So as Season 6 of 24 continues, you can keep track of the locations in the show (and the ability with which Jack manages to get across town so quickly) at the JackTracker map. Whilst we’re used to the unrealistic travel times, the show still has some surprises, and still has produced some shock exits of major characters. However, perhaps the biggest revelation so far has been the identity of the un-named plotter we first saw manipulating events in season 5 – it has been revealed that he is actually Jack’s brother Graem…
24 day 6 kicked off this week on Sky. As before, with the need to outdo the previous season cliff-hanger, the writers had left themselves with a bit of a quandary – a realtime TV show, and the main character incarcerated in a Chinese prison.
In order to get around the problem, the first episode had the conclusion of a plan to bring Jack back from China in order to be used as a bargaining chip with a terrorist gang. He is brought off the plane, obviously having been abused in the prison, but not having broken. As with previous opening episodes, the sense of time goes out the window as Jack manages to shave and have a hair cut in minutes, ready to be handed over to the terrorists, and then despite further torture at the hands of the terrorist group has managed to escape by the end of episode one. In episode two he quickly gets transport, and a trusty mobile phone, and within a few minutes has disobeyed orders and we’re back into the usual 24 routine of Jack being somewhat of a loose canon whilst the authorities try to keep up.
Unlike the last time around we didn’t open with the shock tactics of a character cull, mainly as there are precious few major characters left in CTU, although many do reappear including a larger role for Wayne Palmer, now elected President, and the return of Milo who just disappeared from the programme back in the first season.
Alongside the regulars, there is a pretty wide number of recognisable faces that turn up in the first two episodes. Peter MacNicol, who some will remember from Ally McBeal has a role, as does Alexander Siddig who previously appeared in Deep Space Nine. We are also expecting an appearance from James Cromwell, cast as Jack’s father. Even if they don’t have time for a regular role, there is always the chance for a cameo, with Stephen Merchant putting in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in episode one. Apparently Ricky Gervais was considered too well known, and his cameo wasn’t used.
So after two episodes the show has definitely kicked off at a frantic pace. In terms of the threat, it again has been ramped up, with a series of co-ordinated attacks already in progress, and large numbers of casualties. Unfortunately, after the Russian separatists of day 5, they’ve dropped back to the old stereotypical and unoriginal fallback of an Islamic terrorist threat as seen in a number of previous series. Hopefully, the other aspects of day 6 won’t be quite as much of a repeat – we’ll wait and see.
We’ve just finished watching the first series of Sleeper Cell, a series focusing on an undercover FBI agent, Darwyn al-Sayeed, who infiltrates a terrorist sleeper cell planning an attack on Los Angeles.
On paper, there are a number of thematic similarities with 24 particularly in terms of the location. However although Jack Bauer has been known to go undercover, the real-time format of 24 precludes the kind of development that has occurred with Sleeper Cell. In many ways, Sleeper Cell is probably the more realistic show with a pretty slow burn in terms of the main plot. Having said that, as with most episodic dramas, each one hour episode (although Channel 4 showed them as double episodes), there is a dramatic finale, but without the restriction of the real-time element, they feel a lot less forced – sometimes the fact that the really dramatic stuff happens on the hour in 24 is decidedly false. Another big advantage of Sleeper Cell is that with an 8 episode series, it’s a lot more manageable to watch and keep track of the plot compared to the sprawling conspiracies that have marked out 24 over the years.
Another difference, especially from certain seasons of 24 is that the terrorist cell portrayed is significantly less stereotypical, including a Frenchman, and also an American convert. Compare this to some of the terrorist organisations in 24 who have been populated pretty well exclusively by Arab looking actors. In another interesting twist, Farik, the leader of the cell, is pretending to be Jewish – even training the synagogue softball team. Indeed Oded Fehr, the actor who plays the part is Israeli.
