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24 – Season Three: The Review

Channel: Fox

Recurring Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Carlos Bernard, Reiko Aylesworth, Elisha Cuthbert, James Badge Dale, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Zachary Quinto, D.B Woodside and Dennis Haysbert

Wow! 24 is such a thrill ride from start to finish, it is difficult to know where to even start this review.

The opening premise: Jack Bauer and field agent, Chase Edmunds (new face, James Badge Dale, although the three year gap since Season 2 means that the two are already firm friends and partners), have finally managed to put dangerous arms dealer, Salazar (played by the always menacing Joaquim de Almeida), behind bars and have him ready to rat out his buyers. However, it turns out that there is a hidden connection, known only to Bauer, between their prisoner and a dead body dropped off at a medical research lab. The body is infected with a virus that is quickly contained, although it acts as a message. Someone has weaponised a theoretically biological weapon and has the power to deploy it on US soil. Bauer is convinced Salazar is behind the attack, meaning that the government need to decide whether releasing this dangerous criminal is worth saving the city. However, Bauer is secretly harbouring a heroin addiction, something he picked up in deep cover, bringing Salazar down. These are the plot points covered in Episode One, as well as the usual Presidential politic struggle on President Palmer’s side of things. Yet, of course, it doesn’t stay that simple. The plot twists and turns on such a regular basis, it is impossible not to marathon watch 24. Take a break and you risk losing track of what just happened. By the second half of the season, we have abandoned the Salazar storyline almost completely and follow CTU as they track down an enemy from their past, who has a brand new virus and uses it to gain the power to bully the President into acting out whatever he commands.

It is a breath-taking journey from start to finish. While Season Two’s let-down was how impersonal a nuclear bomb felt as a narrative device, a biological virus is almost too devastating. The second half of 24 is a tough watch, as we spend a prolonged amount of time with some infected characters, a few of which we have grown quite close to over the course of the season. It is particularly brutal and if the first half is guilty of a few false starts, when the show actually gives us the consequences of a deadly virus outbreak, it is an emotional sucker punch. However, it works to make this the most nail-biting season of 24 yet. While it still suffers the usual over-cramming of storylines and a fair share of plot holes (Jack’s drug problem vanishes around the thirteenth episode mark), this is an impressive display in storytelling. The pace races along at a dizzying speed, although finds time to mine emotional gold. Some of the highlights of the season are, but not limited to, the brief but horrifyingly honourable character arc of Doug Savant’s hotel manager and a moment that sees Jack Bauer convince a helpless prison guard to shoot himself in the head during a game of Russian Roulette. 24 never really took the time to pause and have moments like these before. The focus was always on the chase, always on that elusive twist that would make you tune in next week. However, this season I was left blown away by some of the performances. I can’t even say it was the main cast that shone. Kiefer Sutherland and Carlos Bernard are all on fine form, snarling their lines down the phone and providing that American bravado that this show is fuelled on. But it is the smaller roles that really hit home. The roles that are clearly there just to kill time or provide exposition, yet to make them feel worthwhile, the actors at hand really work at making their limited characterisation count. Emotional civilians caught in the whirlwind of chaos, D.B Woodside basically acting as the voice of reason or cold logic for the President, yet stealing most of the scenes he is in… there are moments in 24 where you just stop and appreciate the drama.

For me, star of the season goes to Reiko Aylesworth with her character of Michelle Dessler however. She has always been a little blank of a character. The actress is good, but the role she was asked to play was little more than sitting at a desk, answering phone calls (the same problem Zachary Quinto struggles with this season – he is capable of much more than he is asked to do). For a large part of her season, she looked doomed to the same fate. Her arc was basically being romantically involved with Tony, head of CTU, and the pair of them struggling to connect when the pressure is dialled up to the maximum. This season stagnates a little bit, because a lot of the show wants us to connect with this couple, but their chemistry just doesn’t spark. The writers are to blame more than the actors, because they come across as the worst couple on television. As their romance is put on the backburner, because of a terrorist attack, it is frustrated to watch Tony refuse to quickly say the words ‘I love you’, as he rushes off to the next task. Reiko looks like the extent of her emotional arc is the glaring look she gives the back of Tony’s head. Then the story takes an unexpected turn. Michelle finds herself in the centre of the action. I won’t go into details, but she emerges as one of the bravest and impressive agents on the force. Her entire arc for the second half of the season is quietly beautiful, as the actress is allowed to be thrown headfirst into an astonishingly grim situation. It is a refreshing change of pace from Jack Bauer shouting at various bad guys in a deep voice. Although, that too, is quite fun…

Final Verdict: 24 might be the same breakneck thriller, but Season 3 takes time to develop the supporting cast, which makes it the strongest season yet.

Four Stars