24: Live Another Day s9 ep 12

Spoilers.

“The following takes place between 10pm and 11am”. WHOA. Thirteen hours?

Anyway, with minimal fuss Chloe’s back on the team, “backdooring” a satellite in order that she can access the usual “schematics”, allowing her to get back into the old routine of talking Jack through a building: this time, it’s the one where Cheng and his team are waiting to be shipped out of the country. And while they’re doing that, Kate’s trying to rescue Audrey. It’s all against the clock, of course, because the Chinese armed forces are getting closer and closer to the American base in Okinawa, which in turn runs the risk of starting a nuclear confrontation. The effect is only spoiled a little by everyone obeying what must presumably have been a Presidential edict to pronounce it “nucular”, in the approved Dubya style.

Kate manages to rescue Audrey, which is good news for Jack, still shooting Chinese people with the assistance of the faithful Belcheck. At one point they pull off a “synchronised shot”, which basiucally means that they shoot one person each at the same time (it’s not the gun and meat cleaver incident. It’s still to come), which they’re able to do because Chloe’s watching on her laptop for what I think are called “heat signatures” in 24-speak, thus enabling her to predict when Jack and Belcheck will be encountering redshirts. And just as I was idly wondering why Cheng couldn’t do something similar, one of his tech drones backdoors the backdoorers, and all of a sudden they know where Jack is.

Still, back with Kate and Audrey, the sniper who was keeping Audrey pinned down has been taken out, and everything’s ticking over nicely. Until – OMG! – a second shooter appears, and kills Audrey, who at least gets the honour of the silent 24 countdown. But Jack has to be told about this, and he just crumbles, in a way we’ve rarely if ever seen: once again, he’s forced to confront the fact that more or less everyone he loves eventually dies, precisely because of their connection to him, and that even if what he does is necessary it means that he can never have anything within hailing distance of normal human relationships. He seems to contemplate suicide for a moment, but then remembers that there’s still work to be done.

Now, students of 24 will recall that when Renee – a woman he shagged once – was killed Jack went absolutely apeshit, (inaccurately) banging on all the while about how close they were. It’s therefore no surprise that the killing of Audrey – someone with whom he did actually have a relationship – is, ultimately, bad news for Cheng and his team, or at least the ones who wanted to live more than a few minutes. (It’s here that we get the gun-and-meat-cleaver killings, inter alia. And there’s a lot of alia.)

So Jack proves to the Chinese Detective’s satisfaction that Cheng is indeed still alive, thus averting a Sino-American war, then cuts Cheng’s head off. Ouch. That’s the main plot done, although the Russians haven’t forgotten about Jack: they abduct poor old Chloe and ask Jack to trade himself for her; which, eleven hours later, he does. For shippers it includes a lovely moment where Jack and Chloe hold hands; theirs is the most enduring bond in the show, and it means that Jack can permit himself the merest hint of a smile as he’s helicoptered to Moscow.

The real coda, though, is an astonishing scene on the airport tarmac, beside Air Force One and his daughter’s coffin, in which POTUS calmly explains to Prime Minister Stephen Fry that the intolerable grief he, POTUS, is feeling will pass soon, as his illness means he won’t be able to remember anything about it. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the history of 24 – hell, it’s one of the most haunting things I’m going to see on TV this or any other year – and William Devane acts the heck out of it. As I love, love, love 24 I hope I can be forgiven for saying that in concept and execution it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a critically-acclaimed cable drama with an audience in the low hundreds.

All of which provides a fitting end to a wonderful episode, and a triumphant season. Kiefer Sutherland has, of course, nailed it, as he always does, but there are a few other factors which made the season work. As I suggested in my comment on episode 10, the characterisation of Mark Boudreau has been more nuanced than the usual bad-guy-working-from-within. It’s actually possible to see him as a good guy of sorts: Jack, after all, was an international fugitive, wanted for very good reasons by the Russians, with whom America would be keen to maintain a working relationship. And his apparent subverting of the Presidential decision-making process was really nothing more than a well-intentioned attempt to cover for a President who wasn’t entirely capable of discharging his duties. In another world you could see Boudreau as 24’s next President-in-waiting; and, given the circumstances, I’m not entirely ruling it out. And it would be good to see Tate Donovan back.

