“THE REPRODUCTION HABITS OF MOLES IN THEIR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT”
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 seven of 24, which premiered in January of 2009.
It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of 24 and strong language. Parental discretion is advised. Discussion occurs in real time.
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I loved most of season seven. Let me tell you why, and explain the “most” qualifier, in five short essays.
A Watchful Protector
Day 7 was a season with many potential film comparisons, depending on who is the story’s central character.
If the story is about Renee Walker, it’s Platoon. Walker attempts to navigate a slippery slope while competing philosophies (Jack Bauer as Tom Berenger’s Sgt. Barnes and Larry Moss as William Dafoe’s Sgt. Elias) battle for her soul.
If the story is about the returning Tony Almeida, it’s Traitor. Is Tony a good guy or a bad guy? We’re never really sure until the end, but it all makes sense when all is revealed.
But it’s not. 24 is the story of Jack Bauer. This makes season seven The Dark Knight. (I think this makes Chloe Oracle and Renee Robin, but we won’t get into that. Bill would make a pretty amazing Commissioner Gordon though, wouldn’t he?)
When season seven aired in 2009, the cultural and political backdrop could not have been more different from that during the show’s premiere in 2001. The United States was entering its 9th year in Afghanistan and was still bogged down in Iraq. We had elected a president who had promised to close Guantanamo Bay and who would announce the withdrawal of troops from Iraq a year and a half later. This was post-Abu Ghraib and post-Blackwater.
Those cultural changes were evidenced in season seven. Need proof?
1) An ambivalent nation fears intervention due to fears of a prolonged occupation.
2) The US Senate holds hearings on “enhanced interrogation.”
3) Terrorists attack the U.S. because of our meddling in the affairs of others nations.
4) Evil PMCs are at the heart of the day’s events.
5) Jack’s methods are openly and honestly questioned for the first time in the show’s history.
Most of that questioning is done by FBI Special Agent in Charge Larry Moss. Larry is Jack’s first principled opponent, or season seven’s Harvey Dent, if I may labor the premise.
Previous opponents of Jack’s philosophy were never in it for the right reasons. They went by the book because they lacked imagination. Because it’s what would get them promoted. Because it would cover their asses. Because it was the easy thing to do.
Larry Moss broke that mold. He went by the book because it’s the difficult thing to do. Because the book is what separates us from the bad guys. Because we need the moral high ground. Because we must not earn the violence done unto us. Moss is a person, and an intelligent, sensible, and practical one at that, not a plot device to obstruct Jack.
Unfortunately, Larry, like Harvey Dent, doesn’t survive and Jack needs to save the day. Jack Bauer isn’t the hero America needs. But he is the hero America deserves.
Will you marry me, Renee Walker?
Remember high school when you got the answer to a math problem correct, but you only earned half credit because you didn’t properly show your work?
That’s season seven in a nutshell. Season seven is a blast. Almost everything “works.” It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s suspenseful. However, season seven’s writers never fully explain how everything ties together.
Every problem the writers ran into was solved via mole. Need a sniper to escape a cordoned building to lead Jack to the hideout? Mole. Need Juma to gain access to the White House? Mole. Need to introduce random plot complications at your primary crimefighting agency? Mole and Mole.
Whenever season seven needed to move from Point A to Point B, they took storytelling shortcuts. They wanted the suspense of season four without bothering to plan the entire Batman Gambit. They wanted the twists of season five without creating the complex layers from the beginning.
Just throw a mole at it until it works.
I can suspend disbelief, but I can’t suppress disbelief. It’s the show’s job to make the story believable to the open minded. If 24 can’t meet me halfway, that’s not my fault. To their credit, these issues stopped the second half of the season, but that didn’t make the first half’s writing any less lazy.
Our group bestowed the nickname “FemBauer” upon Renee Walker. She’s a Grade A badass who does whatever it takes, particularly in season eight, to get the job done.
Upon reflection, we may have erred. I don’t think Jack’s methods define him as much as the consequences. Over the show’s run, Jack loses everyone who means something to him. He slowly bleeds the most important people in his life until only Chloe and Kim remain.
If this is true, then President Allison Taylor is the real FemBauer. Over the course of season seven, her choices strip her of everything important to her. She gives up her opportunity to avenge her murdered son for the good of the nation. Her devotion to the Constitution cost her daughter Olivia’s freedom and her marriage to Henry, the first First Gentleman.
