[This is a review of 24: Live Another Day episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
It is not too farfetched to say that, when it was announced, 24: Live Another Day felt more than a little unnecessary. The 24 series had ostensibly run its course four years earlier, having taken its protagonist to an ending that may have been appropriate within the context of the series itself, but it seemingly left intrepid terrorist hunter Jack Bauer looking less like the hero he’d become in the seven previous seasons and more like one of the people he’d sworn to protect the world from.
As such, a great deal of the concern that normally (and appropriately) accompanies the resurrection of any series – regardless of its legion of fans – was whether or not it could reignite that special spark that many might argue had all but been snuffed out during the latter seasons.
Now, after having survived all twelve hours of Live Another Day, the answer to that question is: yes. And it is a resounding one at that.
The final hour of Live Another Day is a rousing bit of television that’s a little like watching an athlete come out of retirement to win a national championship. But more than simply being an engaging and relentlessly intense episode of TV, the final hour of Jack Bauer's latest crusade lands some surprisingly effective gut punches, ranging from the unexpected demise of Audrey Boudreau – just as she had been plucked from the hands of certain death by Kate Morgan – to Jack's tearful goodbye with Chloe that cemented their BFF status, and could have only been improved by Jack throwing a "Dammit, Chloe, you're my best friend" in at some point before boarding a helicopter that will presumably fly him to a rather unpleasant destination.
It's a somber end to a story that, through and through, has always been about the interminable struggle to prevent horrible people from doing equally horrible things, and how that undertaking, by its very definition, means there are no happy endings (or endings at all, really), just the beginnings of the next endeavor.
But in order to appreciate where the series concludes, it's important to recognize just how surprisingly nimble and swift the series felt throughout its truncated 12-episode run.
That is to say: '10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.' would not have felt as satisfying and compelling had it not been for the fluid and dynamic collection of episodes that came directly before it; something that seemed nearly impossible for a long-running series that had all but overstayed its welcome just a few years ago. And yet, Live Another Day, aside from a few hiccups along the way, managed to do just that.
What had started as a very contemporary revenge plot by Margot Al-Harazi, turned on a dime and became an unexpected race to prevent World War III from starting.
Similarly, the return of Kim Raver and William Devane initially seemed like a nostalgic bit of "Hey, remember when these people were also on this show?" but, surprisingly, in the last few hours of the story, both Audrey and President Heller became integral not only to the plot, but also as emotional anchors to help ground a series in something more than the visceral excitement of seeing Jack Bauer set his sights on destroying Cheng Zhi.
Sure, Cheng's return from the grave was very much on the nose for a series that had itself emerged from the television equivalent of a dirt nap, but then again, that reemergence was part and parcel with the atmosphere of Live Another Day, or what it intended in terms of commenting on its own return. There was an overwhelming sense that 24 was coming back as a matter of its own will.
It was a feeling of inescapability; in true 24 style, the show was coming whether anyone wanted it or not, but that also gave it a unique distinction. Rather than be conjured up by the sound of fans clamoring online or petitioning for its return, the show more or less popped up and proceeded to muscle its way into a Monday night timeslot like Jack Bauer shooting his way into an American Embassy.
And maybe that's why the series carried itself so confidently: It was not beholden to the idea of fan service, like, say, Veronica Mars. Instead, the series pulled itself out of the grave because there was still some demonstrable life in its veins.
A great deal of that life certainly came from how easily and assertively Kiefer Sutherland slipped right back into Jack Bauer mode. But it also sprang from unexpected sources like Yvonne Strahovski, who gave a tough-as-nails performance that was more convincing and lively than she'd ever had the opportunity to deliver on Dexter or even Chuck.
However, the kicker in the last hour would have to be William Devane and the sobering speech to the Stephen Fry's PM about how the pain of losing his daughter is made far worse by the knowledge that he will one day forget she ever even existed is as emotionally harrowing a moment as any of the action contained in the nearly 12 hours that came before.
And those 12 hours are key here, because it seems anyone would be hard-pressed to argue that the success of Live Another Day wasn't significantly due to the fact that fatigue never had the chance to set in.
In that sense, maybe the larger takeaway from the return of 24 isn't so much that Jack Bauer's still got a few patented Thunder Punches left in his reserve, but that more and more television programs – and more to the point, American television programs – can find more creative, critical, and commercial success in thinking smaller; in telling more compact yet richly rewarding stories that are more focused on finishing a story and less concerned with what is coming up next.
24: Live Another Day may have been something of an uninvited guest, but at least it knew not to overstay its welcome. In the end the show did what all good programs should do: leave its audience wanting more – which, in this case, is probably the most satisfying takeaway of all.
Screen Rant will cover the future of 24, as news about Jack Bauer's next adventure (if there will be one) is made available.
Photos: Chris Raphael/FOX