The tick of the clock is as irresistible as ever
It’s safe to say that almost every artistic creation is a product of its time, in some way or another. 24, which debuted at the turn of the millennium back in 2001, is no different in this sense and is representative of the more overt side of this spectrum, embodying both the then standard order of twenty plus episodes per season and a recently emerged new age of terror threats (the pilot aired a mere two months after the September 11th attacks and had to undergo minor edits as a result of the tragedy).
Of course there’s no way creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran could have known terrorist threat prevention would become the next global hot button topic (certain conspiracy theorists would disagree no doubt) and so through sheer luck they managed to tap directly into a precise contemporary vein. Thirteen years since then and four years since the original series wrapped, a surprise revival has occurred in an attempt to, at the very least, give Jack Bauer one last hurrah (the long-planned film adaptation was supposed to do that but negotiations repeatedly fell through) or perhaps rebuild the groundwork for a future seasons.
Live Another Day rejoins Jack several years on from where he left off in the Season 8 finale, on the run from both his own country and the Russian government, having been branded a terrorist after nearly assassinating the Russian President in a glorious revenge fuelled killing spree. It was one of the most memorable run of episodes in the entire series and served to show how understandably broken a man Jack has become as a result of the personal sacrifices he has endured in the name of the greater good.
There are two big changes to the formula that set up Live Another Day up with the potential to freshen up an aged format; the second non US setting in the form of London (the first was the fictional African country of Sengala in the bridging special Redemption) and more significantly, the reduction from twenty-four episodes to twelve. The former shake up (like the switch from L.A. to Washington DC and New York in previous years) is ultimately a mostly cosmetic one which might not seem like a particularly big deal but does it help to give the season a unique flavour of its own, especially in the face of plot re-threads, of which there are several.
The decision to go with twelve episodes is definitely the biggest the fundamental shift in the rigid 24 format the series has used since its inception and a bit of a controversial one in many regards. The real-time format that has always been crucial in creating the show’s nail biting tension and suspense and remains in place here, with a time jump happening towards the end of the season in order to hit the day mark. It’s a little disappointing this jump wasn’t used to give way to a more creative scenario and lift restrictions the writers have always had but it does at least give way to one of best scenes of the series. The 12 hour approach gives the writers a much easier task, in that there’s no unneeded filler.
The cast this time around is composed roughly of half old faces and half new ones. Apart from Jack, trusty tech sidekick Chloe O’Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub) also returns. Their relationship has been one of the few elements that has endured throughout the majority of the show’s lifespan and it thankfully gets some solid exploration here. Her difficulty in focusing on the task at hand gives way to a poignant conversation between the two in which her motivations for turning Snowden are revealed; they usually don’t share much screen time together in the same location and the same rings true throughout this season too but moments like these are used well and are quite affecting.
Also returning are father and daughter pair Secretary of Defence Heller (now President Heller) and Audrey Heller (now Audrey Boudreau). The last time either of these characters were seen was during the Season Six finale, neither of them on good terms with Jack; Audrey seemingly mentally scarred beyond repair and Heller unwilling to let Jack resume his relationship with her, blaming him for all the hardships that befell her. Both characters appear rejuvenated here and in compelling new roles although Heller’s creeping dementia, while believable given the character’s age, is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Teri’s awful amnesia way back in the first season. Thankfully though, the most obvious plot usage of this is completely avoided and is instead used as a sensible motivation for a sequence of events distinctly 24 in nature, in the best possible way.
Audrey’s presence is essential in peeling back Jack’s outer layers, now more inaccessible than ever, and their first confrontation in years is presented not as a romanticised reunion but rather something much more real and grounded in the awkwardness and uncertainty such a meeting would surely involve. There usually isn’t much time throughout a season of 24 to put the plot on ice and deal with the fallout on characters’ states of mind but arguably the sparseness of these scenes make them that much more effective and memorable. This moment between Jack and Audrey proves that the show hasn’t devolved into pure thrills and still has a beating heart at its core. Live Another Day ultimately gets the balance between the two gears just right.
Over the course of the series there have been several ‘Jack Juniors’, with the likes of Chase and Renee. Live Another Day continues this tradition with Kate Morgan, played splendidly by Yvonne Strahovski. Her performance thankfully erodes the memory of her awful character on last year’s abysmal final season of Dexter, proving that the writing there was more to blame than her acting ability. Truthfully there isn’t much to Morgan that hasn’t been done in past seasons but it’s borderline impossible not to get behind the one other character on the who believes in Jack and has comparable ass kicking skills. Even the near every episode reminder that she failed to notice her husband selling national secrets to the Chinese right under her nose (meaning that when this background information actually became plot relevant it’s hardly a surprise) isn’t enough to knock the character down a considerable notch. She’s definitely the highlight of the newcomers.
It does borrow from headlines quite a bit, with the reason for the meeting of the US and British government an attempt to garner more support for increased drone usage (and the terror threat itself stemming from the hijacking and ill-use of said drones) and like in the past, the exploration of political topics is heavy-handed and not particularly even. But anyone watching 24 for a nuanced discussion on such things has the wrong show and at this stage to expect anything different would be foolish.
What 24 has always excelled at is presented heavily pressured, time sensitive situations in which hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance and finding entertaining solutions inevitably involving Jack throwing caution to the wind and doing absolutely anything to reach the end goal. Thankfully, Live Another Day absolutely thrives here in a way that it hasn’t done so since perhaps the early seasons. This is in large part due to reduced episode count; there’s almost zero filler and the result is a pace that never lets up. The infamous midseason lull is nowhere to be found here and since the plot advances with a such forceful forward momentum, the occasional stumbles don’t really hurt because the next major plot point is right around the corner.
Whether there’s enjoyment to be had with Live Another Day is largely dependent on the level of fatigue individual fans might feel. Despite welcome changes to the formula, this is still the ‘Jack Bauer Power Hour’ flaws and all; Sutherland is still wonderful in the lead role, the real time concept is still stretched to its limits of believability on occasion, Sean Callery’s score is still an excellent to supplement to the drama, and viewers’ suspension of disbelief will still be tested every now and then. Even having said all that, the show is more sharply written and tightly paced than it has any right to be at nine seasons in and as a result of its great execution, Live Another Day is a sheer thrill from beginning to end and an excellent way to spend just a few more memorable hours with Jack.