Like 24 they weren’t afraid of killing off key characters, with one member of the terrorist cell not surviving beyond the first episode – and his disappearance being reported to the local Police nearly messing up the entire undercover operation later on in the series. They also quite shockingly killed off Ray Fuller, Darwyn’s FBI supervisor and close friend, in a struggle with a young Afghan boy who Darwyn believed could be saved from becoming a terrorist, but Fuller tried to arrest. In the argument over whether he should be arrested, the young Afghan tries to escape, fatally stabbing Fuller in the process.
Perhaps the more interesting aspects of the series are the flashes you get of the backgrounds of the various cell members. For example Tommy, who looks like the classic all American boy, has a dysfunctional relationship with his parents, with his conversion to radical Islam almost seen as the ultimate rebellion against his parents. We also learn a little about the background of Christian, the French member of the group. We have to wait until the final episodes before we learn more about the background of Farik, when his wife appears on the scene from London. For obvious reasons we find out little about Darwyn, with only a single brief appearance of someone outside the FBI who knows his true identity.
The series has been renewed for a new season, which will see several parallel threads. The first series concluded with Farik imprisoned, and Ilija, the one member of the cell not to be arrested or killed, going on the run, so I imagine we will see Darwyn on a new case, and maybe Ilija and Farik appearing on the scene later on to cause problems. Certainly I’m sure we’ll be watching when the new series makes it’s appearance on UK TV.
So last night, Sky brought day five of 24 to a close with a double bill of episodes, in which Jack dealt with the terrorists as they attempted to take over a Russian Submarine, served out summary justice against Christopher Henderson – shooting him despite the fact that he was unarmed, and then kidnapped the President in a double bluff designed to get him to confess. The story finished up with Jack having failed to escape from the Chinese, in a plot-line that goes back to day four, and ending up on a slow boat to China. All of which is a big turnaround from where he was at the beginning of day five.
As usual, the real-time element of the programme goes even more to pot in the final couple of episodes, for example Chloe brings in her ex-husband in the penultimate episode, however he appears within minutes of his name first being mentioned, despite it being 5am. The final hour as well is in general rushed, with Jack going from the Presidential retreat, via an industrial unit, and an hour later apparently being on a Chinese freighter steaming in open water.
What will be interesting is to see what happens in day six. For the past few series we have regularly been told that this one will be different, but invariably within minutes Jack is back working for CTU. Maybe this time, with Jack looking like heÃll be in China for a while things will be different, perhaps with the series charting Jacks escape from Chinese captivity. Of course equally it could be that weÃll get one of their ten minute prequels where Jack either escapes or is exchanged, and day six will commence pretty much as before.
Having said that, I did enjoy day five. Although they did kill off some favourite characters, having a corrupt president was a bit of a change, leaving Jack not knowing where to turn. Alongside this, Jack has got nowhere near the people behind the whole plot, for whom the President was merely a pawn. Certainly even with the large scale character cull we had this year, there are still plenty of characters and plenty of plotlines to pick up next year.
This week there were several additional casualties. Firstly, Lynn McGill, a new character this season, having inadvertently provided the terrorists with the means to get into CTU sacrifices himself to save everybody else, by exposing himself to the nerve gas in order to fix a problem with the ventilation system.
Also, although she doesn’t die, Kim Bauer is effectively written out when she declares that she doesn’t want anything further to do with her father, as people always died when he was around her. This is quickly followed by a big casualty, that in some ways left me feeling rather flat – Tony Almeida. Tony has been in the series right from the beginning, and has appeared in every season since. Here, having been threatening to shoot Christopher Henderson throughout the whole episode because he holds him responsible for the death of Michelle he then puts down the gun and decides to give him a lethal drug dose instead. As he is just about to administer the drugs, he again pauses, at which point Henderson wakes up and plunges the needle into Tony instead. To me it just seemed a bit of a let down as one of the longest lasting characters in the series is despatched in such a poor way, without any sort of heroic death – as I said, it just sort of left me flat.