Season 7: Final Thoughts

May 25, 2009 12:02 PM
Analysis 0 Comments

Well, that’s it for another season of 24. And as always, we learned a lot.


I guess I’ll go first. I learned that any time I use nicknames in a review, I should put more effort into them, because I never know which ones are going to become immortalized.

Seriously, Fake Lawyer isn’t that creative.

Kasia learned the definition of the term “fanwanking,” after it was revealed that Christopher Henderson formulated a complicated plan to fake Tony’s death and have someone else recruit him for an anti-government conspiracy… three seconds after waking from a coma… after trying to kill him earlier in the day. And here’s why it all makes sense.

The 24 writers learned that they can write the most suspenseful, thrilling, gleefully implausible assault on the White House the world will ever see, but if they bring back an obscure character and then get his name wrong, shit is gonna go down.

That said, we all learned that the 24 writers are smarter than we thought, after realizing that Sangala, Colonel Dubaku’s country of origin, is an anagram for lasagna, his favorite dinner. And shortly after that, we learned that wearing Aviator Shades is always bad-ass, even when the sun has already gone down. And of course, we learned that no matter what you do with Kim Bauer, somebody somewhere is going to bring up that fucking cougar.

We HAVEN’T learned how to not get really mad every time that happens. Yet.

Mr. Seaton learned that stress is the fertilizer of creativity. That was a good one.

And most important of all, we learned that an awe inspiring, soul shattering, possible website-title-undermining plot twist can be ruined by a single solitary nostril.

I think that’s enough of that.

EDITORIAL: The 24 Formula

I’m going to start by spewing some old cliches. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We should not change just for the sake of change. A rolling stone gathers no moss. That’s as useless as tits on a bull. That last one doesn’t have anything to do with where I’m going with this, but I’ve always thought it was funny.

This season of 24 was both a critical and commercial success. We’re all generally satisfied with how the year has gone, and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens next January. The show’s cast and crew seem happy to be back to work for another season, and the Fox Network seems happy to have them. To not tamper with success would seem like a good instinct.

Still, what if they did?

There is a definite 24 Formula. And even though the show moved to a different city, there’s no escaping that this is the seventh time that we’ve seen this same basic story. There’s always a terrorist threat, which provides a lot of action with a bit of moral ambiguity for the audience to chew on. There’s always drama at the White House, as the President faces difficult choices while upholding the integrity of the Oval Office. There’s always an intelligence agency decrypting things, and a lot of inter-office politics and relationships in the background.

The trick is to plug some new variables into the formula to keep it from getting stale. And maybe the writers will surprise us, but I have to think that there aren’t many variables left. There’s a lot of potentially interesting things you can do with the real time format of the show. But for better or for worse, the show is about battling terrorists in a 24 hour period, and the odds of the show re-inventing itself in its eighth season are practically unthinkable. So will Season 8 be able to come up with some new variables? For that matter, was this something Season 7 was able to do?

I always like to think that I can spot the difference between a story that is truly inspired and one that isn’t. It’s almost intangible, but it has a lot to do whether your response to the material is intellectual or visceral. A story that is good but was not particularly inspired is one that your brain reacts to. You’ll realize that you saw something pretty good, you’ll say so if asked, but you can’t seem to get enthused beyond that. An inspired story is one that you have a physical reaction to. You’ll laugh, or you’ll shake with excitement, or you’ll feel a jolt in the pit of your stomach, or you’ll tear up. Those are the reactions that truly matter, they’re signs that the storyteller is unarguably doing a good job.

The first half of Season 7 was just intellectually satisfying. It was all there on the screen, there was suspense, there was political intrigue, there were terrorists making demands, there was Jack Bauer screaming and shooting a lot of people. If people asked me what I thought of the season, I said that I liked it. But although CTU was gone and a beloved fan favorite was back, did the show really feel re-invented? The FBI basically fulfilled the same function in the story as CTU, and the return of Tony was, I think, born out of a desire to correct a really bad storytelling decision than anything else. Do you think the 24 cast and crew was genuinely excited about their material in the first stretch of episodes? If they were, I wasn’t feeling it.

However, there was some inspiration in the writer’s room during the second half of the year. At one point, they tossed out this; what if Jack Bauer was exposed to the bio-weapon he was trying to stop, and suddenly had a finite amount of time to make peace with all his choices? Hey, I felt that.

Around the same time, they realized that the relationship between Jack and Tony is one the fans care a lot about, so they said; why if Tony really does go into a dark place become Jack’s enemy? That’s another story we can get invested in.

And then there’s Jonas Hodges. I’m not sure if he was so well written that Jon Voight was attracted to the part, or if they were so excited to get Jon Voight that they wrote the part well, but it doesn’t really matter. The scenery chewing corporate CEO was a new and exciting kind of villain. These three ideas in particular were inspired, you could feel the inspiration in the writing, and you could see the enthusiasm in the execution.

And now, the “But.”

