“HOW A FATAL VIRUS THREATENED, THEN SAVED THE CHANDLER PLAZA HOTEL’S TRIPADVISOR RATING”
24 is a groundbreaking and important television series. Beyond the thrills, kills, twists and tragedies is a show that reached a new level of serialized storytelling and set the bar for action and suspense on network television. Lasting for 8 full seasons–192 Episodes plus a TV movie–24 is one of the longest-running shows of the past 15 years. Others, like Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Smallville, all three CSIs and three of four Law & Orders, may have run longer, but the argument can be made that none of those shows are equally as worthy of contributing to the debatably labeled and vaguely-defined “Third Golden Age of Television Drama” that began with The Sopranos in 1999 and is now fading with the end of Breaking Bad and the impending finale of Mad Men. Perhaps 24 doesn’t quite reach the dramatic heights of those shows, or others like The Wire and Deadwood, or even The Shield, Lost or Battlestar Galactica, but it was always a strong awards and ratings contender and it was just so addicting and fun to watch.
Please join us—Patches, Zach, Jeff and MegaMix—as we take a look back at this series, discussing one season every month until the premiere of the new 12-episode miniseries 24: Live Another Day in May 2014.
This month’s discussion is focused on Season 3 of 24, which premiered in October of 2003.
It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of 24 and strong language. Parental discretion is advised.
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This is the best season of 24.
In my opinion, it’s not even close. There are of course people who disagree with me, but they are dead wrong. Chappelle wrong. This season has it all: a new, interesting, and largely topical threat; great villains; Jack’s best sidekick; “play action” fake-outs, one of the series’ only non-rage-inducing relationship arcs; moments of revenge so long-awaited that even on my 80th viewing I cheered and giggled like a school boy; and moments which genuinely shocked the viewers on a level not seen in the series outside of the end of season one (and I contend one moment was more shocking). And if you want my truly radical fan-boy opinion…the finale of season three has the best season ending scene…and is the single best episode of the show. It was never that good before or after. Yeah. Said that.
What I like most about this season, however, is something that perhaps is entirely a projection — a wish rather than a reality — and probably not the actual will of the writers: to me, season three is the highly symbolic, dark parable of the tragic hero that is Jack Bauer. In what follows, I’d like to look at the season through the lens of a few symbols and metaphors.
The Cordilla Virus and Collateral damage: This metaphor hangs over season three like a cloud of Cordilla vapor, and is to me the core of the character of Jack Bauer. Jack is a virus. He is to death and misery what King Midas is to gold: terrorist or no, if you get too close to Jack, you will be destroyed. Jack and the virus are simpatico on this point, and in season three the only safe place is “far away.” To drive the point home, it seems that everyone in season three is either deadly or dying. Think about how many people don’t make it out of season three. The “day is saved,” but lost tenfold along the way. This is demonstrated most starkly in the death of Ryan Chappelle. When Teri dies at the end of season one it comes out of nowhere and the viewer is rightfully shocked. When Ryan dies in season three you knew about it for over an hour of run time, and yet I feel like you’re lying if you say you didn’t think that somehow, some way Jack was going to save him…But he doesn’t. He super un-saves him. He un-saves him right in the head. Not that being saved by Jack is particularly good for you either — just ask Jack’s right hand man, Chase, who is on the receiving end of the realest shit that ever got real on 24. No one gets Jacked without some serious scars.
Quarantine and Surival: Intimately related to the danger associated with being near Jack/the Virus is the idea of quarantine. I was struck by the message that President Palmer asks the press to deliver — that the only means of survival is going into isolation. In the barely-post-9/11 political climate, the nation took comfort in the notion that we faced adversity together. The threat of chemical terrorism is particularly insidious in the respect that we not only can’t help each other out, but might specifically have to turn on each other for our own survival. We watch our neighbors die. Jack and the virus are the same in this, too, as Jack avidly professes that his life is one of detachment that he doesn’t wish on anyone. As I write this I’m questioning who is really being quarantined.
Heroin and Addiction: I’m short on space so I’ll be more brief now, but I love that Jack is addicted to heroin in this season. Not just because I love heroin addiction, but because it’s a nice allusion to Jack’s more serious addiction, which is his job. Because we like the job that Jack does, we often don’t care about the people he hurts along the way. And Jack clearly can’t quit either, as evidenced by the final scene — one I think would have been perfectly fitting had it been lifted straight out of 24 and dropped into the pits in The Wire. That scene is a poignant window into the much deeper suffering of Jack Bauer, but I don’t agree with the heroic swell of the music that accompanies Jack’s “selfless return to duty.” I think it’s much sadder than that.