Where she differs from Jack is her reaction to those losses. Jack’s reaction is to steel himself against the world. It’s not psychologically healthy, but it makes him steadier, and in some ways, even stronger.
Taylor’s losses made her insecure. Everyone she loved was gone, so she needed the validation of history to feel like she mattered. That’s why she went to such great lengths to ensure the peace conference with DefinitelyNotIran-istan season eight. That’s why she listened to, and took the advice of, the disgraced Charles Logan. She had nothing left but her job and her legacy.
Her fall from grace in season eight was incredibly tragic. But, so was Othello. Great tragedies make for great stories.
Larry Moss’ Poetry Notebook
Wherever I go
I take a helicopter
You guys need coffee?
Cherry blossom falls
But spirits rise with every
Turn of the rotor
I should complete the
Autism Spectrum Quotient
So, gentlemen, season seven was 24’s penultimate season. What did our resident “24 viewers with taste” think?
In season six, there were very few things that the show got right. Per our previous discussions, a few of the things that they got (at least semi-) right were the ideas behind some of the attempted storylines. One of those storylines was Jack’s need to be able do whatever it takes to get things done, which is an understanding that he has to relearn from his unexpected ally Hamri Al-Assad. The idea of Bauer having to reacquaint himself with (lets be honest) torturing people to get information was an interesting one.
In season seven, Jack is left to defend himself for these actions. Enter Renee Walker. In Renee, we get a “stay on the right sight of the law to get your answers” character to play opposite of Bauer that we’ve been missing (to some degree) for several years. She’s been a part of the world that Jack has lived in (forever) and yet chooses to do things differently.
That is of course until she works alongside Bauer. Jack gets under her skin (as he has done to all of us) and shows her the ways in which you can get the same answers, but faster.
To Patches’ point, Renee may not be FemBauer in the truest sense of the (made up) word, but she is the perfect compliment to the man that Jack has become. She understands his world. She learned to understand him. She shows him (as many women have previously) the fragility of life, which gives him new cause for going on after everything he has done and lost.
Maybe most importantly, she makes us remember the best parts of Jack’s personality as she discovers them. With the backdrop of needing to justify the use of torture, we are reminded that he isn’t evil. He’s an “everyman” that’s had to make tough choices for the greater good. She starts to see that side of him, and (for the first time on the show) seems to forgive him for it.
By the end of season seven, Renee has shown the audience that they only way Jack will ever get out of the cyclical nature of his life to this point will be by forgiving himself. Excitingly, there is the tiniest bit of hope that he too has begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately for Jack (and the rest of the 24 world), season eight will (again) change that perception, but we’ll get to that later.
Ok, enough of this dudes-talking-bout-the-season-seven-babe stuff, guys. Instead, I’m going to do something entirely different: talk about other seasons’ smokin-hot ladies!
How’s this: just to jog your memory, here’s a quick list of every woman character which I remembered from the first four seasons:
Kim Bauer, Teri Bauer, Nicole Palmer, Janet York, Bridgit, Kate Warner, Carla Matheson, Claudia Hernandez, Julia Milliken, Jane Saunders, Helen Singer, Audrey Raines, Maya Driscoll
- Sherry Palmer, Nina Myers, Mandy, Marie Warner, Dina Araz
Jamey Farrell, Alberta Green, Melanie, Patty Brooks, Lucy, Carrie Turner, Erin Driscoll, Sarah Gavin, Marianne Taylor
Elizabeth Nash, Mae, Eileen, Linda, Anne Packard, Susan Cole, Debbie Pendleton, Jen Slater
Michelle Dessler, Chloe O’Brien
Why the groups, you ask? Perhaps I should have labeled them:
Crazy or pointlessly difficult
Meaningless outside of some relationship
Decent characters who add to the story
Notice which list is shortest.
I’m sure some will disagree with me about the worth-while-ness of some of Jack’s lady friends or perhaps some of the other women who worked at CTU, but let’s be real — there is both an incredible dearth of reliable, strong female characters AND an overwhelming glut of terrible, laughable, or infuriating ones. Honestly, it’s as if every female character ever thrown up on the 24 writers’ drawing board had to go through a power wash of 1940s revivalist preacher’s opinions about “womenfolk who’s on they cycles.”
