24 8.3/8.4: "Day 8: 6PM - 8PM"

For quite some time, “24” has been using the first four episodes as something of a jump start to the season arc, using a broad action sequence to introduce characters and conflicts quickly and efficiently. This season is no different, as it becomes clear that the attempt on President Hassan’s life was just the beginning.

As usual, the assassination attempt provides the starting point for the much longer investigative and preventive process that drives each and every “24” story. It’s as much a question of proper resources as it is a question of information, especially this season. If nothing else, the first few episodes have made it very clear that the new CTU is still trying to find its footing.

That said, the writers are still trying a little too hard to demonstrate that the old guard has the right experience and paranoia. This entire situation may have proven Chloe’s worth to Hastings, but it required that a lot of people be stubborn or stupid in the process. Hastings is constantly trying to play the right angle to score quick political victories, even when prudence suggests a more thoughtful approach. Granted, this has been an ongoing problem with CTU directors over the course of the series, but it’s a card that is overplayed in this instance.

At least Dana Walsh has a good reason to be distracted. The mystery of her true identity is hardly compelling, but it does explain why Dana might lapse on judgment or attention until it’s resolved. The plot is ridiculous for reasons that have already been covered, but how hard would it be to get this handled? All she has to do is tell security that some psycho thinks she’s someone named Jenny, that he won’t stop harassing her, and it should take about five seconds for him to be locked in a deep, dark hole somewhere. Such is the benefit of working for CTU.

The direction taken is unfortunate, because it takes a great actress in Katee Sackhoff and saddles her with the kind of woman-in-peril subplot that leads to grinding of the teeth. Hopefully the eventual resolution to this problem will involve Dana finding a spine. Dana would be just as distracted, thus serving the needs of the plot, if she was looking for a way to teach Kevin how to fly without wings.

Thankfully, the writers did manage to cover some of the potential thematic aspects of the story along the way. As mentioned before, Chloe’s subplot may have been cloying at times, but it did touch on the notion that she and Jack have the all-important weapon of perspective. Ortiz has the presence of mind to realize that an agent with Jack’s reputation and record should be heard during a crisis. Even Dana’s personal issues involve dealing with the lingering lessons of past history.

In terms of Jack, it goes quite a bit further. Jack dealt with many of his demons in the seventh season, even as he helped to clean up some of the mess caused by others. The theme of the seventh season was very simple: doing what must be done does not absolve one of the consequences of one’s actions and choices. Jack’s understanding of that basic truth has fueled his sense of moral imperative: if staining his soul will save millions, then so be it.

But the seventh season also took a close look at what kind of person it takes to make that kind of personal choice. Renee Walker discovered what Jack was trying to show everyone from the Senate Subcommittee to the FBI: that sometimes, extreme measures must be taken in the defense of freedom. But Jack also tempered that with judgment and a stern mental constitution, one that has been tested and bent, but never broken. Others, like Tony, have snapped under the same pressure.

The writers seemed to be preparing Renee as Jack’s acolyte, someone who might learn to be equally thick-skinned. For that matter, it looked as though Renee might have been a romantic interest for Jack, someone who he wouldn’t need to protect from his world. In retrospect, that’s not what Jack really needed. Jack didn’t need to build a new world for himself; he needed to rebuild what he thought he had lost.

Had Renee escaped her experiences in the seventh season in good mental health, then Jack would likely have left New York without a second thought. In fact, he probably would have felt that the situation was in the right hands. But it’s clear that he sees Renee’s fragile mental state as the result of his influence. And as such, Jack feels that this is another consequence that he must amend before closing this chapter of his life.

As it turns out, Jack has reason to be worried. Some have already wondered why Jack would take exception to something that, once upon a time, he would have done without hesitation. Clearly, it’s not the action itself, but rather the psychological mess behind it. Jack would always weigh the necessity of his actions, and the cost was always noticeable.

Renee, on the other hand, is acting out of a personal nihilism that is deeply disturbing. It’s not even certain that she cares about the outcome. Because Jack takes responsibility for Renee’s mental state, he feels a need to make things right. That it will also save lives is just a bonus. That it is sure to go badly in a dozen different ways will certainly factor into the intensity of the story, even if the writers gave themselves another four episode or so to pull the next trigger (in keeping with their usual pattern of dropping a huge plot twist around episode 8 or 9).

Overall, this was strong enough end to a strangely predictable opening start to the season, launching the story into some unexpectedly dark territory. Some subplots are still begging to be discarded as soon as possible, regardless of how well they might fit into the season’s theme, but Jack’s part of the story is definitely worth it. Even so, this is the weakest start to a season in quite some time.


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