Nine seasons in, we've seen every trick in 24's book. There's a lot about the show's formula that feels tired in 2014, even after taking a few years off, and I've certainly spent some time during my reviews of Live Another Day voicing my frustration with the sloppy plot devices or cold use of violence. But an episode like this one was a really great reminder of how 24's management of its real-time premise and concurrent storytelling can build tension to expected, yet still surprising outcomes. "6:00 PM-7:00 PM" might not have been the absolute best episode of Live Another Day to this point, but it definitely made the best use of the show's internal structure as President Heller's showdown with Margot Al-Harazi reached its, well, explosive, conclusion.
Last week, with most of my attention lasered in on Live Another Day's use of drone attacks, I didn't devote much ink to President Heller's decision to surrender himself to Margot in hopes of putting an end to her reign of terror. At the time, the idea that Heller would just give up rang a little hollow to me, because it was so naive and misguided in the way that all bad 24 politicians or leaders have been over the years. Why, I thought to myself, would Margot actually believe Heller or actually stop her attacks once Heller was dead? It all played a little silly, despite William Devane's typical combination of gravitas and pathos.
And while the whole thing is still silly, "6:00 PM-7:00 PM" successfully convinced me that Heller's ruling mattered in the larger context of the narrative and even more surprisingly, created a weirdly compelling moral dilemma for Margot that I never saw coming. Heller immediately presented his "plan" to Jack—resign from office, sacrifice himself to Margot as a personal choice and not an act of state, and pray for the best—and from there, the episode not only ran through the logistical nightmares of sneaking the sitting president out of his secure location so he could go get drone'd, but also the emotional consequences that ensued. Of course, Jack pretty quickly got on his high horse about the morality of letting Margot "win," as it were, what it would do to the country, to Audrey, etc., but Heller had an answer at every turn. His primary response? There are no other options, and Jack would consider the same action. Truth bombs!
One of the negative byproducts of 24's bumpy final few seasons and subsequent cancellation-turned-hiatus was that the Jack and Heller's relationship more or less disappeared from the picture, but this episode hustled to resurrect some of that stuff, primarily through a couple of nice performances from Devane and Kiefer. There was a good number of close-ups on both men's faces as the episode tried to highlight both the sadness and the acknowledgement that this had to be done, and of course Devane got that really great moment where he roared at Jack about what this surrender could prevent—primarily the deaths of thousands of more people in possible future drone attacks. 24 loves locking a couple of actors in a small room while they argue about WHAT'S RIGHT, but it only works when the actors are up to it; in this case, they were.
Meanwhile, Live Another Day finally found something for Kim Raver to do, and she made her scenes with both Devane and Tate Donovan's Mark some of the best stuff we've seen all season. The final Heller family conversation, about a beach trip so many years ago, was warm without being cheesy, and Audrey's outburst to Mark once she discovered the truth about her father's whereabouts and course of action traveled the right tonal trajectory from outrage to sadness to recognition. After having to stand around and do next to nothing for seven hours, it was nice to see Raver get to unload a bit—and rightfully so, given the context. (Donovan's performance was also good, as the actor continued to make sure that Mark looked mostly like a conflicted-but-well-meaning sorta-jerk, rather than an out-and-out villain.) Together, all of those scenes in the embassy took some weight off President Heller's choice by giving him time with the people who are closest to him (Jack, Audrey, and Mark). The decision itself was, of course, nuts. But when 24 is good like it was in this episode, the show convinces you that nutty decisions make sense, for the story and for the characters.
This episode also soared to real heights because of its ability to draw out President Heller's showdown with Margot (well, with Margot's drone) just long enough for Kate and Chloe to try to find another way to take Margot down. Again, we've seen 24 create these either/or scenarios a number of times over the years, and the less said about Jack imploring Kate to "WAKE UP THE BITCH" in reference to Simone, the better. Nevertheless, those pretty standardized scenes of Jack calling Chloe looking for information because THEY'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME work a lot better when the "situation" they're running out of time on is the eventual death of a long-running and important character. Thus, Jack's check-ins with Chloe and Kate were nice reminders of the gravity of the situation, further underscoring that Heller's insane concession was, truly, the last resort. This was a strong example of what the proverbial ticking-clock-style storytelling can do for 24; the stakes were already high, but the extra juice of Jack scrambling to find Heller a way out while Heller shrugged it all off, knowing what he had to do, made for good TV.
And then by the end of the hour, this episode hit another, almost weird, gear when Margot appeared legitimately shaken by Heller's willingness to cooperate. It was almost as if Margot had seen the first eight seasons of 24 and just assumed that the president's agreeable disposition was all another ploy to take her down—so when it wasn't, she was faced with exactly what she wanted all along, only it seemed to scare her. There were a few things going on in that sequence, I think. For one, Margot had spent so much time crusading against Heller and what he stood for that actually "winning," if you will, was probably overwhelming.
But there was also that moment where it seemed like Margot was rattled by having to execute Heller, straight-up, with the drone. I'd like to believe that the moment was a bit of commentary on how impersonal and awful drones are, even though Margot ultimately made decided to blow Heller into the ground right in the center of Wembley Stadium. Nevertheless, Michelle Fairley and the writers did a nice job of pointing out that Margot might in fact want people to see that she's an honest, fair terrorist, if such a thing exists. Whether or not the show keeps that up in the final third of the season—Jack had to go after someone, after all—but it was a fine moment that tracked well with the odd respect between Heller and Margot.
Instead of relying on shock value to take out President Heller, "6:00 PM-7:00 PM" methodically built to his death, and Live Another Day is better for it. This was one of those hours that does good things with the show's structure without taking too much advantage of it, and it certainly sets the show up for what should be an interesting final four hours.
– Jack didn't kill anyone or say our favorite word this week, so our DAMMIT TRACKER and KILL TRACKER have stalled out once again. He did knock that one Secret Service agent out and drag him to the bathroom in approximately 2.3 seconds, though.
– Elsewhere on the show, Navarro's attempts to kill Jordan continued to go poorly. Jordan survived long enough to figure out that Navarro was the one who ordered his death, but the second skirmish between Jordan and the hitman left Jordan mortally wounded. I'm not sure if he's dead yet, but I'm also not sure it matters. Worst of all for Navarro, Kate started sniffing around Jordan's weird absence in the office. That's going to go very, very poorly for Navarro.
– No silent clock for Heller, which some people might be upset about. It's certainly not a signal that he survived, right? With Heller presumably dead and Jordan and Simone both pretty close to the other side themselves, the ranks are starting to thin.
– Fox promoted this episode as the 200th in 24's history, but that doesn't include Redemption. For whatever reason, the network seems really embarrassed by that one-off film, but not Seasons 6 and 8 of the show. That's odd.
What'd you think of this episode? Will you miss President Heller?
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24