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24: Another season in the books

By Jeff Emanuel

May 23, 2006

The roller coaster fifth season of the hit show 24 came to a close Monday night with plotline closure; however, it ended with a series cliffhanger which harkened dedicated fans back to the season before, when hero Jack Bauer had a near-fatal run-in with the Chinese government.
Eighteen months had passed since the previous "day", which ended with Special Agent Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) of America’s elite Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) having to feign his own death to escape retribution from the Chinese for accidentally killing their consul in an embassy raid.

Season 5 featured an incredible number of subplots and layers upon layers of storylines featuring action, romance, good guys who go bad, bad guys who go good, red herrings, and a terrorist plot that goes all the way to the White House. The day begins with the murder of two characters who had been on the show since the first season, including former President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), and the wounding of a third—not coincidentally, three of the only people who knew that Bauer was still alive. At the same time that Bauer is hustling back to Los Angeles to deal with the situation, the Russian president is arriving in the U.S. to sign an arms agreement treaty, and Russian terrorists are seizing "Sentox" nerve gas for use in an attack on an American airport.

The plot twists and turns from there, with action-packed sequences which involve giant explosions and base treachery, from new (and startlingly weak) President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) giving the Russian leader’s motorcade route to the terrorists in concession to their threat of launching a nerve gas attack on civilians, to the capture (and apparent suicide) of presidential aide Walt Cummings (John Allen Nelson) for conspiring with the terrorists, to a nerve gas attack on the super-secret CTU headquarters itself, to the largest revelation of all: that the president himself was secretly behind all of the events of the day in a narcissistic effort to secure his own legacy by thwarting a terrorist attack which he had secretly planned.

The two-hour season finale had been expected to wrap up as nicely and neatly as the previous four. Having foiled the final terrorist plot—an attempt to strike American population centers with submarine-based surface-to-surface missiles—Bauer heads back to Los Angeles to confront the president. Working with the chief of staff and a Secret Service agent whom Logan had sought to have killed (because he knew the truth), Bauer hijacks his second aircraft of the series, Marine One, and attempts to force a confession from the president. Although he does not succeed, Bauer manages to slip an audio transmitting device into Logan’s pen while searching him for weapons.

Using this to record a later conversation between Logan and his wife, an ally of Bauer’s in CTU is able to alert the attorney general to the president’s guilt, and Logan is arrested for treason.
Just when everybody is feeling good about the conclusion of the season—the guilty president is being led away, Bauer is released from custody and is able to resume his romance with co-worker Audrey Raines (Kim Raver), and is hopeful of the opportunity to reunite with his estranged daughter Kim—there is a sudden twist, and Bauer is lured into a trap set by the Chinese, who have "long enough memories" not to have forgotten his run-in with them 18 months before. The season ends with Bauer a captive of the Chinese, being held in the cargo hold of a ship from Shanghai which is putting to sea.

24 is an easy show to get drawn into, with a fast tempo and the voyeuristic feel of getting an inside look at America’s covert counter-terror operations. Needless to say, whatever factual elements are involved are interspersed with an equal or greater amount of fictional weapons, technology, tactics, and organizations. However, the entire tapestry that is 24 is woven so intricately, elaborately, emotionally, and consistently that the details, be they strictly authentic or not, appear not only plausible, but probable. More than that, the show is so elaborate and well thought out that its screen authenticity greatly outweighs its dubious real-world authenticity.

Rampant speculation that this would be the final season of 24 was cut off at the knees with the announcement that Sutherland had signed on for three more years in a deal that would not only give him more control over the show, but would also have 20th Century Fox Television paying overhead costs for his own production company. If this season is any indicator, then the franchise will be going strong for at least three more years, providing the same action, excitement, and drama people have grown to love during its first five seasons.

Season Five of 24 is now in the books, having been an unqualified success. Regardless of the truth or fiction at the heart of this drama, it is a comforting thought to millions of Americans that there may just be someone like Jack Bauer out there—a man who is willing to go to greater lengths than humanly imaginable to fight the global terrorist threat, and to ensure that Americans are able to sleep safely and soundly in their beds at night.

Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran, studies Classics at the University of Georgia. He is also a contributing editor for conservative web log, and is a columnist for the Athens, GA Banner-Herald newspaper.

Copyright © 2006

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