Monday, May 23, 2016

Ranking the seasons of "24" (in anticipation of "24: Legacy"

I can't wait for the 2017 Super Bowl to be over. Not because I dislike football; I feel guilty about how much I like watching the concussion-inducing sport. It's just that when the Super Bowl ends, "24" returns.

Okay, Jack Bauer is not going to be back, not yet. In the meantime, while I reminisce about the past nine seasons, here's how I rank them. Obviously, chock full of spoilers:

Something has to be at the bottom

9. "Day 1"

Threat: Assassination plot against David Palmer

Key Antagonists: Ira Gaines, the Drazen family

Notable Deaths: Teri Bauer

Review: I'll admit upfront that I may be unfair to the first season. I actually tried watching the pilot and gave up in the middle. (Part of it may be that I tended to dislike the characters that Kiefer Sutherland played in the 1980s and 1990s, and so thought I wouldn't like Jack Bauer. How wrong I was.) I've since watched it all the way through once (on DVD), but this remains the only season I've seen only once. The threat to assassinate David Palmer seems so mild compared to the WMD nightmares in the following seasons. Not helping things is the awfully convenient amnesia that strikes Teri Bauer, and the repeat kidnapping of Kim Bauer.

8. "Day 6"

Threat: Nuclear bomb, stolen Russian super-chip

Key Antagonists: Abu Fayed, Graem Bauer, Philip Bauer, Cheng Zhi

Notable Deaths: Curtis Manning

Review: This season started with such promise, but the "shock" killing of Curtis Manning just seemed so forced. It was a serious retcon to Manning's character to make him unable to focus on the bigger picture. Thankfully, Wayne Palmer's annoying sister was largely written out of the season after the first few episodes. The whole father-son conflict also never really worked for me. Speaking of retcons, it was seriously lame to make Graem related to Jack Bauer. I mean, in season 5, there's a scene where Graem is saying to his co-conspirators, "We have to stop Bauer" or something like that. Who refers to their own brother by their shared last name??? It wasn't all terrible, though. This season did give a couple of impressive Jack Bauer kills: the vampire bite, and the stranglehold that weakened Zhou enough for Jack to do a quick neck twist.

Still better than most other shows

7. "Day 8"

Threat: assassination of IRK President Hassan, Russian intrigue

Key Antagonists: Sergei Bazhaev, Farhad Hassan, Tarin Faroush, Charles Logan, Dana Walsh

Notable Deaths: Renee Walker

Review: Just a so-so season for me, with a fairly linear plot by "24" standards. The shock twist about President Hassan's "trial" being streamed on a delay, rather than live, so that he was already dead by the time Jack Bauer and Renee Walker got there was well done. Katee Sackhoff is a strong actress, but Dana Walsh was a badly written character. Jack's revenge tour was impressive but his torture-killing of Pavel Tokarev was a bit stomach turning for me. Finally, I didn't like the retconning of Alison Taylor, from someone who didn't believe the ends justified the means in season 7, to the one willing to threaten nuclear annihilation of the IRK if Hassan's widow wouldn't sign the peace treaty.

6. "Day 3"

Threat: weaponized Cordelia virus

Key Antagonists: Ramon and Hector Salazar, Stephen Saunders, Nina Myers

Notable Deaths: Nina Myers, Sherry Palmer, Ryan Chapelle

Review: I think it was the old TV site Television Without Pity that referred to the virus-infected hotel in this season as the "Inn-fection." Ha ha ha! What made this season so enjoyable for me was Joaquim de Almeida's scene-chewing performance as Ramon Salazar. I loved his chortle after Jack broke him out of prison, followed by his gravelly, "Congratulations! Now you're even a bigger enemy to your country than I am!" Stephen Saunders was a truly worthy opponent for Bauer; too bad he showed up so late in the day. The scene where Jack Bauer has to murder Ryan Chapelle was one of the best-directed ones I've ever seen.

