1/6 Into 24
t’s remarkable how a show that’s essentially about nothing but political and personal turmoil can be such a source of comfort. Watching the beginning of a season of 24 is like the first day of returning to overnight camp, the same friendly faces, the same familiar haunts, even most of the same toys and activities. The fact that these people are trying to save the world instead of just trying to build a really bitchin’ bonfire is practically irrelevant. And though not everything is static—a couple old friends might not return this year, for whatever reason, while a few less familiar faces might show up for the first time—nothing ever really changes. And I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way, since even though 24 has never been much of a hype powerhouse (not in the O.C. or Desperate Housewives sense), more people I know still watch it than any other primetime show. For four seasons now, 24 has been one of the most consistent and reliable shows on TV.
And within the first fifteen minutes of Episode 1 of Season 5, that reliability is almost completely shattered. The show’s producers test their audience’s faith like never before by eliminating two returning characters before even the first commercial break. These are not minor characters, either, these are characters on which entire seasons have been based, characters that will be missed (and just in case you missed it, sorry, but neither of them is Kim).
First to go is ex-President, current political advisor and all around good guy David Palmer, played by Dennis Haysbert. Even if we had any reason to suspect that Palmer wouldn’t be around for long this season, the show’s producers pull a fast one on us by re-introducing Palmer with his morally shady brother Wayne—who didn’t even appear in season 4—before yanking the Pres, probably the second-most focused upon character in 24’s first four seasons, via a bullet in the neck. The attack is totally unanticipated, the assailant is as unfamiliar as his motives, and as the scene changes, we are left to wonder how in the hell Palmer—no stranger to assassination attempts—is going to survive a bullet in the neck (which, of course, he doesn’t).
Next, and more shockingly, comes ex-CTU operative and current businesswoman Michelle Dessler, played by Reiko Aylesworth. Michelle, over the course of the last three seasons, has possibly endured even more sticky situations than Palmer, and after being re-united with ex-hubby and co-worker Tony Almeda (Carlos Bernard), made the bold decision at the end of last season to leave CTU behind her for good. 24 cruelly gives us a brief glimpse of Tony and Michelle’s home life--a conflicted but still happy and loving household—before yanking Michelle even more violently than Palmer, with a car bomb set off as Michelle leaves Tony for a brief return to CTU, of all things. Since he didn’t appear for much of Season 4 and would probably have even less to do this time around, Palmer’s death is ultimately unsurprising, but Michelle’s, just as she and Tony had started to work things out, stings more than a little bit (however, note to producers—when you kill of a major character in your season premiere, do not advertise that actor/actress as being a “guest star” in your opening credits. I didn’t really figure it out until afterwards, but someone smart might have).
Barely avoiding a similar fate to Michelle and the Pres is CTU technician, strangely hot computer nerd and basic weirdo Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub). After sharing what can only be imagined as being a night of extremely awkward passion with arrogant CTU new guy Spencer (Johan Lotan) before kicking him out first thing in the morning, Chloe gets accosted on the way to her car by the same guys behind the Palmer attack, just narrowly escaping their grasp. After putting the pieces of the morning’s events together, Chloe gathers that she, Michelle, Tony and Palmer were targeted simultaneously because of the secret that they all share.
That secret, of course, is Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland)—namely the fact that he is still alive, having faked his own death at the end of Season 4 to help avoid a major conflict with the Chinese government. After giving the goons the slip, Chloe calls Jack, who is now a construction worker at a site somewhere outside of LA, and has (once again) picked the worst possible time to attempt to build a new life, this time with trusting single mom Diane Huxley (Connie Britton) and her rebellious, suspicious “teenage” son Derek (Brady Corbet). Jack’s new home life isn’t given much time before he is once again thrown into the fray, forced into taking Derek with him on his mission when he discovers that the boy has been tailing him and now knows slightly too much (though not enough to keep him from asking a lot of annoying questions, unfortunately).
Meanwhile, current President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin)—who inherited the position last season when Air Force One got shot down—is in the midst of prepping for a meeting with the Russian President Yuri Suvarov (Nick Jameson). The two are gathering to sign an anti-terrorism alliance treaty, which Logan touts as the defining act of his term. Logan is undeterred by the morning’s previous tragedies and shrugs off every threat of danger, insisting at all times that the meeting must proceed as planned. His wife Martha (Jean Smart), on the other hand, is far more disturbed by the killings, as she swears that the ex-president had called her the night before with warnings about a threat to national security. Her husband dismisses her cries as paranoid delusions brought on by his wife not taking her meds, but there might be validity to her claims yet.
