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’24’ this season is a haphazard mess

Jack Bauer has seen better days. So has “24.”

This season of “24” started strongly, with a first half-dozen shows that were fairly gripping: all-too-realistic suicide bus bombings, America under siege and bordering on full-scale mayhem, talk of harsh crackdowns on specifically targeted segments of the population … and then that nuclear bomb went of in an L.A. suburb. The show had my attention.

But where can a counterterrorism series writer go after a nuke blows up? This season has gradually become a wandering mess in search of purpose and direction, with less-than-satisfying characterization and a plot arc that barely resembles an arc and seems more like a random smattering of events chasing around this season’s MacGuffin, the Remaining Suitcase Nukes. The writers are throwing a ton of material at us and hoping something sticks. Some of it has worked; a lot of it hasn’t.

All the “24” cliches are in play: The attempt to assassinate a president, torture scenes that always conveniently yield results, moles in the administration and/or CTU, significant supporting characters killed off in cavalier ways that aren’t “shocking” but merely tiresome. (What about Charles Logan, whose stabbing is played as the ultimate lame tease; we’re never told if he lived or died. It was a cheap payoff to a plot arc that was over barely after it began.)

President Wayne Palmer is taken out of commission (put in a coma) in an assassination attempt that is wrongly pinned on Alexander Siddig’s character, a major player suddenly and unceremoniously disposed of the second the plot no longer needs him. The vice president tries to take over the presidency (in a rehash of a second season plot), Wayne Palmer comes back into action after waking up from a coma … only to continue the nuclear strike that he wanted to stop the vice president from carrying out in the first place! Audrey Raines turns out to have been killed off-screen between seasons. (LAME!) I know “24” has always been plot-driven, but this season has jettisoned all character in the service of a plot that barely makes sense.

So, then, imagine my surprise that Monday’s episode — no less contrived — was a ton of fun, ending with unexpected twists that had me reinvested in this show. Palmer’s nuclear bluff was a calculated move that doesn’t torpedo all his previous characterization. And the ending featured more ass-kicking by Jack Bauer than the rest of this season combined. He takes out an entire terrorist mini-cell single-handedly, and kills Fayed in a brutal throw-down filled with rage and testosterone and bloody satisfaction. I was pumped up. Guilty pleasure? Absolutely. Fayed’s a bastard who deserves to die! Bauer kicks his ass good.

And then it turns out Audrey is still alive. How convenient that the Chinese call Bauer on his cell phone at such a conveniently dramatically perfect time!

But, dang it, I liked it. This move by the writers unexpectedly takes this season for a sharp left turn when I was expecting eight episodes before the nukes could be stopped.

Not to mention, the episode employs perhaps the funniest use of Jack Bauer’s “Dammit!” to date, uttered while he’s under a garbage truck, of all things.

Suitcase Nukes: It do what it do.

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1 comment on this post

24? Pfphfhph. If it’s monday night, do yourself a favor and watch Heroes. With Wire and Battlestar between seasons, Sopranos and Heroes are the best shows out there. During the first few weeks of Heroes, I didn’t tune in. I wasn’t interested. The first time I tuned in, I didn’t know wtf was going on. Then I watched it from the beginning, and it all made sense, and I’ve never stopped. So to revise my suggestion, if you’ve never seen Heroes before, catch up and watch.

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