So who's ready for one more entry in a series of incredibly bad days?
It's the eight season of 24, and it's safe to make certain assumptions right out of the gate. We'll have our earnest (and a little naive) political figures, including one saint-like leader of a troubled country who's pushing for friendly relations with the US, invariably making him a target for terrorists and opportunists looking to make some cash off the terrorists. CTU is back open for business, which means we've got a bull-headed bureaucrat in charge who, while probably not actively evil, will still manage to slow down the progress of the Good and the Righteous. (ie, Jack and anyone who agrees with him.) CTU also means a nerdy, arrogant male tech; a square-jawed proto-Jack who has a lot of skill but hasn't yet found the steel for getting the job done at any cost; and a high-level employee with a past and/or family relations outside of CTU that will, for reasons that never entirely make sense, choose today to start making problems. Plus, there's Chloe.
And, at heart of it all, the man himself, Jack "WHERE IS MARWAN?" Bauer. For once, he gets to start from a position of relative happiness; there's no girlfriend/wife for him to alienate or lose while he's saving the world, but he is back on friendly terms with Kim, her husband, and, most adorably, a granddaughter. Kim and family are moving back to LA, and Jack makes the decision at the beginning of the episode to move back with them. (It's refreshing to see everyone so happy for once.) He promises to meet them at the airport, but as we all know, unless pain is involved, promises from Jack are well-intentioned but meaningless. And wouldn't you know it, here comes a former informant, bleeding from a bullet wound, desperate to cut a deal to save his own skin.
The informant has information about a planned hit on President Omar Hassan, who's currently hanging out at the UN making nice with President Taylor, who we last saw sending her daughter to jail for murder. Hassan is played by Anil Kapoor, who also played the game show host on Slumdog Millionaire. Kapoor was terrific in Millionaire, all oily charm and cunning, but on 24, he's just another in a long line of beleaguered public officials with shrewish wives and irritating siblings. Kapoor isn't the only familiar face in Day 8. The new head of CTU, Brian Hastings, is Mykelti Williamson, aka, among other things, "Bubba" from Forrest Gump. The square-jawed proto-Jack is Freddie Prinze, Jr, aka Mr. Sarah Michelle Gellar. And the CTU employee with a past she'd like to stay past, Dana Walsh, is none other than Starbuck herself, Katee Sackhoff.
These are all actors who've done interesting or distinctive work elsewhere (okay, maybe not Prinze), but 24 is a show that doesn't lend itself to distinctive performances outside the work of its leading man. It's not that Kapoor, Williamson, et al don't fulfill their function here—it's just that their function doesn't allow much in the way of personality or warmth. Everyone goes through their paces with a grim, single-minded intensity, until the inevitable curve ball is thrown and they falter and Jack is left to pick up the pieces. Which can make for some satisfying action (Jack kicks a fair bit of ass these first two hours), but also leaves us with a group of disposable archetypes that never expand the show's universe in any meaningful way. "4:00pm to 6:00pm" sets the hooks in as expected, but that's all it does, and since we've seen all these set-ups before, it's more than a little hollow here. Sackhoff's work on Battlestar Galactica was a highlight of a show stuffed full of great performances; here, she's another ghost in the machine, her sincerity rendered down into an echo of all the beats that have passed before it.
But still—there's Chloe. She's floundering in the new CTU, but her relationship with Jack remains one of 24's best assets, because it's got a history behind it, and because, at heart, it's about two people damned to be at their best in the worst possible situations. Chloe's the more obviously strange of the two, but deep down, they're both kind of messed up, and knowing that gives the show just a little bit of heart. There's the usual idiocy here about not trusting Jack's instincts, and Chloe having to work behind the boss's back, and so forth. Call it the Ghostbusters II Contrivance; in a perfect world, the writers would embrace the new challenges of a continuity consistent, developing fictional environment, but since we don't have a perfect world, if we want to keep watching the show, we've got to put up with the resets. Not everybody forgets Jack's track record, but there are always enough who do to make life difficult.
So, how does this play out as a beginning? Predictably. The personal conflicts are as contrived as ever, the tech is shiny—apparently CTU got a huge budget upgrade when they re-opened—and Jack's first "I'M YELLING TO SHOW YOU I'M SERIOUS AND ALSO THERE'S A GUN" moment happens roughly twenty minutes in. There's a massive plot unfolding that will most likely not make any sense at all by the end. There will be betrayal, false accusations, and some light torture. So far, at least, no one has an axe to grind about politics, which is all to the good. Let the bodies hit the floor, and fingers crossed that Katee doesn't wash out too soon.
- Doug Hutchison is one of the major baddies here. He'll always be Tooms to me.
- As always, Sutherland delivers the goods—dig the look on his face when he realizes he's going to have to go back to CTU.
- Not a lot of urgency tonight. Things pick up on Monday, but that's a crucial problem that last season never really managed to resolve: how do we make this matter?