24: Live Another Day, Review

Jack Bauer is back. Spoilers, and plenty of them, are ahead, so beware!

Jack Bauer in 24

If you believe in fatalism, the idea that life is predetermined, you knew this day was bound to come. Maybe this wasn’t how you imagined it, but you subscribe to the belief that the universe’s screenwriter penciled in Jack Bauer for a return to television long ago.

If destiny is a script that has already been written, then we should know exactly how a world that claims Jack Bauer works.  

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The opening few minutes of tonight’s 24: Live Another Day answer just about as many questions as we could have surmised from glancing at the teaser poster for the heavily marketed return of Jack Bauer, which is officially branded as a “limited event television series.” Four years after a bloodied, worn down Jack Bauer made his peace with Chloe and vanished off into a million pixilated pieces, he’s been spotted, in London, and he’s back… for something. 

When 24 left television in the spring of 2010, fans of the show were divided. Some, including myself, got into the game late, jumping into the final handful of seasons without first viewing the show’s supposed glory days. I had friends who were longtime fans of the show that got so burned out and fed up with Jack’s against-all-odds heroics that they jumped ship, not caring to see how the show ended. Some wanted a movie, others thought it was time to let Jack meet his maker and epically fall to his inevitable death without a big-screen crossover. 

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In the best way possible, diving into 24: Live Another Day is like reliving a 2011 in which 24 came back for another season. By that I mean aside from frantically looking for a refresher course on 24 history, I found that the show made a smooth transition back to television. I thought Jack would ultimately get a film and I’d be sitting in a dark theater mocking the choice of the next president or throwing popcorn at the screen when we find out that Tony Almeida returns from the dead, again. Four years of waiting for a movie is enough to give up hope or at least push the thought far into the back of my mind. That’s why I was shocked to learn that FOX picked up 12 more episodes of 24

I guess my point is, who exactly was calling for Jack Bauer to make his return?

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While it felt good to relive 2011, there was one quote in the first hour, though, that stuck out like a mole in a Counter Terrorism Unit. The irony was so painfully obvious, as it was pointed square at the face of Jack Bauer: “Why are you back?”

I’m sure it wasn’t the intended direction of the line, but it did have me questioning why I was about to commit another 12 hours to 24. Anyone familiar with the show had to figure that Jack Bauer is a character that couldn’t be kept off the screen. The character didn’t eat, sleep or pee for the eight long days (for those unfamiliar every season takes place over the course of one day) in which we witnessed his every move. In the interim, the months and sometimes years between seasons based on the show’s timeline, Jack played dead. And if he wasn’t playing dead, we assumed he was lurking in the shadows, just waiting. The man is a live-action Chuck Norris joke. 

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So what has us excited, or at least curious, about a man who can’t be killed coming back into our lives? Is it the desire to see a semi-realistic account of government intelligence missions? The Guardian asked Emily Brandwin, a former CIA operations officer, to pen a response to the show’s return and assess how realistic 24 actually is. Her response is anything but surprising. “There are way more people like Dwight Schrute than Jason Bourne at the CIA,” she wrote. Essentially, the only real-life similarities between actual counter-terrorism and 24 are that there are “24 hours in a day” and “there are CIA employees named Jack.”

So no, that can’t be it. Even though tonight’s tech heavy, drone-centered two-hour premiere event brings 24 into 2014 and perhaps a little, tad bit closer to reality. More importantly, the show picks up where it left off, leaving you with no damn clue about where it is going next. It’s a great device, but we’ll need more than two hours to decide whether that’s enough for 24’s rebirth to capture our hearts. 

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Like most prior seasons, Live Another Day centers on a threat against the president, who is on a visit to London. Where there are threats against the Commander in Chief there is Jack Bauer. Only he’s wanted by every government agency from Homeland Security to the Tennessee Valley Authority, probably. Once Jack is spotted, the CIA calls the dogs and he’s promptly caught. We’re shocked. He’s lost his touch. Father time is his last remaining enemy. 

It doesn’t take long to be reminded that is Jack Bauer. The joke was on us. He wanted to get caught. “You’re after someone,” says CIA field operative Kate Morgan after sneaking into the integration room and berating the detainee. Jack remained silent but it was true. He had to rescue none other than Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), the other half of his country-saving operation.

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Once Chloe is secured the entire premise of the season is slowly reveled. We’ll stick to the big picture stuff because we’ll go loony obsessing over the small details. You are safe to assume that everything is smoke and mirrors in this show until you are sure you know the truth. Even then, watch your back. 

So, there are cyber terrorists with the ability to hack into the government’s computers and control the path of drones. A guy named Yates (Joseph Milson) is smart enough to create the program. He’s also dumb enough to get double-crossed by a girlfriend who stabs him in the face once she learns the program was ready to be sold. Now, the program is in the wrong hands and Jack needs to find a way to pry it out, that’s as much as we know at this point.

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In the other, potentially juicer plot, President James Heller (William Devane) appears to be entering the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. You might remember that Jack once saved Heller, who was the Secretary of Defense in season four, from being executed. You might also remember that Jack saved his daughter, Audrey, who happened to be Jack’s girlfriend. You might also remember that Jack sacrificed Audrey’s estranged husband (she did not like that) and the Chinese captured her in season six. She was rescued by Jack and lost her memory in the process. Exhale. I’m exhausted. Anyway, Audrey is now married to her daddy’s Chief of Staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), whom I assume will have a major, plot-twisting role because it’s 24.

Now the question remains. Why is Jack back? Is he looking to restore his name, break up a Washington power couple and recapture a lost relationship? If not, maybe he just can’t kick the impulse to save the world from men who like to watch it burn. Hopefully, and I say this as an admirer of the show, Jack is back because someone realized the story was incomplete. No hero, no matter how seemingly invincible he (or she!) looked in his (or her!) prime, lives forever.

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Jack Bauer needs an end. He needs a Walter White—guts spilling out as camera slowly fades out—ending.  24: Live Another Day, sounds like one last chance, one more day, not several. 

Before breaking away from the CIA and setting up what promises to be visually appealing, though not necessarily thought-provoking mini season, Jack is faced with a reality that will linger throughout the remaining episodes.

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“You were really something Bauer,” says a guy not physically equipped to handle Jack’s furor. “… Back in the day.” 

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