“EVERYONE YOU LOVE DIES RIGHT AWAY”
24 is a groundbreaking and important television series. Beyond the thrills, kills, twists and tragedies is a show that reached a new level of serialized storytelling and set the bar for action and suspense on network television. Lasting for 8 full seasons–192 Episodes plus a TV movie–24 is one of the longest-running shows of the past 15 years. Others, like Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Smallville, all three CSIs and three of four Law & Orders, may have run longer, but the argument can be made that none of those shows are equally as worthy of contributing to the debatably labeled and vaguely-defined “Third Golden Age of Television Drama” that began with The Sopranos in 1999 and is now fading with the end of Breaking Bad and the impending finale of Mad Men. Perhaps 24 doesn’t quite reach the dramatic heights of those shows, or others like The Wire and Deadwood, or even The Shield, Lost or Battlestar Galactica, but it was always a strong awards and ratings contender and it was just so addicting and fun to watch.
Please join us—Patches, Zach, Jeff and MegaMix—as we take a look back at this series, discussing one season every month until the premiere of the new 12-episode miniseries 24: Live Another Day in May 2014.
This month’s discussion is focused on Season 5 of 24, which premiered in January of 2006.
It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of 24 and strong language. Parental discretion is advised. Discussion occurs in real time.
In season 5, 24 is on the decline. It’s not that the show is bad, but unfortunately it recycles several old ideas and brings us new characters and situations we never knew we didn’t want.
At CTU we get unwitting mole (and Chloe banger) Spenser Wolff, post-LOTR Sean Astin as Lynn McGill, the requisite “suit from Division” who comes in and messes everything up (along with his meth-head sister), Soul Man himself, C. Thomas Howell, as Kim’s psychologist/boyfriend, Barry, and also Miles Papazian. I hate Miles Papazian.
Elsewhere we get a love story between Aaron Pierce and Martha Logan. We get a candidate for worst non-season-6 episode, in which a Russian sex slave goes all Mrs. Ortega on her captor. Worst of all, we get an overly complex hierarchy of foreign and domestic villains involved in a plot hatched by weasely Charles Logan, whose evil is revealed in the most high-stakes ridicu-twist this side of season 6.
There are still classic 24 moments, scissor meets neck, submarine showdown, Walt Cummings’ beating, kneecapping Miriam Henderson and Jack choking half of the cast (seriously: Walt, Curtis, Barry, Collette, Audrey, Miles, Bierko). However, characters like Curtis and Edgar get brushed aside, with the former sitting out 6 episodes, and the latter sidelined until he catches a case of nerves, er, nerve gas. Chloe gets more of the same-old, secretly helping Jack on no less than three separate occasions. By the end of the season we meet her never-before-mentioned ex-husband, Morris. Sadly, he’s here to stay.
More baffling: how is this the highest rated season and the one to win the big Emmys? How could so many people jump on board when the show was losing steam? They couldn’t possibly have watched seasons 1-4 before declaring season 5 the best, right? What gives?
Those were my thoughts in 2006.
Here’s what I think after re-watching season 5 for the first time:
I had a freaking BLAST!
Why was it so good this time?
1. Consistency – I previously mentioned how consistency is important to me in a TV series. I believe season 5 is second only to season 3 in consistent quality. The first 6 episodes are one of the best extended runs of the series. It lacks a “classic” individual episode, but Russian sex slave aside, it avoids “down” episodes as well.
2. Urgency – Rather than hunting assassins/bombs/viruses/power plant meltdowns over several episodes, we had multiple mini-threats (the airport, four gas attacks, the motorcade, the bank, the plane, the sub) that were resolved quickly while keeping up the overall momentum.
3. Risky Changes – the season opened by killing David and Michelle. It made the US PRESIDENT the big bad. It spent the final 9 episodes (submarine aside) focused on bringing down one man, not saving millions. This is atypical for 24, but season 5 managed to make it exciting.
These things aren’t new to 24, but I missed them the first time through season 5. I let the little dumb moments bring down individual episodes. I disliked the Logan twist and therefore wrote off the conspiracy plot. Lastly, I was upset that they killed David and Michelle and I was PISSED that they killed Tony. In fact, while these deaths help to propel the season to (near?) greatness, I think they’re ultimately what brings season 5 down (a little) and the remainder of the series down (a little more) for me.