There is so very much more to talk about in this season, so I’m glad that I have awesome partners to talk about it. In closing, I’ll just add this: there is a ton of terrible shit about this season, too. The CTU baby, Kyle Singer (sweet god I hate that guy), the whole Saunders/daughter storyline, and Gael’s wife. Every inch of it is forgiven with one fell swoop of an ax.
I couldn’t say it better, so I won’t try.
This is 24’s best year. Even the Golden Globes got one right by naming 24 the Best Drama Series for season three, in the show’s third of five consecutive nominations (season five would win the Emmy, but we’ll debate its quality later).
Zach’s deeper themes aside, I’m interested in just why this season is the best. The third season combines the focus of the first with the momentum and action of the second without being too-slow or amorphous. It tightened up the plotting, ironed out the kinks and stood on the foundation of two years of character development to become the best of the series, and mark the end of an era.
Season three also figured out how to get a second-half arc right. It’s not just “Plan A recycled” like season one, nor is it strong Jack-tion with weak/stupid motivation (David vs. the 25th Amendment) like season two. After finishing the Salazar plot and returning from Mexico, episode 14 reveals that Jack started taking heroin before ever meeting the Salazars. It also features the killing of Nina Myers, one of the most satisfying but troubling things Jack has ever done. Then, it moves into the “real” virus storyline with Hotel Hell, Stephen Saunders, Tony’s fateful decision and Jack capping Chappelle, chopping Chase and crying cathartically. The second half doesn’t let up, and remains engaging until the memorable final scene.
The only major, time-consuming misstep of the season is the Milliken soap opera. This storyline, despite the efforts of guest stars Gina Torres (Firefly!), Mark Rolston (Shawshank!), Jack Kehler (Lebowski!), and a pre-General Juma Tony Todd (everything!), only manages to excite when Sherry Palmer meets her maker. Having her shout Alan Milliken to death was okay too.
Lastly, I think season three succeeds because it wants to destroy everybody. As Zach mentioned above, there isn’t a happy ending in sight. Adam loses a sister. Chase (temporarily?) loses a hand. David loses a girlfriend, an ex-wife, a second term in office and a measure of integrity. It’s worse for Michelle, Tony and especially Jack as they must live with killing innocents, causing riots, breaking laws and aiding terrorists. Their punishment isn’t over.
We’d lose all but Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub from the regular/recurring cast in season four, at least initially. The show would bring back Tony, Michelle and eventually David Palmer (and also Aaron Pierce, Mike Novick and Mandy) to successfully recapture a lot of the old magic. Despite that, and the introduction of promising new characters Curtis Manning and Bill Buchanan, things would never be quite the same as when (almost) everything and everyone was clicking in season three. By holding nothing back, killing old enemies, purging the supporting cast and tearing everybody down season three became 24’s best.
“God, forgive me.”
These are Jack’s last words before shooting Ryan Chappelle in the back of the head.
What would you have said? Is there anything to say?
I’d like to analyze Ryan’s last moments a bit more because I find them fascinating, and here’s why:
1) Even though there is probably nothing that Jack could’ve done differently to save Chappelle, he is still sorry. Being sorry is one thing, but why? Because, “we” failed Ryan. Who is the we? My assumption is that he means those within CTU, but I take him to actually feel that it is his fault. I believe that Jack has a sense of his super-humanness and takes the blame for mistakes just like the head coach of a sports team does at the end of a loss. Although Jack isn’t at the top of the food chain at CTU, he is the difference between winning and losing and he knows it.
2) Bauer never comes across as a religious or even spiritual man and yet, here he speaks to the heavens. This shows an insight of hope that Jack apparently has that doesn’t come up very often, if ever. What I really love about this line is that Bauer doesn’t ask God for forgiveness, he demands it. Even at his most vulnerable, Jack is still an all-powerful being that doesn’t ask even God for forgiveness. He ORDERS it.
3) Why does Ryan need to be on his knees facing away from Jack? Is that for Chappelle’s good or Bauer’s? Beyond that, when Jack gives the gun to Ryan upon request to pull the trigger himself, Jack then faces him. For me, I think Bauer realizes he has to treat this like any other order. He has to be tactical about it. If he is pulling the trigger, behind Ryan allows Chappelle the least amount of opportunity to escape the situation. However, he then gives Ryan the gun, which shows CRAZY trust in Chappelle’s potential ability to off himself in the situation. The power struggle even during Ryan’s final minutes is both intense and devastatingly realistic.
