24 8.1/8.2: "Day 8: 4PM - 6PM"

The beginning of this season of “24” delivers a message that should have surprised no one. Jack Bauer is getting old. It’s not so apparent when looking at Keifer Sutherland in general, but it’s hard to ignore when watching Jack hang out with his granddaughter. That’s when the weariness in his eyes and the huge leaps in the “24” timeline suddenly register. When it seems like Jack is getting a little tired and worn down, that’s because he really, really is.


It’s just another reason why the writers are clearly laying the groundwork for a conclusion to the Jack Bauer saga. Jack is on the cusp of retirement age, and he’s pretty much dealt with every variation on the terrorism theme that one can imagine. In fact, looking back on the “middle years”, during Jack’s accelerated descent over the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons, there’s a compelling argument that the writers were running out of good ideas.


The depth and consistency of “24” was restored during the seventh season when the writers finally abandoned the “seat of their pants” approach to the season arc and planned out the story well ahead of time. Some didn’t like the idea of actually debating the ethics behind Jack’s methods, but it proved to be the perfect vehicle for addressing Jack’s restoration. The writers made a strong case that within the world of “24”, there is a place for operatives like Jack Bauer and a role for an organization like CTU: those who can step outside the boundaries of the law to achieve a moral end.


By the end of the previous season, it felt like the writers were making a case for the resurrection of CTU with Jack Bauer at the helm. The current approach feels a bit more organic. Jack’s redemption was the restoration of his reputation and a second chance at everything that he lost before his exile. With everything stripped away, Jack had to find a reason to grant himself forgiveness for doing what he felt had to be done.


But had Jack achieved a perfect balance between his commitment to service to his country and his second chance at a family, then it would have been too much, too fast. As currently framed, living near his family and enjoying the fruits of his labors is a very real reward for fighting for peace. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. In essence, Jack had something to die for, but now he has something to live for, and that’s all the difference.


Showing Jack as a devoted grandfather delivers that message that should have been obvious: Jack isn’t the right person to lead the counter-terrorism fight anymore. Jack is a little bit like Brett Favre. He’s well past his prime, but he’s still one of the best at what he does. Sooner or later, another agent will come along and take his place as the elite counter-terrorism agent, but that day hasn’t come yet.


That same struggle against the slow but steady ravages of time has caught up with Chloe. Once the best ops agent in the business, in and out of the office, Chloe is struggling to keep up with new technology and new protocols. Unlike the end of the seventh season, Chloe can’t even play the wise mentor to an FBI analyst with personal political blinders. Circumstance has forced her to find a place in a world that has passed her by, and it’s not going well at all.


The question is: who will emerge as the Peyton Manning to Jack’s Favre? Frankly, the writers have tried to introduce Jack Bauer’s successor more than once, and it’s never worked. Had they kept Chase Edmunds in the mix after the third season, he could have led the charge of the next generation. On the other hand, he probably would have been killed off like everyone else Jack once knew in the old CTU.


There were indications that Agent Renee Walker would follow in Jack’s footsteps, but she doesn’t seem to be a part of the new CTU. If anything, the end of the previous season left her moral compass in a whirlwind. She seemed to understand that Jack’s methods were sometimes necessary, but there was some question as to where she would draw the ethical line. Hopefully the character, and those questions, will return in due course.


The lack of a solid agent with Jack’s kind of intensity is, perhaps, the point of the new CTU. It seems fitting that a CTU without Jack Bauer to shape its character would have a rough response to its first big crisis. It all starts at the top. Hastings is trying to overcome questionable credentials with quick and easy political points, and it’s clearly going to make things much harder for Jack over the course of the day.


Agent Ortiz seems to have the right blend of ethics and purpose, but much remain to be seen, including whether or not Freddie Prinze Jr. can deliver a sustained, solid performance. He did well enough in the first two hours of the season. As did Katee Sackhoff, who will likely be panned for daring to play against type. Unfortunately, much of the criticism against her character is valid, and exposes one of the many weaknesses that the writers have allowed to creep into the season already.


