Around the Water Cooler & Looking Back: Digesting “24: Live Another Day” and the Rumors of a New Season (Without Jack Bauer; MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “24: Live Another Day” aired on network TV, specifically on Fox, during spring/summer 2014.

What: “24: Live Another Day,”a limited run event series exploring what has happened to Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), and to some extent Chloe Sullivan (Mary Lynn Rajskub), following the finale of parent series 24.  As Jack’s voice-over introduction to start each hour indicates, events in each episode occur in real time.  Thus, each one-hour episode is one hour’s worth of events in the story, except the season finale to this program, which covered about twelve hours, since this event reboot was not afforded a full 24 episode order.

When: The series/ninth season premiere aired on Monday, May 5, 2014, at 9:00 PM (I am behind).  The finale of this limited run aired on July 14, 2014.

Where: The event series was set in London, England, United Kingdom.

Why: Why?!  Because as I stated here, I watched 24 and really enjoyed it and because I want to know what happened to Jack!  I love Kiefer Sutherland, particularly in this role, and I think this could be a novel approach to revisiting popular series in the future, without demeaning or cheapening the ends of worthy series.  Jack is back!  Will he ever get a happy ending?  Or, at least, a less than tragic one?  More to the point, should it be considered a happy ending if he merely doesn’t get himself killed? Discuss.

How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS

I reviewed the premiere of this series.  If you would like to read that, click here.

Jack, Jack, he’s our man! If he can’t do it…fuck ’em. That’s my cheer for Jack Bauer, always played in a riveting and powerful tour de force performance by Kiefer Sutherland, in what would definitely be a career highlight role for him.

24:LAD gave us a thirteen-hour, high octane thrill ride of the show we’ve missed being on our televisions for four years, with each tick of that clock.  Don’t get me wrong, when 24 ended its long run in 2010, it was the right time to go.  After all, how many terrible crises can one man and/or one agency endure?  Are threats to national security of the type depicted on that program really so common?  It makes one shudder to think of it.  Fortunately or unfortunately, then, the show answered that question by taking the crisis to London and threatening the fictional lives of British citizens.  Problem solved?

Seriously, though, Jack Bauer had a good run the first time through, but then, the writers/producers decided to leave the series somewhat open ended.  Jack, exiled for actions that he took to ultimately save America but which were not exactly on the up and up, escaped into the world unknown, hiding away from authorities. He became an outlaw, and loyal friend, and former fellow CTU agent, Chloe Sullivan (Mary Lynn Rajskub) followed suit, vilified for their roles in these events (I’m trying to be deliberately vague here, in case readers have not seen 24 the first time out). Live Another Day picks up the story four years later, present day and in London. Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) is running an international satellite office of the CIA there. Kate Morgan, a field agent, is resigning and heading back to the United States.  It seems her husband, possibly another agent, was a mole, and she never saw it coming. He’s gone now, and her abilities and competence have now been called into question. She is leaving, judged as she is by her boss and her peers, who covet her position. Yet, while finishing up her work and tracking the patterns of some possible terrorist suspects, video surveillance footage is discovered that contains a recognizable face – wanted fugitive Jack Bauer has emerged from hiding. What’s more, after an exciting standoff between him and a dispatched team, he lets himself be caught.

Kate, her instincts firing on all cylinders, realizes this before her co-workers and patronizing boss do.  After all – Jack has been out of reach for four years.  Why would he let himself be caught so easily? Even though Jack is interrogated by Steve, he doesn’t break and maintains an impressive silence.  Why would he talk?  He’s interrogated and tortured countless suspects – he knows all of the procedures and protocols and knows how to beat the system.  In fact, he practically created the system himself.  What the viewer learns, however, is that Chloe is being held in a top secret wing of this agency that utilizes torture as part of its interrogation arsenal, and Jack is on a mission to rescue her.  It seems Chloe became involved in a militant, cyber-terrorist organization looking to undermine foreign intelligence, particularly of the USA. Chloe joined, both as a fugitive, and because she was promised by the guy who recruited her that her husband and child might still be alive.  As it turns out <spoiler>, they are not.

