(x-posted to twenty_four
It's probably one of those season six curses, but a lot of people have showed discontent over the past few weeks with the direction and events of this season of 24. Unlike a lot of people I haven't been horribly bored by most of this season but there is something different about the show this year and being me I've been thinking and talking about it lately with some people.
As most of you know, I'm a pretty loyal fan, I don't like to bash my fandom loves, I want them to be good, I especially want them to succeed and to able to draw other people into watching or reading them. I can also be kind of defensive when discussing aspects of the show that need help or problems that others have seen. Personally, I think the problems of this season boil down to two things 1) The nuke 2) chemistry.
The man reaches for the switch, a scream, the world goes white, and miles away our hero looks on in horror. It's a brilliant moment, a strong visual image, but this wasn't the finale, it was episode 4, and that's the problem. A bomb going off near LA changes everything but the citizens of LA mostly don't even seem to care and that lack of caring reached a strange climax with the people outside still just playing tennis and when people still sell fruit and drive around when a bomb went off near them it's hard to care what happens to them and it eats away at the realism of the situation, after all, back in DC people are freaking out in the bunker. I also think we need to see more of a nationwide reaction. It's very strange because the news reports are real and then in the same scene people act like there was a minor crash somewhere near Valencia instead of 12,000 people DYING.
But it's not just the lack of reaction, it's also the timing. By having it in episode 4, the producers have set a level that is almost impossible to top and by having such a horrible thing happen, they've also kind of rendered moot all the years that CTU has been working to prevent something just like this from happening. Back in CTU, they seem a little off their game, a tiny bit unmotivated and I believe that's partly because a) they don't have a foil to work against (every other season there's been someone in CTU not in on the game plan and everyone's had to put aside their personal problems and work together against them and by doing that stop the terrorists) and b) almost the worst thing imaginable has happened and yes they want to stop more bombs from going off but I imagine being unable to stop a nuke would kind of be a morale killer.
Doyle came in to remind us that the bomb went off, so hopefully he'll be somewhat of a foil or at least lend a sense of urgency. Oddly, there's also the problem that there hasn't been an attack in 9 hours and true that's not a lot of time but it is when dealing with an action show. I'm hoping that will change and soon. I don't count Palmer's assassination attempt because that was a different conspiracy and not the terrorists and it doesn't seem to tie into the Bauer/Gredenko/Logan/Fayed plot.
It sounds blood thirsty but when you nuke a city in hour four, the audience is going to expect a lot in the next 20, and you've set a bar that's almost impossible to reach again without killing millions and at that point the entire dynamics of the show would change. People have said all long that Jack needs to fail, and this season has been a lot about Jack and CTU completely failing in their goals. In fact, they've taken their hero and they've shattered him and maybe he's still going through the motions and wants to find the rest of the bombs but he also feels like they've already failed.
Ken Tucker talked about how Jack was weaker and more human and broken and how that was a bad thing in a few of his reviews. Personally, I like it, but I can see his point, because at its heart 24 is a fulfillment of the wish that one man or a small group of people can overcome any odds. People have complained that having family/friends kidnapped is overdone and I can understand that but it's necessary because it gives the audience a tangible goal. They tried that this season with Josh but since probably no one in the audience really cared deeply about Marilyn, they only cared what happened to Josh because Jack sort of cared and the kid wasn't that unlikable, but it certainly didn't even have the emotional intensity of Derek being in danger. Having someone in peril that the audience cares about or that a character cares about is important because it gives the threat more immediacy. No one would be complaining about this season being boring if the terrorists had grabbed Chloe and she was in danger or if they had Audrey, or if we knew that someone we cared about was being targeted by the terrorists, but with just a vague "the bombs will go off any time" there's not really that sense of urgency. We also miss all those threat questions that I asked in one of my last essays, about what will you do to save someone you love and how far will you go.
The sense of impending doom may be why the White House plot is one of the most interesting this year because it's the place where decisions are made, plots advance, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
The second problem this season is one that the show has almost never had - chemistry. I don't know how they did it (I'm almost thinking it was on purpose, but I doubt it), they somehow found an actress that Kiefer has almost no chemistry with whatsoever. I love back story, but, I still don't buy that Kiefer believes the entire Marilyn subplot and some of their moments together are actually cringe-worthy. I live in fear of them deciding that Josh is his son because I'm such a fan of season one and the Jack/Teri and the idea that until Nightfall and their drifting apart he was faithful to her. If they retcon that he slept with Marilyn at some point and they had a child I just - I would need a very good explanation and then i'd probably still be really ticked off with the producers and writers. I don't know if Rena is just not a very good actress or it's the direction but her character annoys me and makes very little sense. Part of the problem is the complete lack of exposition about Jack and Marilyn and his family. This show is awesome at going over what just happened five minutes ago several times but glossing over past events.
I did love Jack and Grae - Paul McCrane might look nothing like Kiefer, but those two sold the brother angle. I also sense an odd kind of distance with Philip - and I can't tell if that's James Cromwell just showing up and not really acting or if that's the character and his motives also need to be explained a little more. But after they killed Grae, we were stuck with Jack and Marilyn and the aforementioned problems. When Jack told Audrey that he loved her, there was not a doubt in my mind that it was the truth, but every time he looks at Marilyn he's trying to - I don't even know honestly, their interactions are so weird and awkward and unbelievable. It was so great to see Jack and Logan together or Jack and Chloe on the phone or Jack and Bill - or people that Jack seems to have feelings about one way or the other.
But maybe he's still indifferent, maybe he hasn't found that reason to keep going, and right now he's probably doubting his faith in Assad and his judgement and all sorts of things. Of course he was barely in the last two or three episodes, but maybe that was on purpose. It's really hard to tell. Usually I know the intentions of what I'm seeing on screen but this season is so unclear and parts of it are moving so slowly with people in scenes that I don't care about and don't really want to see and few scenes with people that I know or want to know more. At this point I'm not really liking Doyle and think that bringing in a 37 year old actor as an heir apparent when the star of the show's only 40 is...really kind of stupid.
I miss Audrey. I miss Chase. I miss Tony and Michelle and Kim and seeing people that I cared about each week and wondering how they would save us all. I miss Palmer, who had some godawful storylines, but somehow could always convince me that things were going to work out no matter how bleak the world looked or how high the odds were against our heroes. And we lost so much last season. And the characters feel the loss too.
This season it feels like the clock is ticking, but it's stuck at four minutes to midnight and our heroes are damaged and broken and unable to turn back time.
One song that keeps going through my mind this season is "End of the Innocence" by Don Henley which is about Watergate but parts of it also work for season six.
I still have hope that the writers can find a way through the problems and fix things, I have a lot of faith in the writers after season five and after some of the great moments they've given the audience over the past six years. Unlike some producers they've never claimed they plan things or know where they're going, but they're experts at creating plots out of nothing or bringing together moments to make a whole.
I also have to say that Kiefer is amazing this season and I hope that they can give him a storyline worthy of his performance.
I really miss Jack and Audrey.