But the 24 Formula is still very much in play. We’ve got one hero dying, another turned bad, and a deliciously insane villain, but at its core, the show is telling the same type of story as it’s told for seven seasons. We get occasional variations like a minor redshirt not dying, or characters making unexpected decisions, but there’s an undeniable familiarity to the proceedings. There’s always a terrorist threat, there’s always drama at the White House, there’s always people at an intelligence agency decrypting things.

The aforementioned three ideas gave the formula a new spin, but are they repeatable? Hell, can they even be topped? Can the writers come up with something the audience can get more invested in than Jack dying or Tony going dark? Can there ever be a villain as deliciously nutty as Hodges again? What I’m saying is, I’m afraid that whatever big ideas the writers come up with in Season 8, they won’t be as good. That, coupled with the fact that the formula almost certainly won’t be tampered with, makes me a little weary about the show’s future.

I think the trick to making Season 8 (and beyond?) great is to keep the characters we’re invested in and are becoming invested in around, while putting them into a situation that’s new. We already know that Jack, Chloe, Renee, and Allison will be back. And it seems extremely likely that Tony, Kim, Henry, and Ethan will also return in some capacity. That’s a good start. Less encouraging are the rumours that CTU will also be back, there’ll be more dealings with Middle Eastern terrorists, and that there won’t be a gap of a few weeks between this day and the next. Doubtless we’ll hear a lot about how the show is going to return to its Season 1 roots and make the stakes “more personal,” but let’s not kid ourselves. At some point next year Jack will say “THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WILL DIE!”

I’d like to make a plea to the 24 crew, (assuming that they aren’t keeping some really exciting plot twist under wraps). Keep the characters we love and are starting to love, and of course keep the real time format, but throw them into a bold and daring new situation. Don’t just make cosmetic and superficial changes, like going to a different city, have the cast deal with something entirely new. It’s a scary idea, changing something that’s successful, but remember that fans were getting pretty sick of the 24 formula back in Season 6. And since there won’t be a two year absence between seasons this time to make the heart grow fonder, there’s every chance it could happen again. If you’re not going to re-invent, then perhaps it really is best to end the show after next year. After all, I’d hate to become… gasp… tired of 24.

This has been a surprisingly pessimistic editorial by johanley.



And now…


3. Episode 3 (10:00 A.M.-11:00 A.M.): This one was for the Jack and Tony fans, to be sure. In one scene, we had a thrilling confrontation in a holding room that ended with the two characters screaming at and/or strangling each other. The next time we saw them, they were side by side on the lam together without missing a beat. In between, there was a stunning revelation about Chloe and Bill’s involvement that I personally didn’t see coming, and then the episode ended with some nice stuntwork. I know there were subplots with Henry Taylor looking for his son’s killer and Janis trying to find out if Sean was the mole, but honestly, I don’t even remember that much about them. It was the main thread that was made this episode great.

2. Episode 12: (7:00 P.M.-8:00 P.M.): At the midway point of the season, the show finally hit upon something I had always wanted to see on this show… an attack on the White House. The invasion, led by the chilling General Juma, made for an increasingly gripping hour. He scored success after success, taking characters we have a lot invested in hostage one-by-one. And the cliffhanger was the most intense of the season. I’m a sucker for these claustrophobic hours with every character in unrelenting danger, and this one was a doozy. Some complained about how implausible the storyline was, but I was so caught up in the action that I didn’t even notice them until afterward. Which to me is the definition of a great thriller.

1. Episode 24: (7:00 A.M.-8:00 A.M.): This finale was all about how different characters react to tragic events, and in the process, the major themes of the show came out. Security vs. Liberty, The Greater Good vs. The Damage to One’s Soul, The Ends Justifying the Means, it was all there, and all of the characters were given more depth as a result. Tony lost Michelle, so he ultimately decided to sacrifice everything to make the man responsible pay. Renee lost Larry, and because of that, she ultimately made the choice to compromise her values in the name of saving more lives. Allison Taylor chose to uphold the Oval Office, and lost her family. And Jack was left to try and make peace with all of the choices he had made in his life. It took a few contrivances to make it all work (Yet another person involved in the Season 5 conspiracy, Renee randomly transferring her hatred of Tony over to Wilson for no real reason), but the end result was powerful and more than worth it.

(Personal ratings, just to be comprehensive.)

Episode 1: 8.5/10

Episode 2: 8/10

Episode 3: 9.5/10

Episode 4: 7.5/10

Episode 5: 7/10

Episode 6: 7.5/10

Episode 7: 8.5/10

Episode 8: 7/10

Episode 9: 7.5/10

Episode 10: 8.5/10

Episode 11: 8/10

Episode 12: 9.5/10

Episode 13: 8/10

Episode 14: 9/10

Episode 15: 8.5/10

Episode 16: 8.5/10

Episode 17: 8/10

Episode 18: 9/10

Episode 19: 8.5/10

Episode 20: 8/10

Episode 21: 7/10

Episode 22: 8.5/10

Episode 23: 7.5/10

Episode 24: 9.5/10