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24 8.14: "Day 8: 5AM - 6AM"

And so it goes. The writing is now officially on the wall. For all the talk about a last-minute reprieve from NBC, it’s since been revealed that there were no lengthy talks or offers. NBC never gave much consideration to the notion of saving “24” from cancellation. And frankly, it’s probably time for the series to go.


It’s not that Jack Bauer has lost his place as a pop culture icon, or that the concept has worn out its welcome. It’s simply the fact that the writers have been unable to find enough variations on a theme to justify the expense of a series with an ever-increasing cost. The writers’ strike of 2008 forced the writers out of their comfort zone, and the seventh season was all the stronger for it. But it’s clear that the writers returned to comfortable tropes and bad habits this season.


Moving to NBC was not going to change that, but moving to a film franchise mode could. For one thing, the current writers aren’t the ones taking the first stab at a screenplay. This should bring new ideas and approaches to the table. Condensing a 24-hour story into roughly 2 hours provides an opportunity to cut out the dead weight and ridiculous subplots. In fact, if nothing else, “24: Redemption” wasn’t a bad start in terms of considering how to put together a “24” feature film. (The main issues with the film, such as the blatant product placement and Howard Gordon’s decision to mine real-world tragedy for cloying sentimental value in his script, could easily be remedied.)


The main challenge to any “24” film will be context. While originally meant to be a more varied concept, “24” quickly became the examination of Jack Bauer’s epic journey of self-realization. At this point in the series, Jack has come back from the systematic loss of everything that he held dear, with much of that loss self-inflicted. Jack is on the cusp of finding balance. If the writers can bring this season to a close with Jack at relative peace, bringing the journey to a fitting close, then the film franchise can proceed without the need for too much reference to the past.


Of course, that implies that the writers are capable of digging themselves out of the narrative hole they have dug. “24” is now trying to reframe itself as an epic coming to a rousing finish, but they are stuck with the scenario they envisioned when the season began. There will no doubt be some revisions to the final scripts, but the bulk of the season is still going to play out as originally planned.


In terms of this episode, this does not bring much in the way of hope. Dana’s plot continues to be the weakest link. Now that she has been revealed as a mole within CTU, her personality has changed dramatically. While some might fault the actress, it’s clear within the context of each and every scene that she is following the expectations of the script. And once again, it begs the question: if she is working for someone with enough clout to give her a new identity and the necessary credentials, how could Kevin have possibly found her so easily? And why wouldn’t she simply contact her terrorist benefactors to eliminate Kevin in the first place?


Speaking of which, based on the dialogue between Dana and the terrorists, it seems rather obvious that there is someone else behind the scenes. Otherwise, why would Danas chide the terrorists about the extent of her support? If the terrorists can push Tarin into becoming a suicide bomber, then they would have similar authority to order Dana to break cover, if she was working for them. There’s someone else in the mix.


The question is whether or not the real “Big Bad” is going to be revealed as someone from Jack’s past or a previous season. If the writers are sticking with their established philosophical theme for the season, that of “learning from sins of the past”, then the “Big Bad” should be someone familiar. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good choices.


This episode finally brought the Taylor administration back into the story, including a ham-fisted patriotic speech by Taylor herself. But it quickly became an exercise in frustration. Granted, characters always tend to underestimate Jack Bauer, but wouldn’t someone like General Brucker know better? As soon as he scoffed at the idea that a wetworks team could easily handle someone like Jack, the result was inevitable.


Of course it was going to come down to Jack, Renee, and the Hassan family. (Never mind that Renee’s presence was accepted by the Secret Service agents with remarkable ease.) And of course, the hit squad that managed to take down a slew of agents trained to protect the president at all costs was going to be taken down by Jack Bauer. “24” often plays fast and loose with Jack’s heroics, but this was a bit much.


A great many diehard (and apparently very forgiving) fans will point out that many of the criticisms of this episode are common elements of “24”, and that it may be unfair to point them out specifically now. While this may be true to some extent, there is such a thing as momentum. When a show is going strong, flaws are more easily dismissed or forgiven. When a show is faltering, the flaws are glaring. The problem with this season of “24” has been the lack of anything substantial to draw attention from the missteps.


Overall, this episode continued along the same lines as so much of the season, with a great deal of poor characterization and predictability. There is some indication that things are about to get more complicated, as the season shifts towards the resolution phase, but with the impending end of the series now a factor, that may not be a good thing.

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