In the meantime, President Heller (William Devane), now a second term president, is in London to meet with officials and to give a speech. It seems that the president is struggling with his memory, and when his Chief of Staff, Mark Boudreau, played by Tate Donovan, asks him about an easy mistake he made in a briefing, confusing the Presidents Roosevelt, Heller admits to Mark’s wife, his daughter Audrey (Kim Raver), that “it’s getting worse.”  By “it,” he means Alzheimer’s, and the condition deteriorates rapidly during these thirteen stressful hours.

By the end of this set of all new 24 episodes, the following too-crazy-to-be-believed events have occurred:

1. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) is found to be alive and well outside of Westeros, and not in the form of some zombie or diet White Walker, or wight, and is determined to martyr the American President for crimes against her husband, the leader of some Middle Eastern terrorist organization.  She, as in Margot Al-Harazi, bases her convictions on the fact that a US bombing, on Heller’s order, of an installation holding thought to have held her husband led to the death of children, and so she schemes to assassinate the American President.  She is willing to sacrifice her own children to this cause, including her daughter, who is quite possibly brainwashed by her mother and now deceased stepfather and who acts as a Sydney Bristow like double agent to implement Margot’s nefarious plans “on the ground.”  One such plan centers on commandeering military drones and bombing several London targets, unless President Heller agrees to surrender himself.

2. Though Jack and Chloe are only peripherally involved at first, their involvement deepens when Jack learns of this woman’s plans to bomb London.  It becomes Jack’s mission to risk his own capture in the name of saving lives of British citizens and the President alike.  Of course, this means that Jack must inevitably entangle with Audrey, quite possibly the love of his life (at least after Teri), from whom he departed by the end of the original series.

3. Margot plays terrible life-or-death games with her children, neither of whom are totally as committed as she to their deadly mission.  They hijack the special attack drones and aim them for London, which sends the Prime Minister, played by Stephen Fry, into a stressful snit. The thirteen hours follow Kate as she first apprehends Jack and then helps him to navigate the underground London crime syndicates and other various contacts, with Chloe’s reluctant but unerringly loyal help, in an attempt to suss out Margot’s whereabouts and to re-appropriate control of the drones.

4. In crazy 24 like fashion, President Heller asks Jack to help him meet Margot’s demands that he exchange his life for a cease and desist of the drone attacks by apparently standing in the open field at Wembley Stadium.  Fortunately, Jack engineers a switcheroo that temporarily befuddles Margot and son.  Though President Heller survives what looks to be a drone bombing straight to the heart of London’s most famous athletic landmark, Margot is able to re-engineer plans to get hold of the drones. Yet, Jack, with Kate’s help, is finally able to locate Margot, and Catelyn Stark plummets at the hands of a vengeful Jack before she can be brought to justice, in one of those moments that gives you pause about Jack while quietly encouraging you to cheer for his pluck.  At least, it was no repeat of the Red Wedding.

5. Meanwhile, Chloe is captured by agents of Cheng Zhi, the Chinese terrorist who kidnapped Jack and Audrey during the parent run of 24. Apparently, Cheng survived American attempts to take him out and is now seeking vengeance.  Through a well orchestrated plan that also involves Chloe’s cyber-terrorist boss, Cheng schemes to extort Jack’s cooperation while orchestrating war between the US and China.  The ensuing melee becomes a tete a tete between the former rivals.  Cheng does not survive his subsequent run-in with Jack, but neither does Audrey.  When she attempts to meet a contact who might be able to help her bargain with Chinese officials, after a Chinese submarine was targeted by Cheng’s men in an attempt to start the previously mentioned war, a hit man poised to strike succeeds in shooting her.  Audrey loses the battle for her life.