Michelle kicks ass, and was a worthy partner (in any sense of the word) to Tony. Nadia (season six) wasn’t bad. Chloe is a reliable, competent ally. And that’s IT. That’s the best six seasons of 24 could do for its viewership.
And then, thankfully, came Renee.
Sure, a season later she’s haunted by demons and acting all crazy-eyed, but it’s different — it’s the sort of dark crazy that we see from Jack, and not from “oh emm gee why do I always sleep with the terrorist boys tee hee” crazy that we’re used to from the female characters. And guess what — every one of us, four super-dedicated fans, love this character. Who would have thought?
Action is not a genre to go searching through for strong female characters. That’s the regrettable reality. 24, however, puts this bias on steroids (or is it estrogen?). Hopefully they learned their lesson on the way through their eight seasons, and the upcoming miniseries will surprise us.
Apart from introducing great new characters Renee, Larry and President Taylor, this season also resurrects Tony Almeida, my personal favorite.
Bringing back a dead character is soap-operatic and screams “aging show grasping at straws,” which is exactly how I felt about it initially. When characters started spouting blatant retcon “lies” about him being whisked away a minute after he died, about him being injected with a reviving “hypothermic compound,” or suggesting that Christopher Henderson aimed wide left to avoid killing Tony so he could be recruited, well, it all sounded pretty stupid to this longtime fan.
Thankfully, the writers turn things around quickly. Tony reveals to Jack that he’s a good guy and the two engineer a Bourne-esque escape from the FBI. They hook up with Bill and Chloe for a fun, outside-the-law reunion/operation. The scenes with Jack and Tony teaming up are refreshingly great. They feel like “classic” 24, with a new buddy-action element.
Unfortunately, the characterization of Tony starts to falter as the narrative stretches toward the finale. After heroically saving the day by blowing up Starkwood’s missiles, Tony very un-heroically suffocates Larry Moss and teams up with the bad guys to launch an attack on the DC metro. We’ve never seen Tony go to these depths before and it’s disheartening.
The writers again twist Tony by making his evil actions all about getting revenge on Alan Wilson for the death of Michelle. These motivations are somewhat consistent with his character—manipulated along by the emotionally convenient reveal that Michelle was pregnant—but they come at the expense of another large retcon which, in one line, declares Wilson “the man behind Charles Logan,” giving unearned credit to a dull, unfamiliar bad guy and calling the past two seasons into question.
Retcon aside, these fourth-quarter twists allow us some great moments between Jack and Tony. These men are brothers who have faced similar hardships and just happened to fall on opposite sides of the razor’s edge. It’s devastating.
If I’m being honest, I think the problem lies mostly with me. Despite narrative continuity issues, there’s nothing “wrong” with the writers making Tony a vengeful “bad” guy. I just like the character so much that it’s hard for me to see him resurrected so successfully only for his story to end without redemption or remorse.
I believe that most of season seven is a surprising, and welcome, success. The fact that 24 is still this entertaining while trying to pay at least lip service to the previous six seasons of plot and character development is remarkable. What else worked, or didn’t work for you?
It’s hard for me to disagree with anything my colleagues said above. The best thing about FemBauer is that we (re)discover Jack along with Renee. 24 is genuinely awful at creating and/or writing female characters. And they generally do pull off Tony’s return, mostly because I think his character always had enough of an edge or dark side to make his actions here believable.
I should also note that season seven’s finale is one of the show’s best finales and would have been a perfect ending to the entire series had 24 not been renewed for an eighth season.
Earlier in the day, Jack was exposed to weaponized prion variant, causing something related to Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. Jack slowly deteriorates throughout the final third of the season until he ends up on his deathbed by the finale.
Jack dies from the virus, ending a long, tragic career of public service. He died a hero’s (or anti-hero’s) death, having helped save America from biological terrorism. And he died with his daughter Kim at his side, the last person left that Jack truly loves. Jack’s sacrifices had been paralleled all season by President Allison Taylor, who gave up her daughter and marriage and hundreds of American lives to do the right thing for the nation. Jack, with the help of a local imam, finally makes peace with his choices and receives forgiveness from a higher power. And finally, as Renee Walker strides into Alan Wilson’s interrogation room, it is clear that Jack’s padawan will soon become an Enhanced Interrogation Knight.