With David’s death, we lost a great, moral man with a position of power that allowed him (and Jack) to do the right thing. Logan is not an ally to Jack, but an antagonist. He’s played terrifically by Gregory Itzin who starts us on the road of cynicism about the US government and questioning whether it’s worth fighting for, against, or at all. That’s not exactly a bad thing (see an insightful comment on the season 3 DSD), but when 24 starts taking itself more seriously as it declines in overall quality, it won’t receive highest marks.
By killing Tony Almeida, the series lost its heart. Yes, Tony became vengeful near the end, but he decided at the last second that he couldn’t kill Henderson. This is perfectly in keeping with the character. He’s not capable of doing everything Jack can. He’s not super-human. He’s human. With Tony dead, there’s no accessible, relatable counterpoint to Jack Bauer. Yes, I know Tony comes back in season 7, which also made me angry. More on that after a re-watch.
With the heart of 24 gone by episode 13, the back half of season 5 works pretty well because it’s really Jack (and us) taking revenge on Logan and Henderson for murdering his friends. Removing David, Tony and Michelle gives Jack something to fight for, but it still takes away three of the biggest factors that made early 24 so great. For this reason, season 5 can’t top season 3, though I think it comes close, or closer than I originally gave it credit for.
Gentlemen, there are a ton of things to cover that I didn’t even touch (Desmond Hume, anyone?). But I need your help sorting my differing opinions. Which view of season 5 is the correct one? Is it the last great season of 24, the first not-so-great season of 24, or something completely different?
I completely agree with how you felt back in ‘06, although I do remember thinking it was a pretty exciting year for the series. I recall being taken aback by President Palmer’s assassination 3 seconds into the first episode and then the Tony/Michelle explosion that (potentially) destroyed one of the most fantastic of bro-duos 10 seconds later (I’m over exaggerating about a real-time show, I know). I hated Logan and thought that Henderson was sort of a blaśe bad guy (But thought he was good in That 70’s Show).
Then I reread the beat-to-beat moments from the season and I was surprised by how much of it I really enjoyed. I liked all the Jack/Audrey moments. I LOVED more Bill Buchanan. The Edgar death goes down as a great one, though (and I’m sure this will come up more later) it didn’t deserve the Silent Clock that it got when Tony did NOT receive one. Speaking of, Jack weeping over Tony was one of the most powerful moments of the series. The constant struggles of competency between Martha and Charles Logan were very well done. Just to name a few.
The element of season 5 that I want to focus on as being one of my favorites, is the addition of life outside of duty for the character of Agent Aaron Pierce. Some may argue that this was a bit of an unnecessary story development, but I feel it was a pivotal cog for some of the key moments of the season. Without the trust of Pierce, would Martha ever learn, reveal, or participate in bringing her husband down? It is clear that nothing has ever happened between Aaron and Martha (to this point), which makes it a purer love that often isn’t shown in today’s media.
Lastly, the moment that defines this season for me involves (my man) Pierce finally confronting President Logan on his actions. Aaron’s quote says everything you need to know about S5:
“With all due respect, Mr. President, there is nothing you have said or done that is acceptable to me in the least. You are a traitor to this country and a disgrace to this office. And it’s my duty to see that you are brought to justice for what you’ve done. Is there anything else, Charles?”
OOOHHHHHH DDDAAAMMMNNN!!! AARON JUST CALLED POTUS BY HIS FIRST NAME!!! SHIT JUST GOT REAL!!!
To me, Season 5 isn’t the last great season of 24 or the first sub-par season. To me, it’s simply the first season I ever watched. Only after Season 5 grabbed me, for all the reasons laid out by Jeff above, did I go back and watch Seasons 1-4.
This progression helped highlight what 24 is all about: Jack Bauer under duress. The problem is that in order to increase the suspense, you need to raise the stakes for Jack. By Season 5, Jack’s taken down terrorists of ill-defined ethnic origins, terrorists of better-defined ethnic origins, former teammates, co-workers, and terrorist masterminds. The writers couldn’t go any “bigger” than Season 4, so they tried to make the threat more personal.
Enter Christopher Henderson, the guy who made some agent named Jack Bauer into JACK BAUER. Most viewers can relate to betrayal on some level, so it’s easy to empathize with Jack while Henderson hangs his greatest pupil out to dry. Jack isn’t overly sentimental, but grappling with a man he clearly respects had to take a toll on Jack, and by extension, the viewers.
Season 5 also saw Charles Logan take his rightful place in 24 lore. Logan isn’t the series’ most iconic antagonist because he was President of the United States. It’s because he’s Jack Bauer’s goateed parallel universe alter ego.