The big winner from this season might well be Yvonne Strahovski, who has been outstanding from first to last. We’ve seen her develop her American serial drama acting chops on Chuck, where she got better year by year, then emerge with considerable credit from the wreckage of Dexter. (It’s also worth saying that, for a show which is frequently criticised for its ideological stances, 24 has rarely fallen into the trap of unnecessary sexualisation of its – admittedly few – female characters; Strahovski is a very attractive woman who wasn’t required to play it up.) She’s now a proper star, and I hope she gets parts worthy of her.

Which, for the avoidance of doubt, would of course include a reprise of her role as Agent Kate Morgan in a future season of 24. No decision about renewal has been announced yet, although in a sense that hardly matters; after all, the show has been cancelled once already, and if this season proves anything it’s that the concept is robust enough to be revived whenever everyone’s in the mood to. I thought this season was fantastic, and I’d watch the shit out of another one.

24: Live Another Day s9 ep 11

It looks as if we now have have 24’s last villain of the season, and he’s a piece of work: our old friend Cheng Zhi, who had fingers in the seasons 4, 5, and 6 pies, and who imprisoned and tortured both Jack and Audrey. Anyway, he’s pretty much a guarantee of global mayhem and bodies all over the place: he’s got the McGuffin, he wants to start a war between the US and China, and if that means that an American submarine is going to sink a Chinese warship, then that’s just what’s got to happen. POTUS is straight onto Skype to try to explain to the president of China – played, nostalgia fans, by The Chinese Detective! – that it really isn’t his fault, but understandably The Chinese Detective isn’t in a forgiving mood.

The news that Cheng Zhi is still alive is accepted with stoicism by Jack, who frankly hasn’t really cared if he’s alive or dead since his lengthy incarceration at Cheng’s hands. For Audrey, though, it’s more of a shock. And that just adds to what is a really bad week – hour? – for Mark Boudreau: he faces up to the fact that Audrey is still basically in love with Jack, then has to watch as his modest plan to hand Jack over to the Russians unravels, possibly leading to a third world war. Oopsie. But what of the Russian with the silly facial hair? “He’s a counter-intelligence operative, you idiot!” Jack gently explains to Boudreau, who agrees to make amends by trying to get into the well-guarded house of the RWTSFH, in order that Jack and Kate can come firing in after him. “But what happens”, Boudreau whimpers, “when the bullets start to fly?” “You’re gonna want to stay low”, snaps Jack.

And Audrey isn’t happy either. “Let me do my job”, she demands, without as yet clarifying what that job actually is. It seems to involve the nurturing of foreign intelligence contacts, though, as she has a woman at the Chinese embassy. And despite a face-to-face convo between POTUS and The Chinese Detective failing to stop military action, it looks as if a little chat between DOPOTUS and her contact might work; that is, until Cheng intervenes yet again, in thrilling and brutal fashion. You can see how that might exacerbate any lingering PTSD Audrey might have. All utterly preposterous, of course, but wonderful entertainment.

24: Live Another Day s9 ep 9

Spoilers passim. Can’t be avoided.

I thought last week’s episode was enjoyable, if a little short on thrills. They were obviously saving them for this week, because this was pretty fantastic. And we start with a typical 24 fakeout, which really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: POTUS is alive, of course, even if they won’t be playing much football at Wembley any time soon. Margot nearly falls for it: she destroys all but one of her drone stash before working it out. Jack leaves POTUS with his factotum Belcheck (“Just one word. Like Madonna.”) and sets off to find Margot before she can use her last drone, which as it happens is targeted on Waterloo Station, precisely where people are gathering to leave London because of the threat of drone attack, thus demonstrating that as terrorists go she at least has a sense of humour.

Jack manages to track down Margot’s hideaway with an assist from Chloe and Faux-sange, the latter working double duty again this week as Navarro’s contact. There’s some discussion about how “Margot may have set up a perimeter”. May? This is 24, FFS. Of course she’s set up a perimeter. And it’s a good one too, so lots of shooting and banging ensues as Jack, Kate, Erik – who no longer seems to be in a permanent state of fury – and the rest try and blast their way in.

Then the highlight of the episode, the season so far – hell, the year so far: Jack sets up an abseiling line in ten seconds flat, smashes into the room where Margot and Ian are drone-piloting, throws Ian out of the window, diverts the drone with seconds to spare, snarls “The only death on my hands tonight is yours”, to Margot, and throws her out of the window as well. Any episode of 24 in which Jack carries out not one, but two extra-judicial executions before the halfway mark is something special. And when both are defenestrations… well, that’s just gravy.

