Hold the phone. Stop the presses. Cancel absolutely everything. The unthinkable has happened. After weeks of unrelenting prayer, wishing on every star that was even remotely visible in the night sky, someone, somewhere has sat up, took note and granted an entire nation of television viewers their utmost desire. Yes, that's right boys and girls, Nurse Jackie has been renewed. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Another year of nondescript, bog-standard hospital drama is on the horizon! We're positively wet with anticipation and... oh, who am I kidding? I can't keep this charade up any longer. The real reason we're bouncing off the walls like a four year old on Ritalin is that the big-wigs over at FOX have finally come to their senses, seen past the six figure sums that they're regularly raking in, and decided to put 24 out of its misery. For good. Period. Yes folks, you got it, this time it really is over. Except for the possibility of a movie like, a year or so down the line, but let's not dwell on that right now. Fact remains, we got what we wanted (or at least, around 70% of the show's remaining viewers did, at any rate). Watching this once extraordinary and pioneering programme fall so inelegantly from grace has been a frustrating and depressing experience, and so to know that we only have a further eleven lazily written and dramatically redundant hours to go before the curtain is well and truly closed is something of a relief.
It's certainly no surprise to find that '5am - 6am' continues to take a long, protracted slide down the inexorable downward spiral that 24 has embarked upon since the beginning of the year. Following last week's truly abominable howler of a cliffhanger, in which the writing staff effectively lobotomised the show by turning DanaJenny into another in a long line of utterly pointless CTU moles, this episode makes a half-hearted attempt to create something logical and believable out of it... and unsurprisingly, fails miserably. Since the notion that she has actually been in league with the terrorists since hour one is so fraught with plot holes and inconsistencies that there really is no way to salvage it, the writers choose to avoid addressing the problem in any direct way, and instead merely insert a throwaway line of dialogue in which Sackhoff mutters something about 'preserving her cover'. Presumably, this is meant to imply that DanaJenny is more than simply Samir's pawn and that she's been loaned out, or something, by whomever is her boss. And perhaps if this wasn't exactly the same story that Nina Myers was granted all those years ago, it may have been remotely passable. As it is, it's just tiresome, lacking any semblance of originality whatsoever. Things only get worse when we see Duplicitous Dana in action, telephoning Samir in the middle of the main CTU operations room, making barely-hushed comments under her breath that pretty much reveal her activities, darting her eyes every which way but loose and looking horrendously suspicious in the process. Honestly, this is supposed to be covert? Really? Are they trying to imply that she's useless at her job? Or is this simply another example of incredibly poor execution? Given that she actually gets away with talking to her partner in crime in the hallways as people walk by and no one even bats an eyelid, my money's certainly on the latter. The thirty second blackout is even worse: would an undercover operative really initiate a shut down just as the good guys are about to close in on their targets and then magically boot everything up just when they were clear? Would it not strike said operative that such a manoeuvre may, you know, seem a little suspect? Rather too convenient? And why is it so difficult for the writing staff to come up with something that doesn't insult the intelligence of every single individual watching their sorry excuse for a show? God!
As if in response to this mediocrity, Katie Sackhoff well and truly hams it up here too, delivering every line in supposedly sinister and hushed undertones that serve only to signpost her duplicity. Seriously, the way she's going on, there might as well be a neon sign above her head that reads 'I'M DODGY, ME!' Sorry to have to break this to you Kate, but playing a bad guy does not automatically give you license to overact, to break out the thespian in you and start cackling like a mad (wo)man. Someone really should tell that to Mykelti Williamson too, whose portrayal of Hunchback Hastings continues to be about as believable as George Bush's reasons for going to war with Iraq, and quite possibly reaches its ultimate nadir halfway through this episode when he is forced to deliver one of the most horrible lines of dialogue in the history of scripted drama. It's almost tempting to feel sorry for the poor bloke when he struggles and falters over "Madame President, I'm sorry to have to tell you... I can no longer guarantee the safety of Manhattan." Seriously, guys? Is this the best you can come up with? Since when was anyone able to 'guarantee' the safety of an entire city, anyway? Ack! Given that this is truly abysmal in itself, the scene becomes utterly, utterly cringe worthy since it would take an actor of, say, Kiefer Sutherland's calibre to make anything even remotely decent out of such a line. Williamson just cannot cut it, and as a result, the viewer is left face palming in embarrassment.
