The disappointing end to 24‘s seventh season brought an assortment of thoughts to my mind. Firstly, has the show really run its course? How much longer can the producers pretend that we’re in any way teased by a cliffhanger showing Jack Bauer in peril? We know that the man’s indestructible, we know that he’s died once, we know that he’s lost his wife, and as soon as he got infected with the biological agent this time round, and the words ‘experimental procedure’ made it to the script, they may as well have flashed beacons all around the place.
Once upon a time, 24 used to be tense, surprising, and utterly gripping television? Now, while there’s fun to be had in watching Kiefer Sutherland go through the motions, you simply wonder if there’s not much left in the tank. So many strong side characters have come and gone, and each season now has to introduce a new lot to try and get us to care about.
Season seven showed real promise with the introduction of Jon Voight as Jonas Hodges and Kurtwood Smith as Senator Mayer, but both characters, bizarrely, were simply pissed away. In the case of the latter, there was genuinely something new for 24 to feast on, with legislative attention on Jack Bauer’s methods. But it wasn’t to be.
It left the most interesting characters in the show as the newly-introduced Taylor family. President Allison Taylor – finely played by Cherry Jones – wasn’t given too much defining to do, but at least there’s something to build on for next year. Her husband, Henry Taylor, was at the heart of some of this year’s most interesting material, but then he was kept out of the action in the end for much of the season.
This then passed the baton over to pantomime villain, and Sherry Palmer-wannabe, Olivia Taylor. She was a character with real promise, but it looks like her character arc has already come to an end. Why? Couldn’t it have been left open for next season? She was the most interesting baddie in the show.
Supporting characters matter in 24, because without them, we have to believe that Jack Bauer will ultimately fail, or that he’s someone other than Batfink in the middle of a shoot out. It’s no coincidence that the best seasons of the show have been centred around fabulous side characters: Sherry Palmer in season one, springs to mind, as well as the outstanding President Logan in season five. Without them, the show is much weaker.
Which brings us to the weakest of them all. It’s Kim Bauer time.
After a harmless first season, the character of Kim Bauer has rightly been held up as a figure of ridicule by anyone who has ever had a gnat’s fart’s worth of logic enter their head. Who could ever forget the majestic, iconic second season moment where she was about to be eaten by a cougar? It still rankles as one of the most profoundly strange pieces of television I’ve seen in the past decade. In retrospect, though, it was a missed opportunity.
It was bad enough that 24 made us swallow the fact that Kim Bauer could be a CTU operative a few years’ back, with the idea of her being in any way involved in a fight against terrorists leading many of us to consider building bunkers in our back gardens. But why couldn’t they leave her be?
For season seven, you can see the conundrum that the producers had. From where I was sitting, it felt like they had plotted out 22 episodes, and thus when they needed some way to persuade Jack to break Tony out at the end of episode 22, to keep the season going for two more shows, there was only one person they needed to speed dial. They needed the thickest character on television. There was only one choice.
Since Kim Bauer turned up, to the groans of many, in the latest season, she was clearly and blatantly there to cure Jack Bauer of his disease. Granted, we also discovered that she had a child her father didn’t know about, but what’s the point in exploring that? Nope, Kim Bauer had become, bluntly, medicine.
But it got, predictably, worse. Not content with being easily persuaded not to help her father out, we then got to the airport. Here, Kim has one simple job: get on a plane, and leave. That said, if she had got on said plane, it’d no doubt have turned out to be Oceanic flight 815.
As it turned out, she rightly got suspicious that she was being watched, and – to the sound of jaws thumping to the floor with shock – she took some logical action. She went and sat with a crowd of people. This being Kim Bauer, she naturally ended up sitting next to the people who wanted to snatch her, but she wasn’t to know that.
Anyway, after settling down, and enjoying safety in numbers, what does the walking box of intellect do? SHE GOES TO THE TOILET BY HERSELF!
WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?
They, at one point, ask us to buy that she can chuck out some CTU technobabble shortly after to dig them out of a hole, but nobody was buying it. Because it had got even better.
I like to think I’m a fairly sensible sort, and if a man rampaged through an airport shooting people, in an attempt to gun me down, I’d like to believe that I’d follow my parents’ advice and go and find a policeman. Or, at the very least, peg it as fast as my legs will take me in the other direction. I’m fairly certain that’s what I’d do.
But I’m not Kim Bauer. If you open up the Kim Bauer book of survival, the instructions for this are clear. If a man has just killed lots of people in an attempt to kill you, there’s only one logical course of action. TO RUN AFTER HIM BY YOURSELF, UNARMED!
Yet Bauer the Younger wasn’t done. What’s that over there? A car that’s about to blow up, that just happens to have the person who was trying to kill you in it? Ah, there’s a whole chapter on that. All you need to do here is take a country age to reach into said car, linger there for a bit, oblivious to the fact that it’s about to turn into a ball of flames, and wait for your arm to be grabbed. She’s like the fourth emergency service.
The only saving grace there was the comedy highlight of the season, where she caught fire. It can’t just have been me screaming for the sodding cougar to run in at that point and finish her off.
To the producers of 24, then: seriously. You insult yourselves by making us even try and swallow shit like that. You must know. You must be aware that the character of Kim Bauer debases any believability that the show has, and that when she walks into a scene, that loud sound you can hear is millions of viewers slapping their heads in unison?
Likewise, Elisha Cuthbert. This is nothing personal. You don’t write the material you have to work with. But please: call bullshit. Tell someone, when you suspect that your character is being asked to do something stupid, that it might not be a good idea. At least try. I bought a ticket to see The Girl Next Door, so please just do this one little thing for me?
Now, we wait. 24 season eight looks like being the swansong for the show, and it returns next January. We’re already being promised something more realistic, and that, for my money, already means that Kim Bauer can’t be anywhere near it (assuming she survived the ‘radical’ surgery, of course). I’d rather you found a Tony-esque implausible way to resurrect Nina Myers instead. I wouldn’t buy it, but at least it wouldn’t suck every last drop of intelligence and logic out of the show…