Lastly, I view this as the first time in the show that the audience sees Jack question himself as to just how far he really will go for the betterment of everyone else. This season marks the beginning of Jack’s doubt in everything for which he stands. That doesn’t mean he stops going too far, but it does mean that the show will never be the same. Not just to Jeff’s point, but in the general tone and demeanor of the mighty Jack Bauer.
At the risk of beating a dead Regional Division Director, I have to talk about Chappelle’s execution. This moment, beyond making season three my favorite season, is the defining moment of the entire series as far as I’m concerned.
MegaMix did a great job breaking down the execution from Jack’s perspective. I would agree that this was Jack’s point of no return. We’ve talked about Jack being “willing to do anything,” but this was the moment that showed us that “anything” meant “fucking anything,” including negotiating with terrorists and killing his own.
Allow me to take a different angle, however. I don’t think the moment was intrinsically perfect, but rather that it was painstakingly built over the course of the entire season.
Remember, Ryan Chappelle appeared in seasons one and two. In those seasons, Chappelle was, and I’ll say this as nicely as I can while still getting the point across, a little bitch. He was a coward who used “the book” as an excuse to avoid risk or exposing himself to criticism. Quite frankly, he is not a character we care if Jack kills.
So, Chappelle changes in season three. We see how good he is at other parts of his job. So much so, in fact, that Stephen Saunders sees him as a threat large enough to have eliminated. Meanwhile, Ryan allows Tony to prepare suicide pills for those infected with the Cordilla Virus despite it being against “every regulation in the book.” Heading into episode 18, Ryan had been humanized.
A critical side-plot of the episode was the Chase chase to find Saunders. We had no reason to expect Chase’s TAC team to come up empty, and it isn’t until Chase bursts in on a switching node that the grim reality of the situation sets in. Brilliantly, they cut to commercials and open with the hotel, giving us six minutes to try to figure out how Jack will get Ryan out of this mess.
The final act is staggeringly painful to see unfold. Chappelle’s execution is a slow, inexorable march towards the inevitable:
In the helicopter, Chappelle stares blankly. Jack tells him that it’s time to go. Ryan casually mentions that his legs are shaking. They walk through the train yard. Ryan kneels. Tears stream down his cheek. He asks Jack to allow him to take his own life, but Ryan can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.
“God forgive me.”
Something about the scene with Jack and Chase in the high school science room just sticks with me. Upon further reflection, I think it’s the sense of resignation that hangs over the whole event, both from the actors (who portray the emotional aspects of the certainty of the outcome very convincingly) and the viewer. As mentioned numerous times already, the execution of Ryan Chappelle was just kind of monstrously unexpected: how did Jack not find a way out of this? He always has before!
Having previously come to grips with that failure, viewers are left in a world where failure now is an option, and in fact is viewed as an increasingly likely result throughout the season. Thus, when Chase does the unthinkable and latches certain death onto his own arm, we all know this isn’t going to end pretty. The look that Jack and Chase exchange when they realize that an ax is in the room is just crushing. I remember having a reaction along the lines of “oh… oh f*** me man,” with a homogenous mixture of certainty that “this is going to be terrible” and that “this is going to happen.” They managed to make something inevitable into something yet shocking.
Another interesting feature of season three is something that the ever-tasteless Patches talked about “off-canon,” and that is the use of what I’ll call “play-action” plotting. Having built something in the first two seasons, the writers took advantage of the viewer’s expectations to great effect. Examples: having a fake mole (Die-el) when viewers had become resigned to moles, and having Michelle kidnapped after some of the heavy-handed-est foreshadowing EVER that Kim would, for the millionth time, be kidnapped. I angrily thought while rewatching “well shit, here’s the part where they try to kidnap Kim again…” only to be shocked yet again that they had Michelle. How’d I forget? I’m an idiot.
One last cool moment I’d like to remember: the scene where Saunders’ daughter is being dragged into the hotel. I think my favorite part of this scene is Jack’s reaction when Saunders finally says uncle — it seems as if Jack is relieved he didn’t “have to do it,” not proud that it worked. He really seems to be afraid of what he’d have done if Saunders hadn’t tapped out first.