6. Jack saves the day, but while running around after all the threats to peace and the President’s safety, Audrey’s husband Mark secretly outs Jack to the Russians, who want Jack to face his crimes, which included aggressive acts against Russian nationals at the end of the parent series.  Though Mark is ultimately helpful to Jack in the end, the Russians, who were also in league with Cheng, succeed in capturing Chloe.  At the end of yet another very long day, Jack gives himself up to the Russians in exchange for Chloe’s safety, while President Heller presides over the state burial of Audrey, lamenting that he won’t be able to remember the funeral or her as his condition worsens.

7. Also, it seems that Steve Navarro was the actual mole and framed Kate’s husband, as he provided key information to the Russians and agents of Cheng via Chloe’s shady cyber cell leader.  Kate was able to exact some painful but non-lethal revenge when his identity was sussed out, even as she resigned her commission, satisfied with the closure, however empty, that this revelation brought her.

Just like at the end of 24 proper, Jack’s fate hangs in the balance.  Though Live Another Day was a full eleven hours shorter than a usual season of 24, it was no less devoid of intensity and crazy, barely to be believed twists.  Also, while the series may have started off slow, as hoped for, the pace steadily quickened to heart-pumping levels without losing the ingredients that made 24 so successful: the real time conceit, the side-by-side in-time action panels showing different points of view of any conflict, that confounding ticking clock.  Most of all, the success of this series revival rests squarely on the shoulders of Kiefer Sutherland and his passionate, earnest portrayal of a character the viewing audience cannot help but root for in the end, no matter how compromising and/or morally ambiguous the choices and situations in which he finds himself.

Earlier this year (2015), reports surfaced that the Fox network is contemplating renewing 24 for yet another season but without Jack Bauer as the central character. This viewer posits, without doubt or recrimination, that to do so would be a colossal mistake.  While being legitimately unable to imagine a 24 without any appearance of Jack or Kiefer for any extended period, the truth is, we had a bit of a test run in the first two episodes of Live Another Day.  Jack did not appear outright until the second episode, and without the connection to his character, this viewer struggled to become engaged with an entirely new set of characters, particularly since they lacked the charisma and panache that Kiefer Sutherland brings to his role.  I did not care about Kate Morgan or Steve Navarro or the London operations of the CIA until they started chasing the specter of Jack Bauer, alive and well on hidden security news feeds.  Then, the heart of 24 began beating a bit faster, because any 24 true fan, like myself, was waiting for his/her hero, the inimitable Jack, to save the day.

I mean, 24 without Jack’s characteristic “Dammit!” just does not seem like an enticing prospect.  Plus, the character of Jack is so flushed out and, well, good; he is both complex and simple, straddling a line between heroic and morally corrupt as he drives forward under the philosophy of ends justifying means.  He may not always make the best choices, but he always has the best intentions or, at least, some well meaning aim behind intentions that may not be the best.  He is a conflicted soul, embattled by the trauma and sacrifice of serving his country.  There is so much he could be angry and bitter about; instead, he channels this aggression into keeping his country safe.  He is a hero, even though the act of torturing others may come a little to easily to him, desensitized as he is by all the violence he has observed or to which he has been a party.

How could 24 possibly live on without Jack?  Because, as tension-ratcheting as the ticking clock and real time conceit are, the success of the parent series would not have been achieved without Kiefer Sutherland’s able portrayal of Jack; Jack became the fulcrum of stability and sanity with each new passing insane terrorist plot he encountered.  Even when he was doing arguably wrong, he always knew it, and while other characters became fully corrupted, the character of Jack Bauer never actually crossed that line.

This viewer cannot even fathom watching a 24 without Kiefer Sutherland – because the ticking clock alone would not sustain the series.  This is not a Heroes, which suffered from a bloated arsenal of characters and bad writing and which can afford an entirely complete reboot with all new characters (as long as there is a new writing team in place to correct the prior ills). 24 is Kiefer, and to a lesser extent, Mary Lynn Rajskub, who portrays irascible Chloe Sullivan.  24 and this event series told these characters’ stories first, followed by the overarching story of the plot against London and President Heller. Losing the primary characters would undermine, I believe, the existing fan base and any existing story foundation.  I also do no think it likely that the show would garner new viewers, if these viewers did not find 24 during its first run, unless the entire structure of the show changed.  I think any new series without Jack and Chloe would feel like a cheap imitation, with viewing audiences familiar with the franchise yearning to see their established heroes, rather than willing to be introduced to new ones.  Perhaps, I am wrong to speak on behalf of so many others, but I would be hard pressed to find many brand new devotees who watched this event series cold, without watching at least some of the original 24..

The original series ran for eight years and also covered all kinds of horrific territory, with bigger and badder threats to American soil challenging CTU and Jack Bauer and about which this viewer mused in the review of the Live Another Day pilot.  What new stories could possibly be told?  How could the writers possibly top what has already been done?  The only 24 story truly worth telling is what becomes of Jack Bauer.  If Fox orders a new season of 24 without the cooperation of Sutherland, this viewer predicts that lack of interest will result in an expensive mistake – and probably quick cancellation. Feel free to comment if you disagree, but if there is a heart to 24 and its intense, real-time plot device, it would be the character of Jack Bauer, without question.  The series – and Fox – cannot afford to lose him or to lose Kiefer Sutherland in any feeble attempt to continue this series into the future.

Lingering Questions

1) Why is Chloe goth?  What has she got herself into?

Answer: Chloe joined a cyber terrorism organization after being led to believe that her husband and child were being held captive by a government out to get her for her aid in abetting Jack Bauer.  Apparently, this new foray into crime, and the need to keep herself hidden, led to a dramatic wardrobe change for Chloe.

2) What’s wrong with President Heller?

Answer: He has Alzheimer’s Disease, sensitively portrayed by William Devane.

3) Will Audrey and Jack meet again?

Answer: They met, and it was sad and tragic, as they both clearly still loved each other.  Audrey wanted to do everything she could to help Jack, despite the fact that she was married to Mark.  Jack, per usual, didn’t want her to risk her neck. She was momentarily upset with him when she thought Jack and Mark led her father to his death in Wembley Stadium, but her anger lingered only at Mark when Jack informed her that her father was alive.

4) Why do we care about Kate Morgan?  She seems to be an integral piece to this puzzle.

Answer: She was instrumental in helping to foil the plot against President Heller and was also collateral damage, due to Steve Navarro’s sellout, at least initially.

5) Has Jack been keeping tabs on Kim?  Steve tells him that Kim had another baby. Grandpa Jack hasn’t been around much.

Answer: Kim is barely discussed, except as a possible carrot to entice Jack to comply with various threats of extradition and torture.  It’s unclear whether Jack has maintained much observation of his daughter and apparent grandchildren.

6) Can Jack save the day and clear his name?  My bet’s on yes…let’s find out!

Answer: He definitely saved the day…and cleared his name with those that know him best.  Unfortunately, the Russians don’t find his name very clear right now.

PARTING SHOTS:

Watching 24: Live Another Day was definitely like reuniting with an old friend, somewhat longer in the tooth in the new incarnation, but never without the intensity that became the parent series’ hallmark. Jack Bauer remains a great character, and any attempt to continue the series without him (or Chloe) would be foolhardy at best.  Live Another Day, in the end, was a fun trip back into the heart-pounding, zany, violent world of 24. I really enjoyed watching it.

LOOKING AHEAD:

24: Live Another Day was ordered for a limited run series of thirteen episodes, the finale of which aired on July 14, 2014.  There is no word yet on whether or not Fox plans to order additional seasons beyond rumor and speculation; if it happens, this blog will report as needed.  In the meantime, as noted above, Live Another Day is available to stream on Amazon Prime (and is up for rental or purchase on Amazon) and is definitely worth the watch, though it is strongly recommended that this event series be watched only after viewing the original 24, for the event series augments the original but cannot stand apart from it.  Both are recommended viewing by this writer, as the writing and performances were and continued to be strong, particularly the performance by Kiefer Sutherland of Jack Bauer.

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