“PRESIDENT HELLER FORGOT TO PUT A TITLE HERE”
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 and one “limited series”–204 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 two 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.
From September through May, we—Patches, Zach, Jeff and MegaMix—looked back at 24, discussing one season per month until the premiere of the 12-episode miniseries 24: Live Another Day, which we subsequently discussed in a series of “ReJacktions.”
This month’s discussion is focused on Season 9 of 24, AKA Live Another Day, which concluded July 14 after premiering in May of 2014.
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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The 24pion and the Stud
Once upon a time, a remarkably handsome man came upon a large stream, wishing to cross to the other side where he could find the best shows on television. The current, however, was swift and the Stud knew swimming across would require all his strength.
“Perhaps you could help me. I also need to get to the other side, but I can’t swim.”
The Stud, surprised that he wasn’t alone, looked down to see a 24pion. “Why should I trust you?” the Stud asked, “You’ll sting me with obstructionist bosses and other inconveniences that exist only to kill time. Leads will appear only slightly less randomly than family members we didn’t know existed. They’ll be moles and presidential leadership issues. I don’t want any of that.”
“Why would I do those things?” answered the 24pion. “Then we would both drown.” The Stud gave the 24pion a skeptical look. “Really,” the 24pion insisted, “my metasoma is ‘limited run.’ I don’t need any of those things. I could set on your back while you swim across and it would just be a tight, simple, fun story. You’d trust a BSGila Monster or a Justifieding Fox or a Wireus — Yeah, Wireus works — You can trust me.”
“Alright,” said the really, really, really ridiculously good looking man, “hop on.”
Despite his otherworldly attractiveness, the Stud wasn’t much of a swimmer. However, he could adequately backfloat. The 24pion climbed onto the Stud’s washboard abs and the two set off. As the pair made it about halfway across the stream, the 24pion’s tail snapped downwards, piercing the Stud’s skin and releasing six or seven episodes worth of venom.
“Dammit!™ Why did you do that?” the Stud cried as his strength faded, sinking manly-yet-well-kempt-beard-deep into the stream. Now we will both drown.”
“I couldn’t help it,” the 24pion replied, “It’s my nature.”
The Moral of the Story
Much like the original story’s titular frog, I forgot or ignored the nature of what I was dealing with. I let The Wire, Justified, and Game of Thrones convince me that we were going to get some flagship HBO version of 24.
In fact, Live Another Day was the most violently 24 season ever. Not the most violent 24 season, although it was probably that too. I’m using “24” as an adjective here. They just took what 24 is and did that, except harder and faster than they ever have before.
That’s why Live Another Day’s bad was so damn bad. That’s why we got an agonizing mole moment, a redux of the much maligned Wayne Palmer JUST KIDDING IT’S NOT ACTUALLY A NUKE moment, events pushed along by plot necessity rather than decisions by rational characters, twists unnecessary enough to elicit “Fire Russo!” chants from the right crowd, and writing so lazy they tossed someone from a window so they wouldn’t have to write a sensible conclusion to her arc.
Writer 1: Welp, Margot’s part in the season is over. What do we do with her?
Head Writer: Eh, fuck it. Toss her from the window.
Writer 2: Should we have that come back into play with some sort of consequence for Jack?
Head Writer: Eh, nah…
Writer 3: Wouldn’t our nation’s foremost counterterrorism expert be hesitant to unnecessarily create a martyr?
Head Writer: What’s your name?
Writer 3: Steve.
Head Writer: Steve? You’re fired.
Thankfully, it’s also why the good was so damn good. It’s what gave us the CIA’s suspenseful rush into Terror Mom’s trap, Jack’s ballsy 50/50 gambit with Rask, a video game raid on Terror Mom’s apartment (Zach may have meant that derivatively, but I would play the fuck out of that game), Jack’s intense drone chase, and President Heller’s sacrifice (at least until they Wayned it). As belabored as moles are on this show, they executed that thread pretty well. They continually dialed up the pressure, even blowing up an aircraft carrier, until World War III was staring us in the face.
It also didn’t hurt that several actors turned in strong performances. Yvonne Strahovski was great and Kiefer Sutherland was as reliable as ever. By the end of the season, Tate Donovan managed to imbue his boring character with some depth and complexity. This is to say nothing of William Devane, who played President Heller with the passion and intensity of a man who expected it to pay off somewhere.
For better AND for worse, the action was more heart-pounding, the emotions rawer, and the reactions more visceral. Live Another Day was 24 on steroids. But come on, do you want to know the terrifying truth? Or do you want to see Mark McGuire sock a few dingers?
