24: Everything Old Is Still Old

24 is a unique show. Because of its one episode-one hour-one day structure, if a “day” starts off on the wrong foot, an entire season can be squandered by the time you get half way through. The showrunners can’t start off too slow lest the audience loses interest, but if the show starts off too big (say exploding a nuclear device in LA in the fourth episode), there’s nowhere left for it to go. A day cannot be restarted. There needs to be a reason why Jack Bauer can’t take a nap.

At its best 24 can be the pinnacle of suspense-action-television. At its worst, it’s kind of silly.

This season is very silly.

What You’ve Missed

For those not following this season (and according to the ratings, that’s a lot of people), I’ll give a brief recap. US President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) is engaging in diplomatic negotiations with President Omar Hassan of Unnamed-Arab-Country-Istan (Anil Kapoor with a 1950s hair-do) over something. After several false starts with villains (including a couple of Russian gangs), turns out it’s Hassan’s head of security Tarin Faroush (T.J. Ramini) who is working with terrorists to obtain nuclear fuel rods to launch a terrorist attack on American soil. Sounds familiar? It should, because we’ve seen this exact storyline before. Several times. But at least we’re not forced to endure embarrassing PSAs about how just because the show features Muslim terrorists, that doesn’t mean that all terrorists are Muslims (like in season 4). Besides, I’m sure eventually white people will be at fault. They always are.

Meanwhile, CTU is back up and running with borderline-incompetent Chief Brian Hastings (Mykelti Williamson), Chloe O’Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub) continuing to be Jack’s ever faithful sidekick and probably the best person on the team, Arlo Glass (John Boyd) a tech guy, Cole Ortiz (Freddie Prinze Jr. doing his best Jimmy Durante impression to signify that he’s from New Yawk), and Cole’s fiance/analyst Dana Walsh (Katee Sackoff)- more on her later. A lot more.

Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland), as usual, is working with CTU to stop the terrorists though not a part of it. Jack’s partner from last season, FBI Agent/ginger Renee Walker (Annie Wersching), is back after having had some sort of nervous breakdown because of undercover work she did with Russians before last season that Jack caused because of his work last season. The timeline’s kind of convoluted but as this season is probably set close to 2025, you kind of have to accept it.

And there’s all sorts of interdepartmental haggling, Jack once again had to prove himself to the bosses, CTU was attacked (this time by an EMP), CTU has a mole, etc., etc., etc. Basically, it’s everything we’ve seen before and nothing new to balance it out. We’ve been through these plots. The new characters lack any spark that made the older characters so interesting. The villains lack the panache that made people like Charles Logan so good. The President’s storyline also feels like it’s going through the “Sign this!” “No!” “Grumble!” motions (though it seems like she’s been missing for an exceedingly long amount of time). It makes one yearn for last year when we could only dream what a season devoted to Bill Buchanan’s outside-the-government-black-ops-group Deep Sky would be like. Probably awesome. Definitely better than what we have now.

Dana Walsh

I think the best way to explain the failures of this season is through CTU Analyst Dana Walsh (played by Battlestar: Galactica’s Katee Sackoff. Side note: BSG prequel Caprica is fantastic). Though the actress was understandably greeted with great fanfare by sci-fi/action fans, the show simply did not know what to do with her. Feeling compelled to use her, the show gave her one of the “personal” storylines. This show is known for giving side characters humanizing personal subplots to varying levels of success (remember Day 4’s CTU chief Erin Driscoll’s crazy daughter?) and hers is one of the most ludicrous, redundant, and time consuming plots in the show’s eight day history. Let me explain.

Dana Walsh, originally named Jenny Scott, was involved in a felony with comical hick Kevin Wade when she was a juvenile. Despite her criminal past and using a fake name, she still managed to get a job with CTU proving that their hiring practices have not improved at all. Earlier this day, recently released from prison Kevin teams up with his buddy Nick, and starts to blackmail Dana on the day of the biggest crisis CTU New York has ever faced. They even crash at her apartment where Kevin’s friend chills on the couch watching SportsCenter. Their scheme (with the help of Dana) is to rob the NYPD evidence locker.

