A few words from a post-rehab 24 addict, seventeen minutes into season seven
Hello, my name is J_A and I’m an addict. A 24 addict.
Or well, I used to be.
I have been addicted to 24 from the first second of season 1; actually, even before that. I saw a commercial for it and instantly knew that this was my show. Then, when the pilot actually aired, bang, I was hooked. Addicted. Going down a one-way street into a very cool habit.
I was indeed one of those fans who’d live, breathe and bleed 24, whose weeks would run from 24 to 24 instead of Monday to Sunday, who’d turn off their phones whenever watching the show, bore people to death with talking about how great the show was, I’d spend my spare time re-watching 24 episodes, eventually knowing all dialogue by heart; I missed 24 during the hiatus so much that I started my own chain of 24-like events by writing fanfictions, I would have applied for a job at CTU if it hadn’t been a fictional agency, and I most definitely would have elected David Palmer into the Office…
What was so addictive about it, apart from its complexity and the breakneck speed with which it raced through the season? When 24 first hit the screens in 2001, it was simply the most innovative, gripping and thrilling series to ever air on TV. The format was unique, the writing superb, the casting perfect, the acting motivated, the characters had depth and the storyline was one big arc, revealing itself little by little.
It revolved not solely around Jack but involved the cast as a group, making them all interesting to watch. I still appreciate Jack Bauer’s resolve and committment to always do the right thing at all costs. But somewhere in the course of season two my religion became Almeidaism, a concept developed and introduced to the collective consciousness of Almeidaists by the team behind aig.com, a concept that Carlos Bernard liked to remind his on-screen wife (Reiko Aylesworth) of by whispering to her, in the dull between-takes moments, “Almeida is God.”
Since then, I must have gone through rehab. The addiction is gone. I watched season six while ironing, and for entertainment purposes only. It never really pulled me in. Despite the first four episodes which had some of the best acting on Kiefer’s part to date, the season as a whole was just a relatively good series that used to be great, didn’t quite succeed in achieving its past glory, yet still managed to tell an entertaining story. What’s changed?
During the past couple of seasons, depth has progressively been sacrificed for the sake of bigger explosions, more action, more gore and less character development. In this new, 24-part Hollywood action movie everything revolves around Jack, while everyone else is secondary. What’s more, old storylines have been rehashed so many times they’re predictable, the casting (especially on the wrong side of the law) has been less than satisfactory (with some notable exceptions), and the writers have executed so many good characters that it hurts. I know that characters do have a shelf-life, but I demand that their deaths have a purpose. If they just die for the sake of killing them, or worse yet, are brought back to the show just to be terminated a few episodes later, then I can’t and won’t approve of it.
And now, season seven is upon us, along with the breaking news: Tony Almeida is alive, he’s back – and… he’s evil! The first question is, why?
Has Howard Gordon finally understood what a gross mistake it was to kill Tony off in the first place, and is Tony’s imminent return a desperate cry for the fans to return to the show, too? Probably.
Ignoring for a moment all the strongly negative feelings that all of us Tony fans had lived through following episode 513, setting aside all the doubts concerning Tony’s truly being evil, and disregarding the slim odds of him surviving the season if he indeed is working against Jack, I am asking: Is Tony Almeida’s resurrection enough to pull us back in?
For some of us, yes. If you’re one of those lucky ones (or if Jack is enough for you), you may stop reading now and happily wait for season seven to start airing. If you need more than that to make a decision, read on.
Is bringing a character back from the dead stretching it a bit too far for a show that claims to have a grip on reality? Maybe. But if the explanation is solid, I’m willing to to turn a blind eye. The first seventeen minutes of season seven offer an initial theory. If true, the theory could mean that a higher power was behind Tony’s alleged death, and that his objectives aren’t actually evil. It would have been easy for someone working for the Government to fake his death, bury someone else’s body in his grave, fake all the necessary documents and make him disappear from the radar. Haven’t CTU Agents Almeida, Dessler and O’Brien done just that for Jack Bauer after season four? Granted, a “Tony is undercover working for the government” storyline would be the simplest top-of-the-head explanation, and thus probably the least likely to be true. I would accept it nonetheless, because from where I stand, Tony’s being on the right side of Jack would probably increase his chances of survival.
Many theories are conceivable concerning the How but this isn’t the place for them. As for the Why, that remains to be seen. When Jack is first shown proof of Tony’s being alive it is via a black and blue photograph on an LCD computer screen. Now that’s the one thing I would have set up differently. This setup reminded me way too much of Stephen Saunders, and I will not have Tony reduced to a Saunders type of terrorist (although Saunders was certainly one of the best villains ever on 24). However, there is nothing to criticize about Jack’s reaction to the photograph. The internal conflict and his refusal to believe in Tony’s having switched sides were mandatory; anything else would have been wrong. After years of not seeing him, Jack still believes that his friend Tony would never hurt innocents.
So do I.
