“24: Live Another Day” (8 p.m. Central Mondays on Fox) comes along four years after the eighth season, but Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub slip back into their iconic characters of Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brian like a glove. Although this ninth season – which will be 12 episodes instead of 24, although it’ll apparently skip some hours so it covers a full day – has all the old “24” clichés in place (indeed, Jack is out to stop the assassination of the prez, which is pretty much the same plot as Season 1), it also seems like a good outlet for dramatically exploring the issue of drone warfare.
The first hour of Monday’s two-hour premiere ends with a great twist: A U.S. Air Force drone operator suddenly finds his controls taken over remotely, and he watches in horror as a group of his fellow U.S. soldiers and British soldiers are bombed and killed by his drone in Afghanistan. (It’s unclear what they’re doing in Afghanistan, but I suppose that mirrors reality.) As has often been the case with “24,” this great twist is swiftly undermined by a lot of ridiculous conveniences and a sense that the writers don’t give a flying rip about the fact that these events are supposed to happen in real time. To wit:
- The drone operator is immediately accused of being responsible, even though he should be easily cleared with surveillance systems that should be in place, such as a camera in the drone-operating room or a keystroke-recorder.
- Within a half-hour, President Heller orders the drone operator brought to London for interrogation by British investigators as a show of good faith. A half-hour! In reality, it would take a solid day before the smoke even clears and word gets out about what happened.
- Within a mere hour of the drone bombing, Chloe and Jack get hold of the drone-hacking program, and with a cursory glance at her laptop screen, Chloe sees that it is capable of hacking up to 10 drones at once.
But I guess we’ve long ago accepted that this silliness is part of “24.” Meanwhile, “Live Another Day’s” politics are compelling and timely. Chloe is in the Edward Snowden/Julian Assange role, working with a Wikileaks-style team of British hackers who aim to get the word out about various world governments’ secrets. Jack takes her to task for this, telling her that she knows better. She fires back with: “You don’t get to judge me after what I’ve been through.” And she’s absolutely right, because less than an hour earlier she was being tortured in the bowels of the U.S.’s CIA outpost in London!
Also somewhat sickening is Jack’s contention that President Heller is a good guy. Chloe notes that she DOESN’T know Heller’s a good guy, with the implication that Jack – who’s been off the grid for four years – can’t know that, either. Certainly, as portrayed by William Devane, Heller comes off as a kindly fellow who is suffering from early stages of Alzheimers, but he can turn on the old charm in front of a microphone when he needs to, which is why he was elected. In a rather nauseating scene, Heller’s daughter, Audrey (Kim Raver), smiles proudly when the prez delivers platitudes about the heroes killed in the drone bombing in a practice speech. While he may be a good guy and a good speaker, he’s also the commander-in-chief of a U.S. military drone program that has killed hundreds of innocent people. (Because of the scenes of placard-waving protestors to Heller’s visit, I’m assuming “24” is mirroring the real-world drone deaths that have occurred on the watch of Presidents Bush and Obama. Indeed, Heller is a cross between those two presidents’ personalities.)
In all honesty, though, breaking down the political implications of “Live Another Day” is something that mainly happens while writing blog posts; despite its alleged real-time premise, “24” moves too damn fast to do anything other than try to keep up with the plot. Sure, I hope the writers are setting up Jack for a realization that he’s wrong to put his faith in institutions (although he’s probably a lost cause at this point, considering that four years of being treated as an enemy of the state hasn’t changed his mind). But they’re probably not gonna go there.
While I think “Live Another Day” has a juicy theme, I’m a bit irked by how overly familiar the show’s trappings are. We’ve got the CIA control room, with Benjamin Bratt playing the latest director caught between following orders and doing what’s right (CIA/CTU/FBI Director on “24” has to be one of the dullest roles on television). We also have the marginalized CIA employee who’s the only one capable of putting clues together (of course, Chloe was the first of this breed): Jack even tells Yvonne Strahovski’s Kate Morgan “You seem smarter than the rest.” As of yet, there’s no mole in the CIA; that’s one cliché “24” has moved beyond; basically, a viewer now just accepts that no one (other than Jack and Chloe) can be trusted.
I’m caught in the middle with my first impressions of Season 9. It’s good to have Jack and Chloe back and fighting the good fight, and the drone warfare theme has my attention. And yet I feel like I’ve seen this before; a little familiarity is comforting in these first two hours, but how about some new tricks as the day goes on? So far it looks like this season of “24” could be subtitled “Live Another Day, Same As the Other Days.”