The latest season of 24 had promise but did not have me on the edge of my seat, even during the finale. It had plenty of action and cool "I can’t believe Jack just did that!" moments, but it delved too much into the soap opera elements that bogged down season three.
A promising beginning
Season five ended with Jack captured and on the literal slow boat to China; season six opens with Jack returning to the US as part of an expensive deal with the Chinese. He was tortured for nearly two years but said nothing, not a word, for that entire time. Jack is a broken man, stripped of everything that he loved; he has nothing to live for except the promise of a meaningful death. CTU plans to give him just that; terrorists have demanded Jack as a condition to ceasing their attacks on the US.
However, Jack learns that this is a terrorist ruse; his death will have no meaning, no honor. Jack does what any sensibly trained field agent would do; he rips out a man’s throat with his teeth in order to escape. Holy crap… they were starting out the season with the action cranked to eleven. As the opening episodes progressed, I really enjoyed where they were taking the character of Jack Bauer.
The writers just kept stripping away everything that mattered to him save for his sense of duty; he was forced to kill one of his remaining friends to protect a man who had killed hundreds in acts of terrorism. He even learned that his own family were responsible in the assassination of another friend and the plot to frame Jack for that act. Jack was the man with nothing but a country.
Set the auto-pilot and coast for awhile
Sadly, the middle act did little to explore this facet of the plot and character. Instead, the story moved into a number of plot threads that too closely resembled threads from previous seasons. It provided plenty of cool action sequences and a few twists, but there was nothing new, nothing fresh, that grabbed my attention and stood out. Toss in the various love triangles and other soap opera plots, and I was enjoying but not really loving the season. I was watching more to see the next cool action sequence rather than watching because I was engrossed in the story.
Jack’s death wish really only surfaced at the end of the second act; storming a warehouse full of hostiles without calling backup screamed "I’m going out in a blaze of glory!". This was also the best hand-to-hand fight sequence I have seen in recent memory; it was two men with nothing but pure hatred trying to beat the life out of each other. In a great nod to all the fans, a secondary character comes in, surveys the carnage, and simply says "Damn, Jack…" There was no building on the foundation of Jack’s death wish; we eventually arrive at this scene with little emotional investment in it beyond "Wow! Cool!".
And it all falls down
The third act is supposed to leave you breathless and on the edge of your seat as the final two hours tick by. This season saw me reclining back in my seat waiting to see how they close it out. What should have been a white hot plot waiting to boil over was barely at a simmer. All we really learn is that CTU continues to be the worst protected government facility; it has been bombed, gassed, hacked, and infiltrated. The average life span of a white shirt guard is an actuary nightmare. This season, a Chinese mercenary teams breaches the facility through a sewer pipe.
However, the season does manage to bring Jack’s character full circle; he started with nothing left to live for and manages to end with even less than that. Jack learns that Audrey is alive but was also captured and tortured by the Chinese. The season closes with Jack realizing (via a very well written soliloquy) that he can never lead a normal life; he can never really care and protect for his loved ones the way he wants to. Losing Audrey one more time, he also loses the last shred of hope that he can be something other than a trained killer, a mere tool for his country’s defense.
I really liked how the writers opened this season; they were taking Jack’s character in a direction, a very dark direction. However, they did little to really explore and experiment with this device; they simply slid into the 24 formula and coasted through the bulk of the season. While it played out more as a soap opera at times, the story managed to stay interesting enough to keep me coming back each week. When the final seconds ticked off, I just did not find myself impressed with the overall journey; I was unimpressed with the story and left with the impression that the writers were simply trying to clear the decks the best they could.
Can they reinvent the series next season and recapture the edge of the seat magic it has had in the past? I certainly hope so; this season did not leave me screaming over the eight month wait for the next one to begin.