Jacked – the End of 24?
CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ALL SEASONS
Damnit! Damnit! Damnit!
That’s the cry of a former CTU agent and 21st Century icon when he realises that the 6th season of his latest show is failing. And I mean falling to earth with a hideous bump. The whole show then explodes in a rain of nuclear fire and destruction. You get the idea. We’re two episodes away from the end, and it’s not looking too hopeful.
24 has always survived on the basis of its non-stop pacing, throwing a zillion plotlines out per episode, and twisting just as you thought you knew who the bad guys probably were. It kills off favourite characters without blinking, and plays with convention by avoiding political correctness (hello Muslim terrorists) and expectations (it’s not just Muslim Terrorists….). And in Season 5, the 24 crew managed to pull off a spectacular combination of intrigue and action. The balance was perfect. Jack Bauer was more than just another killing machine with a rapid healing ability (maybe he’s secretly a Hero?). He found a smart way to obtain justice for an assassinated former president, and righted all the wrongs of the gung-ho seasons 3 and 4. They also had a great ultimate villain, and a lot of well-paced action and emotion. Even better, the wonderfully grumpy genius that is IT geek pin-up, Chloé, really got to shine. There was nothing she couldn’t pull off to get Jack to win his one-man war against terror and unsavoury threats to American idealism.
Then Jack got taken to China after some ill-advised trespassing on their Embassy soil (and getting a staff member killed). It was for the good of the USA, naturally, but he was a marked man. At the start of Season 5, he was still legally dead thanks to some CTU espionage. Then everyone he knew (and we cared about) was blown up, and he returned to life – and to the attention of the vengeful Chinese government. Just as it all seemed to be going so well, they grabbed him at the end of the series and hauled him off for interrogation. In China.
I couldn’t wait for season 6 to begin, as everyone wanted to know what had happened to Jack and how they would resolve this. Would it be set in China? Would Jack escape? How would they pull this off….? And so on. In retrospect, this expectation probably led to them rushing the plot of season 6, ruining the structure of what appeared so promising.
Jack returns to 24 a changed man. Well, he’s hairier…for a while
Season 6 opened with the stalwart Bill Buchanan, head of CTU, and Jack’s good side, Curtis Manning, meeting Chinese officials. Jack is being handed over – but for a high price. What this is, no one says, and no one is likely to say either. Unless there’s a massive revelation in the next two hours, this will probably remain yet another question.
Jack is released to the USA, but at a cost. They want him to go to the latest terrorist threat, a Muslim group, so that they can kill him. The reason the US have negotiated with terrorists is because these particular terrorists have their mitts on a job-lot of nuclear bombs. And Jack tortured a brother of the guy in charge. So it’s time for payback.
The next 18 episodes are a fun race against time, where the nukes have to be tracked down, people get tortured, Jack kills a close friend and recovers from all his torture and injuries in, you’ve guessed it, record time! He polishes off the main bad guy and retrieves everything just in time for a normal person’s bedtime. Lame twists allowing.
Well, it isn’t even a twist. It’s a tenuous plot strand, which the writers have used to plug the last six hours of the show. It doesn’t mesh and it stretches the disbelief to snapping point. As far as most viwerers are concerned the threat is over, Jack won, let’s go down the pub. Nope. Jack would rather go against everything he believes in, and risk national security to retrieve a woman he loves (despite not spending more than 8 months with her in the last 3 seasons). He gave luckless Tony Almeida a bolloxing for doing exactly this, so audience sympathy has suddenly bottomed-out into ‘Jack you total moron’ or the more succinct ‘whaddya doin’?’ It’s shoddy.
Throw in some guff about Jack’s evil father and his equally evil brother’s (yeah right) son being at the centre of a plot to invade the ‘heavily secured’ CTU and, oh my god. They blew it. They even admitted as much. And it’s such a pity. It’s not like we can even blame watching it live – going through it all again on DVD in 5 hour chunks will not improve the pacing this time. 24 was the Pringles of TV – you can never eat less than a handful at once and then you’re quite surprised when the tube is empty. In this case, some git’s forgotten to add the flavour, and you’re grudgingly eating a tasteless mess in the hope that one of them will taste all right.
Tenuous synonyms aside, this season is not good. The writers need a break – and the show needs to breathe. Give everyone a REAL 18month break this time, and see how the ideas start to re-emerge. Oh, and hand Kiefer Sutherland’s agent a movie script that doesn’t involve him being either a cowboy or an FBI agent. Seriously.
Two episodes to go in the UK and I hope it improves or takes a break. Heroes now poops on 24. What a no-brainer.