Although I'm disappointed that 24: Live Another Day hasn't taken advantage of its 12-episode order by jumping around in time, the great thing about working with a lower number of episodes is that the show hasn't gotten too bogged down in plot churn and unnecessary twists. This isn't a franchise that thrives on building complex character arcs, but the shorter run has at least allowed Live Another Day to create very solid stories in an efficient manner without losing sight of the people who exist within those stories. It's weird, then, that the season's penultimate episode allowed the plot to swallow some of the character moments that Live Another Day—and in certain cases, multiple seasons of 24—have been leading up to.
Admittedly, "9:00 PM-10:00 PM" had quite a bit of ground to cover. With only two hours remaining in the story, this one needed to bring several disparate threads together, clarify some allegiances, and generally raise the stakes as much as possible. Even for a show that has produced more than 200 episodes, that's not always an easy task. Moreover, it's not even as if the developments themselves were bad or stupid; in fact, there were a number of really solid moments in this episode. Nope, the issue is that this was the first hour of the season where it felt like the the writers were zooming through the story just because they needed to. Travel seemed a smidgen easier, scenes were more exposition-heavy, and there was at least one instance of very, very needless drama (the one with President Heller dropping his pills while wedged between his advisors, who told him that the Chinese hadn't attacked and then immediately said that they had). While these individual elements didn't ruin the episode, they certainly disrupted what could've been an extremely strong hour.
With that in mind, I'm wondering if maybe this episode was actually hampered by the shorter season. Historically, 24 has almost always moved through a number of different villains in a given season, and Live Another Day is no different. However, Margot was still just dispatched a few hours ago. The show did a fine job of letting some storylines—like Mark's involvement with the Russians—develop very slowly, but suddenly we're dealing with Russians and Mark and Cheng and what the Chinese might do all at once. While that's pretty cool because it's merged the good stuff from this season with some of 24's long-gestating history, it did require too many scenes of people talking about said history. It also placed too much of the focus on the BIG stakes that won't necessarily be resolved in next week's finale. Does it matter that the Chinese have decided to take the sub attack as a sign of U.S. muscle-flexing? Of course. But it's probably better for Live Another Day to keep the spotlight on what Cheng could do to the characters we know and care about—especially Chloe, his current hostage. Maybe another hour or two would've helped, or maybe the writers' room (which is a mix of veteran and rookie talent) ran into some trouble plotting the season.
But I don't want to dwell too much on what bothered me because when "9:00 PM-10:00 PM" wasn't mired in sloppy exposition or repetitive statements, it worked well. Frankly, for an episode that began with the continuation of Jack and Kate's shootout with the Russians and ended with the duo busting up the home of Mark's Russian contact and Cheng's men sniping down a group of people surrounding Audrey, the quieter moments were much more effective.
Specifically, the split-screen cell phone conversation between Jack and Audrey was one of the season's best moments, and a much better scene between those two characters than their initial reunion a few weeks back. Kiefer Sutherland gets a lot of mileage out yelling and growling most of the time and then dialing it back to be really quiet when Jack is emotional, but this hour contained some of his better work in that realm. Both he and Kim Raver mustered up the history between these two characters without any histrionics and the extreme close-ups and the split screen proved to be a fine framing device for the interaction.
That was also a moment where the past meant everything. Cheng is a dude who tried to ruin Jack's life and Audrey's life, so her "kill him" and "do what has to be done" didn't ring false, not in the slightest. He tortured her within an inch of her life, after all. On Jack's end, he needed to make that call because he knows that Cheng's re-emergence and these issues with the Russians are going to force him to go FULL BAUER, which is never a pretty sight. Live Another Day hasn't bothered too much with saddling Jack with guilt and sadness, but there's been enough of those feelings along the way for us to understand that he didn't want to let a certain part of himself out again, especially if things got personal. Unfortunately, THINGS JUST GOT PERSONAL.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Jack's frustration turned into rage, which turned into impatience—so much so that he was willing to pull a gun on Mark right in front of the president. But here again, Live Another Day went to real lengths to at least explain Mark's actions without turning him into a pariah and villain. Not only did Mark immediately fess up, but he made a pretty solid, albeit flawed, case as to why he forged the signature to try to remove Jack from the equation nearly 12 hours ago. That doesn't necessarily handwave the fact that he basically ordered a hit squad to take Jack out like 90 minutes ago, but hey, in this world, what we saw was much better than the norm. To top it all off, Mark made a legitimate effort to help Jack and Kate take down his Russian contact Stolnavich, a move that led to a mostly well-paced little set piece at the end of the hour. I get it, Mark still sucks and we're not supposed to root for him. But the show and Tate Donovan deserve some credit for ensuring that we understood Mark. That's important.
I had my issues with the busy nature of all the looming threats baring down on Jack, the final scene, with Cheng taking out everyone around Audrey, was one heck of a cliffhanger. We know that Cheng isn't screwing around, but terrorizing Audrey is one of the things that he's the best at. While the less said about her as a helpless victim the better, at least she made a real effort to try to solve the stand-off with the Chinese before Cheng swooped in and probably created another decade of therapy for her.
With only one hour to go, 24: Live Another Day still has a lot of story to cover. However, while this episode got a bit bogged down by trying to put characters and plot points in place for the finale, I don't suspect that will happen again next week. When your lead character can handle multiple terrorist cells on his own, things get done quickly when they need to. Now that the messy exposition is out of the way, the finale could be something special. Until then!
– Jack took care of at least four guys at Stolnavich's crib near the end of the episode, which brings the KILL TRACKER to approximately 15. Any additions to the DAMMIT TRACKER that you noticed this week?
– I don't know if the finale will have time for Kate's story on any major level, but she's a really strong sidekick for Jack. They seem to work well together. I wouldn't be opposed to more of her, should there be another season.
– Chloe rolled down a hill in a wooded area. I assume there are cougars nearby.
– I love it when TV action scenes end with someone shooting a propane tank after ignoring it for seemingly minutes of gunfire. Not silly at all.
Let's hear your predictions for the finale! Who lives, who dies, and who might be a surprise return?
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24