24 8.7: "Day 8: 10PM - 11PM"

This season is becoming a study in contrasts. The season arc started a bit weak, mostly due to the inexplicable choice in subplots. While Jack’s plot thread has been predictably strong, with plenty of layers to keep the audience happy, the remaining plot threads have been oddly mediocre or just plain horrible. It’s good to see the writing staff planning things out ahead of time, as they did in the seventh season, but it doesn’t matter much if the plans aren’t particularly good.

Credit should be given to the evolution of the Jack/Renee storyline. Given the violent history between Vladimir and Renee, things were never going to end well. The extent of Renee’s outburst, however, was a wonder to behold. When a knife to the eye socket is just the beginning of retribution, that’s saying something. And Jack’s lucky that she didn’t aim a bit higher with that knife. That gut wound is nasty enough as it is. (Though it must be noted that Jack is still badass enough to pull a knife out of his gut and throw it into someone else’s throat with barely a hint of hesitation!)

On the other hand, it’s easy to see why Jack took the soft approach with Renee. Intentional or not, this is a good sign for Renee. Considering her established deathwish, she could have let Vladimir beat her to death. Instead, she unleashed hell on him. Deep down, Renee wants to live, and that’s something that Jack (and others) can use to help her find herself again. Of course, without Jack to mitigate Director Hastings’ inevitable overreaction to the evidence at hand, things are likely to get worse before they get better.

And that’s why this main plot thread continues to work so well. It’s not just about mindless action. The characters are operating out of a clear set of psychological motivations. Renee’s issues, as the reflection of Jack’s own experiences, carry more than enough weight to add tension to the mission. Hopefully the writers won’t sideline her character with this latest plot twist.

As for the rest of the episode, it’s clear that the writers are slowly but surely intending to build to something, but it’s not clear if it will actually justify the time now being spent. There is some hope that the subplot of President Hassan’s crackdown will go somewhere, and perhaps take a darker turn than many fans would anticipate. It would be interesting to see how the writers might avoid turning Hassan into a stereotype, which is a distinct possibility at this point.

On the other hand, some fans complained that the seventh season was all about pushing a liberal agenda, denouncing torture and other extreme methods in counter-terrorism. Many of those criticisms were unfounded; the point was to justify those methods within the context of the “24” state of play. Still, some wanted the show’s early conservative slant to continue unabated, with no positive consideration of alternative political perspectives. (Anyone caring to dispute the conservative leanings of earlier seasons should listen to the commentaries and interviews on the DVD sets; it was hardly a secret.)

The portrayal of President Hassan could also be a thinly-veined commentary on policies of appeasement with hostile Middle Eastern governments. Hassan’s initial sympathetic portrayal might have been meant to demonstrate how well dictators can hide their true stripes. While that would satisfy those who have no interest in any positive portrayal of Middle Eastern Islamic leaders (or anyone Arabic or following the Islamic faith, for that matter), it would be far more interesting to show how the sins and attitudes of the past can derail the best of intentions to find a new path. And if the purpose of the season arc is to demonstrate how the sins of the past may be rectified or redeemed, Hassan’s current crackdown could give way to an earnest desire to make amends.

The same thing is true for Sergei and his son, and how it all comes down to doing horrible things in the name of trying to make things better for the next generation. The end result is just a perpetuation of the cycle, as the consequences fall on the shoulders of those meant to receive only the benefits. The problem is that while the thematic touches are there, it’s just not all that engaging yet.

In contrast, Dana’s subplot hasn’t worked since the moment it began, and it’s getting more and more annoying over time. At least Hassan’s subplot is likely to intersect with the investigation in to the nuclear materials relatively soon, just by its nature. Dana’s subplot doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than to undermine the CTU side of the investigation. Which, realistically, is sometimes a necessary plot device, but when the subplot is boring and wastes the talents of a good actress in the process, it’s infuriating.

One can only hope that these various plot threads will amount to something beyond their common thematic purpose. It was clear when Fahrad mentioned that the materials would arrive in about five hours that it was designed to give the writers time to move around the pieces on the board. Hopefully that means that the status quo will shift enough, and soon enough, to move the season to the next level.


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