Well, how about that? Last week's episode of 24: Live Another Day featured quite a bit of movement, particularly of the chasing variety, and yet it still was a bit boring. This week, Jack spent more than 30 minutes sitting at a computer terminal near a landline phone, and it was the most thrilling hour we've seen since Live Another Day debuted. Not only was "2:00 PM-3:00 PM" a fine reminder that 24 is capable of making stationary moments seem exciting and intense, it also—and more importantly—started to reveal how the shorter episode order will change the trajectory of the narrative.
While the first half of this hour efficiently and effectively moved Jack through the American embassy and to Lt. Tanner's keycard, it was that second half that really merged the episodic story with the ongoing plot. Suddenly, Jack had the information he needed to "prove" Tanner's innocence, Chloe struggled to convince Open Cell that helping Jack was the right thing to do, Kate and Erik and the military were closing in, and Mark had no choice but to finally inform President Heller and Audrey of what's been going on in London with Jack and the drone threat.
The triumph of this episode was how well each little story worked on its own while also really crystallizing the bigger picture. 24 has tried to tell stories about a "different" Jack a few times over the years, but Live Another Day has underscored that archetype even more emphatically. This is a Jack Bauer who doesn't kill; instead he chokes dudes out relatively gracefully and painlessly and makes sure they're wearing vests so he can just pop them safely in the chest. Thus far, he hasn't even been especially interested in any personal benefit of his mission. He wants to prevent the attack, and he's willing to be taken into custody to do so. Nevertheless, this is also a Jack who recognizes how royally he's been used and screwed by the United States and its various agencies and armed forces. While there's a lot of value in a Jack Bauer who is purely out for revenge or blood, I'm enjoying this almost subdued, more direct version of the character. Even the way he calmly assured the hostages that he wouldn't hurt them, and that it was all a show, was kind of great. If Day 8 Jack Bauer was completely unhinged, it sort of feels like this version has been re-hinged, or something.
This episode also got quite a lot of milage out of the history between Jack and the Raines family, even in just a few short scenes. Both William Devane and Kim Raver did fine work in personifying the confusion of learning that Jack is back, but also the matter of how to progress with him in the fold in London. Though the two didn't have much time to reestablish their characters' connections to Jack, they made the best of it. There's something to be said for actors who make speakerphone conversations between people in other buildings seem dramatic and important. Devane, Raver, and Kiefer Sutherland all did that here.
Chloe and Kate's respective stories haven't been particularly successful so far, but they're mostly a product of the time jump and the show's willingness to beat fairly simple exposition into the ground. Did you guys know that Kate couldn't see the truth about her husband and it's possible that she'll never be good at her job again? And did you also know that Chloe joined Open Cell, an organization that released upwards of 30,000 intelligence documents to the web, endangering thousands of agents on the ground? Those beats have been pretty sloppy, no doubt. Yet, they're just fine enough, and driven by solid performances from Mary Lynn Rajskub and Yvonne Strahovski, that there's not too much to complain about. Strahovski's Kate is the type of character that 24 loves to create, so the fact that she clearly believes Jack with only some evidence is something we're going to have to run with.
Perhaps most surprising of all is not what this episode got right, but what it didn't get wrong. Mark and Erik—the season's two obviously slimy, antagonistic characters—have been as neutral and even-handed as can be, given the context. As the situation with Jack started to unravel in this episode, Mark did the right thing by informing President Heller and Audrey, and then following up with a mostly fair argument about the things Jack has reportedly done. Did he push a little hard about Jack's maneuvering to free Chloe and her involvement in Open Cell? Sure he did. But as a voice of skepticism and fear over what a free, empowered Jack Bauer could do to an already fragile situation and family, Mark's assertions were believable and clear.
Erik isn't much of a character yet, but this episode did right by him while Kate tried to take matters into her own hands with the hostage situation. He didn't submarine her subterfuge, but he also didn't lie to the military officers either. While he recognizes the possible issues with Kate's decision-making, he's also not trying to cut her down at every turn. Both of these characters could have been so much worse, and variations of them have been truly awful on 24. So this is a fine start.
Above all else, though, it's impressive that Live Another Day managed to merge the majority of its early storylines in just four episodes, creating a series of great scenes that felt mostly earned. Everything fit together very well, despite some of the aforementioned sloppiness or exposition reliance that led to the showdown in the embassy. 24 has always known how to establish flimsy characters or circumstances just enough to make us care about them, but this kind of stuff used to take the show much longer to produce. In a normal season of 24, the last 20 to 30 minutes of this episode would've normally come in Episode 8 or Episode 12, not Episode 4. Live Another Day's ability to arrive at those cool moments so early, despite the shoddy stuff, is an impressive feat, and one that illustrates that the writers can absolutely expedite the familiar formula in a purposeful fashion. We're only a third of the way through this sucker, but the events of this episode definitely bode well for the rest of Live Another Day.
– The stuff at the Al-Harazi hideout was a bit more detached from the rest of this week's proceedings, but that doesn't mean it wasn't as good. From the moment Naveed plotted to take Simone away from her mother, it was clear that things weren't going to go well. However, I'm not sure I expected Margot to have a thug hack off a chunk of her daughter's pinky just to make sure her son-in-law was committed to the cause. I guess after four years, I've forgotten how quickly the awful violence can set in on this show.
– DAMMIT TRACKER: Still at one, right? Talk about playing it cool. KILL TRACKER: Nada. Jack definitely maimed at least four guys in this one, though, so he's got that going for him.
– As bad as some of the exposition has been in the first four weeks, I'm not sure anything can touch the porous scene between Navarro and Jordan at the CIA HQ. Not only did it manage to squeeze in a reference to Kate's husband, but Navarro had to blurt out that tech nerd Jordan couldn't think straight because of his feelings for Kate. Okay, sure. That's definitely going to lead to some productive places.
What'd you think of Episode 4? Definitely a good sign for the show's ability to modify the story to suit the shorter format, right?
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24