Happy Memorial Day to those of you from the States (and happy Monday to those of you who live abroad). Apparently Fox thought that the best way to honor those serving in the American armed forces was to give us another hour's worth of Jack Bauer trying to stop a British woman's terrorist plots. And while it's silly to say that airing 24 was technically the best way for the network to observe the holiday, "3:00 PM–4:00 PM" was another strong episode of 24: Live Another Day, and that in itself is something to celebrate.
I wrote a bit about this last week, but Hour 5 further exemplified how Live Another Day seems dedicated to telling a traditional 24 story without some of the more familiar histrionics and broad (read: stupid) character types. Sure, many of them are still present in Live Another Day, but whereas the weaker seasons of the show (and even some of the good ones, frankly) tended to let characters like Mark, Erik, Navarro, and Cross devolve into incompetence, evildoing, or both, Live Another Day continues to hustle to make sure we know these folks are multifaceted people—or at least as multifaceted you can get in this universe. I've been trying to come up with an adjective that I think best describes this approach, and I keep returning to "measured." 24 will never be Mad Men, but it's displayed a certain amount of care in developing Live Another Day's supporting characters—a care that was absent during 24's last few years on the air—and that has made solid episodes like this one just a smidgen better.
For most of this hour, characters reacted logically and with the right mix of self-centeredness and wider awareness. Take the big moment early on, when Kate revealed to Navarro that Tanner's drone was hacked by Margot and Mr. Bossman passed her call along to President Heller. After watching her disobey orders for a few hours, Navarro could've easily launched into a tirade about chain of command, protocol, etc. in lieu of actually listening to her. But he didn't! Navarro recognized the problems that Kate had created, particularly because she was supposed to be transferred out of the office anyway, but instead he made the right call to try to stop a major terrorist plot. And even though that was a brief moment in the episode as a whole, it was an important one. The same sort of thing happened again later, when Navarro reprimanded Kate for her behavior but also acknowledged her great work (and of course noted that she was doing this all to make up for her traitorous husband), as well as near the end of the episode, when he listened to Kate's advice about Margot's trap. The more the show lets characters trust or value one another, even if they're doing so begrudgingly, the better.
Somehow, this episode also featured two different characters admitting they were wrong—and before the world was fully burning, to boot. I mean, no one on this show ever fully admits they were wrong or acting selfishly. I really enjoying what Live Another Day is doing with Mark, a character we all expected to be awful, duplicitous, and just an obstacle for Jack and Audrey. While he's still all those things in a number of ways, this was the third or fourth episode in a row that went out of its way to rationalize Mark's behavior without being especially sympathetic to that behavior. He did conceal some of the information about the Al-Harazi assassination attempt from President Heller, but as he said, that's his job, especially considering that major policy was on the table. And while he bungled some of the operation with Jack in London because of very selfish—but logical—reasons, he 'fessed up to it. Meanwhile, Cross set aside his issues with the government for a second to apologize to Chloe for screwing Jack over in Episode 4. Cross isn't as fully formed a character as Mark, but this hour did a solid job of illustrating that he doesn't want to get wrapped up in this mess because of what the government did to Chloe. That's not the worst reason, right?
Anyway, I know I'm keying on some pretty minor elements in what was ultimately a moderately eventful episode, but these minor elements tell us that if 24's writing staff learned anything from the show's last few seasons and four-year break, it's that they have to make the supporting characters better if they want the whole enterprise to work. It can't be all Jack, all the time, and we have to both understand and care about all the machinations that eventually result in worldwide meltdowns that require Jack's superhuman abilities. For the first time since Season 5, I don't want to immediately skip through the non-Jack stuff on 24; that's a very good thing. Plus, the improved character work makes it easier to forgive Live Another Day when some of the sillier stuff happens. For example, we all knew that Margot's video was intended to draw the CIA (or whomever) into a trap; it was supremely dumb that Navarro and company loaded up and entered the building without some additional thought. But those things have to happen on 24, particularly when they lead to a big, deadly explosion near the end of an episode.
And don't worry, I haven't forgotten Jack! This was a quiet but meaningful episode for Mr. Bauer as he shared reunions with the Hellers, and both went pretty much as we expected they would. President Heller wasn't too fond of Jack's plan to go back out into the field to meet up with a mysterious and dangerous man who could lead them to Margot, which makes him approximately the 900th person to incorrectly shoot down a Jack Bauer Plan™ that Jack will likely carry out anyway. However, the biggie here was the Jack-Audrey scene, a moving encounter that featured a lot of breathless, nose-to-nose talking. That moment was about a decade in the making for those two characters, and depending on your investment in Jack and Audrey's relationship, probably worth the wait. Kiefer Sutherland and Kim Raver share an interesting but good chemistry, and even though I'm not entirely concerned with Jack and Audrey the OTP of 24, it's always nice to have characters who keep Jack tethered to his humanity.
Live Another Day is bound to get nuttier as the clock ticks toward a conclusion. However, if 24 continues to turn in episodes like this one for a few more weeks, the nutty stuff is going to be much more satisfying.
– Goodbye Naveed, our sweet, conflicted prince. Never underestimate a sociopathic terrorist's ability to convince her young daughter that it's a good idea to execute said daughter's husband by shooting him in the face.
– The aforementioned explosion at the fake safe house looked... okay. Scenes with drones flying in the sky and dropping missiles are never going to look good on TV budget, but the mix of CGI and practical effects in the explosion was also a bit rough. Speaking of that, who do we think made it out alive? I think I saw Erik moving around, but I could be wrong. Is Navarro a goner?
– Jack really hammered home that the mysterious dude he wants to work with is super dangerous. What are the chances that this person is someone we already know? Is it Tony?
– Our DAMMIT TRACKER and KILL TRACKER have stalled out. I don't want to say we need more murder on this show, but would it, uh, kill Jack to give us the one word that we want? I choose to believe that this is all part of Live Another Day's strategy of early restraint. It's the only thing that keeps me from weeping over the lack of DAMMITs. DAMMIT.
– If you haven't yet, please check out edshrinker's episode-by-episode .GIF parties for Live Another Day. They're fun.
What'd you think of Episode 5? How'd you feel about Jack and Audrey's reunion?
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24