This is where Tony differs from Saunders. Almeida is too much of an alturist to sacrifice people as collateral damage to attain whatever objective he has. I believe that this is corroborated by the opening scene of the season. When Tony’s crew kidnaps a certain Michael Latham, an engineer whose help they need, they could just as well co-nap his daughter and later use her as a means to force him into co-operation, but they don’t; they leave the daughter behind. Maybe I am just a desperate Almeidaist, but to me, this is another sign towards Tony’s not truly being evil.
The truth is, Tony has always had a dark side to him which Carlos Bernard has always enjoyed playing, and is now allowed to fully immerse himself in. And he does. He plays Tony with the same perfection and godliness that had been with his character throughout the 4.5 years before he was granted a day off in season 6. The slumped shoulders, the soul patch, the sweet, low voice and the menacing whisper are all back, but now they’re part of a Class A Total Badass attitude, played coolly and without showing any traces of emotion. Tony’s scary! And he’s hot!
Be Tony good or bad, I am putting my faith in him. I think the one thing that I expect from the season is for him to save the day – not so much in the sense of season 4 when Tony’s entrance truly saved what was threatening to become a downward spiral of boredom – but because I have always felt that it was the chemistry between Kiefer and Carlos and the undying brotherhood of their characters that had carried the show over so many years, and across all obstacles in its way. The brotherhood’s absence in season 6 was what I felt was at the core of the season’s problems; no-one, no character other than Tony could possibly have such a bond with Jack as Tony does, no other character represents the human component, the soul of 24 like Tony does.
But let’s move away from Tony a little.
It wouldn’t be fair not to discuss the FBI. When I first heard that the CTU would be dismantled in a process of “revamping the show”, I was intrigued. How would Jack and co. fight (global?) terrorism without the gadgets and technology only available to the Government? After setting off a nuke in a residential area, 24 surely couldn’t start chasing little old ladies who set off metal detectors with their knitting needles. The writers’ solution was surprisingly simple: one just uses another agency with federal jurisdiction and makes Jack co-operate with them.
What worked for the CTU in the past will work for the FBI in the present. Familiar elements make up the new allied office. There is the character who brings Jack in because she believes that he can be of use (Agent Renée Walker), and the Bureaucrat in Charge who has his doubts (Agent Larry Morris). There is the sarcastic female character (Janice) who just might have a crush on her boss, and her male counterpart (Sean), who also seems to be deliberately set up as the prospective mole inside the FBI (note that the camera is on him in the trailers when the voice-over says “The FBI has been compromised, there’s a leak.” This immediately evoked season one and the camera on Nina Myers with the voice-over “And the people that I work with may be involved in both.” Of course, red herrings are common on 24. But I still thought this was worth noting.) There are differences, too, especially in the mood. As opposed to the dark and cold CTU bullpen, the FBI offices are brightly lit. But all in all, the two agencies are quite similar, only with different job titles. So what’s the revamp?
As so often, the Devil’s in the detail. In the little things. The camera work. The acting. And the dialogues. The writing shows signs of improvement. It seems to have regained quality and at the same time, lost the melodramatic soap-opera type touch (although it might be too early to tell after only seventeen minutes). There are several cracking one-liners and some very strong moments. So far, there were no explosions, and the only shots were fired at the very beginning. The explosions will come, of course, but so far, tension is built through dialogue. And that is what makes me hope. Maybe 24 is going back to the roots after all.
Two scenes stand out in particular: Jack’s testimony at the Senate hearing, and his reaction to Tony Almeida’s resurrection. During “24: Redemption”, I had the feeling that Kiefer Sutherland had somehow lost touch with Jack Bauer; he seemed a little beyond himself, a little unmotivated. In retrospect, maybe that was deliberate. Because before the Senate, Jack’s back, and Kiefer plays him flawlessly. Bauer is a man who’s been everywhere, who’s seen it all, and who will take no B/S from anyone, not even a smug US Senator. Unlike in the trailers, though, Jack is in control of his emotions. He speaks with calm, which gives his words even more impact. Right then and there, he owns the room. His speech about what it takes to be a successful combat soldier will enter 24’s history books as one of the most memorable moments of the series.
Despite all these improvements, out of self-preservation, I am trying not to expect too much from the upcoming season, even though – for the first time in a long time – seeing new 24 material and new Tony on the screen made me smile and cautiously relit the flame called excitement. I’m afraid of getting over-excited and then disappointed, I am scared of the writers’ ongoing blood lust and what it might lead to. I’m still inclined to believe that the show is past its best days, and that it probably should have stopped a couple of seasons ago. But I’ll watch it. If not only for the Tony factor, then simply because it will still be better than most things that the TV feeds us these days. Obviously, seventeen minutes aren’t enough to judge an entire season. But what I’ve seen seems promising. If “revamping the show” does prove to be a back to the roots voyage in terms of character depth and writing of a sustainable quality it will be worth it. When it returns to the screen after a much too long absence, I want my show to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes that were season 6. So as an ex-24 addict who doesn’t quite want to stay “clean”, I am willing to give my drug another chance to refuel the addiction.
I really need it to.
J_A is 31, a fan and active member of 24 forums since 2002, a co-admin of our very own 24fans.com forum and an avid writer of 24-related fanfiction. Her stories can be found at http://www.fanfiction.net/u/863385/JackAddict.