He’ll still get to find out.
Let us now praise famous men.
Or at least take a look at two guys we’re not going to see much of anymore.
First, a slightly premature requiem/lament for David Palmer. Season one gave us a strong, morally upright man who found himself in a bad situation. The certain family-related parts of his story weren’t always interesting, but Dennis Haysbert gave David a certain gravitas and sense of power and integrity that put us in his corner from the very beginning. We were concerned when he was in danger, we were glad to see him saved and we were even happier to see him dismiss Sherry.
After that, unfortunately, the show couldn’t figure out what to do with him. Seasons two and three feature him making several bad decisions (imprisoning a reporter, trusting Sherry multiple times, tacitly approving of criminal behavior), and surrounding himself with incompetent, insubordinate or simply problematic people (Sherry, Mike, Rayburn, Stanton, half of his cabinet, Anne, Alan, Wayne). The guy never had a chance to live up to his season one potential.
In season three he finally goes too far and loses everything, though he does do the “right” thing by not seeking reelection. Of course, he’s not yet gone or forgotten, but considering his legacy (President Wayne and, ahem, Sandra), it’s a shame he couldn’t have been more integral to the plot or have more time to shine in this, the best season of 24.
Second, a moment of thanks for Chase Edmunds. Who would have thought we’d be glad to see Jack Bauer with a partner? Sure, things started rough, with Jack playing the disapproving dad, sidelining Chase, tying him up, endangering him in a prison riot, “shooting” him with a (thankfully) unloaded pistol and allowing him to be tortured by the Salazars.
Still, Chase is resilient as hell and proves he’s basically Jack Bauer, Jr., several times over. He does recon for the Salazar takedown. He runs point on the failed attempt to find Saunders and save Chappelle. He holds Amador down while Jack tortures him. He helps capture Saunders. He takes a quiet moment in the finale to tell Jack that he can’t remain “detached.” It’s not that he can’t be Jack Bauer, he won’t. Of course, after a badass fight with Arthur Rabens, Chase learns the true meaning of detachment.
Despite the upcoming efforts of Curtis Manning and Renee Walker, nobody would be a better sidekick for Jack. I’ll miss you, Chase.
Who doesn’t love lists? Let’s just run down a few points (in order of appearance in the season) of what I believe are the most important moments of Season 3:
1) Jack is addicted to heroin. (Not to be mistaken with heroine.)
2) Jack’s best (only) friend Tony is shot in the face. (Not fatal though, so it could be worse.)
3) Jack plays a legitimate game of Russian Roulette. (Click, Click, Bpsyche)
4) Jack has to shoot his partner/daughter’s boyfriend. (Shucks, the gun wasn’t loaded.)
5) Jack’s arch nemesis, Nina Myers, returns. (And looking good, I might add.) In her return, she asks forgiveness from Jack for killing Teri.
6) Jack, for some unknown reason, trusts Nina which allows for a worm to be uploaded to CTU. (You know that classic love story of Nina and the worm)
7) Jack kills Nina by shooting her THREE times. (Eeeesh!)
8) Jack is forced to murder Chappelle. (The silentest of clocks)
9) Jack has to relieve Tony of his duties for working with Saunders in order to save Michelle. (It’s not like Jack has ever done anything like this before.)
10) Jack has to use an axe to cut of Chase’s hand in order to save his life. (Cut. It. Out.)
No, really. Come. On.
This season ends with Jack breaking down from the destruction of the day and ultimately his life over the years. He has gone through some of the hardest moments of his entire life this day, and he can’t contain his emotions from the weight of it all.
I think this is one of the most powerful moments of 24, because it shows us something that we are almost always forgetting. Jack, is human. It’s sometimes hard to believe, but Jack really is just a man. What an amazingly perfect day to remind us of that.
The only way that this moment can be made more perfect is by exactly what happens. Jack gets a phone call. He has to pick himself up off the ground, because, of course, he is asked to continue saving all of us from the bad guys. That phone call may be from CTU, but really, it’s from us. Jack’s humanity has ultimately become our hope.
We know you had a really bad day Jack, but we still need you.
So far, we’ve spent about 3,500 words explaining why season three is the best. To me, it was 24’s best season because everything served a purpose. Even season three’s crappier moments contributed to something fantastic.
