24 Retrospective: Day 5

What could 24 possibly do differently at this point? We’ve seen Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) save the day four times now. He’ll probably team up with his buddies and do it all over again, right? They managed to show up last season. Well, if you think this, you’re in for a rude awakening. This season breaks the rules. Those characters you love so much? They drop like flies in Day 5. Before the first commercial break, an assassin’s bullet and a car bomb kill David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) and Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth), respectively. Someone is targeting the people who know Jack Bauer is still alive and Jack (in Chicago in the Day 5 prequel, now conveniently in California) has to unravel the conspiracy.

And so begins a season analogous to A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin.

After having retread with the nuclear crisis in Day 4, Day 5 mixes it up with Sentox VX nerve gas, a variant of a real and very deadly chemical agent. The Sentox gas stands with Day 2’s nuclear bomb as the best threat in the series, even if the potential death toll isn’t as high as it was with the nuke. Day 5 does admittedly borrow elements from Day 2, such as an attack on CTU and politicians colluding with terrorists to justify military action and the oil to come out of it. However, Day 5 refines those elements or slightly changes them. It’s also worth mentioning the gas’ original target is Russia.

The attack on CTU, for example, feels different. Yes, you can draw parallels to special guest star Sean Astin sacrificing himself to George Mason, but up until then his character takes the opposite trajectory, towards more unlikeable. His death is more tragic; he and a poor guard choke to death, foaming at the mouth, after the show cruelly makes you think they’ll survive. It’s actually hard to breath watching the characters navigate CTU when there’s an invisible killer gas inside. For more than just these reasons (which I’ll get to later), “Day 5: 7:00pm-8:00pm” is quite arguably the best episode of all nine seasons.

The key politician behind Palmer’s death and the Sentox conspiracy is none other than President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) himself. I mentioned before that Nina might be the best villain, but if it’s not her it’s definitely Logan. He represents everything Jack Bauer doesn’t. He’s a spineless Commander-in-Chief who puts his legacy before others. You could call him the mastermind, but he lets himself be bullied by shadowy businessmen and his own fixer, Christopher Henderson (Peter Weller), Jack’s mentor and former Director of CTU. Logan’s a man willing to shoot down a plane full of civilians just to protect himself.

I suppose I don’t want to give too much away, so that anyone reading can watch it with some surprises intact. Both fans and critics alike generally agree that Day 5 is the best season of 24. It’s the one season to win Best Drama and Best Lead Actor at the Emmys. But I do have to wonder why a season that kills off so many popular characters garners so much praise. You would thing longtime viewers would be angry. Certainly, seeing the deaths devastated and saddened many fans.

24, in general, is a show that deals out a lot of death and destruction. We’re told occasionally that thousands, even millions of faceless people could die, and sometimes innocents do die. Day 5 should be given credit for fleshing this out a bit, showing potential targets such as a children’s party at a shopping mall. To answer my own question, besides loving a good tragedy, viewers want to feel that the stakes are high. Killing off the old guard makes that felt. You tune in fear, thinking anyone (besides Jack) can die. Your favorite might be next. But at the end of the day (literally), now matter how bad things get, America and the world survive. In a way, that’s strangely comforting.

As for Jack, he gets little comfort out of seeing the day through, as he’s on his way to China as a prisoner.

Jack’s Onscreen Kills: 39

A bit lower than last season, but still pretty high.

Note that he kills two terrorists, including head honcho Vladimir Bierko (Julian Sands), by snapping their necks with his legs. Jack doesn’t skip leg day.

Silent Clock(s): “Day 5: 6:00pm-7:00pm” at 6:59:57pm, with no accompanying sound

I won’t lie and say I love Edgar (Louis Lombardi) as a character. But I know his demise during the Sentox attack on CTU hit a lot of viewers hard. It certainly affects Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and the show lets you know that she hasn’t gotten over it by the end of the day. They started out as rivals in Day 4 but became good friends. It’s a small moment but Morris (Carlo Rota), her ex-husband, offering to talk about it is a touching scene.

There was a notable amount of controversy when Tony (Carlos Bernard) didn’t receive a Silent Clock in the following episode. It kept the audience in suspense until the next one. Some felt it was unfair that he (similar to Palmer and Michelle) didn’t receive a Silent Clock when he had been on the show longer than Edgar. Either way, Tony’s death is tied with Teri Bauer’s as the most heartbreaking moment of the show. As Jack’s wingman it felt that he was untouchable. Not so. He and Michelle don’t get the happy ending they deserve.

Kim Bauer Moment(s): None, really

Day 5 still contains a lot of the usual 24 tropes, like the conveniences, extended storylines, last minute saves, and numerous subplots, but it uses them to form a cohesive whole. Logan is based on Richard Nixon and First Lady Martha Logan (Jean Smart) is based on Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General, whose accusations of conspiracy the administration countered as delusions of an unhealthy woman. Martha Logan proved to be highly popular with critics.

The other notable subplot is Lynn McGill’s (Sean Astin) junkie sister, but she’s actually important, because the terrorists use the key card she swipes. You do have to suspend your disbelief a little and simply tack it to the bad guys doing their homework on CTU. However, the ends very easily justify the means in these cases.

Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) is in this season very briefly but she doesn’t bring the inane randomness she’s known for with her.

“Damn It” Count: 18, with an average DPE (Damn Its Per Episode) of 0.75

There’s a little drop off from last season, but Day 5 contains some of the best instances of Jack’s catchphrase. A clear standout is “Erwich is gone, the canisters are gone, we’ve got nothing here! DAMN IT!” There’s also the episode where Jack repeatedly shouts it at Audrey (Kim Raver).

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.