It’s beautiful. It’s touching. It’s perfect storytelling. It’s everything Jack sacrificed and everything Jack sacrificed for.
It also didn’t happen. Through the magical power of STEM CELLS!, Jack survives and goes on to have at least one more really bad day.
I admit that it’s a bit selfish to wish season seven was 24’s last. Even if season eight wasn’t great, there were some good things we would not have experienced if Jack had died in that hospital. Things like Reed Diamond. And DarkFemBauer. And Bubba. And the war crime of Dana Walsh. Did I just talk myself out of this paragraph?
So here’s hoping Live Another Day channels it’s inner season seven and finds a proper way to light 24’s longboat aflame and send it to Valhalla.
One of the aspects of season seven that we haven’t written much about yet was the cinematic introduction known as 24: Redemption. For the reader(s) that is(are) unaware, season seven began with a 2-hour television film lead-in. It gave transition and background information so that the show could hit the ground running into season seven. The real reason behind Redemption occurring is that the Writer’s Guild of America Strike delayed season seven for a year.
One of the main focuses of Redemption was the more humane side to our dear friend and resident “terrorist torturer” (great band name btw) Jack Bauer. In this TV film we see Jack helping his longtime friend Benton (played masterfully by Robert Carlyle) run a school for war orphans in the (fictional) country of Sangala, Africa. There is so much to be analyzed in that last sentence, so let’s begin.
First, Jack has a longtime friend named Benton? I suppose, we only know Jack based on (to this point) six days of his life, so it’s possible he would have friends outside of CTU. To top it off, Benton seems to be an amazing person that ultimately sacrifices himself so that Jack can save the day. Now THAT’s a true Jack Bauer friend.
Second, Jack is helping orphaned children deal with their terrible surroundings. Well, now that I put it that way, it makes perfect sense for Jack to be doing this in his non-bonkers post-CTU life. Jack has seen and done some pretty…pretty…pretty crazy things in his day(s), so attempting to help and coach children through similar craziness sort of makes sense somehow. Also, Jack was always SO good with Kim, so he should probably influence as many lives as possible.
Lastly, Africa. The only reason I bring this up is that if I were Jack Bauer, which (let’s be honest) I pretty much am, Africa seems like one of the few places on this planet where one could literally never be found again (if you’re into that sort of thing). It’s also a place with a ton of need for assistance in a lot of the areas that Jack most likely has some experience. Also, nothing bad happens in Africa, so nothing would ever make him do something he’d come to regret…
Redemption was an interesting experiment for the show’s creators. There were a lot of new ideas that were tested and many concepts that could influence the story behind Live Another Day. Especially since LAD will take place in another country with mostly new characters. The success of Redemption leads me to believe that LAD has a good shot at success as well.
What Patches said above about how great the finale of season seven would have been as a season finale has me thinking. We all know — and will soon revisit — what the writers originally chose as 24‘s “sunset” moment. But now they’ve opened that can o’ worms back up (and in my opinion, thank god, because the season eight ending surked), we get a chance to ask one of my favorite questions: what should the ending be? Is it going to be a Breaking Bad, going out with a gift to the viewer? Or is it going to be more of a Dexter? I hope for the former, but have come to expect the latter.
I, for one, can’t imagine a good ending to 24 in which Jack Bauer doesn’t die. For one, how can Jack’s story really be over without that? Jack can’t just walk away — he tried to do that at the end of season four and — guess what — someone just brings him back. What is his normal life? Kicking around in Africa, helping orphans? Well that boat has sailed too.
Most importantly, I think, is this: what other result is there that better encapsulates Jack’s story? He is a man who has given his soul to a country that doesn’t entirely know this, and when it does, rejects it. Jack is inherently alienated from everyone and everything, and there isn’t really anything more alienating than an undeserved death. An unappreciated sacrifice, and the ultimate one.
Jack’s story, to this fan, is meant to be one of unjust justice. I have disagreed with the morality and sentiment of that story at times, and definitely with the telling of it, but it’s still deeply affecting when done as well as it can be. And I think that story only ends when Jack does. I’m excited to see what the writers think about that.
I second Patches’ “series finale” idea, helped along by actually having Jack die, as which Zach champions.