Really good

5. "Day 4"

Threat: Assassination of Defense Secretary Heller, forced meltdown of 100+ nuclear power plants, shoot down of Air Force One, stolen nuclear missiles

Key Antagonists: Habib Marwan, the Araz family, Mandy the assassin, Cheng Zhi

Notable Deaths: Paul Raines

Review: Lots of sharply drawn villains, few lame sideplots, but what kind of terrorists come up with such a Rube Goldberg-like plot?!? I mean, each single subpart is itself a major catastrophe, but these guys want to string it altogether? The EMP bomb was a nice touch, turning downtown L.A. into something out of "Escape From New York." And nice juxtaposition of Michelle Dessler's commitment to job over love with season 3's reverse situation of Tony Almeida choosing love over job.

4. "Day 2"

Threat: Nuclear bomb

Key Antagonists: Syed Ali, Marie Warner, Peter Kingsley, Nina Myers

Notable Deaths: George Mason

Review: "Tell me where the bomb is! We're running out of time!" Check. "I don't want to have to hurt you!" Check. Jack Bauer getting tortured to death. Check. This season has it all. It's got Nina Myers asking for an advance pardon for murdering Jack Bauer, a constitutional lesson on the 24th Amendment, and the "I'm gonna need a hacksaw" line, but it also has the infamous mountain lion stalking Kim Bauer. Too bad, without that awfulness (or really, the entire Kim Bauer storyline with the lonely survivalist and the psycho-dad) it might have jumped to the top tier.

The best

3. "Day 7"

Threat: Military supplier-created biological pathogen.

Key Antagonists: General Juma, Jonas Hodges, Alan Wilson, Tony Almeida, Olivia Taylor

Notable Deaths: Bill Buchanan

Review: The first season to be set outside Los Angeles, this day terrorized Washington, D.C. (As someone who used to live in L.A., I say it was about time!) When Tony Almeida was revealed to be alive, with a somewhat murky recent history, I was afraid this season would go off the rails and retcon seriously somewhere. But it held together to the end! I still get chills when I watch Almeida scream at Alan Wilson, "You killed my son! And now I'm going to kill you!" Not only does Carlos Bernard nail it in this season, he's joined by Tony Todd's General Juma, the incomparable Jon Voight as Jonas Hodges, and the underrated Peter Wingfield (Methos, for you "Highlander" fans). The cyber-showdown between Chloe O'Brian and Janis Gold is priceless. I think this season really benefited from the writer's strike that postponed production after the first eight episodes were in the can; the extra time seemed to give the writers breathing room to figure things out ahead of time, rather than on the fly.

2. "Day 9: Live Another Day"

Threat: Cyber-hijacked US military drones

Key Antagonists: Margot al-Harazi, Anatol Stolnavich, Cheng Zhi

Notable Deaths: Audrey (Raines) Boudreau, Cheng Zhi

Review: One reason I have high hopes for "24: Legacy" is that it, like "Live Another Day," will have only 12 episodes. The need to produce enough material to fill 24 episodes has led to a number of goofy storylines in "24," but "Live Another Day" didn't have any - it was streamlined to efficiency. 8 1/2 episodes dealt with the drone terror plot, and the rest with the resolution of the China/Cheng Zhi storyline. "Live Another Day" is probably the bleakest season of "24"; by the end of the day, of the star-billed cast, Audrey Boudreau, Jordan Reed, and Adrian Cross are dead; Mark Boudreau and Steve Heller are facing prosecution for treason; President Heller is descending into Alzheimer's; Kate Morgan has resigned from the CIA and is devastated over failing to protect Audrey; and Jack Bauer is headed to Moscow for very unpleasant treatment. Only Chloe O'Brian and Erik Ritter escape relatively unscathed.

1. "Day 5"

Threat: Russian-made Sentox VX nerve gas

Key Antagonists: Vladimir Bierko, Charles Logan, Christopher Henderson

Notable Deaths: David Palmer, Michelle Dessler, Tony Almeida (or so we thought), Edgar Stiles

Review: It's hard to top Charles Logan as an antagonist. He seemed so snively and weak; little did we know that he was a master manipulator. This season is chock full of great moments, like Chloe's dispatching of a drunk guy hitting on her in a bar (using a stun gun on him, and then again when he wakes up later), to Jack's death stare at Logan onboard Marine One. And the bloodbath to begin the day was shocking (truly shocking, not like the lame Curtis Manning death in season 6), but made sense in the context of the plot.

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