All these plots come to a head at the Ontario International Airport, where a (of course) wrongfully accused Jack has traced a lead while dodging the cops. Within seconds of his arrival, terrorists show up at the airport demanding that the two presidents dismiss the peace accord, or else their signatures on the document will mean the death of all the airport inhabitants being held hostage. Despite still being a suspect in Palmer’s assassination, Jack’s being inside and unnoticed during the takeover means that he ends up quarterbacking the hostage rescue attempt for CTU (who collectively take the news of Jack’s return to life in remarkable stride, with the exception of shaken ex-flame Audrey Raines (Kim Raver)). But unfortunately, Derek has followed Jack into the terminal to warn him about the distinctly shady van of terrorists parked outside, and is now a hostage himself (damn it!)…
The news about the first four episodes of the Season is definitely more good than bad. As for all the best 24 episodes, electrifying would be an understatement to describe this year’s first four hours. The extremely risky gambit of killing off two of the show’s most prominent and most likeable characters ends up paying off (so far, at least), as it forces us to almost completely shed our pre-conceptions about this season and, more importantly, allows the show to operate with a fairly cleared palette. The action is tight as always, and the amount of ground covered and excitement generated in these four episodes is more than most shows could hope to achieve in a whole season.
What’s more, this new season officially introduces a fully-fleshed out and compelling, if not necessarily likeable, new character in President Charles Logan. In the second half of the last season, Logan provided a stark contrast to Palmer’s self-confidence and dignity with his fevered finger-pointing and insecurity, but the show, and Itzin himself, do a fantastic job of updating the character after 18 months of presidency. Logan now has a visible sense of confidence and a respectable command over his position, as well as an admirable awareness of its importance. However, when presented with the pressures and conflicts of the morning, Logan’s insecurity and paranoia still shine through, with shades of Nixon (or at least Anthony Hopkins’ version of Nixon) in his stubborn refusal to listen to reason with regards to the meeting’s security, and in his self-revealing emphasis on the importance of the meeting to the legacy of his term in office. Logan will most likely never embody a bastion of integrity the way Palmer did, but his character is arguably a richer one, and it will be fascinating to see how he continues to develop in the following episodes.
However, the new season does bring with it a few nagging issues. First is that of new characters Diane and Derek Huxley, whose back stories and relationships with Jack are woefully underdeveloped before all three are catapulted into crisis mode. If Diane and Derek are going to be forced into the thankless role(s) of being Jack’s link with happiness in the real world, and thus his greatest liabilities (a role played by wife Teri, daughter Kim, potential son-in-law Chase and girlfriend Audrey in previous seasons), they should at least be given some semblance of character to work with. That is, at least if the producers expect us to care as they go about the remaining episodes getting into unfortunate amounts of trouble and braying “JAAAAACK!!!” each time Kief does something risky, as they will no doubt be wont to do.
Another potential issue arises with the fact that maybe too much ground has already been covered. Within the first four hours of Season 5, the first sub-threat has pretty much already been resolved, though naturally by the end of the fourth episode it is shown that this is merely a prelude to a larger sub-threat. The problem with this is that at this rate, there will be even more of these sub-threats-revealing-larger-sub-threats than there were last season—and there were A LOT last season, enough to really test our suspension of disbelief. Does anyone remember season one, where there were only two main threats, each given twelve hours to thoroughly work out their story arcs? It was a plot strategy that was far more rewarding, far more believable, and far less exhausting.
However, this is still 24, and none of this really matters when you’re watching Jack in action. Rarely is an actor so totally in command of their character as Kiefer Sutherland is of Jack, and it is still an absolute pleasure as he goes through the motions—eliciting deathbed confessions, dealing with uncooperative co-agents, and knocking people the fuck out. There is a moment in hour two when Chloe, Derek and Jack are gathering evidence in the parking lot of the hotel in which President Palmer was assassinated, and Jack leaves the van to steal an agent’s uniform so he can get inside the building. “Don’t worry,” Chloe tells Derek, both comforting Derek about the safety of his newfound father-figure and assuaging any doubts we might have about the series in general, “he’s VERY good.”