Jack Bauer is in charge of the CTU in California. He’s been reunited with his wife and daughter after an affair with one of his co-workers and things are looking good. Until his daughter Kim is kidnapped and threats are made against Senator David Palmer – and suddenly things begin to get very personal for Jack. Events play out over 24 episodes, each in “real time” from midnight to midnight on the day of the California Presidential Primary. As if anyone reading this doesn’t know the format of the series.
Clearly 24 is an out and out thriller, so what is it doing on my mystery blog? Well, a) I make up the rules but b) there is supposed to be a mystery going through the season concerning one or more moles in CTU? So is that part a mystery worth watching for?
Season one of 24 really is a game of two halves. I guess it’s pretty standard in US TV series, especially those with ongoing plotlines, to have a “get-out” about halfway through. Given the number of shows that get cancelled halfway through their runs, the plot needs to be tied up quickly if necessary. I’m not sure that this has even been so obvious as with this particular show in this particular season. The threat from Ira Gaines, the traitor in CTU, the fates of Jack’s wife Terri and daughter Kim, the plots involving Palmer all tie up nicely by the end of episode 13.
Obviously, given that the show ran for seven more years, it doesn’t end at hour 13 – there are 11 hours left to fill. And the impression I get is that they hadn’t exactly planned this part out too well. Most notably, Terri and Kim are sidelined for a good six hours with, respectively, ropey amnesia and drug dealer subplots, while Jack treads water chasing after a number of leads that are usually cut short by bizarre behaviour – for example the CTU agent who shoots a promising lead because he’s pissed off with Jack, despite knowing what is at stake. The only high spot at this point are the scenes between Jack and Palmer, but these are few and far between. The decision to play Jack’s wife in the second half as someone who can’t cope with the situation brings an element of realism to the whole thing, but I have to say, she’s very annoying to watch at this stage.
The last few hours tie together better, although the production of a last-minute masterplan from the big badguy (no spoilers as to who it is, but I think he’s so evil the first person he killed was his accent coach – such a shame there weren’t any “nuclear vessels” around) is a clear sign that some of this was being made up as it went along.
And the big twist? Knowing what was coming, I watched the series for signs of it and before the actual reveal of the mole’s identity, not only is there no indication of it but there are clear signs that the person isn’t the mole – the number of times CTU could have been undermined earlier in the show by a quick phone-call and isn’t, coupled with a few times where Jack only gets somewhere because of the mole’s help. It has decent shock value – especially the bit right at the end – but really makes no sense.
Of course it’s all helped by the performances. Of course, Kiefer Sutherland holds it all together, but there’s strong support all round. My personal favourite is Xander Berkeley as Jack’s superior (sometimes) George Mason – there’s a certain level of eye-rolling “really?” behaviour in his reactions to some of the twists that mirrors the viewers reactions. There’ll be more from him when I get round to talking about Season 1 of Nikita.
But this is the first of eight series and it’s a good watch. As I said, it drags somewhat from about 1 pm to 7 pm but it set the ball rolling for the next seven years. The threat level here is extremely small scale compared to the later series, but there’s enough here to light the spark to get people coming back for more. The controversial torture sequences aren’t present here – Jack does describe what he’s going to do to someone, but I think he’s bluffing – so there isn’t really anything that will put the viewer off. Just don’t think about it too logically – and don’t think about how much goes down in a single 24 hour period…