Latest day of “24” maintains momentum from earlier seasons
Marcela Berrios | Wednesday, January 31, 2007
To the delight of millions of viewers, federal agent Jack Bauer – compellingly embodied by Kiefer Sutherland in Fox’s heart-pounding “24” – may be having the longest day of his life, again.
However, far from losing its momentum, the suspenseful anti-terrorism series returned to the water coolers and online discussion boards with the explosion of a nuclear device in California, the death of a familiar face and the introduction of Bauer’s malevolent brother.
While the first few episodes this season were intriguing, they failed to spellbind viewers compared to the first handful of episodes last season, which were unforgettable.
To the show’s credit, the bar was set incredibly high in the very first episode of season five. Very few plot twists could shake viewers with the same intensity as the assassination of the regal President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) without warning.
In its fifth year, the clock was alive and ticking for Sutherland and his associates.
They received Emmy Awards for outstanding male performance and drama series while viewers cogitated Bauer’s escape from the maximum-security Chinese prison where he was taken in the season finale last May.
They waited for months to see him return to North America and now that he is back in action, the Chinese prison is old news. Nay, make that ancient history.
It happened five hours ago and in the fast-moving “24,” five hours is enough time to kill thousands of innocent civilians with a chemical virus, steal a stealth bomber and use it to shoot down Air Force One or even suffer from a mild bout with amnesia.
It’s all in a day’s work for Bauer.
The series chronicles 24 hours of national security emergencies with 24 episodes that unfold – in most cases – in natural time, with every passing second.
Oftentimes the screen is fractured into three or four frames that accommodate different story lines as they unfold simultaneously.
The innovative and ambitious storytelling model has glitches, however.
Bauer’s ability to drive across downtown Los Angeles during the rush hour in less than 10 minutes remains disputable, but viewers wink at it because “24” is, after all, a work of fiction.
This work of fiction, nonetheless, hits a home run with interpretations and representations of threats and scenarios that could easily come to pass within the White House or the C.I.A. or Osama Bin Laden’s lair.
The first episode of the first season – completed before the 2001 World Trade Center attacks – ends with the explosion of a commercial airplane for terrorism purposes.
The second season finds Bauer desperately racing against time to keep the United States from declaring war in the Middle East misled by erroneous information and fabricated intelligence.
In the fifth season he delivers America from the dangers of a rogue president.
The list of similarities between the scripts of “24” and the headlines in The New York Times carries on – but more Americans learn national security protocols from television rather than newspapers because through Bauer they experience firsthand the urgency of the threat, the burden of protecting the country and the agony involved in the obligatory sacrifices.
However, unlike many of his fictional contemporaries, Bauer’s heroics are driven by habit and obligation rather than righteousness.
He may be resourceful and delight viewers with memorable quotations – including “You are going to tell me what I want to know. It’s just a matter of how much you want it to hurt.” – but Bauer is not a gallant hero and “24” is not formulaic.
He defeats his enemies every season but where one is eliminated, five more arise – and his enthusiasm for law enforcement dwindles.
His efficient modus operandi thrives on his resolve and his viciousness – which viewers condone in Bauer’s circumstances but often condemn in Guantanamo.
He fights for democracy and the safety of little children but his only rewards are a murdered wife, an estranged daughter, a drug addiction and a legion of enemies on every continent and in Washington.
Therein the series also distinguishes itself from its predecessors.
The West Wing in “24” is different from the sugarcoated one known to Martin Sheen’s supporters, where a compassionate president and his dedicated personnel make difficult decisions to protect the voters.
The Washington known to Sutherland’s supporters is plagued by conspiracies, ulterior motivations and betrayals.
Palmer’s own Cabinet removed him from office because they had different agendas and last season, President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) supplied nerve gas to Russian extremists in an elaborate scheme to create an opportunity to increase American military presence in central Asia and consequently access the oil reserves in the region.
Monday’s episode reminded viewers of the duplicity in Washington when agendas collide, as White House chief of staff Tom Lennox (Peter MacNicol) coerced one of his dissenting colleagues into resignation to implement without hindrance his draconian proposals against Middle Easterners in response to the detonation of the nuclear device in the West coast.
Next week the writers will continue to bring racial profiling into the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) and Bauer’s mission – as if confronting the treacherous mercenary in the Bauer clan and locating four ticking nuclear bombs were not enough to drain the man’s strength.
It might take a few more weeks before viewers can digest the revelation of Bauer’s wicked brother – the ultimate criminal puppet master last season.
This news may score with the viewers who also watch “Days of our Lives,” but for those who eagerly await ingenious and credible plot twists, the story line is disappointing.
Bauer, nonetheless, remains, and the viewers won’t desert him.
The ratings have steadily increased since the series premiered in 2001, breeding an army of assorted followers that range from U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to novelist Stephen King to Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).
They will all keep watching, biting their nails and anticipating the next jaw-dropping cliffhanger.
The death toll in Los Angeles this season already surpassed the 12,000-mark and it’s only noon on Bauer’s watch, which means he’s angry and facing many more hours of rampage and opportunities to indulge his trigger-friendly finger.
“The only reason you’re still conscious is because I don’t want you carry you,” Bauer growls in the fifth season. America can only hope he gives her more unforgettable quotations before he shoots.