Recurring Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Sara Wynter, Elisha Cuthbert, Xander Berkeley, Carlos Bernard, Reiko Aylesworth, Penny Johnson Jerald and Dennis Haysbert.
A year after the shocking events of last season, we reunite with a Jack Bauer, struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. However, he is dragged back into the force, sooner than he can imagine. CTU receive a threat that a nuclear bomb is about to go off in Los Angeles at any given time and there is a race to locate and disarm it. However, both CTU and the President’s office find themselves, unsure of who to trust. There are those who disagree with the President’s way of dealing with things and as the chase for main suspect, Syed Ali, gets underway, some people might have helped get the bomb into the country. Meanwhile, as her sister marries a Middle-Eastern man, Kate Warner suspects her sister’s fiancé might be involved in terrorist activity, while Bauer’s daughter, Kim gets herself into trouble, trying to get a victim of child abuse out of LA before the bomb detonates.
The first thing I need to compliment 24 on is that the second season is a lot smoother. The format of real time is a tricky one to get right, especially when 24 piles on the exposition left, right and centre. Season One tripped up on this style a few times, but it was such a monumental task that we all forgave the writers. We were all unsure how those problems could have been avoided ourselves. However, Season Two feels a lot more confident with the show’s tone and style. It doesn’t feel as restrained and the problems occur less. In Season One, to keep things running at a fast pace, sub-plots were introduced. They were important to keep the pace fresh, but they began to get in the way, as the season got closer to the finishing line. Here, the subplots come thick and fast at the start, but they can always be switched off when needed. Kim Bauer has an interesting storyline, but rather than always throwing it into our faces, the writers cleverly give Kim spaces, where she can logically settle down, therefore giving Jack Bauer and the President’s stories more time to breathe. It doesn’t feel forced and out of place, like it did last time around. Also, the stories are less irritating. Sure, Sara Wynter’s new character, Kate Warner, as a strand of storyline that feels like space-filling, but the twist at the end of it makes time spent on her character worth the wait. Kim Bauer has more fun and the shocking conclusion to her confrontation with her abusive boss is brilliant, putting both Kim and her father into a heart-breaking situation. That was unexpected, a little different and brilliant writing. Also, it doesn’t waste time trying to convince us that characters we met last season are traitors. We all know George Mason only appears unlikeable, but his heart is in the right place. The writers do something different with his character and his side-plot was amazing. Again, good job on the part of the writers.
The political boardroom scenes are also better this time around. They feel more dramatic and have necessary weight, meaning that we don’t mind breaking from Jack Bauer to spend time with the President’s moral decisions. While Kiefer Sutherland is on fine form here, credit must also be given to Dennis Haysbert’s performance as the President of the United States. He remains calm and stoic, showing the internal conflict with subtle movements and the emotion in his eyes. It is an understated performance, but it is incredible to watch the actor do his thing. I also enjoyed how there are no clear cut bad guys in these scenes; the writers are too clever for that. Yes, there are people working against the President, but they have very good reasons to go behind Palmer’s back. In fact, if we didn’t know how reliable Jack Bauer was, we must admit that we might join these guys in betraying the President. It makes everything much more interesting, as no one is free of the accusing finger. No one knows what Sherry Palmer is up to. It also means that when the President catches what they are up to and they get punished, we actually feel sorry for them. They are not evil; they just made a severe error in judgement.
The smaller beats work and the script is a lot better than last time. However, the main crux of the story isn’t as strong as last season, which becomes a problem. Chasing down a nuclear bomb feels so… unoriginal. Most of the season involves Bauer chasing up leads, rather than going head-to-head with any bad guys. Sure, it is fun, but it does get a little repetitive, when most episodes involve Sutherland snarling “Where is the bomb?” at the suspect of the week. The big villains get very little to do. Season One gave Dennis Hopper, Zeljko Ivanek and Michael Massee so much good material, but here the masterminds behind the whole plan are given vaguely nasty lines to snarl down a phone. We never see them in action and we never feel connected to who they actually are. One bad guy gets the chance for a small fight in the final episode, but it feels like a compulsory climax rather than a conscious decision. The actor in charge of being this villain does a good job with what he can (he’s a cult persona and the horror movie fans among you will love the casting choice). The overall story is hardly bad, in fact, it is really good, but you cannot help but wish it had a bit more of a kick to it. However, when that final frame comes into play, you might find yourself jumping to iTunes to download the next season as fast as you possibly can.
Final Verdict: The second season is a lot smoother and the side plots are much better. 24 isn’t quite as good as it could be yet, but it is getting there.