Tuesday, May 24, 2005

24 Finale - Stinky Bad

I was trying last night to sort out my feelings about the 24 season finale - having failed miserably to sum up my feelings about Desperate Housewives the night before (suffice it to say I'm a late convert but I am actually looking forward to reruns to catch what I missed when I was foolish enough not to watch) - and then today it hit me as I was reading another blog: it was bad! Admittedly it was this review at Blogcritic.org but it crystalised my thoughts on the matter. The finale, and more specifically episode 24, was terrible. (Just promise me one thing. If I ever channel the Comic Book Guy and write a review with a title that includes the phrase "Worst. Episode. Ever." and I'm serious about it, please make an intervention. That phrase has "jumped the shark" (but then so has "jumped the shark) as far as I'm concerned.)

The problem is a simple one. The story was both too rushed and to leisurely at the same time. Too rushed in that the resolution of the main plot occurred without any sort of revelation as to what the motivation behind the plot was. At no point was there any explanation of what Marwan hoped to accomplish or why his plot was so involved that it required trying to melt down 107 nuclear power plants, shooting down Air Force One, and attempting to nuke Los Angeles, not to mention where he got a stealth cruise missile, assemble a huge Terrorist Army (tm), or was able to find a Stealth Fighter that actually carried an air-to-air missile. I mean there's a certain suspension of disbelief that goes along with 24 but in this case a little explanation might have helped. It's like building a thrilling roller coaster which doesn't quite get us to the unloading platform.

Of course it may have been a tip-off when the whole "Mandy and Tony" subplot took most of Hour 23 to unravel. There we were, no closer to Marwan than we had been since the terrorists sprung him a few episodes ago and it's the end of the next to last hour. You have to end the series in the next hour but you've got this great gimmick for the end which is going to take time and so there's no time for any explanations. That means killing the antagonist without finding out from him or anyone why (or how) all of this mess happened. Or maybe the writers just decided that we didn't need any resolution, that we'd buy anything they were willing to sell us and thank them for it.

And then comes the leisurely part. Having successfully saved the world - okay the United States - okay Los Angeles three times running (the first season doesn't count - all he did there was save David Palmer) our gallant hero and his team of intrepid sidekicks returns to CTU. Not quite in triumph of course because Jack has to get ready to turn himself over to the Chinese for his part in the Consulate attack thanks to that weak-willed moron Bern (and forgetting for the moment that the only way they got him was to kill two Americans on American soil) because Jack will always do exactly what the President tells him to do even when the President isn't David Palmer or even John Keeler, but acting President Charles Logan (which is what Logan is - remember Keeler didn't die when Air Force One crashed). Still there's time for Audrey to look longingly at Paul's body bag then give Jack the big "I love you but we can never be together even if you aren't going to be set up as the fall guy for the Consulate operation" speech; for Buchanan to look overly serious; for Michelle and Tony to do log some serious screen kiss time to the point where it would have been better for everyone concerned if they'd just grabbed a quickie in Interrogation Room 1; and Edgar and Chloe pledge eternal geek love - oh sorry, that was my nightmare last night, I meant express incredulity that they're going to give Jack to the Chinese. Plus there was actually time for Jack to change his clothes before the denouement.

Of course the denouement is a good one. Having decided to hand Jack over to the Chinese with the reluctant approval of ex-President Palmer, President Logan's security chief decides that Jack knows too much and will tell all under interrogation. He had previously suggested that Jack have "an accident". Logan tells him no, but the security chief gets in touch with the Secret Service Agent who is going to get Jack and tells him that Jack is going to have an "accident" before he can be delivered to the Chinese. Now setting aside the total unlikelihood of a Secret Service Agent not only committing an illegal act (like murder) but doing it on the orders of someone who is not the President Of The United States or even the acting President, you know this is going happen because of the actor playing the agent. He's Patrick Kilpatrick, and as sure as I've never seen Gregory Itzin (Logan) play any character but spineless weasels I have never seen Kilpatrick play anyone but a hard-ass who will obey any order he's given. Sure enough, Logan is a spineless weasel because he refuses to listen to Palmer when David begs him to make sure that Security Guy calls off the hit (Mike Novick overheard Security Guy's end of the phone call), and Palmer is a resolute enough friend to warn Jack of what's coming. Jack, Tony, Michelle and Chloe (Chloe?!) concoct a cunning plan that lets the Secret Service Agent think he's snuffed Jack and allows Jack to get away scot-free with the clothes on his back, the money in his pocket, a clean cell phone and false papers that will get him into Mexico. Of course they could have set up a retirement fund for him, but you can't have everything and why would he come back for season 5 if he did?

In a season that has led viewers though a series of plot elements that have not only required willing suspension of disbelief but a total detachment from reality - which most of us have been willing to do - the pay-off was disappointing to say the least. And yet the viewers (including me) will flock back in January just to see what is going to happen to Bauer next. Just a guess but I don't think he'll be sipping margueritas on some beach surrounded by bikini clad babes.

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