24: Legacy’s Train Scene Gave Me True Detective PTSD

A True Detective season two parable for the 24 fan.

This article contains zero spoilers for 24: Legacy. It contains big spoilers for True Detective season two, but you should be thanking me for that.

24: Legacy Episode 3

The trauma of a botched train station mission still pains me. When I hear so much as a “choo-choo” I relapse into that overcast California afternoon all those years ago. The hairs on my neck quiver thinking about how a season’s worth of plot mistakes and non-existent creative oversight led us to an ill-fated stakeout.

Innocent civilians were caught in the crossfire, and the cops unloaded bullets on a hooded stabber and victim with ferocity, but Colin Farrell’s career was bleeding out before our very eyes. I’ll never forget what the finale of True Detective season two did to me. What it did to Colin. What it made all of us FEEL.

Meandering plot detours, if you’re so inclined to call an orgy that, and unmoving noir gave us early intrigue in TDS2, only for it to come undone week after week. If you stuck around for some big payoff, like the one we sort of got in True Detective season one, you were horribly misled. We put up with all this brooding nonsense, took it seriously, only to be gut-punched.

Never again, I said. If there really is a big guy looking down on us from the heavens, I believe he put TDS2 into this world to measure all future crime dramas against. The train scene in tonight’s episode of 24: Legacy awakened something in me. It triggered memories of something horrible HBO did to my eyes in the past, and it’s with a new set of eyes I have mixed feelings about the 24 universe going forward.

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Almost three years later, “new Jack Bauer” Eric Carter and Co. loosely borrowed from the train scene of the TDS2 finale, what can only be described as a meta metaphor for the convoluted clusterfuck of a season we had just watched collapse for seven weeks. Do you know how I know that? I had to go back and read a TV recap for TDS2 on one of those websites that recites the plot scene by scene (we don’t do that here). Just when I thought those article were utterly useless and a waste of time for the writers and readers who’ve already seen the episode, they’ve been redeemed. More importantly, I realized I tried to scrub the details of this scene from my brain before I ended up a bitter old Nihilist with Rust Cohle ticks.

What tears me apart in attempting to compare these two scenes– mind you, my 24 reviews often descend into free-associating therapy sessions after Tony Almeida switches teams for the 600th time or planes are landed safely in the middle of major cities or adorkable chemistry teachers make bombs for blowjob-happy teenage terrorists–is that which one I prefer isn’t so cut dry.

In an episode where the main character’s redemption hangs on a stalled email to his son chadvelcro@gmail.com before he’s brutally murdered in the woods, there’s something noble in TDS2 failing in such a profound and spectacular way. Farrell’s Ray Velcoro is the wonderful fuckup whose time runs out before he could make it right. That same fate may come around in a flat circle –  HBO seems content to leave the True Detective brand to rot next to the carcass of Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon. If it dies on that hill, it dies on an ambitious one so overwrought and inept that it may never earn the coveted Bad-Good cult status it most certainly wasn’t going for. That, my friends, is a feat.

The 24 franchise never aspired to that throne either, but it certainly hit a few of those Bad-Good notes in the later seasons. Jack Bauer once retook the White House after terrorists snuck in through the fucking backdoor and it was, against all odds, goofy, fantastic TV. 24: Legacy, on the other hand, is content with letting the clock run out with predictable twist after predictable twist. They couldn’t even be bothered spending a few extra minutes with Eric Carter trapped inside a police station before they took the easiest way out.

So what do we ask of our crime stories now? 24: Legacy is fine action when it wants to be. I follow the plot threads easy enough. I don’t need Slate to explain it to me. We are of course more forgiving of a Fox show than the big budget, 8-episode HBO anthology. Jack Bauer never needed to play the long game when you can count on at least one digestible twist and a major action scene each episode. They aren’t explicitly doing it, but Legacy surrounds Eric Carter with the kind of Bad-Good plots that are out of style in the Peak TV era. Even in this season’s general “meh-ness,” they still master a tone somewhere in-between highbrow and camp. To that end, I’ll take entertaining and unambitious over the PTSD of Ray Velcoro and The World We Deserve.

I stuck around TDS2 hoping all the loose threads tied into some mind-blowing tapestry. Instead I got a bunch of limp perverts, but I’d be lying if I didn’t look up at the starry night’s sky and wonder, “but what if they pulled off that final episode?

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0.5 out of 5