Needless to say, the mood back at 10 Downing Street, or wherever it is the President and Prime Minister are waiting and watching, is celebratory and a little awe-struck: “He did it”, breathes Audrey, and once again we know exactly what she means. Yes, Boudreau. Are you watching? He did it. Even Jack almost smiles at Kate; it’s as near to flirtation as he ever gets.

And with that the focus of the remainder of the season shifts, presumably, to Navarro, Faux-sange, and whoever they’re working for: Jordan’s definitely dead, and Faux-sange will help Navarro flee the country in return for Margot’s override device. Jack unravels it a little too late, by which time Nav’s on the run with the device and Chloe’s making out with Faux-sange in his car, having told Jack that she’s finished helping him. Chloe finished with Jack? Nope. Not having that. Amazing.

24: Live Another Day s9 ep 8

A well-constructed episode which was short on big thrills for most of its running time, but nonetheless provided plenty of minor-key moments of pleasure. Both Jack and Boudreau are unable to talk the President out of surrendering to Margot Al-Harazi, whose stipulation is that POTUS should present himself in the centre of Wembley Stadium. Heh. Not in any way conspicuous, then. Jack, of course, is the man to escort the the leader of the free world to Wembley Stadium incognito.

And while doing that he’s also, through Kate, overseeing the attempts to get information out of Simone, presently lying comatose in a hospital bed with a hole drilled in her skull. She could be awakened, admits a doctor, but it would mean her almost certain death, so from a therapeutic point of view it’s contra-indicated. It’s a situation which is, of course, catnip to Jack: “Wake the bitch up!” he snaps down the phone at Kate. The bitch is duly woken, and provides the location of the al-Harazi base of operations and the whereabouts therein of some computer files. Then her eyes roll back in her head, machines start beeping, etc.

A fair amount of screentime is given over to the plot with Jordan – alive or dead? – which will really only get interesting, one assumes, when Kate finds out what people did to her poor husband. But it’s all leading to the sort of the climax for which we love 24, when the President stands in the middle of Wembley – helpfully lit up by those in charge of the stadium; it’s almost as if they knew that a terrorist was going to ask for someone to surrender there, and wanted to make it a bit easier – and Team al-Harazi unleash a REDACTED which REDACTEDs the famous Wembley pitch into dust. Whoa. No word on renewal yet, but I’d say 24 has earned it.

24: Live Another Day s9 ep 7

Before the episode,the announcer warned of “some scenes you may find distressing”. Well, I should think so; it’s 24. I’m not sure which scenes she meant, though – the one set in the ruins of the hospital? The finger torture?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To start with, Simone is scraped off the road: she’s alive, if barely, and is taken to hospital, with Jack and Kate – who have worked out who she is – close behind. Her doctor explains that as she’s just suffered the sort of injury which would, in real life, require a recuperation period of a year or so she’s certainly not fit enough for the full Bauer, but Jack’s been in these situations before, and provides a competing medical opinion: wake her up, my good man, I need to interrogate her. Which he does, unsuccessfully, although not without giving the stump of her severed finger a twist or two. (For which he subsequently apologises – apologises – to Kate. Has Jack gone soft?)

While that’s going on, the subplots are bubbling away: it turns out that Navarro is in cahoots with Faux-sange, and is told to arrange for the death of enthusiastic seeker-after-truth Jordan, who as the bullet entered his body might well have wondered whether it was worth it for a workplace crush. And Boudreau meets the Russian with the unique facial hair.

But it’s all just the build-up to a truly fantastic action sequence, which starts when Jack, Kate, Simone, and Yasmin escape in the nick of time from the hospital where Simone is being treated, just as it’s hit by an al-Harazi drone. Jack then bundles everyone into a car and drives off down a succession of narrow London streets against a background of exploding cars and buildings. There’s even an authentically great Jack Bauer moment, when he decides to commandeer another car, and knocks its driver unconscious rather than wasting time seeking permission. (Threatening the homeless guy is a nice touch as well.) It’s both thrilling and self-aware. Once they get away, though, Jack is ordered to report to POTUS who, by the look of things, is shaping to surrender himself to Margot al-Harazi to avoid further carnage. Not quite as good as the last two episodes, but more than good enough.