Both have strong visions for the nation. Both will go to any length to achieve their goals. Both will use anyone to get what they want and violently dispose of anyone who gets in their way.
The difference is that Charles Logan is selfish. It’s his tragic flaw. Charles Logan is always foremost on Charles Logan’s mind. We saw it in his use of David Palmer as a potential fall guy in Season 4, in everything he did in Season 5, and in his attempts to rehabilitate his tarnished name in Seasons 6 and 8.
Jack, on the other hand, makes The Giving Tree look like Charles Ponzi. 24 is, at heart, the story of how Jack Bauer sacrifices everything he loves for his idea of the greater good. FemBauer’s death is perhaps the best example. Not only does Jack lose his last chance at happiness, but he also has to give up his revenge in order to avoid war with Russia.
Unfortunately, Season 6 took this idea directly to its logical extreme, but Season 5 hit the sweet spot.
S5 occurred during my year abroad in England. The study abroad program I was in was very small — only 8 students from my school — and we all became pretty close. When we arrived in the UK, there was one (maybe two) avid 24 fan and his then-comprehensive-dvd collection. By the time S5 started airing in January of 2006, there were 5 rabid fans. Many times that first trimester a sudden and booming chant of “R1R1R1R1R1R1R1R1!” burst out of my neighbor’s jam-packed room and echoed down the tight old hallways in regular 40 minute intervals. Those of you with experience on the PlayStation side of the universe know what that means. Let’s just say that we were excited to see what the hell could happen next.
England, of course, is 5 hours ahead of America’s EST. Unfortunately, it is not 5 hours ahead of an episode of 24.
Talk about “in real time.”
Through what I am “sure” were “completely” “legitimate” means, my friends and I managed to watch almost every episode of S5 in the only acceptable fashion — live. At about 8 PM EST (or as the Brits like to call it 1 AM GMT (or as we liked to call it, kinda late)), we gathered in a centuries-old room to watch S5 of our collective favorite show.
Maybe it was the late nights, but something felt a little off back then. The hit on every major character ever started the show off in this confusing and rage-inducing state of “Why??” I suppose it made the revenge plot sweet, but I remember at the time wondering what would be left after. Chloe was and remained a stalwart character and ally, and Buchanan deftly slipped into the Palmer role, but I remember my overarching thoughts being “who are these people?” and then ultimately “actually, I don’t care.” Lynn. Karen. Miles. Heller. Some Gra(ha|eh)m guy. Walt Cummings. F***ing Morris.
There were other things I hated (what felt like an interminable amount of time spent on that damn airplane, and (in my opinion) the single most gimmicky stunt ever pulled on the show (the suuuuuper dramatic landing of the plane by Jack on some highway somewhere)); and things I loved (basically, Logan and Henderson)… but in the end, what I remember about S5 is the late nights in the room. And that still makes me fond of S5, no matter what.
Forgive the analogy, but season 5 is like Icarus just before the fall. There’s something to be said for a smooth flight, but why not take some risks and see just how high this baby can go? Right before everything fell apart, Icarus was soaring higher than ever. Sure, he could feel his wings starting to deteriorate and the air becoming thinner and choppier, but damn it™ if he wasn’t enjoying the view.
That’s season 5. The writers are taking bigger risks, gaining altitude by killing major characters, making the president the bad guy and streamlining the conflict. They’re attempting to reach new heights, and I believe they generally succeed, but at what cost?
Though they’re still flight worthy, the wings begin to fall apart with the loss of beloved characters. Yes, we still care about Jack and Chloe and also Bill, Curtis and Audrey to varying degrees. Otherwise, like Zach said: “who are these people? Actually, I don’t care.”
Not caring can be beneficial as it helps with the transition from 24 you can generally take seriously (seasons 1-3) and 24 you need to “just go with” to enjoy. Where Icarus’ ascent had him riding the line between immortality and death, so season 5 straddles the line between awesome and ridiculous. Perhaps it’s hitting Patches’ “sweet spot”. It doesn’t always work, with certain plots, scenes and characters revealing that the wax is starting to melt. More often than not, however, if you can just enjoy the view, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
For all of the excitement gained from the reckless abandon of season 5, there’s still a hollowness at its center. It comes from the loss of Tony, Michelle and David, which I covered above. As much as we may praise Bill and Curtis, these new favorites don’t quite fill the same holes or functions. At least not for me. Perhaps most importantly, the hollowness is a product of Jack having lost almost every tie to the humanity he had in season 1. It’s as if Icarus’ fuel tank is running dry just as his wings start to break up. Season 5 gave all it had.
