24 Retrospective: Day 4

I hope you’re impressed with my rate of churning these out. Addressing this fast pace now is appropriate because 24‘s fourth season was the first to employ the non-stop season format (perfect segue). What’s a non-stop season? Know how most shows go on midseason hiatus and might have a couple smaller hiatuses sprinkled throughout? The non-stop season doesn’t do that. It’s 24 episodes without hiatuses. Additionally, the first four hours get split into a back-to-back two-night premiere and the last two episodes play back-to-back on one night. Beforehand, Day 2 and 3 had commercial free airings for their premieres that actually broke real-time. This is a better system.

Day 4 is also the first to get a short prequel on the DVD to promote the new season. Day 3 left Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) completely broken. He was able to get rehabilitated, but he lost his job. But for Jack, that doesn’t matter. As the prequel states, “It took a long time for Jack Bauer to feel good again.” Now he’s working for Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane) and dating his daughter Audrey (Kim Raver). Jack is happy. Until Day 4 begins, that is

The universe must hate Jack, because terrorists abduct Heller and Audrey and plan to execute Heller on live television. Back at CTU, Jack has to convince them to put him in the field. There are a lot of new faces at the newly renovated CTU, such as Bill Buchanan (James Morrison), Curtis Manning (Roger Cross), Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi), and Erin Driscoll (Alberta Watson). Jack’s anchor is Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), the computer whiz who often says the wrong thing at the wrong time, usually to humorous effect.

The writing is this entire season is kind of funny (more peculiar than “ha ha” funny). The planned execution is only the tip of the iceberg, as Jack saves Heller and Audrey soon after the two-night premiere. The terrorists also attempt to put nuclear reactors into meltdown, kill the President, and destroy LA with a nuclear weapon (which sounds familiar). There’s also another mole. Furthermore, the writing gets lazy really quickly. Remember that controversy I mentioned during my Day 2 retrospective? Yup, we’re going there.

There’s an old 24 joke that Jack Bauer can break anyone but the first thing he’ll break is protocol. Hilarious as that is, it touches on something that made 24 a political lightning rod during its original run. Jack Bauer breaking people became the identity of the show. When I think of Day 4, it’s always in my mind as the torture season. If you read my Day 2 piece, then you know I’ve already said that 24 is a work of fiction and you have to remember that. I won’t defend an evil practice illegal across the globe. A hardened terrorist telling Jack what he wants to know after Jack blows off his kneecap is extremely unrealistic. This also becomes an ethical issue when you have 24 basically advertising for the Marine Corps by featuring real Marines during Heller’s rescue.

Ethics is actually how you need to frame the situation. In a “ticking time bomb scenario” (which is a virtual impossibility), would it be ethical to hold back interrogating a terrorist if doing so might jeopardize the bomb going off? Disregard whether or not excessive force would work. Would you be willing to take the high ground, risking millions of lives? There are also more dubious possibilities, such as when Jack withheld pain medication for a terrorist’s gunshot wound in Day 2. In that case, he was able to catch her in a lie and discern the location of the bomb.

Despite some wonky writing, it’s hard not to get caught up in the human drama, whether it’s Jack’s struggle for normalcy, Edgar losing his mom to a reactor meltdown, or the terrorists shooting down Air Force One and Vice President Logan (Gregory Itzin) assuming the mantle of Commander-in-Chief.

Remember when I said less is more? Let me set the scene. President Keeler (Geoff Pierson) calls a reluctant Logan, telling him he needs to be strong; Jack calls into the cockpit of a stolen stealth fighter, trying to talk down the mercenary; the mercenary turns off his comm; Keeler and his son embrace; we see an explosion in the background; cut to Jack shouting, asking if Air Force One was hit; Chloe details how the wreckage is falling into the desert below (which we don’t see).

Even after three other crises, 24 still manages to wow. Also notable is Tony (Carlos Bernard) and Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth) attempting to salvage their marriage. Tony got a reduced prison sentence but turned to alcohol, leading to Michelle leaving him to advance her career. Fortunately for them, they make things work out. Jack and Audrey, on the other hand, break up after Jack chooses to save a Chinese national instead of her estranged husband, effectively killing him. Then David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) Tony, Michelle, and Chloe help Jack fake his death (long story).

And so, Jack, after speaking with Palmer for a final time, puts on his shades and walks into the sunrise, away from his almost perfect life. It’s easily one of the most iconic shots of the series.

Jack’s Onscreen Kills: 43

There’s one other kill that might have be Jack’s, but it could have be Curtis’, so it’s not included. Either way, Jack must have realized he slacked off in Day 3, since he kills the most people yet in Day 4.

Even Heller and Chloe manage to kill someone this season.

Silent Clock(s): Day 4 is the first and only season not to contain a Silent Clock. It’s pretty chill, not killing off any multi-season characters. Even Keeler is only severely incapacitated.

Kim Bauer Moment(s): Erin Driscoll’s schizophrenic daughter kills herself

Does it sound like I’m making this one up? Because it happened. Erin Driscoll is Tony’s replacement as Director of CTU; Erin brings her daughter into CTU for treatment but she kills herself with a piece of mirror; afterwards, Michelle takes over as Director. This is a classic Kim Bauer Moment, even though the character who has the honor of naming these occurrences is not in this season (luckily).

I could include the subplot of Behrooz (Jonathan Ahdout) escaping his terrorist sleeper cell family (another controversial aspect of this season), but it’s almost too important to the season as a whole, until he randomly disappears (“Behroozed,” as the fans would dub it).

“Damn It” Count: 20, with a whopping DPE (Damn Its Per Episode) of 0.83

Day 4 has the most instances of Jack saying the phrase. He has two episodes this season where he says it three times.

Aaron Sarnecky is The Pop Break’s Television Editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among other things. He is a TV/Film grad of Rowan University and the fraternal twin of staff writer Josh Sarnecky. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed.