NOTE: Several full spoilers for the events of 24: Live Another Day are present in this review.
There truly is no keeping down Jack Bauer.
Even with a new European setting and a truncated 12-episode count for 24’s new ‘event series’, as FOX calls it, let alone the four-year gap between the apparent series finale at the conclusion of Season Eight (or Day Eight, for you 24 purists), and this, but 24’s appeal hasn’t lost a single step. The creators may not have wholly subverted the show’s familiar conventions with the new revival direction, as much as they set out to do so, but that’s really not a problem.
Truth be told, 24: Live Another Day is all the better because it’s, surprisingly, one of the best seasons that 24 has ever had, even with its shortened length. It falls just shy of the highlight Season Five, but it’s definitely a close second. There are still some moments of tedious filler, even with the reduced episodes, but for the most part, 24: Live Another Day’s tightened pacing and inspired direction bring 24 back in force, as if it had never gone in the first place.
While the former eight seasons that comprised the main show were all set in the good old U.S.A., if you don’t count Season Seven prequel, 24: Redemption anyway, 24: Live Another Day instead unfolds in London, England. After years off the grid and evading detection by the authorities, following his massacre of corrupt Russian politicians at the conclusion of Season Eight, Jack resurfaces just in time for another nasty terrorist threat, this time targeting his former associates, James Heller, and Heller’s daughter, Audrey, with Heller now being the current President of the United States.
Said terrorist threat comes from a not-so-happy family of terrorists, led by Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley, as deadly freedom fighter widow, Margot Al-Harazi. The early portions of the new series detailing Al-Harazi’s family drama are a bit of a drag, but with that said, Al-Harazi is a very cool, progressive villain for the show. She’s very menacing, causes a lot of trouble, and stands as a highlight antagonist for 24’s catalogue. Her plan to hijack Heller’s drones after the U.K. was already protesting them, then turning them on London, was also terrifying and nicely dramatically ironic, adding lots of cool tension to the early episodes of 24: Live Another Day.
In fact, it’s kind of a shame to see Al-Harazi and her family so easily dispatched in the end, by Jack or otherwise. Simone Al-Harazi, Margot’s daughter, goes from being a ruthless, sexy assassin, to a sentimental dope that ends up being taken out from being hit by a bus while chasing her niece. Seriously? Sure, she lives long enough to be a tiresome plot device for Jack and co. afterward, and her fate is left frustratingly uncertain, perhaps to leave the door open for the writers in case they ever want to revisit the Al-Harazi family in another 24 revival, but it certainly feels like a character of diminishing returns.
Thankfully, Margot picks up the slack, and the show picks up the pace once Simone and her whining husband are out of the picture. There’s even a really cool fake-out at the end of one of the episodes, where it appears that the Al-Harazi’s have successfully killed President Heller. Yes, it’s a trick, but it’s done very well by the show, ending the episode with it, and leaving viewers in agonizing suspense for a week.
From there however, the Al-Harazi’s are almost immediately taken out right after. Jack and the CIA find them without too much effort in the following episode, shoot through the place, instantly crumble their operation, and Jack then just throws Margot and her son out a high window. That’s the end of the Al-Harazi’s. It’s a very cool moment to see Jack just flat-out murder these two the way he did, really illustrating more than ever his ever-increasing open contempt for government protocol, but again, it feels a little too easy. Perhaps a side effect of the shortened 12-episode format?
Regardless, it leads to something better. As cool as Margot Al-Harazi was, she couldn’t compare to the return of one of Jack’s deadliest enemies, Cheng Zhi, the man who had Jack captured and tortured for a year between Season Five and Season Six.
Cheng Zhi is conveniently alive and working with the Russians who, also conveniently, are still out for Jack’s head. Sure, Zhi’s plan to pit China and the U.S. against each other and start World War III with Margot’s stolen override device, just because, feels like the work of a moustache-twirling cartoon villain, but it’s still a nice excuse to tie everything together. It also ties up a big loose end from the main show, allowing Jack to finally exact sweet samurai-style revenge, and really showing the continued fallout from how things ended with Jack and Audrey on the main show.
Speaking of Audrey, it’s wonderful to see her again. Kim Raver still has exceptional chemistry with Kiefer Sutherland, and the way that the show has many of their interactions mostly silent, makes their reunion after so many years all the more emotional. Audrey’s new husband, Mark Boudreau, played in another highlight part by Tate Donovan, is also a wonderfully ambiguous character as Heller’s conniving Chief of Staff, often a thorn in Jack’s side behind the scenes, and wanting to do right, but having his judgment constantly clouded by jealousy and mistrust.
This all leads to an excellent payoff too, with Audrey suffering a sudden and heartbreaking death during the finale of 24: Live Another Day, complete with silent clock. A subtle moment that follows Jack hearing the news has him reaching for the grip of his pistol and stroking it, as if silently illustrating that he now felt he had nothing to live for. It’s a wonderfully poignant moment, even if it does lead to another Jack Bauer-patented killing spree that quickly shifted the tone from dramatic to delightfully badass.
Audrey’s death hangs just as heavy over other characters as well. The series’ first time jump, by a whole twelve hours in the finale, may have been a bit underwhelming, but the air of melancholy over everyone, even with the defeat of the bad guys, stands very strong afterward. James Heller’s defeated monologue to British prime minister, Alastair Davies (played in a great dramatic turn by Stephen Fry), recounting at Audrey’s funeral procession that his Alzheimer’s diagnosis would eventually rob him of his daughter’s memory, including her violent murder, is enough to bring even the most hardened 24 fans to teary eyes.
The same is true of Jack’s ultimate exit, having been forced to surrender himself to the Russians in exchange for his ever-loyal ally, Chloe O’Brian, once again reprised by Mary Lynn Rajskub, sporting a slick new cyberpunk look. Hearing Jack finally admit to Chloe that she is his best friend, even when he has nothing else, is another very satisfying moment that will easily lift the hearts of the 24 faithful.
With no CTU and very limited resources, Chloe is a very different character in 24: Live Another Day, at least beyond being Jack’s regular technical support when the situation called for it. With her husband and son apparently killed off screen by a car accident that she suspects is foul play, she is now cold, detached and, like Jack, a renegade, working with a group of cyber activists called Open Cell, led by her treacherous new lover, Adrian Cross. She and Jack even have an initially strained working relationship, with Chloe now being the one to claim something, “Isn’t her problem,” with Jack the one now protesting that the right thing must be done, even if he understood Chloe’s reasons for being distant. It’s a neat role reversal, even if the dynamic between these two was fully restored in the end.
Another dynamic that really works well is the introduction of Yvonne Strahovski as CIA agent, Kate Morgan, a retiring field operative who is reeling from the imprisonment of her husband, after he was caught selling secrets to the Chinese. Kate proves an excellent ally to Jack, being by-the-book to start, but soon after displaying an ability to quickly adapt to the moral grey areas of a situation. She can handle herself, but she still has a good heart, and helps to maintain Jack’s likeability, after he’s otherwise sunk into pure, murderous rage and depression by this point. I really hope to see Kate work as an ally to Jack again some time in the future!
The only weak element to Kate’s story arc is the fact that it incorporates yet another tired agency mole hook, in this case, CIA branch head, Steve Navarro, played by Benjamin Bratt. Despite Bratt’s efforts, Navarro is ultimately a rather boring character, and his turning and conspiracy with Adrian Cross to lead into the override device falling into the hands of Cheng Zhi has the aftertaste of a stale plot device. The series tries to create an interesting story element of Navarro trying to hide his presence by murdering one of his own analysts and then having to escape Jack, but this mole stuff is something that 24 has already done to death. This well is tapped, 24 writers! Find another one!
Even with a few gripes however, 24: Live Another Day succeeds far more often than it stumbles. It’s a pulse-pounding 24 revival that is full of great action, plenty of suspense, and some truly gripping drama, along with all of the familiar beats that 24 has always done well, even at its weakest. Kiefer Sutherland still fits the role of Jack Bauer like a glove, and it’s incredible to consider how effectively 24: Live Another Day sidesteps feeling stale, even after eight seasons of the main show, having more time to experiment with the storyline, and come up with something that, for the most part, leaves more impact than 24 has in many years!
There are one or two weaker filler episodes, but the shortened 12-episode format in 24: Live Another Day does still lead to a greater maximization of the story’s potential in each episode as well. Just about every episode has plenty of excitement on offer, and the series still does a great job of positioning cliffhangers at each episode’s conclusion, so viewers want to keep watching. The event series almost never just stops to simply spin its wheels. It always has a compelling plot to work with, and the pacing is generally especially smooth, thanks to the reduction in episodes.
24: Live Another Day is mainly designed for established 24 fans, and they’ll definitely get the most out of it. If you love this show, definitely watch this event series in its entirety, because it’s some of the best material that 24 has ever delivered, even with some minor format changes!
If you’ve never seen 24 before, 24: Live Another Day still makes for a good introduction. There are obviously a handful of spoilers regarding key events of the main show, though only a few are mentioned, since the writers are no doubt wishing to make their new event series accessible for people who have never seen a single episode of this beloved action-thriller series. Fun fact: This is the only season in the entire history of 24 where Jack’s late wife, Teri and former U.S. president, David Palmer are never mentioned. This is a pretty good example of that attempt at heightened accessibility.
Regardless though, 24: Live Another Day is not just a damn good season of 24, but damn good television in general. The mostly bitter and only slightly sweet conclusion seems to pave the way for another return by Jack Bauer down the road, since it’s doubtful that the showrunners would want to end the character’s long career by having Jack surrender himself to the Russians for another unpleasant time of torture and probable execution. Maybe Moscow has a job for Jack?
Whatever the case, the world still needs Jack Bauer, and so do 24 fans. 24: Live Another Day has proven that better than any other point in the show’s history!
- Jack is great as ever
- Excellent storylines
- Tight action and pacing
- Still some filler
- ANOTHER mole? Seriously?