As for Redemption, MegaMix calls it a success. If “making it to air” equals success, then I’ll agree. Otherwise, I found it to be mostly boring. It does help lay some groundwork for season seven, but it was a retroactive space-filler in which nothing essential happens. Jack could just as well have been subpoenaed at his apartment in LA instead of in Sangala. In its time, I think it might have received bonus points for starting to wash away the taste of season six, but viewed as an intro to season seven, it looks average at best.
Back to season seven. I’ll suggest that it is the best season for action in the show’s run so far. The show has always excelled at hand-to-hand action scenes, and we get a good one between Tony and Jack and a GREAT one between Jack and Quinn. We also get several gunfights, notably at Dubaku’s CIP headquarters, the White House and the Port of Alexandria.
Along with the action, this season also features the most meaningful, introspective discussions concerning the ethics of doing “whatever it takes.” Jack, Larry, Renee, Tony and even Red Foreman himself talk at length about whether they can trust the legal rules to deliver results or justice, or whether more drastic measures are necessary. To be fair, Jack’s way pretty much always wins, undercutting many of these moments. Still, by the end of the season, Jack and Renee have shown us exactly what doing whatever it takes can cost.
Zach mentioned something outside of this discussion that is worth sharing. After I brought up how nice it was to see some clear thematic parallels between Jack and Jonas Hodges/Starkwood—specifically the fact that they were both blunt instruments used and then discarded by an ungrateful nation—Zach suggested that what season seven did with Hodges is exactly what season six should’ve done with Philip Bauer.
The Hodges story is much more compelling (or at least more thoughtfully plotted) than Philip Bauer’s, and could be made even more resonant with the family factor added in (and a less cartoonish actor than Jon Voight). Just think of the mess that would’ve come from the president’s daughter ordering the death of Jack’s dad.
Lastly, nobody mentioned that Janeane Garofalo and Morris O’Brian are in this season. What gives?
Jack Bauer’s Redemption Kill Count: 15
Jack’s Season Seven Kill Count: 30
Jack’s Overall Kill Count: 232
Favorite Moment(s): General Juma’s (Tony Todd!) assault on the White House. It was only the second most over-the-top thing about season seven (thanks to Jon Voight’s acting), but it was suspenseful, entertaining, and provided Bill Buchanan with a good death. Aside from George Mason, no other 24 character died this heroically. Honorable mention goes to the “Not telling the President about her missing husband is a stupid f*cking idea, Woods” look Ethan Kanin shot Tim Woods early in the season..
Parting Shot(s): Having every aspect of American infrastructure tied into one device is a great idea. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the competency of season seven’s minor antagonists. David Emerson, John Quinn, and Greg Seaton all proved to be capable adversaries for Jack, Tony, and the FBI. If you let your bad guys win a few, the good guys look even better for beating them.
Favorite Moment: It has to be Bill Buchanan sacrificing himself. It’s one of the most vivid memories I have of season seven (and the series) and is a very in-character death for one of the greatest to exist on 24.
Parting Shot: Dream Team
Favorite Moment: The point at which, after about two seasons’ absence, Kim Bauer is in danger of being kidnapped in the airport. Kim always one foreign-looking-dude away from being in grave peril — that’s the point of this show, right?
Parting Shot: I am firmly convinced that Eric Bischoff started writing for 24 sometime in season 6 or season seven. This is the only conceivable explanation for Tony’s constant goodguy badguy goodguy badguy schizophrenia in season seven. Or, you know, his being alive again.
Favorite Moment: One of the most notable things season seven pulled off was sidelining Jack for much of the final third of the season. It’s weird that 24 works “without” him (particularly for episodes 16-18), especially since he’s always the most reliable part of the show and season six couldn’t even work with him. Kudos to season seven for doing something different this late in the game, and doing it well.
Parting Shot(s): Two particularly terrible moments of narrative convenience really got under my skin. First, need a way to distract Juma and end the siege? “I conveniently started a gas leak in the White House Panic Room off camera sometime last episode,” says Jack. What a perfect way to set up Bill’s heroic sacrifice without simultaneously undermining it in the least!
Second, suspicious of Olivia Taylor, Aaron calls up Ethan and asks him if the recording system in the Chief of Staff’s Office is still operational. “Why thank you for asking about this out-of-the-blue recording system, Aaron. It is still operational and my thumbprint should give us access to exactly what we need!” Then Ethan goes and leaves the hinged picture hiding the recording system open just enough for Olivia to see it and uncover the plot to expose her. Give me a break.