Whichever you choose, don’t expect 24 to be anything other than 24.
But what show is going to to be awesome in its 9th season? My personal sample size is quite small when it comes to 9+ season shows, but none of them, not The X-Files, Scrubs or The Office, wowed me in season 9. Add 24 to the list.
Patches, you seem to suggest that LAD is 24 boiled down and writ large. The best and worst of the series are on display and at this point, the show is just going to be what it’s going to be. It sounds like the season met your expectations, at least in hindsight. I’ll agree that some of the highs achieved by LAD were top-10 level and that some of the lows were the worst ever. My problem is that the balance of quality tilted too often in the bad direction.
The season divided neatly into thirds for me, if my far-from-scientific grading system can be trusted. It started pretty well, but quickly devolved into convenient air vents, miraculously persuasive off-screen presidential speeches and Jack watching a status meter for half an hour. The middle third was great, with Jack and Kate teaming up and Heller sacrificing himself. Of course, the mileage on your Chrysler may vary. Then, in what might be my least favorite moment of the season, they let Heller survive. Then they brought back Cheng. Then nobody said anything ever again about the consequences of defenestration and decapitation. Despite Belcheck’s best efforts–and a halfway-decent finale (and I mean halfway)–the season never recovered.
If only around one-third of a season can “get me across the river” then it isn’t great television. It’s not even a very good season of 24.
A lot of my problems with the season come down to the show not living up to my expectations. I’ll elaborate on them further below, but the short version is: I wanted the champ to come out of retirement and definitively defend his title, or (perhaps even better), flame out gloriously in a hold-nothing-back attempt to do so. Instead, the champ got drunk, put in a tape of one of his old matches, fought himself to a draw and then passed out.
I’m curious to know what the rest of you think. Did you love it, hate it or find it to be exactly what 24 is and has always promised us it would be?
Suppose you’re a writer who had an idea for the long-gone 24, which involved some fresh-ish (that’s as good as you get in the 24verse) ideas — set it in London, where you can use CCTV, ancient roadways, and tension between friendly governments as new plot devices and scene settings. Add semi-recent concepts such as drone warfare and hacktivism. Take a “what if a terrorist were honorable” stance, and show how the last few years Jack may have gone too far. Introduce a new character, a capable female counterpart to Jack who won’t also serve as his love interest.
Say you have all of this plotted out, and you think it’s probably not enough for a full season of 24. What would you think? Would it be best as a movie? Is it a solid enough arc that maybe it’s good enough as a half season? Could people get on board with that, not having 24 hours for 24?
Now also suppose that you know the producers of 24, and you pitch this idea to them, and they don’t let you get past episode 8 before they start bloviating about Cheng and Jack and Audrey and their ménage a torture, and how they want Heller to be president and for Jack to steal Audrey from some guy NO! from the chief of staff and for the head of CTU to be a mole(!!) and for China and the US (and maybe Russia? not sure yet, but they are definitely bad guys) to go to WARRRRRRRRR hahaha SHIT YEAH. And they start slamming their Chinese, Russian, and American GI Joe figurines together and drooling, and Reiko Aylesworth sits there wiping it up because she signed a 10 year contract at the start of season 5. And they call up Fox and tell them to cancel the movie because they have an idea for a mini-season and it’s gold Jerry! Gold!
Perhaps you can salvage this… you say ok. You have to have President Heller — there goes some time, you guess. Audrey has to be in this season now, and her new husband, and there has to be some drama in that relationship too, and some inevitable betrayal, so you have to work that in (probably a good place for the Russians).
What’s that? They want to bring in Cheng in episode EIGHT? There goes the arc with Jack’s backstory… you can fit that all into one episode. Too bad — that could have been a good stretch.
Wait what? Alzheimer’s? Why, what purpose does that have? Oh they just think it’ll be cool? Sigh.
Wait they’re serious?? Heller has to fake die?
Now there’s no time.
Okay, so that’s probably not the case, but think about it:
- All the best parts of the season were a direct result of new contributions
- New, capable supporting actors
- Good action sequences involving Jack and Kate
- Well-executed (if overly-promotional) car chases and other uses of the new physical setting
- Developments of Jack’s characters percolating since we last left him
- There is no good explanation for having Heller and Audrey back and in England and involved with cyberterrorism or drone warfare (other than having a familiar person be president and all of the Palmer brothers are dead)
- Literally N O T H I N G about the beginning of the season mattered at all at the end of the season. Every character could have had every motivation they had at the end of S8 and it would have played exactly the same
I feel cheated, honestly. The beginning had hints of greatness, but it was hampered by it’s idiotic final arc. It felt forced. It reminded me of the entire run of the show, actually:
Started out pretty good,
got great for a few moments,
and then dragged on and on about some Chinese dude who just really, really hates Jack.
