For a big returning show, 24: Live Another Day has been relatively restrained in its deployment of familiar faces. Now to be fair, the 24 universe isn't necessarily chock-full of surviving interesting or beloved characters, but the "core four" of Jack, Chloe, and the Hellers was certainly enough to keep long-time fans tethered to the past. While we could debate whether or not some of the new characters in Live Another Day have been that great, the show deserves some credit for making a real effort to develop Kate, Navarro, Cross, Mark, and the Al-Harazis. Even references to the past have been kept mostly to a minimum throughout the majority of this 12-hour season.
Of course, when you keep that kind of stuff to a minimum, it makes it all the more effective when you decide to whip it out in cool moments. That happened in "8:00 PM-9:00PM" with the sizable reveal that Cross' secret partner/connection in China is Cheng Zhi, one of the show's most notable and deplorable villains. In retrospect, as soon as the show mentioned the word "China" all the way back in the premiere, I should have been thinking about Cheng's probable involvement. But again, Live Another Day made great use of the shiny new villains in its arsenal, distracting us (or at least me) with Margot, Cross, Navarro, and even the Russians so I wouldn't consider how it'd circle back to the Chinese element in the story.
Zhi's sneaky return worked very well as a pure surprise, but within the context of the episode, it was even better. Earlier portions of the episode went to moderate lengths to illustrate that Cross wasn't necessarily an out-and-out monster, but someone with a real—and on some level, honorable in theory—cause that took that cause too far, endangering the lives of billions of people in hopes of proving a point about the military industrial complex, governmental power, and secrecy. For a moment, you could at least buy why Chloe might go along with Cross' nefarious plans, even if it meant actively working against Jack; and when she tried to run, that made sense too, because it's Chloe and she's awesome. But once Cheng and his cronies blew through that door, put two bullets through Cross, forced Chloe to reconfigure the device, and sent a false directive to a U.S. submarine to attack one belonging to the Chinese, moral grey areas were gone. Live Another Day upgraded from the odd pseudo-honorability of Margot and Cross to FULL-ON VILLAINY of one of the show's most monstrous figures. The stakes were properly raised, all hell broke loose, etc.
Cheng's reemergence came with that noted double-cross of Cross (ah, how ironic, right?), who himself had screwed over Navarro earlier in the episode. As one of the nation's greatest poets Stone Cold Steve Austin once said, "D.T.A.: Don't Trust Anybody." 24's real-time structure often means that we the audience get to see the scheming and plotting before the recipient of said actions does, which can limit the impact once they finally come down. Here however, the screw jobs appeared in the moment, without our prior knowledge and thus they had a little more shock value. For a show that's pulled out any number of hilarious tricks over the years, the last few weeks have really been able to sneak some wild or surprising things into the story. That's admirable.
With Cheng back in the picture, Live Another Day has so many different directions it could go in the last two hours. The sub-on-sub attack means that the show has the big WORLD WAR IS COMING tapestry to play with, even if it doesn't have the budget to really display anything of scale in that regard. But the attack did at least signal that the override device does in fact have power; now, there's even more reason for Jack to shut Cheng down, probably once and for all. And that's the other thing, right? There's so much history between not only Jack and Cheng but the Hellers and Cheng that this is really the perfect villain for 24 to trot out again. Now, he's pulled Chloe into his web of terror, forcing her to be culpable in an act that could jumpstart a global war that even Jack couldn't stop.* While the first villain of the season, Margot, had a real personal feud with President Heller, that pales in comparison to the bad blood we're dealing with now.
Jack finished this hour trapped in a firefight with the Russians, who were of course notified of his location by a frustrated, terrified Mark (and who again continues to be just scummy enough without falling into lame, stereotypical territory). Suddenly, Jack now has to deal with his two biggest ghosts, Cheng and the Russians, meaning Live Another Day turned into more of a real sequel to the last 3-4 years of the initial eight-year 24 run than originally thought. The good news is that this is a summer sequel that we all want to see.
COMM & CLASSIFIED FILES
– THANK GOODNESS you guys, I thought we were going to get out of the season without a big torture sequence where a criminal pleads for a signed immunity deal from the president while Jack decides to break some bones instead. That whole series of scenes with Jack chasing down Navarro and both Jack and Kate taking their runs at him in the CIA HQ was really good. Kate was sidelined a bit in the middle of the season, but Yvonne Strahovski worked in a good performance tonight as her character started to lose it once she learned of Steve's involvement in her husband's arrest. The last of those scenes, with Kate pointing a gun at Steve and ready to pull the trigger as Jack stormed in trying to control the situation, was especially strong. And again, Navarro was weirdly cooperative, without the deal. He even put a tracking device on the override, somehow. (I'd love to know when/how he did that, but OK show.) Yet another villain with some shading.
– Was anyone else jolted back to 2003 when Jack yelled about the WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION with such verve?
– Erik is now in charge with Navarro in custody. He was immediately bullied by Jack, so he's the most recent in a long line of agency middle management who can't be contained by the Bauer Power, and rightfully so.
– DAMMIT TRACKER: One dammit this week! KILL TRACKER: Jack definitely popped one of the Russians after the car accident, and could have killed another. He's killed like, what, 9-10 people thus far? So under control this (half) day.
– Speaking of, I guess we're really never going to take advantage of the shorter episode order to jump around in time, huh? There's probably going to be a jump ahead for the final hour, but that was a weird thing to chatter about before the season began if they weren't going to do it.
What'd you think of this episode's big return? And how will Jack stop Cheng's latest plan?
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24