Years ago, back when I first got the assignment to write about 24, I marathoned several seasons with a friend to re-familiarize myself with the series. We came up with a—well, okay, it’s not much of a game, but it is a pretty good way to judge how a season is going. Whenever the show would do one of its familiar “four screen” shots, checking in on the timer and showing us small clips of a quartet of running storylines, we’d shout “No whammy! No whammy!”, hoping that if we shouted loud enough, the episode would cut to one of the good storylines. This was very silly of us (there had been drinking), but on a good season, the odds were in our favor, and most of the storylines were worth watching. On a bad season, unless the episode immediately cut to Jack Bauer, we were sunk.
Here in the second hour of 24: Legacy, we’ve already got at least two bummer stories; thankfully, they’re at least goofy as hell, which makes them less painful to get through. And hey, maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe there are people out there desperate to watch the increasingly murderous adventures of the sexy foreign exchange student and the idiot chemistry teacher. Maybe there are folks who consider the sudden betrayal of Ayesha to be the height of character drama. All I know is, my eyes have started rolling every time the show cuts to either of these plots, and I don’t imagine them improving any time soon.
Which leaves us with the mess at CTU, Senator Donovan’s political challenges, a chance to get to know the bad guys behind all of this, and Eric Carter’s desperate attempt to steal 2 million dollars from a police station. Out of everything, only that last bit manages to surprise in a positive way. It’s completely loopy, and if you stop and question each step, it’s hard to say whether or not this is a sound tactical decision or the work of a madman, but that’s a line the series has always been interested in. Jack Bauer was defined by his willingness to make extreme choices in extreme times, and clearly, Eric Carter is eager to follow in that tradition.
This is where the real-time gimmick shines, forcing characters to make split-second decisions with the fates of thousands (millions?) at stake, and while the manipulation is obvious, I often find myself applying the show’s own “ends justify means” logic to every new development. The question, then, isn’t if Carter’s plan makes sense; it’s if it makes enough sense for me to be able to enjoy the madness. And this one more or less works. He knows Ben wants 2 million for the flash drive, and that there’s no way in hell Rebecca could get him the money in time. His brother can’t help him, but Isaac does happen to mention that the cops recently pulled in 4 million dollars in illegal drug money. Which just happens to be sitting in an evidence locker near enough to Carter that, hey, why the hell not, right?
Some shows make an effort to hide plot machinations behind character or theme. 24 doesn’t really bother; Isaac name-dropping the drug bust in the middle of his conversation with his brother is supposed to be casual, but it’s so badly manipulative of the writers that you can almost hear gears locking into place. Same as a moment late in the hour when Carter is at the police station. He’s got a bomb strapped to a cop (a jerk named Paul), and things are going fine until the chief of police steps out of his office and demands Paul do an interview with Internal Affairs about a recent excessive force charge. While this is consistent with the one character trait we’ve seen so far from Paul, there’s no real justification for the chief to demand Paul’s presence right now, apart from the crimp it puts in Carter’s plans. It’s a play for suspense with all the narrative subtlety of a cat thrown throw a window in a horror movie, and has roughly the same lasting impact. But it does show off Carter’s improvisation skills, which is something.
I said last night (so long ago!) that the big job for Corey Hawkins will be proving he can summon up the old Jack Bauer madness, and the police station assault is definitely a step in the right direction. The thrill of the show, when we aren’t getting bogged down in brutally simplistic ethical choices and intrigue, is seeing how far the writers can push their hero to make absurd choices that still kind of sort of maybe make sense. It’s nice to see that trend alive, especially with something like this—no one’s getting tortured, and it’s doubtful Carter is going to kill any cops on his way out the door, so for all his grim desperation, this is as close to a romp as 24 ever gets. (Actually, he could kill a cop by accident, because that’s the kind of show this is. No worries so far, though.)
