[This is a review of 24: Live Another Day episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
Because a specific structure is so important to how the overall series of 24 works, it stands to reason that there are certain expectations that need to be met within the storyline's framework. And since this season has been modified to be half the length of previous offerings, that structure, then, has to make certain leaps in order to maintain the basic flow of things. So far, that has been to the great benefit of 24: Live Another Day, as the season has mostly managed to avoid some of the pitfalls of previous entries in terms of filling the 24 hour (i.e., episode) quota. Basically, if 24's structure were to be imagined as a physical structure, it might look something like an incredibly steep flight of stairs, and Live Another Day just came along and took several of those stairs out.
As such, '9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.' – like the two previous episodes – has to make something of a leap in order to reach the next step, which, in this case, will be the last. To their credit, the last two hours managed their leaps rather well, first by tossing Margot Al-Harazi out a window, and then by plugging Steve Navarro and Adrian Cross into the 24 villain matrix before disposing of them with astonishing swiftness. That left the recently resurrected Cheng Zhi as the true antagonist of Live Another Day, and depending on how much you enjoy such twists, you're mileage on his return may vary dramatically.
It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for a series such as this to bring back a character believed to be dead, but one has to wonder what purpose Cheng was intended to serve that couldn't have been fulfilled by one of the characters introduced in the Live Another Day scenario. Was he brought back because the series has been off the air for four years and his inclusion – as well as that of Audrey and now President Heller – helps to connect the events of Live Another Day to the rest of the 24 series in a more concrete and emotionally charged fashion? Was Cheng brought back because the series is shorter than other seasons before it, so a villain with a preexisting backstory was necessary? Or does Cheng just fit into the notion of resurrection lingering over the return of a series that had been dead itself for many years?
It's likely a combination of all those factors, and since Cheng manages to introduce (or in this case, re-introduce) an emotionally resonant thread that the narrative perhaps didn't have time to properly cultivate, he's really just a short cut to what may prove to be a more comprehensive conclusion that makes Jack's relationship with Audrey – even though they've barely even been in the same room together – suddenly a more viable part of the overall narrative. And so, in that sense, Cheng's appearance and involvement (however implausible) actually seems to work rather well, reopening old emotional wounds even though his tactics sometimes feel too familiar and beholden to what 24's structure is all about.
The rest of '9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.' is essentially one slam-bang action set piece after another, beginning with Jack and Kate's shootout with the Russians, and ending with Jack, Kate, and Mark's shootout with the Russians.
For his part, Mark Boudreau was essentially working against Jack all season – even when Mark was helping Jack, it was to help himself – but his display of remorse and usefulness (disposable usefulness, but still) may have stayed his arrest for the time being. After all, Jack's willingness to put his neck on the line for the president earned him a pardon, so maybe Mark will just wind up being bounced down to the private sector after a brief stint in a minimum security federal penitentiary or something.
At any rate, with World War III looming, and Stonebridge pressing Heller to fire up the nukes, Jack Bauer and the rest of the Live Another Day crew have more to worry about than whether Mark's earned a partial reprieve. '9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.' was a loaded (maybe overloaded) hour of television, but it nicely set things up for a finale that could determine whether this resurrection of 24 will be a one-off experiment or the start of something new.
24: Live Another Day concludes next Monday @9pm on FOX. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Chris Raphael/FOX