Although B.J. Novak was not referring to 24: Live Another Day in the above quote, his sentiment applies all the same. All four of us have loved (to varying degrees) 24 at some point along the series’ lifespan, so why can’t we let it go? All four of us seem to not love LAD, which tells me we should not only let the season go, but DEFINITELY let the series as a whole go. And in the end, why do we ultimately care? Because, really, it’s just television.
Now that my “MegaMix likes playing the guy that stirs the pot” cards are on the table, here are my:
Top 10: Reasons I Would Recommend LAD
10) Margot Al-Harazi as a character and a villain.
9) Jack and Chloe’s continued push/pull relationship.
8) The introduction of and continued success of Kate Morgan.
7) Everything Belcheck.
6) The ideas behind the Snowden-ness of Adrian Cross.
5) Kate and Jack’s rapport as partners.
4) The initial drone attack on a London hospital.
3) Cheng almost starting WWIII.
2) Jack’s “The Raid” imitation on Cheng’s boat.
1) Jack finally admitting that Chloe is his best and only friend.
(Pulls on his collar and throws a pencil at the camera)
Now, looking at that list, this season seems to have some truly strong ties, and it does, but was it ever really enough (for me) to make this four-years-later half season a good one? For that information, you’ll have to wait until my second blurb down below…
Wise words, MegaMix. Of course, all the love we’ve heaped upon 24 over the last year(!) only makes it that much more difficult to let go. It might not be wise, but, as Martin Keamy pointed out on Lost (hint, hint), “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
Before moving on, gentlemen, allow me to say what a pleasure it’s been D(B)SD-ing with all of you in person, in Skyping, and in writing. To be associated with such fine gentlemen and talented thinkers brings a smile to my face, happiness to my heart, and a halfie to my loins.
Speaking of which, it’s time to decide the show’s greatest FemBauer.
The FemBauer Finals are between Allison Taylor, Renee Walker, and Kate Morgan. They beat three others in the Semi-Finals: Nina Myers, who has numerous Jack traits, but was irredeemably evil, Nadia Yassir, who toughed out torture, but didn’t do much else to justify further consideration, and Michelle Dessler, who despite being the best female character on the show, was always more of a LadyAlmeida.
I’m sure Zach could come up with an algorithm for this, but this simpler mind will take a simpler angle. There are certain things that make Jack Bauer Jack Bauer. Whoever engages in Jacklike behavior the most wins. Simple.
|Category||President Taylor||Agent Walker||Agent Morgan|
|Lost Loved Ones||Son||Mentor||Husband|
|Killed a Bad Guy with Legs||No||No||Yes|
|Sacrificed for the Greater Good||American Lives, Marriage, Daughter’s Freedom, Presidency, Legacy||Moral Code, Self-Respect (had sex with Laitanan to preserve the mission)||Revenge on Navarro|
|Broke Bad Guy||No||Alan Wilson||Steve Navarro|
|Threatened Innocent||No||Some Mother & Her Baby||CIA Doctor|
|Tortured Others||No||Alan Wilson||No|
I’ll give Taylor a bonus point for her sacrifices and a half point for the psychological torture she endured when General Juma threatened to execute Olivia. It fits the definition, but Jack would probably chuckle at the idea.
Renee gets bonus points for her sacrifices and for the implied magnitude of her post-S7 handiwork on Alan Wilson. Howard Gordon suggests that Renee broke him at a “tremendous personal and professional price.” I’m giving her one more point for threatening the life of a baby in order to get information from a corrupt Secret Service agent. A baby!
In the end, President Taylor finishes in last place. She’s probably Jack’s closest equivalent, however, as a vortex of misery and loss. Renee Walker and Kate Morgan finish pretty closely to one another. Real close…
Sorry, I went to my happy place there for a moment.
Renee wasn’t frequently Bauerish, but holy crap, when she was, she went all in. Kate, on the other hand, checked off the most boxes, but didn’t have the time or interest to give in to the somewhat dark side.