At the risk of praising Kyle Singer, that story’s payoff with Jack and Tony’s sting operation was fantastic. The Palmer/Milliken B-story was terrible, but the power of Sherry’s demise made the journey worth the ride. Gael’s wife was the definition of “unnecessary plot complication” (women be crazy!), but it helped set up Chase’s weight loss program. And finally, although the Michael Amador bridge between the Salazar Cartel and Stephen Saunders’ pursuit of revenge was one of the season’s weaker threads, it brought about a scene worth exploring deeper.
Nina Myers seems to escape season two with a presidential pardon. Her return in season three gave Jack the opportunity to follow through with the threat he, I assume, whispered into Nina’s ear at the end of the previous season. After stopping Nina’s escape and determining that she had no more useful information, Jack executes her.
Nina’s execution is as powerful, cathartic, and emotionally rewarding as it is intellectually troubling. On one hand, Nina betrayed our hero and murdered his wife. Jack capping her to cap off her story felt great. Even more so when we realize that she was killed in the same room in which she murdered Teri.
On the other hand, it’s not a good thing when a protagonist straight up murders someone, right? Nina’s helpless. She’s been recaptured. Jack shoots her three times. If there’s justice here, it’s almost completely overshadowed by revenge.
Maybe I was wrong about Chappelle’s death as the place where Jack’s slide down the slippery-slope of morality turns into a tumble. This certainly foreshadows Jack’s season eight rampage following the murder of Renee Walker. Remember? It’s the one where Jack’s single-minded hunt for vengeance nearly leads to a Russo-American war and countless entirely preventable deaths.
Damned if those three shots didn’t bring my neck hair to attention and a smile to my face, though.
It seems like we all agree that season three was 24’s best season. I believe it had the biggest moments, remained consistently suspenseful, and brought about the best character development of the series. Everything about season three contributed, in some way, to something great.
Except for that damned baby…
Jack Bauer’s Season 3 Kill Count: 14
Jack’s Overall Kill Count: 54
Best Moment: I talked about it before, but it’s the moment between Jack and Chase where they both acknowledge what’s about to happen.
Parting Shot: PALMER FOR PRESIDENT!
Best Moment(s): Click. Headshots that weren’t. Ted Packard succeeded. Julia Milliken did too. Chappelle got help with his. Jack even talked that poor prison guard into doing it. But when Jack puts the gun to his own head, and later to Chase’s, the chamber comes up empty. Chase decided to get out while he could, but at this point Jack is doomed to keep pulling triggers and facing down barrels without reprieve or sweet release.
Parting Shot: “He lost his job, but found a woman who loves him. It took a long time for Jack Bauer to feel good again…then day 4 began.” This line is taken from the end of a 6-minute “prequel” clip of events leading up to season four found on the season three DVD set (the DVDs for seasons four and five would follow suit, with sponsorship from Toyota!). The clip features a guy sneaking across the Mexican border, a makeout session between Jack and Audrey Raines and Jack getting fired from his Field Ops job by new CTU director Erin Driscoll. The firing scene is the best part because Erin says she can help Jack get another position and he responds with “I can find my own fuckin’ job, Erin. Thank you.” BOOM! Too hot for TV.
Best Moment: Just to say something other than what we’ve talked at length about, I’m going to say that my favorite moments in season three were pretty much anything that involved Chloe O’Brian. #IMightHaveALittleCrush
Parting Shot(s):One of the things that got lost in this season that I feel was phenomenal aspect of the story that year was Michelle stepping up and becoming a really important character that can hold her own in the series. Another point of interest is that Kiefer Sutherland won his first Screen Actors Guild award for Male Actor in a Drama Series for season three. Also, don’t forget about the PSA on gun safety after the Russian roulette episode.
Best Moment: Rather than deal with Jack and Chappelle for the nine millionth time, I think my favorite moment of the series was Michelle’s difficult decision to shoot the civilian who threatened to leave the quarantined hotel. This was certainly Michelle’s crowning moment of awesome and elevated her from a “good” character to a truly “great” character.
Parting Shot: In episode 18, Ryan Chappelle seems to go through all five stages of the Kübler-Ross Model, better known as the “five stages of grief.”
Denial – When Ryan is told of Saunders’ demand, he asks if it’s a joke.
Anger – Ryan repeatedly asks, “Why me?”
Bargaining – Ryan asks Jack whether there were any other options.
Depression – Ryan doesn’t want to talk to anyone before he dies.
Acceptance – Ryan admits that he was going to flee earlier, but that he now understands why this has to happen.