Despite there being a crisis, and CTU’s staff seemingly small, Dana pretty much leaves her station whenever she pleases. She goes to her apartment to visit the two bungling would-be crooks. She goes from computer to computer creating step by step instructions to rob the NYPD evidence locker and gives them the necessary technology to do so. She does it remarkably easily but nobody seems to notice anything’s wrong, or cares for that matter.

Once they botch the warehouse job by getting greedy and having to beat a police officer half to death, they (shockingly!) continue to blackmail Dana. So drives out to Jersey where Nick kills Kevin and, with the help of Cole, she kills Nick. Then Cole and her hide the bodies in a swamp.

Why am I telling you all this? To force you to endure this stupid subplot the same way I did. Also, to let you know that this storyline took up nine fucking hours, over a third of the season. And it’s not even like we cared about Dana beforehand, basically the first thing we learn about her is that she’s a criminal liar. Though, to be fair, Kevin and Nick were hilarious.

But we’re not done.

Pretty much immediately after the bodies sink to the bottom of some swamp, Kevin’s parole officer Bill Prady (Stephen Root) calls Dana investigating the disappearance of Kevin. He calls her during the 2 am to 3 am hour while driving all across this great country of ours, as I’m sure most parole officers do regularly. Could he be rogue? Seems that way but, well…no. Or if he is, it’s probably irrelevant at this point.

He comes to CTU and, in the midst of national crisis, is let into what is basically the CTU War Room. Without even a Visitor’s Pass showing, he is traipsing across the floors and watching highly classified information plastered across giant TV screens. And nobody seems to raise an eyebrow.

When we last left them on Monday, Dana strangled him to death (why she couldn’t have done this to Kevin/Nick when they were in her apartment thus saving the audience and her a lot of time, energy, and disappointment- I don’t know) and stuffs him in a vent. Then she calls Tarin, revealing herself to the audience as a mole. Even though she’s done nothing particularly moley that we’ve seen nor has a CTU operation been compromised in a way only a mole can do. But CTU always needs a mole. It’s their version of Equal Opportunity Employment.

Far be it from me to be an armchair television writer, but maybe the mole storyline might work better if someone else was the mole but everyone else thinks she’s the mole because she constantly did suspicious activities the entire day but can’t reveal what they were because they were highly illegal nonetheless. Though I’m sure having the obvious person as the mole is the smartest plan.

Should 24 Be Canceled?

Rumors of this being the final season are abounding as the final episodes are being filmed. So the question I have to ask is: should 24 be canceled? In many ways and for many reasons, yes. As this season has shown, while it might be unfair to say that the show is running on fumes, it’s clearly suffering from a lack of ideas. But a bonafide final season might be the thing needed to end this show on a high note. In the same way that Lost: The Final Season sounds epic, 24: The Last Day does too.

Going into a final season knowing it’s the final season opens them up to a lot more possibilities. A changed American landscape. After so many successful terrorist attacks in 24‘s America, with the villains increasing in power and importance, it’s time for America to change too. Whether this means a country under martial law or a barren wasteland of what used to be a major American city, a dark final season that doesn’t just change the rules but changes the country could be the natural end point of what this entire series has been leading to. Jack Bauer might win battles, but he can never win the war.

End Note One: An amazing final season would be the best legacy for the show, far more than the rumored feature film, which would probably be a decent, albeit unspectacular, action movie.

End Note Two: There are rumors about the show moving to NBC if FOX cancels it. While I’m not saying the show should end, moving it to a new network doesn’t seem worth it from a financial or a creative standpoint. Especially not NBC, who should be thankful they still have Chuck.

End Note Three: Just announced 24 is canceled but I spent time writing this so fuck it, I’m posting it. It’s a pity though, the show does have potential and deserves a “proper” finale and shouldn’t have to compete with all the attention that’s going to be given to the finale of Lost. Let’s just hope Heroes gets the axe too.


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