There’s a particular kind of narrative sadism 24 likes to employ when it wants to drum up intensity for the secondary characters. Like, say, having Margot send Simone to deal with Naveed’s sister, who turns out to be incredibly friendly and welcoming, and also just so happens to have an adorable, precious daughter. Simone, who’s already struggling with her conscience after the death of her husband, doesn’t want to kill them. Margot insists, because that’s basically what villains like Margot are for: to force Jack and others like him to take extreme measures, and to demand the unthinkable from their closest associates. She is just as much an absolute in her way as Jack is in his; the only real difference, apparent from their respective moral alignments, is that Jack actually asks Kate to do the impossible. Margot simply demands it. And then poor Simone, struggling between the dictates of her mother and whatever sanity and decency is left to her, tries to compromise, and everything goes pear-shaped.
It’s not the most complex of resolutions, but there is something bleakly funny in how quickly that last scene gets out of hand. Simone holds a knife in her hand, and her resolve withers in the face of Naveed’s sister’s solicitude. But when she tries to warn the sister of what’s coming, the sister very reasonably gets worried about her brother, and decides to start making calls. Simone tries to stop her, the sister sees the still open knife in her hand, and, well. Then the adorable daughter comes down, and Simone has to chase her, and I guess there’s something to be said here about the impossibility of trying to balance the demands of a psychotic, mass murdering mother against any basic kindness or empathy, but really, you just have to laugh at how fucked it all works out. Simone getting hit by a bus (a double-decker bus, this being London and all) is a narrative development, but it’s also a bitterly funny punchline.
That’s not the only one, either. “4:00 PM—5:00 PM” is full of perfectly nasty touches. Without ever becoming overtly meta, there are times when the show seems to be sticking out its tongue at the audience, in a way that should be overly contrived, but instead just adds to the fun. (Your mileage may vary, as ever.) Jack convinces Kate to drug herself so he can hand her over as proof to his former employer (an arms-dealer named Rask) that he wasn’t a mole; the drug is to knock her unconscious and make her essentially untorturable until Jack can get the information he needs from Rask and arrange for his associate to free her. Yet within seconds of Rask’s men pulling Kate out of the trunk, we learn that they have a special drug that will counteract the drug Kate injected into her neck. They don’t even name this special drug, at least not that I could hear.
Maybe I have problems, but I found that hilarious. I didn’t laugh at Kate getting tortured, but the idea that after that effort and frantic planning, the bad guys just wave their hands and it all goes away—that’s funny. Also funny: After enduring Rask’s ranting and convincing the man to open up an account that will allow Chloe to upload a virus into his system, Jack has to watch helplessly as a British task force interrupts things half a second before Rask can hit “Enter” on his keyboard. Sure, Jack eventually hits the Enter button himself, and the task force is so inept that all they really do is make things extremely awkward for a few minutes (okay, maybe they save the day by stopping Jack’s friend from saving Kate), but still—it plays like a wink, doesn’t it?
Maybe it’s just the speed with which events are unfolding, maybe it’s just the time the show’s been away, but twists that would’ve read as clunky, overly manipulative writing in previous seasons feel like moments when we’re all in on the joke here. There’s a lightness to 24: Live Another Day, even with all its torture and shocking death. The characters are taking everything deadly seriously, and there’s plenty of ugliness and horror, but there’s a playfulness too.
This hour isn’t quite as strong as last week’s; Mark’s conversation with Jack about Audrey, followed immediately by Mark’s conversation with Audrey about Jack, was a bit much. But things are still humming along as ever, even when they have to work a bit harder to do so. The result of Simone’s encounter with Naveed’s sister is so economical (I appreciate how this season hasn’t been dragging anything out; there’s no long, painful conversations in which we learn just how amazing the sister is, and how much she loves her daughter. Just enough to show us that these are not people Simone wants to kill.) that it’s easy to forget that, at least as far as I can remember, the sister was never mentioned before now.
That’s not a problem, exactly, but it’s the sort of out-of-left-field move the show had become infamous for. The saving grace here is the resolution, which is both entertainingly awful (for Simone) and also proves to be relevant to the larger narrative. Random complications can bog a story down, but so far at least, this show is using them in smart, economical ways. A great season of 24 is all about getting the flow of plot right. Done poorly, the season will stutter in between the shooting; done well, every apparent diversion just connects back into the main stream, until that stream becomes a river, and the river becomes a flood.
- Oh, and STEVE IS THE MOLE. Heh. Because of course he is. The only question now is if this will exonerate Kate’s husband. I kind of hope it doesn’t, but we’ll see.
- Prime Minister Stephen Fry is adorable when he’s cranky. I love his reaction to learning that Heller has let Jack back into the field, mainly because I love any time a character on this show points out how insane the heroes are.
- Margot slaps her son for questioning how she treats her daughter. Such a family this is.
- Ah, Jack gets a weapons package. Feels like old times.
- Great shot of Jack when Kate sticks the syringe into her neck. Even he’s impressed.