This doesn’t mean I’m going back on my claim of enjoying season 5. Even running on empty and starting to fall apart, Icarus still got closer to the sun than anyone. Internally, season 5 is a daring gamble that mostly pays off. It’s an admirable achievement, with a pretty great closing twist–the Chinese order Jack Bauer take-out–but the price is a devastating fall, otherwise known as: Season 6.
WHAT’S…THE DEAL…WITH THESE SILENT CLOCKS!?!?!? (Said in my best Jerry Seinfeld impression, of course.)
We’re introduced to the Silent Clock at the end of S1 with Terri Bauer death. It’s a pretty damn powerful moment that I would argue was a great introduction to the SC and it’s possible weight.
The next time we don’t hear the beeps is in the second season when George Mason turns over control of CTU to Tony because he’s DYING of radiation poisoning. Not dead (keep in mind), but going to die. Then, when he comes back later in S2 and actually does die, there is no SC.
Third time’s the charm? After an assassination ATTEMPT on Palmer there is a SC at the end of season two. I like the idea of using it for cliffhanger purposes (as I’ve outlined before), but by once again not using it for an actual death the SC starts to lose all meaning.
The next beepless moment is when Jack has to kill Dave, I mean Ryan Chappelle in S3. We’ve talked about this before and how wicked awesome that moment was, so let’s move on.
Nothing in the fourth season. And, in all honestly, no one really deserved it. So, good job 24.
And last, but not least, we have our currently discussed fifth day. Former President Palmer actually assassinated within 5 minutes of episode 1? Nah, they already used up Palmer’s SC. Tony and Michelle (for sure Michelle) are blown to bits 3 minutes later? Nope, Tony’s technically still alive, so we’ll wait on that SC. Tony AGAIN? No, because ssshhh…he’s still going to live, but we’ll get to that later. Wait WAit WAIT!!! Edgar Stiles dies due to Sentox exposure. Now, THAT deserves a SC if I’ve ever been sure of anything in all of time and space.
To be clear, I ultimately liked Edgar’s moment and thought that the SC was used well in that it did what I think a Silent Clock should do, which is invoke a lasting emotional response. However, it didn’t do what I wanted it to do, which is honor the fallen person (or people, but we’ll get to that later) and pay them the respect they DESERVE. Basically, main characters that directly affect Jack’s life.
But seriously, Edgar and not Palmer, Tony, or Michelle? Come on MAN!? Right, Patches?
I’m with you, MegaMix. We’ve talked a lot about losing David Palmer and Michelle Dessler, but we haven’t talked much about what we lost.
In losing David Palmer, we lost the president we wish actually existed, or at least that we had elected since Eisenhower. He exercised patience as Commander in Chief (Anyone else wish Palmer was actually president in March of 2003?). He remembered that he might need to engage in evil (sorry, Chapelle) in pursuit of a greater good. Most of all, he was honest, wise, and possessed enough integrity that he could always be counted upon to do the right thing.
As for Michelle, we lost the most competent employee CTU ever hired. Boss after boss resigned, was forced out, or went off the deep end. Chloe had a severe tendency to go rogue in support of Jack, who is probably, objectively speaking, the least reliable CTU employee imaginable. Like Palmer, she knew her shit, could make the tough calls (maybe you wouldn’t have been shot if you wouldn’t have been such a fuckhead, dude), and knew when to follow the book and when to follow Jack.
What really kills me is that their deaths had no meaning to me. This was my first season of 24. I can remember watching the Season 5 premiere (probably aired with limited commercial interruption thanks to Toyota) with MegaMix and feeling overwhelmingly… confused.
All my friends were freaking out while everyone was dying and some awkward woman was getting chased down by henchmen. It wasn’t until I went back and watched the first four seasons, ironically on Chinese bootleg DVDs MegaMix brought back from studying abroad, that I truly appreciated the magnitude of the Season 5 premiere. I finally understood what 24 and its viewers had lost.
So, I wish I knew what it felt to lose David and Michelle during the premiere. That I never will is one of the few regrets in my television viewing history.
There is a scene in the first and only season of the show 2.4 (sometimes apocryphally referred to as S6 of 24, which never aired for unknown reasons) — and probably in other seasons of 24 — in which people are discussing the need to have someone “on the inside” take the fall for what has happened that day. It’s part of human instinct to tell stories, to retroactively read the tea leaves, to say the writing was on the wall and we — no, YOU! — should have seen it coming, and that way we won’t be fooled again.