While Dana Walsh’s personal issues could end up being relevant to the themes of the season eventually, right now they bring up some fairly basic questions regarding the vetting process of the new CTU organization. They don’t seem to be any more thorough than the protocols used by the old CTU, which seemed to hire terrorist moles on a regular basis. Dana doesn’t appear to be a mole, and her reasons for adopting a false identity don’t seem to be treasonous, but if some redneck hick can uncover the truth, why not the United States government?


For that matter, the writers tread all too familiar ground with the revelation that President Hassan’s brother is working with assassins to derail the peace process. It was quite predictable, so much so that it felt ludicrous that Hastings would ignore Chloe’s protestations regarding Meredith Reed. It definitely felt like the audience was supposed to recognize that Hastings was being blind, especially since Jack and Chloe are almost never wrong, but a more subtle approach would have been better.


It undermines what has emerged as the initial theme for the season: learning from the wisdom of past history. Chloe’s suspicion is right, proving that even an agent that no longer has up-to-date technical skill still has a wealth of important perspective. Similarly, Jack has a wealth of experience to trump Hastings’ self-important ambitions. Ethan Kanin may have health issues, and might only be an advisor now, but his successor still has much to learn before taking his place. And the peace conference as a whole represents the notion of learning from past mistakes. (Which only makes the reliance on familiar “24” tropes all the more ironic.)


All of which makes perfect sense when one returns to the notion of Jack’s personal journey. Jack can only rest when he is confident that his country will be safe without him. That can only happen when he feels that the torch has been adequately passed. It remains to be seen if this season will represent that final step in the Jack Bauer saga.

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Jan 21, 2010 10:26AM EST

I do agree very much with your comments. I just add up on them. And I do like a lot 24. I just think the first few chapters of these season are disappointing. For instance:
1. Jack could easily trump Hastings with what he overheard. Being that so, why would he take the steal-weapons-and-go-rogue-once-again road before the I-have-your-secret-so-gimme-what-I-want road? It's silly and unnecessarily hard... He doesn't seem so consistently mature and tired here, now does he?
2. I SO agree with the Dana Walsh impossible secret-keeping! One thing they should have learned by now is that moles and criminals and idiots should be efficiently FLAGGED! (As the idiotic kid playing with the US satellites to watch a girl sunbathing??? A thousand better ways to scratch that itch...) And if she has any brains left... how come she lets the thief into her home? Unbelievable. There are a million other ways to deal with that!
3. I don't like Kim. That's me. And Jack's getting old. I get that. But how on earth the best agent alive has to ask permission to her daughter to be a little late, with his head down, and have she answer "it's ok, dad, you can go just this time, i won't get mad..." It's so not like Jack to have his kid decide for him... OMG, it was so humiliating... i would have had her banned from the show from day one...
4. I do like agent Ortiz as Jack's next generation. I do think, anyway, that when Jack Bauer comes to an end, so will the series. Times have changed, and that's not the way the game is played any more.
5. I used to like a lot Chloe. But this season I can't find her believable any more. I find inconsistent and out of character a lot of things she says and does. I can't believe she "needs the job" with the government... in the private sector she could have a serious salary, for the skills she has. I can't believe the way she pushes Jack, or to go behind his back, to Kimberly. I just don't buy any of her. Too bad.
6. I couldn't believe how naive, superficial and slogan-like was the negotiation between presidents! I like the Madam President, but they used to write her much more subltle and bright. And the brother... "You amerrikkanss... evil people... dominators... what do you expect from usss..." it's just a stereotype, and a bad one. A guy like that wouldn't get to be sat on THAT table, that's for sure...
Oh, gosh, I'm whining too much! I do like a lot what's left of the real deal... I maybe just expected more from it...

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