Ok, I assume you’re all waiting for another snark-fest from the the only blogger on the ‘net who thinks that 24: Live Another Day is a piece of overwrought, ludicrously written crap. Well, you’re not going to get quite what you wanted from the penultimate episode, large parts of which were well-handled, tense and, dare I say it, not merely plausible but logical. Oh, but when it went below the waterfall, it scraped the bottom of the Marianas Trench, so I’ll be making a few comments about that.
To begin with, I’ll admit to not remembering Cheng Tzi at all last week. 24 fans all over the Web were having kittens of recognition at that heavily scarred face, but not me. My only excuse is that that was Season 5, which was eight years ago: in another country, and besides the wench is dead, as the wistful phrase goes (originally from Christopher Marlowe’s play The Jew of Malta): 2006/7 was very much another country for me.
Once the episode begins, everything moves at a terrific pace, one of the bonuses of a) having only 12 hours to play with and b) upsetting allprecedent by having everyone going around believing Jack Bauer all the time. Jack and Barbie Kate hold off the Russian task force and their overwhelming numbers and firepowers without anything more than a cut eyebow on Jack’s side, in the sure and certain knowledge that the very moment the pair simultaneously run out of ammo, the back-up will arrive and shoot anyone left standing. Which they do.
However, the commotion draws Cheng’s attention to the fact that Jack’s about. He’s doing a runner, taking Chloe for no apparent reason than her place in the cast list but leaving behind the tracker. But Jack discovers who is behind everything when Chloe manages to set a leftover smartphone to recording Cheng’s dulcet tones for Jack to recognise.
Everybody assumes Cheng’s working with the Russians, and, guess what? He is: with that self-same Anatoly who’s been hassling Creepy Mark about handing Jack over all day. Cheng’s purpose is to start a War between the US and the China that turned on him, a War that will leave the Russians stronger for the damage done to both sides.
This assumes that the damage will be survivable. The President of China doesn’t believe the President of the USA and the Chinese are pretty bloody fast at setting up a military response: fleet steaming towards the US base at Okinawa, squadrons in the air to cover them,missiles knocking out the US surveillance stations and blinding Heller and the Generals, who want to edge quickly to a nuclear response.
This part of the show is handled creditably and credibly, and with some tension. Heller (who we should all remember is giving orders illegally, having resigned the Presidency wef two hours ago) is resistant, is fumbling his medication – thankfully we have nowhere near enough time to whip out the 25th Amendment YET again – and reluctantly has to concur.
Meanwhile, Jack has learned that the Russkies have been tracking him through his comms. A smoking gun aimed directly at Creepy Mark’s head materialises with breathtaking speed and, with nothing delaying him except a heartfelt phone conversation with Old Flame Audrey, during which she tells him to kill Cheng-the-equal-opportunities-torturer causing Jack to bottle out of telling her he’s en route to shopping her hubby fpr treason and the electric chair, turns up at the Embassy to speak to Heller and Boudreau alone.
Creepy Mark coughs on the spot. Heller wants him charged but Jack wants him as a decoy to get them into Anatoly’s residence so they can find out where Cheng is (he and his truck are on their way to Southampton Docks where, at about 10.15pm, a ship is going to take them away, or at least that’s what the audience thinks.
It’s one of those Sacrificial Lamb ploys: no-one really gives a shit about Mark living or dying as long as his pretencc at being on the run and wanting to defect gets Jack and Kate and their silenced guns inside. It’s all bang bang, shoot shoot until every guard is dead. Unfortunately, Mark doesn’t quite understand that he’s supposed to take the loaded gun and do the decent thing, and he fights Anatoly to stay alive, until the two crash through the glass doors onto the landing and Anatoly gets a jagged sliver of glass through the carotid artery.
As I say, it’s fast-paced, decently gripping and, if the series hadn’t ruined any chance of taking it seriously a hundred times over before now, it would be mostly a good, exciting penultimate episode. But it’s 24: Live Another Day and it cannot resist fucking the whole thing over with a bit of arrant lunacy.
As I said, Cheng Tzi, his men, the override device and Chloe O’Brian are in the back of a truck heading down a country road towards Southampton Dock. Now the thing about Southampton Docks is that it’s in Southampton, on the South Coast, in the County of Hampshire, which is just short of 70 miles and involves a drive time of 1 hour and 32 minutes in average condition, and this truck’s supposed to get there within an hour? But it’s bowling along the highway merrily when, all of a sudden Chloe – a computer analyst – grabs a shiny steel pipe that happens to be within reach and lays about her with such force and dexterity that that she downs no less than four armed professional kilers and confuses the rest into letting her open the back door of the truck, set herself and jump into the bushes before any of them can recover sufficiently to just fucking shoot her.
And out of sheer luck, she happens to jump off a embankment and go rolling downhill into the bushes until she knocks herself out on a tree (with no scratches, cuts or bruises) after falling far enough to be out of sight so far as Cheng and his minions are concerned, and they can’t stay to find her because this is apparently a no-parking country highway and there’s a handy truck driven by some bod in army camouflage slowing down to tell them you can’t park here (has there been a military takeover? Where’s the bloody Police in all this?).
So Chloe is left to sleep the sleep of the conveniently knocked out until the very end of the episode where her eyes open and she no doubt wakes up without the least concussion. And Cheng races on to his escape from England.
Except that he doesn’t. Audrey, having hung around being supportive to her Dad all day, has decided to get in on the action. She has a contact in the Chinese Embassy, a young woman who trusts her, and whose Dad is in the Politburo. Audrey’s going to pass on as much information as she can gather to prove that her country is a patsy for terrorists in all this in the hope that President Wei will be persuaded to row back on Mutually Assured Destruction. They meet after dark in the Park, or at least in a London square somewhere.
Except, this being 9.59pm, a hidden sniper takes out the young Chinese extra and Audrey’s guards, leaving a transfixed President’s daughter stood there all alone, presumably in the cross-hairs. Her phone rings. It’s Cheng: well, who else could it possibly have been? I mean, he’s in London instead of being on the Southampton road, he’s discovered Audrey’s secret mission and set up an ambush with not the slightest of clue as to how he could have done so – magic? – and he’s menacing Jack’s bird, alright?
So, no cliches going into the final muss-’em-up hour then, and no set-up, logic or even a semblance of rationality to sustain us in getting here. Even the good episodes cannot resist diving headlong into lunacy a five year old would reject as stupid.
One left, people. Twelve years ago, when the first series was running, my then-wife and I were so absorbed that, when we worked out that the final episode would fall on the Sunday night as we flew to Mallorca for a week’s holiday on the Saturday, we not only set up our video recorder and left tapes with two different people to ensure it was recorded, on arriving in the Balearics we asked my wife’s Mum and Step-Dad if they could pick up BBC2. They couldn’t, but friends of theirs in the southeast of the island could. The tape was available on Tuesday so we drove to their apartment and threw everybody – the parents too – out into the kitchen so we could watch the last episode without interruption.
That was how good it was then. This time I’m not holding my breath.