I should probably disclaim the following from the off: I’m more than a 24 fan. I’m a 24 apologist.
To me, it is perfectly believable that a man who has his heart stopped can still be revived and have enough energy to single-handedly bring down a corporate conspiracy, take out multiple commandos with a sniper rifle, and snap a man’s neck with the only side effects being the occasional need to clutch his chest and say ‘ow’. Why? Because it’s damn good entertainment.
Jack Bauer is TV’s James Bond. It doesn’t matter how diabolical the plot he foils is; I’m just happy to be along for the ride. So I was overjoyed when the show’s producers gave up trying to fund this movie that is clearly never going to happen and brought us the mini-series 24: Live Another Day.
And with the series now out on Blu-ray and DVD, I find myself thinking back on this new adventure for my favourite shoot-first, shout-dammit-later TV hero and wondering whether I want more.
The fact that I’m wondering this at all is not a good sign. Every previous series (yes, even the meandering confusion of Day Six) has left me eagerly anticipating Bauer’s return. As much as I knew that the ambiguous open end of Day Eight was constructed solely to allow more series to be produced – and purely for commercial, not narrative reasons – I wanted more.
Live Another Day has – SPOILER ALERT – just as open an ending, but I can honestly say I’ll not lose sleep if the 24 clock never ticks again. Even an irrepressible fan such as I can recognise when things have run their course.
Given the hype that surrounded Live Another Day, I doubt this is the last we’ll see of Jack Bauer (it’s Kiefer Sutherland’s biggest earner – the man’s got to eat, after all) but have they even left themselves anywhere to go?
As it stands at the end of Day Nine, Jack Bauer – MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT – has been taken away by the Russians to pay for all the people he killed in Day Eight. Chloe O’Brian is free to find a new direction for her life, having learned that the last few years of anger towards the Government for the death of her husband and son were completely unjustified. President James Heller is suffering from the slow decline of Alzheimer’s. All other characters of note, that could have any importance on the series’ future storylines are dead.
24’s character kill count is both a triumph and a burden. From the heart-breaking death of Teri at the end of Day One – if you’re still reading, it’s safe to say spoiler alerts are redundant by this point – to Bill’s sacrifice in Day Seven, the writers have masterfully made us care about the deaths of these on-screen heroes.
But with such a body count now behind them, there’s no one left to kill. in fact, we’re now so accustomed to losing the ficitional people we love that the faked death of Heller and very real death of Audrey had no impact – which is criminal, given how well developed the storyline between her and Jack has been since she debuted in Day Four. Her declaration of hatred towards Bauer when he inadvertently causes the death of her ex-husband still upsets me on later viewings today, and yet her death did nothing.
Similarly, Jack’s rampage through the Chinese ship at the news of her death was nowhere near as dramatic as it should have been, because we’ve already seen him hell-bent on revenge in the final hours of Day Eight.
Herein lies 24’s biggest problem: it’s a victim of its own success. From the very first season, the show has broken new ground, changed the rules, presented plot twists and set pieces that had never been on TV before. The result is that there is very little it can do to shock us anymore. In breaking the formula for TV thrillers, it has formed its own and thus become formulaic.
Don’t get me wrong, the premise for this series was great: 12 episodes, spread across four hours. Jack’s on the run from the whole damn world for murdering half the Russian government in a murderous rage. Much missed characters James Heller and Audrey Boudreau (née Raines) are back. And it’s set in London. Many boxes ticked here, particularly for the most devoted of fans.
But there are so many missed opportunities. I thought the shorter format was to allow them to skip hours of travel that would have been boring to watch. Spend the first few hours in London, skip the hour or two it takes to get to Paris and have a few exciting episodes there. Europe is so closely connected that 24 could have delivered a thriller on a scale not seen before, but the cost of production and limits of what an on-location team can do means Live Another Day failed to live up to this potential. To call the ten-minute ’12 hours later’ epilogue disappointing would be an understatement.
Even the overall villain lacked something. The twist that Chang, the vengeful Chinese agent who harks back as far as Day Four, was the baddie would have been a great revelation… had he not been missing from the show for at least half a decade, and crammed into the last few episodes.
There was a lot 24: Live Another Day did right, and I’ll certainly be picking up the home entertainment release for later viewings, but I almost hope this is the last we see of Jack Bauer. Given all he has endured over Days One to Eight, the only satisfying ending would be one of two things: death, or retirement with Kim and his grandchild. The latter, sadly, is far too happy an ending for the show’s producers to even consider, and they have no way of making the former meaningful given that Jack has already died once, faked his death and been on his deathbed due to a biotoxin a few years later.
The only answer is to leave it, unless they can come up with the mother of all finales. Live Another Day was intended to give closure to fans, something it failed to do. I reckon they have one last chance, but they’d better be damn sure to make it a good one.