Breadth vs. depth? Too close to call? If only there was some way to break this tie…
|Category||President Taylor||Agent Walker||Agent Morgan|
|Injected Drug in Own Neck in Manner That Took Jack Bauer Himself By Surprise||No||No||Check and Mate|
Zach, I love everything you’re saying. Patches, I’m wondering why you didn’t turn your analysis into an FMK (sorry Madame President, but it’s Walker, Morgan, Taylor for me). MegaMix, letting go is good advice.
But I can’t.
I would be (mostly) fine with LAD doing what it did, if it only did it better. They already successfully brought back a major villain for a late season arc with Logan in season eight. They already broke down, brought back and destroyed a strong female character with Renee (and arguably Taylor) in seasons seven and eight. They already had Jack come back from “death”/obscurity to save the day in seasons two and five. If you’re going to bring back people we’ve forgotten or don’t care about and if you’re going to repeat yourself for the second, third or sixth time (I’m looking at you vehicle-tracking-interrupted-by-bridge/underpass), do it right. That’s easy for me to say from the relative safety of a blog that nobody reads, but I’m not just saying “you suck, be better.” I’m saying “you’ve been great, try to stay that way.”
Unfortunately, in the end, it didn’t. Gone was the excitement I felt watching Jack week-to-week, hour-to-hour, twist-to-twist as I used to. Hello twenty-chore.
There was so much potential for LAD, including an opportunity for closure to Jack’s story, and the season didn’t deliver. It got so clouded with wrapping up stories for Audrey, Heller and Cheng–characters that season six already closed out for us, and that seasons seven and eight made us forget even more–that anything novel (mostly-meaningless-Margot) and any closure for Jack was lost in the shuffle. LAD never promised us it was going to be the final season of 24, so there may be yet another day for us to live through. With that in mind, perhaps the most damning thing I can say is that I have the exact same hopes for a theoretical season ten as I did for Live Another Day.
So why does everyone else love LAD so much? I find it inexplicable that critics and fans alike can be heaping praise on LAD as a throwback to classic 24. As a card-carrying lover of the first five seasons of 24, this made no sense to me until Patches offered me some perspective.
To fans like us, who have been there since the beginning, “classic 24” is really seasons 1-3. To a lot of 24 fans, classic 24 is seasons four and five which, as he describes it, are “the season that made everyone watch the season that everyone watched” and “the season that everyone watched.” Even though many of the characters that I loved and that had been so richly developed in seasons 1-3 were still around in season five, by that time 24 was a very different show.
This makes a lot of sense. My feelings about LAD actually parallel my initial feelings about season five. Back then, I was upset with the legions of new viewers who were finding and loving the show, but who couldn’t possibly have the appreciation for it that I had since there’s no way they all did their due diligence with seasons 1-3. What an asshole I was, right? Well, I’m still an asshole because now I’m hating on the same fans who jumped on the bandwagon in season five for not abandoning ship in season nine.
I guess my classic 24 just can’t be replicated. And you know what? It probably shouldn’t, because then I’d just complain some more. As it stands, I can hold onto the early years, enjoy the mid-series evolution and try to remember the good parts of the show’s later years and forget the bad, Jim Heller style.
I know that I could wax forgiving about the difficulties of making nine seasons of quality television, or about the writers of 24 making the show that they have made the last few seasons because — hey! — everyone else liked it, or about how I’ve just been spoiled by other great shows in the modern era.
I could do that, but I won’t.
This is in part because I feel I have been christened the resident hater, and dag-gummit, I like it. It’s been my honor and privilege to be the curmudgeonly, never-satisfied foil to much more positive and keener TV aficionados such as ya’ll. But I say: dance with who brung ya.
In it’s heyday, 24 was awesome. It pulled it off — for several seasons, even. And once you’ve been awesome, I think you should just effing know better. How could any of the same people involved in the drama of season three, which I still consider, even in this incredible modern era, as great television, crap out something like LAD and not feel ashamed? I’m left imaging a writing room full of Don Quixotes, with interns fresh off a stint Sancho-ing by fetching coffee for Terry Gilliam.
Season 1 of 2.4 will go down in space and time as the moment when 24 — the show that I would recommend to anyone — died. Any moment since has been the re-animated corpse of this thing which was, once, the highlight of prime-time television. Maybe it could have been saved over on a real television network. Like Netflix. And then again, maybe it was always doomed to be a victim of progress.
I echo the sad sentiment of DJ Jazzy Jeff up above — the most damning criticism of LAD is that it means nothing, in the end: I have the same hopes for L(yet)AD as I did for LAD. I also have the same fears, though. I fear that they will attempt to dig up meaningless (to me) loose ends. I fear they will try for even-more-ridiculously hyper-sensational “gotcha!!” moments.
