and Chloe, along with the returns of Karen, Morris, and brief appearances by the Logans. What also works out well is the return of someone who's become a nice nemesis-like figure for Jack.
Last but not least are the arrivals of a few more Bauers this season, which not only sheds some welcome light on Jack's family, but helps to finally reveal a few things about his past (such as how he wound up in law enforcement in the first place).
Among the creative twists this season are a scene where Jack and a partner have to trick a terrorist by means of an auto "accident" (more on this in a moment), and the first time the cunning Philip Bauer outfoxes everyone by taking an unexpected hostage. What I found especially clever was the David Fury-written episode in which there's more to a certain rescue than meets the eye.
The political content -- full of the usual conflicting methods, ethical questions, and even a case of conspiracy -- was well-written, clear, and served as grounds for some of the noted character development above.
'24' isn't a show that's known for being funny, which is what makes the rare moments of humor notable. One of my favorite scenes ever in this area comes this season, when we observe Jack pretending to be an angry driver (while tricking someone), as it's quite a fitting role for him. There's also a nice joke or two from Tom during a sting operation.
The most notable scene of the season in this regard is the final showdown between Jack and Fayed's team. This is probably the greatest action scene since Jack took on the Drazens (with the finale of Season Two being a possible exception). Also notable are the moments with the Doyle-led CTU team against the embassy, Jack playing a neighborhood hero in the fifth episode, and the battles inside CTU.
We get to meet the apparent first woman Jack ever loved, Marilyn -- who's been tied to the Bauer family ever since, and raising a son with Jack's brother. The likable bond between she and Jack, as mentioned, helps reveal little tidbits of our hero's past. Also nice is the fact that Bill and Karen have grown significantly closer since we last saw them, while Morris and Chloe's relationship can be enjoyable as well.
Where this season doesn't shine...
Well, if one compares the Palmers of today to the Palmers of yesterday -- specifically, the brother-sister duo of Wayne and Sandra to the great David and Sherry...sigh...
Wayne was an enjoyable character in Seasons Three and Five. It feels like he was never really meant to have the role he's given here, though, and one wonders if the writers begin to realize this throughout -- hence their focus on a far more interesting politician in Noah Daniels. Also, the character of Sandra Palmer just doesn't really seem to have a place, and overall, neither of these two can measure up to the standards set by the noble, strong David or the bold and mischievous (but sometimes noble) Sherry.
As a villain, Gredenko is also one of the least memorable (though this is compensated by the presence of his partner Fayed).
Russian President Suvarov practically playing terrorist while setting deadlines was a low point for me (though it's not much more absurd than the previous season's finale where Jack not only kidnapped a certain someone, but was set free shortly afterward). The situation with Sandra and her friend early on was also dull and lagging.
After getting the info he wants from someone in the embassy, Jack simply turns and walks toward a door that's got several guards on the other side? What's the obvious outcome here? If you answered "getting knocked senseless for walking into such an obvious danger," you're right. I'm also finding it hard to believe that at this stage, CTU can be physically attacked with such minimal effort (but of course, this sets up some better action to follow).
Nadia's triangle doesn't really seem all that significant.
On another note, some of us have wished that the Logans had more screen time this season. It's probably worth noting, however, that the decision not to use them is simply a traditional move on the story's part. This series has, in general, always used characters for as long as they're needed, and sent them away after that -- which is the reason the cast constantly changes.
What hasn't changed, though, in my opinion, is the fantastic work put forth by the cast and crew of this great show. Everything that composes the series is present here, and still done to enjoyable effect. This is fascinating characterization. This is engaging political intrigue. This is well-done action. This is complex drama. This is '24'.