Events at CTU are all pretty much boilerplate at this point. Rebecca sticks Keith into an interrogation room and explains the situation to him, convincing him to give up his override code which will magically let Andy figure out who the mole is; or, at least, where the mole accessed the database from. But it turns out you can’t keep the head of a security agency secretly locked up for more than an hour or two, and by the end of “1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.,” Keith is back out and putting Rebecca away, seconds after she’s learned that the leak came via her own password, from a computer at her husband’s campaign headquarters.
Said computer belongs to the center of Senator Donovan’s first major storyline: Nilaa Mizrani (Sheila Vand), owner of said computer and also John’s campaign manager. At the fundraiser that Rebecca dropped out of, John learns from his dad (Gerald McRaney!) that his opponent is going to air an ad lambasting Nilaa for attending a radicalized mosque. The ad is some horrible, hateful stuff, but even John (who, seeing as how he’s played by Jimmy Smits, is automatically someone we trust, at least until we learn otherwise) is concerned, refusing to believe the rumor until his dad and uncle show him photographic proof. Nilaa says she was horrified by the hate coming out of the mosque, and John believes her enough to keep her on the job, despite her protests, a decision that’s surely going to put him in an awkward position once Rebecca tells him about the info leak from Nilaa’s computer.
The intrigue is fine, if standard ethical dilemma, but the fact that yet another storyline is hinging on our fear of Muslims is unpleasant, especially given that Nilaa isn’t looking too innocent by the end. (I think there’s a good chance she’ll still be in the clear, since it would be way too easy for CTU to discover the mole this early in the game, but we’ll see.) We also meet the man who’s behind the group trying to find the flash drive with the sleeper cell list: Jadella bin-Khalid (Raphael Acloque), son of the dead Ibrahim and a college boy trying to live up to his father’s memory. His second in command wants to give up the drive as lost and execute an attack on a local mall, but Jadella refuses, presumably because there’s something deeper going on. Also, we’re introduced to Jadella praying, in case this whole thing wasn’t obvious enough.
The Islamophobia seems even more pronounced than usual, although that may just be that it’s easier to spot this stuff. It doesn’t help that the show’s on-going issues with women remain intact: Nicole doesn’t do much in this hour, but Ayesha, after overhearing Isaac talking about breaking up with her (dude), immediately starts sowing the seeds of his destruction; and of course Almira manages to seduce two men into a direction confrontation that winds up with one of them dead (bye, Drew!). Sure, Rebecca is still on the side of the angels (although she did let her husband down, and it’s still entirely possible that she’s the mole herself), but the series’ raw demand for story development makes nuance nearly impossible, and subtext, intentional or not, becomes text.
Given how many twists and turns a typical 24 day takes, I’m hoping the terrorist threat turns out to be a cover for something more interesting eventually, but that doesn’t make the hours leading up to the twist more pleasant to watch. Two episodes in, and the best thing the show has going for it so far is the pacing—everything’s moving fast, and a slow-moving 24 is a dead, dull day. Eric’s assault on the police station is the kind of set-piece that made the original series so memorable, and if Hawkins doesn’t have Sutherland’s madness, the increasingly grim intensity with which he approaches every decision could be its own reward. It’s a shame, then, that he’s surrounded by so much dead weight.
- On the plus side, the Almira storyline has every hallmark of a “this will burn out with shocking violence before the day is a quarter over” plot. The sooner the show drops this, the better; it plays like an afterschool special warning teens of the dangers of foreigners and sexiness.
- Boy, that chemistry teacher really didn’t like having his blowjob interrupted.
- Eric’s comment that it’d be easy for him to get arrested is a reminder that the show’s politics are never quite as simplistic as they seem. (Also, it was probably the closest thing to a good joke in the whole hour, so nice work all around, everyone.)
- Mariana Stiles is responsible for blowing Rebecca and Andy’s cover. I’m assuming she’ll team up with Rebecca eventually, if only because there’s no way Andy is our main tech guy for the rest of the day.
- The worst part of the bad guy terrorist threat is the way it plays into the most basic stereotypes, but even judged purely on aesthetics, they are also boring as hell. Please give us some more complicated villains soon.