We have all wished for some sort of soul-crushing sacrificial end to the series. Perhaps this too is born out of the golden age of television, where we find ourselves rooting for anti-heroes to win at all costs, and then to pay out every one of those debts. But this was not too much to ask of Jack Bauer and 24. Ten (real-world) years ago Jack Bauer grappled with heroin addiction, poisoned every part of his life, and was nearly destroyed, completely, by the job to which he was clearly more addicted. Forgive me the excess of comparing a very good TV show to a truly great one, but to me, his arc in season three shares this bizarre parallel to Walter White’s at the end of Breaking Bad. And 24, for all its silliness, for all it’s testosterone-fueled melodrama, could still trot that stallion out — river and all — if it wanted too… with the extra kicker that we still all actually rooted for Jack not to simply win or lose, but to transcend losing and winning altogether. To take even the ultimate defeat and suffering and therein break the chain of suffering and destruction that had defined his life, and in some final moment find the peace denied to him so many times so that we, the viewers and those he nominally protected, could watch him gallop around the track one more time.
Until something like that happens, I’m sorry, but I’m just gonna say it was another (12, 24, whatever)-episode waste of time. And Jack hates wasting time.
Again, B.J. Novak is not referring to 24: Live Another Day with this quote, but I think he might be talking directly to the four of us on this one. As much as we may try to deny it, I think we all wanted some sort of a perfect ending to our beloved show, regardless of what each of us think that end would be. LAD allowed us the glimmer of hope that the show could end in a better way than it did a few years back. Unfortunately, the “ending” we wanted wasn’t something that the writers/creators/producers were willing to orchestrate.
But MegaMix, why would they do that? Simple, because they didn’t want to close the door on Jack Bauer forever. For me, this is the one and only reason that this season will go down as one of the worst the series provided. If the writers/creators/producers aren’t willing to let this show go, how could they possibly expect us to?
In another direction, and for balance, here are my:
Top10: Reasons I Would NOT Recommend LAD
10) You’ve seen it before, just not in London.
9) You’ve seen it before, just not Margot Al-Harazi.
8) You’ve seen it before, just not Mark Boudreau.
7) You’ve seen it before, just not Audrey (Raines) Boudreau.
6) You’ve seen it before, just a different overpass.
5) You’ve seen it before, only this time it was Audrey.
4) You’ve seen it before, it was James Heller then too.
3) You’ve seen it before, it was Cheng then too.
2) You’ve seen it before, it was Chloe then too.
1) You’ve seen it before, it was always Jack.
Ultimately, I’m not sure I’ll regret having watched LAD, but if Mr. Novak is right, a regret will probably grow with time. Especially if this truly is the end.
Jack’s Season 9/Live Another Day Kill Count: 39 (including 21 in the finale, the highest single-episode total in 24’s run)
Overall Kill Count: 305
Best Moment: I want to hand this to President Heller’s sacrifice, but because we can’t have nice things, the writers rendered it meaningless with an illogical and unnecessary “twist.” Instead, after consulting all of our ReJacktions, I’m going with Margot’s missile trap on Navarro’s raid. It’s my favorite moment that’s not directly linked to a terrible one.
Parting Shot: With all of the problems inherent in LAD’s premise, it actually would have been pretty easy to make this a great season of 24.
Frustrating to Average – Have Jack detain Margot & Cheng, give Jack a reason beyond fan service to kill them, or at least introduce consequences for Jack’s summary executions
Average to Good – Kill Audrey with the first sniper, kill Audrey in a different way, or keep her away from any part of the narrative that mattered
Good to Great – Kill Heller with that missile and keep him dead
Great to Legendary – Kill Jack Bauer in a way that makes sense
Best Moment: Jack and President Heller in the helicopter on the way to [not] let him be blown up.
Parting Shot: Shortening the season to 12 episodes was the best decision the 24 team made. Too bad “potential for tight storytelling” gave way to “thank God we don’t have 12 more hours of this” by the end. I’ll gladly watch a 10th season of 24, though. Just no spinoffs, please.
Best Moment: The entire raid on the arms dealers was the highlight of the season, and the high point of that sequence is either Morgan injecting herself or Jack bluffing down the barrel.
Parting Shot: See ya next time.
Best Moment: Kate Morgan’s withstanding of and subsequent escape from torture. Easily the most non-Jack Bauer Jack Bauer moment of the entire season.
“Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache
Tell me why
Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake
Tell me why
I never wanna hear you say
I want it that way”