Unfortunately, the crappiness doesn't end here. Oh no. There's plenty more where that came from, as the writing staff see fit to bring President Taylor and her entourage back into play and in so doing, regurgitate yet another over-used and frustratingly redundant plot line from years past. Not content with having Rob Weiss get all worked up for no good reason at all as Hastings gives everyone a status update (does he really need to voice every possible counter-argument at all times?), Katz and Gansa proceed to siphon a highly complex political debate into a few one-dimensional character husks, the most notable of which is the annoying d**khead from Fringe's first season, seen here playing a military general. Now, admittedly, the scene in which the cabinet is gathered and Taylor makes her grandiose speech is actually quite enjoyable in parts. There is a welcome smattering of verisimilitude to amplify believability and Cherry Jones does a relatively impressive job with what she's given... until the dialogue turns hyperbolic, the music builds to a dodgy crescendo and we get whacked over the head with a highly unsavoury bout of nationalism. Still, we can look past that; hell, we can almost forgive the fact that Rob and Ethan manage to assemble everyone in ten short minutes, and that Samir manages to speak directly to the President, just like virtually every other villain in 24 history. What is unforgivable, however, is the story that plays out in the aftermath of this sequence. The coup launched by the General and Weiss is the same story we have seen season after season after season, as some trumped up right winger disagrees with the stance that the Commander-in-Chief takes and takes it upon his or herself to work behind his or her back to rectify 'the problem'. It happened last year with Olivia, in season six with the officials in Wayne Palmer's cabinet, and it dates all the way back to David Palmer's stint in office when Mike tried to get Alan Dale to oust his beloved friend. Internal plotting against the President is old hat; it's as dated as the presence of a mole in CTU and frankly, it cripples the viewer's investment in the show.
And as this narrative progresses, perhaps inevitably, things only worsen. First, there's the fact that Weiss and the General manage to enter Ethan's office without arousing even the slightest hint of suspicion, despite the fact that there are many people milling around outside, and that they actually go out of their way to shut the blinds. To be fair, this is something of a nitpick and could arguably be forgiven if it weren't for the atrocity that ensues in its wake. When Ethan barges in on their duplicitous plot, Katz and Gansa take perhaps the most ludicrously transparent route imaginable in creating a stall for time and have him suffer a heart attack at the most crucial moment in the entire exchange. Fine, we established in an earlier episode that he is suffering from significant health problems, but come on! Now? Really? This is wholly gratuitous tension, grafted on for its own sake, and as a result, the viewer is set apart from it, laughing at the absurd lengths to which the 24 writers will go in an attempt to stretch out their relatively wafer-thin plot. The idea that the General would propose leaving him in his current state until Hassan is cornered is also preposterous and just reinforces the utterly useless and one-dimensional nature of his character. So far so good, then... but of course, we must not forget about Jack's inclusion in all of this. Yes, Katz and Gansa unleash the most transparent plot device in the history of transparent plot devices this week by having President Taylor personally request that Bauer be taken out of the main action (you know, where he's most useful) and escort Hassan and his family to safety for no good reason whatsoever. Well, other than to manoeuvre the plot so that our central protagonist plays a main role in what ultimately becomes the focal point of the episode. Yup, way to telegraph your entire story there, guys. It is immediately obvious that something significant is going to happen to Hassan as a result, and as soon as the cabinet conference occurs, the viewer is able to accurately predict pretty much everything that happens in the remainder of the hour. Absolutely brilliant, eh? Sigh.
Thankfully for both the credulity of the writing staff and the sanity of everyone watching, things do improve somewhat towards hour's end, as Jack, Renee and the Hassan family get down to business and engage in a superbly choreographed and visually orchestrated gun battle that really amplifies the dramatic tension and conveys a genuine sense of unease and peril. Once again, Milan Cheylov directs the sequence superbly, this time making excellent use of distortion and unusual camera angles to keep the viewer on edge. Unfortunately, the whole thing is tainted somewhat by the manner in which we arrive at this point. Not only is the transparency of the writers' plot manoeuvring a crippling factor, but we also have to endure several patently absurd logic leaps that are evidently supposed to highlight just how wonderful, amazing and all-round superhuman Jack Bauer is (emphasised earlier, actually, when he absurdly brushes off the sound medical advice he's given after being shot in the chest by a sniper rifle) but instead, just prove categorically ridiculous. Remarkably, Jack manages to finger out that 'something's not right' within two seconds of calling the Air Force Base in an attempt to find Kanin. Really, that's the length of time he gives the Presidential staff to find one man in what one imagines must be a rather large building. WTF? And for all the phone call between Bauer and Weiss is actually quite realistic, making good use of a clumsy connection and an almost-expletive, the idea that Jack would be able to deduce what is actually going on from this is just preposterous. Weiss has clearly been established in earlier episodes as a difficult man with a short temper, and the fact that Kanin called him and then isn't answering could mean any number of things. Sure, it doesn't in reality, but would it really hurt to have Bauer be wrong for once? To have him foxed by the bad guys? If anything, it would be an unexpected plot development that would, at the very least, prove moderately entertaining for a few moments. It's little things like this that could so very easily fix the fundamental flaws of the show, and it's frustrating to think that the writing staff simply are not capable of delivering them.
So, another week goes by and another lacklustre episode of 24 is forced down our throats, packing virtually no punches at all and serving only to remind us of how far removed the programme is from its heyday. '5am - 6am' features virtually nothing we haven't seen in the show before, and to make matters worse, the regurgitations are cheap knock-offs of former glories. We're sick of moles in CTU; we've had enough of unnecessary and unsuccessful White House coups against the President; and we're done with Bauer being a superhuman adrenaline machine who can survive being snipered and infer the true status of events from only the most minuscule of data. Yes, there's a few good action sequences in here and sure, Annie Werschung continues to out-act everyone as Renee Walker, but frankly, it just isn't enough. 24 is dying a slow and very painful death right before our eyes... but at least we've only got eight more weeks to endure it.