24 8.8: "Day 8: 11PM - 12AM"

This is normally the time when the season would rush into its first major plot twist, representing the end of the introduction phase and the beginning of the complication phase. That may in fact be happening, but judging by the plot progression seen in this episode, it’s hard to understand what the writers were hoping to accomplish.

This season is already listing, which is very hard to understand. There is a clear attempt to tell the story correctly, in terms of a planned story arc with a central theme. The problem is the set of scenarios chosen, and worse, the set of characters developed to encounter those scenarios. It’s telling that Jack is far and away the most interesting and compelling character this season. Nearly everyone else has squandered what potential was present during the premiere (Renee Walker being the exception that proves the rule).

This is highly reminiscent of the third season, which was forced to abandon many of its early plot and character arcs in the hopes of salvaging the season, when the writers clearly misinterpreted the viability of their initial plans. The second half of that season was much better than the first. It’s hard to know if the writers have any tricks up their sleeves for this season, or if adjustments can realistically be made.

The problem, as seen in the third and fourth seasons, is that such mid-season adjustments lead to last-minute plotting, often with no concept of where to leap next, and the demands of such a practice force any depth out of the equation. The result is the kind of shock-value nonsense that dominated the fifth and sixth seasons, and Kim’s infamous “cougar” subplot of the second season.

Pre-planning eliminates the need for shock tactics, and also gives the writers the ability to build to those stunning moments. Those moments are thus well-earned. In the seventh season, that approach resulted in a largely consistent story. It didn’t hurt that the characters and situations were fairly compelling, including those in the FBI and in the administration.

In contrast, nearly everyone at the new CTU is bland or annoying. Even Chloe doesn’t seem to have much punch this season. Considering that a good 40% of the story revolves around CTU thus far, that’s a significant problem. Add to that an apparent inability to make anything connected to President Taylor or even President Hassan interesting at the moment, and that’s more than half of the material. It’s simply dragging every episode down in the process.

Jack’s story, as usual, is the one that keeps the episode (and the season thus far) from being a total failure. With Renee all but out of this episode, Jack is the one that has to carry the weight, and he does so well enough. Along with the dynamic between Sergei and Josef, which at least had some intrigue to it, Jack’s assault on Sergei’s team was a welcome relief.

If it seems like a bit of frustration is beginning to show, that’s because it is. A slow and steady pace is not a problem when there’s a clear sense of progress and sustained intensity. Besides, in the seventh season, the ongoing debate regarding extreme counter-terrorism methods was front and center. This season’s theme of “sins of the past” is more passive in nature. One can only hope that the plot twist at the end of the episode will finally push events into a more exciting direction.


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