Warning: This contains spoilers.
“One day, I won’t remember any of this anyway…”
That’s President Heller looking back over the previous 24 hours of Live Another Day. That’s right, 24 hours covered in just 12 episodes – because this climactic of Season 9 features the series’ first ever time-jump. Let’s hop back to the start to find out what Heller will forget.
Where were we? Ah, yes. Hostages. With Audrey still quivering on a park bench like a Quiver Machine turned up to Maximum Quiver, Jack and Kate raid Russian Moustache Man’s home, only to discover – by punching through a flatpack chest of drawers – a hidden mobile phone, which Cheng promptly rings. “Don’t try to stop me,” he warns Jack, who promptly rounds up Kate and the gang to work out how to stop him.
It turns out that Cheng is based at a port in Southampton – which, magically, Jack is able to reach within 20 minutes. After getting so much of London’s geography correct, it’s a shame to see 24’s production team forget that outside of the capital, the UK is actually bigger than Arrested Development’s Wee Britain.
But there’s too much other stuff going on to worry about that. Chloe’s managed to escape from her captors and is now ready to tap into a satellite dish at the port and guide Jack to Cheng’s hideout. And what of Kate? She’s volunteered to rescue Audrey. “Are you sure you can handle this?” asks Jack in one of the most patronising – and explicit – displays of sexism in the history of the programme.
Sure enough, the writers back up Jack’s old-fashioned views: Kate does a grand job of tracking the sniper and taking them down, but just as Jack is told Audrey is ok, another appears and kills her anyway. Jack is distraught. Kate can’t stop apologising for being a useless female version of Jack Bauer. And Audrey, well, isn’t quivering any more.
A silent clock counts the advert in.
It’s a big loss for Bauer – for several seasons, Audrey’s been pretty much the love of his life. Kiefer Sutherland sells the tears surprisingly well, even if this season’s script has given Audrey less time to endear herself to us. In previous seasons, she has made much more of a mark, even if it’s only as one of the few who could stop Jack going into one of his Black Moods (which usually involve him massacring a bunch of foreigners).
There are no points for guessing what happens next.
Jack hangs up the phone and, after a few dark moments, stands up and shouts “AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGH”. He continues to shout “AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGH” while gunning down all the foreigners. Several minutes later, the vowels continue to reverb as he knifes another in the throat. If he went to the toilet at this point, you imagine he would still be yelling out of Pure Rage.
Jack kills his way up the chain to Cheng, who, it turns out, is a very adept hand-to-hand fighter. They trade blows in a rare first fight for Bauer, who normally uses a gun to dispatch his enemies. That physicality gives this showdown – a showdown between one of Jack’s oldest enemies, no less – an impressive intensity, even if that is ruined moments later by Jack grabbing a katana (from somewhere) and chopping off Cheng’s head.
Before then, though, Heller is sure to show the Chinese officials that Cheng is still alive – you wish they’d just delivered his head in a box, a la Kevin Spacey, but hey ho – and convince them to step down from imminent nuclear confrontation. Let’s not forget, in case you thought this was a personal moment in a serious character-driven drama, that the whole time, the USA and China have been on the brink of World War III.
World War prevented. Foreigners murdered. Enemy decapitated. Job done.
24, though, has always ensured it ends with a moving conclusion – and Live Another Day continues that tradition admirably. That time-jump we mentioned? Here it comes.
We fast forward 11 hours. It is now the following morning. Mark is being taken back to the US to put on trial for treason, while Kate resigns from the CIA in the wake of Audrey’s death. (If this were Jack, he would be kept on anyway.)
The emotional punch, though, comes from President Heller, as he escorts Audrey’s corpse back home. Chatting to Stephen Fry’s Prime Minister on the runway, he laments that he will soon forget everything that happened in the last 24 hours. He soon won’t even remember he had a daughter. William Devane’s face, so fascinatingly flexible, is perfect for this kind of moment. Sure enough, he nails it. all crumpled regret and furrowed philosophical angst. The fact that this is a delayed epilogue actually gives the characters time to reflect on what’s happened to them, adding even more weight to Heller’s remarks.
And what of Jack? Well, he discovers that Chloe has been captured by the Russians. Yes, again. If Kate’s role in this season has taken a step towards the wasted, Chloe has closely followed, relegated to a damsel in distress plot device. “You’re my best friend,” Bauer tells her as he surrenders himself to the Russians, a trade-off that sees her back to safety and Jack carted away in a helicopter. The self-sacrifice play is textbook 24, one that leaves our hero a shining white knight despite any atrocities he may have committed – and, potentially, provides a cliffhanger for continuation.
A silent clock ticks out the final seconds. Does that mean Jack is on his way to die too? That Kate and Chloe won’t team up to rescue him in return?
After proving that other characters can deal with the stupidity of 24 just as well as Jack, it would be interesting to see one more season starring someone who isn’t Sutherland. Live Another Day proves that the format still works in 2014, that the relentless ticking clock can be used to justify almost any old nonsense – and that, even without the desperate stretch to fill 1440 minutes of runtime, 24 can still be deliriously entertaining.
Either way, there is little doubt that, much like President Heller, we will soon forget the silliness that we have seen today. Unlike President Heller, though, we’d probably rewind all over again for another 12 hours.
24: Live Another day is now available to download and own on pay-per-view VOD.