24: season 7 preview

John offers his thoughts on Redemption, the start of season 7, and the world of 24. Spoilers lie ahead...

The last season of 24 wasn’t good; convoluted plot-lines, non-sequiturs, pencil drawn characters, uneven pacing and a devil-may-care attitude to the moral climate surrounding detention and torture all came together to create, well, a bit of a dog’s dinner really. Put it this way, when Kumar – yes, Kal Penn from Harold & Kumar Get The Munchies – is the best thing about the first couple of hours, it doesn’t look good.

The real problem with Day 6 was that, actually, Jack wasn’t really very likeable; the character that they bought back from China, after his abduction by Chinese intelligence, was a much more nihilistic one, a much colder, broken character. He was morally ambiguous, and much less the focus of what was good.

Redemption sought to bring Bauer’s actions down to very distilled moral choices, to put his ruthlessness and pure military efficiency into a unambiguous situation which we could all get behind; rather than his oft-brutal modus operandi being a guilty, and increasingly uncomfortable secret pleasure. And, let’s face it, there’s no better tack to hang that particular picture on than a bunch of cute, spunky kids in need of help; it’s just about the oldest Hollywood trick in the book.

Redemption saw the amorality torch shine its light on bureaucracy and political expedience, not the actions of a bloke and a gun; they are the kind of amorphous, easy targets that are wonderfully predictable, yet tend to produce far superior drama in the long run. Bauer walks a dangerous tightrope of credibility as a hero – and last season pushed him too far to the wrong side of the tracks for you to really want to take the journey with him. Redemption reminded us of everything we love about Jack – his loyalty to his friends, his willingness to put himself on the line for what’s ‘right’, and that little napsack he carries around that never seems to run out of bullets until the stunt co-ordinator tells him its time to start killing people with a knife. With this moral compass re-installed, there’s increased hope that Day 7 may have more of an idea about where it’s heading – and one hopes that the enforced hiatus will have allowed the writers to find more focus to the larger story arc of this series.

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To my mind, Redemption was a home run in a small ball park – not a monster hit, but impressive nonetheless; a pure slice of the dumb gun ‘fun’ that 24 is, possessed of the unsettling undercurrent that we expect to be intrinsic to the package – though, for once, one that avoided dragging our favourite anti-hero under with it.

As, I’m sure you’re well aware of by now, by the end of ‘Jack In Africa’ (but I’m talkin’ ’bout Jack – you shut your mouth!) Bauer was back in a helicopter and on his way home to face some sort of music for his actions in Day 6; but first we have the obligatory opening action scene to get through. Simonfilled you in on all of this here – essentially a very Heat-esque kidnapping, with one of those ‘in-car-side-on’ crashes that Hollywood seems so in love with at the moment. I don’t have as good a memory as him, and was too busy trying to work out where I’d seen the actor who was being kidnapped before (it’s John Billingsly, who played Dr. Phlox in Star Trek: Enterprise); thus, all I remember are the Thompson style machine guns – y’know the ones with big round things underneath them to hold the bullets. Very cool. And the fact that it was blatantly Tony Almeida behind that balaclava.

Anyway, Dr. Phlox gets nabbed and told he’s needed to ‘fix something’ by Tony, and we cut to Capital Hill, where Jack’s up in front of a senate hearing over the actions of CTU – apparently, American politicians aren’t as lazy as British ones, and don’t bat an eyelid at kicking proceedings of at 8am; whereas you’d suspect that most of our lot are just about falling out of the Commons bar by that sort of time in the morning. Anyway… It’s Jack! There he is, and he’s had a shave!

And here it comes, the inevitable: y’see, senate hearings take days, and 24’s ticking clock tension ain’t gonna cut it here. So in a wonderfully arch move by the scriptwriters, after one wonderfully terse exchange with the powers that be, Jack is spirited out of there by the FBI. This has to be some kind of record, even by 24‘s standards – from Federal Indictment to a briefing at headquarters in under 8 minutes. These guys aren’t taking prisoners this season, they’re trimming the fat, and cutting straight to the chase; and they don’t appear to give a good f*** what you think about it.

This fantastically cavalier exposition continues apace, as we meet the new Homeland Security team that Jack will be frustrating and impressing in equal measure until Spring ’09. There’s not really a lot to chew on yet; an anti-social computer geek, a feisty, funny Janeane Garofolo (yay, this is a very good thing) and the micro-managing department head (Jeffery Nording, as Larry Moss) who seems to lack confidence in the redhead female agent he’s sent to pick up Bauer (Anne Wesching as Renee Walker); or he may be over-protected for other reasons.

Anyway, bottom line is that Tony’s not dead – he’s very much alive (look Jack, we have pics, here’s how he must have done it, and we’ve dug up his grave, so can we just get past how very improbably wrong this is and move on please…) and for some reason he stealing equipment in order to build a computer capable of circumventing the firewall that protects all of the US’ vital infrastructure. This is what Dr. Phlox was for – and intercut with Jack’s scenes we see a severely battered computer engineer helping with Tony’s plans to – apparently – bring down an airplane (presumably, as the big set-piece end to the first hour). Oh God, I’m getting the old 24 feeling back, this could be cool. And thus, short of saying ‘get this man some clearance’, we’re good to go.

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The Tony vs. Jack set up is brilliant; Avenging Angel vs. Fallen Angel – or is it the other way around? It only remains to be seen whether the relationship can sustain 24 hours of action, or whether Tony’s inclusion is merely a massive smoke screen and set-up for the inevitable twist (Mr. Brew has an extremely accurate theory on when this will happen, but I won’t spoil it) that will reveal the real big bad. Who knows, maybe we’re looking at some kind of Woo-esque face swapping scenario? Maybe he’s really Nina Meyers​? Well, y’know, if you’re going to jump the shark, you may as well make it a big one. What I wonder, is whether what was previously a strong, but ultimately subordinate supporting character can step up and really be a threat to Jack (can anything really be a threat to Jack, discuss)? Only time, and a few scripts, will tell.

So, there’s plenty to look forward to in Day 7, at least based on Redemption and this 15 minute preview; and we haven’t even got to the Hawk-to-Dove Presidential switch over (and the encounter between Powers Booth and Cherry Jones as the outgoing Noah Daniels and the the new female President, Allison Taylor, was an undeniable highlight of Redemption) and there seems to be plenty of mileage in the potential relationship between Daniels and Jon Voight’s wonderfully malevolent Jonas Hodges.

Y’know, we may just have a good one here.