And this is the point where I compare S1 of 2.4 to 9/11: I feel I perhaps unjustly blame S5 for the atrocity that was “S6.” I think Jeff hits the nail on the head: in S5, the writers start spreading their wings, taking risks and seeing what they can do with this thing they created when they really let ‘er loose. This strategy pays off (taking the word of those who have rewatched) in S5, and spells disaster in what follows. I know that I have often thought and said things to the affect of “you can see the wheels coming off” and “maybe it was cool then, but look at what happened as a result” — but that’s not fair, and not even a reflection of how I felt at the time. S5 didn’t do the terrible things. Instead, it did cool things.
I haven’t rewatched S5, in part because I bore this grudge. I suppose it “deserves” better than that. If I actually think about what I remember about S5, it’s the airport scenes (awesome for their use of “televised” terrorism and assassinations, one of my favorite attempts to discuss real-world events in the storyline), sentox being a great threat (I always love dispersive threats more than explosive ones for reasons discussed in S3DSD), the submarine standoff, and the excellent memorial scene for DP. Okay and hating the plane bit and the recording. But that’s mostly good, and would be one of the “great” seasons of 24. I remember liking it more than S4 and S2, and considering it *not* one of the SuperBauer seasons.
So basically: sorry, S5. My bad.
Jack’s Season 5 Kill Count: 39
Overall Kill Count: 136
Favorite Moment: I’ll go with scissors to the neck, because I flipped when I first saw it. Not only does Jack make Hank stab himself with a pair of surgical scissors, but then he finishes the job by jamming them in extra-deep with a blow from his hand.
Parting Shot: This might be “the season of the recognizable guest star” for me. Connie Britton (Spin City/Friday Night Lights), Brady Corbet (Funny Games), Sandrine Holt (House of Cards), Jeff Kober (Sons of Anarchy/New Girl), Sean Astin, Mark Sheppard (Firefly/BSG), Patrick Bauchau (The Pretender/Carnivale), Timothy Omundson (Deadwood/Psych), Peter Weller, C. Thomas Howell, Ray Wise, Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), Stana Katic (Castle), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Paul McCrane (ER), Kirk Acevedo (OZ/Fringe), Charles Chun (Scrubs). Also, cameos by NASCAR driver Carl Edwards and John McCain. Stephen Merchant would show up in episode 1 of Season 6.
Favorite Moment: There are too many to list here, so I’ll mention a great one that hasn’t been brought up yet. During the last episode of the fifth day, Jack points a gun at President Logan and demands a confession for all that Charles has done. Unfortunately for Jack, Logan senses and ultimately calls Bauer’s bluff about being able to pull the trigger. The moment is a fantastic one, and when Logan cocks his head to the side with a gun in his face as if he feels bad for Jack not being able to do it the audience can’t help but despise this villain of villains.
Parting Shot: Something that none of us really talked about was Jean Smart’s performance as Martha Logan. She was nominated for an Emmy twice for this role and absolutely destroys it as an on-the-edge-of-disfunction first lady opposite another phenomenal performance by Gregory Itzin. One of the moments from S5 that I remember most is when Martha gets into the Suvarov limo as the audience realizes that the limo is about to be blown to smithereens. I recall feeling a lot of anxiety assuming that the First Lady was going to be killed FOR SURE. The 24 peeps played it very well and ultimately didn’t kill off this wonderful actor and character too soon.
Best Moment: Jack shooting Henderson’s wife in the leg, without the slightest compunction, was my introduction to Jack Motherfucking Bauer. Awesome.
Parting Shot: Season 5 was the only season not to feature an amputation.
Season 1 – Jack takes a mercenary’s finger to ID his assailants
Season 2 – Miguel loses his leg in hilarious Kim Bauer-related hijinks
Season 3 – See Edmunds, Chase
Season 4 – Mitch Anderson cuts off a pilot’s thumb to gain access to a stealth fighter
Season 6 – Jack tortures off the fingers of both Dmitri Gredenko and Anatoly Markov while Abu Fayed later takes off Gredenko’s arm to ditch a tracker
Season 7 – First Gentleman Henry Taylor loses a finger to Ike Duboku’s blackmail attempt on President Allison Taylor
Season 8 – Renee Walker removes a chunk of Ziya Dakhilov’s hand to remove a house-arrest bracelet