24: Live Another Day s9 ep 5

Jack’s been taken into custody by Kate, who manages to download to Chloe the evidence which proves that the drone which killed the British soldiers was hijacked. So Jack was right, says everyone. Well, duh, reply the viewers. And with six drones under her command, Margot Al-Harazi goes public in a video – she’ll swap the drones for President Alzheimer. Not tempted, the Pres requests a meeting with Jack: so, dude, what do you got? Well, Jack’s got an arms dealer who’s connected to the Al-Harazis. “We’ll bring him in”, says President Alzheimer, and Jack comes as close as he has in eight seasons to a lusty guffaw. Oh no you won’t, he says; this guy’s not going to talk to your loser Marines, so you need to let me back in the field. Nope, says POTUS; not gonna happen.

Back with the happy Al-Harazi family, Naveed has concealed something in Margot’s video which enables her group to be traced – don’t ask me to explain this – and off go Navarro and the team. Not Kate, though, who’s the subject of a complaint from those appalling Marines for not letting them kill Jack, or something. Which means that Jack and Kate, the only two people in London who know what time it is, are both specifically prohibited from going into the field. This mistake will be rectified in an episode or two, of course, but meantime there’s a risk that London’s going to get drone pie all over its face.

Despite Kate Not Realising What Her Husband Was Up To – which we clearly need to be reminded of in every episode – she’s more than sharp enough to realise that tracing the baddies five episodes into a twelve-episode season is, of course, just too easy. Chloe confirms that it’s a feint, and that it’s likely Team Navarro is heading into a trap. With a drone heading for them.

It’s the best episode of the season so far, I’d say, and what’s striking is just how much of it is taking place with Jack away from the front line. I’ve long been of the view that Kiefer Sutherland’s acting in 24, over the years, has been better than he’s often given credit for, and he’s excellent here: exhausted, almost defeated, and he shares a moving scene with Kim Raver’s Audrey, who has moved in the course of a couple of episodes from never hearing the name Jack Bauer again to nuzzling him with her husband in the next room. “Is he good to you?” Jack asks her, with reference to Mark. And, like last week, I think we know what’s going on here.

24: Live Another Day s9 ep 4

The first part of this episode was like another selection of 24’s Greatest Hits – Jack running around the embassy, Chloe quarterbacking with the help of “schematics”; the chokehold, this time with a few extra grunts and twists; entry cards; an agonisingly slow download with an on-screen percentage bar so that we know just how slow it is. It’s all there, and it’s great.

With Chloe’s help Jack manages to find Tanner and his flight key, and it’s the contents of this which are being downloaded to Chloe at Faux-sange’s HQ, because it’ll prove in some way that the drones were indeed hijacked. But the Marines are after Jack, and corner him in the Embassy’s comms room. Presidential authority is needed for Operation Kill Bauer, but before President Alzheimer – unscathed after his speech to Britain’s parliamentarians, a story arc from last week which, after about twenty unseen minutes in 24-world, comes to more or less nothing – agrees to the plan, he wants to talk to Jack himself.

Which means, of course, that as predicted a couple of weeks ago Audrey does indeed get to hear the name “Jack Bauer” again. She takes Jack’s side; the increasingly unlikeable Mark takes the side of the Marines. You’d think that a check through the archives would save them the bother of wondering whether to believe Jack or not – he’s always disbelieved, and he’s always right. And, in any event, this is clearly a proxy argument about whether Mark or Jack is better in bed, like we need to guess, eh? But President Alzheimer decides to follow Mark’s advice, and the Marines get ready to blast Jack out.

Agent Kate, though, has heard most of what’s been going on, and she thinks Jack might have a point. (We hear again how she called her husband totally wrong, which, as CJ suggested a couple of weeks ago, makes it increasingly likely that we’ll be revisiting the story of Mr Kate shortly.) So Kate sneaks into the comms room, convinces Jack that she’s on his side, and more or less flings her body onto his – not for the last time this season, I’ll wager – to stop the Marines from riddling him with bullets.

Now, I was going to say that the episode flags a little when we’re chez Al-Harazi: yes, Naveed is the wimpy weak link in Margot’s plan to give London an overdose of drone bombs, and Simone dobs him in to her mother, of course. Predictable, and delivered with glacial speed by the standards of 24. But just when the narrative looks like slowing to a crawl… Hammer. Chisel. Ouch. This episode was the real deal.