24: Season 5 Review
PLEASE NOTE: Whilst every effort has been made to avoid spoilers for the fifth season of 24 the nature of the story means that mentioning some key plot details for the season premiere was unavoidable. Beyond the season premiere spoilers are kept to a bare minimum.
Oh how 24 has changed!
Just think, four days ago (give or take a few years in between) Jack Bauer's (Kiefer Sutherland) life was a far simpler affair. He had a wife, a loving but rebellious teenage daughter, a good job as head of the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit, and a second in command who certainly was not a double agent. Now all of this is gone. Despite the countless sacrifices he has made for his country forces within the US government want Jack dead, and by day four's end the only way Jack can escape is to fake his own death and take on a new identity.
Of course things change and 24 like the life of its protagonist has moved on considerably in 92 hours. Back in the first season nobody was particularly worried about the fate of the world (meaning Los Angeles) and there was no nuclear holocaust threatening to wipe out untold (and crucially unseen) masses. Day one of Jack's life was concieved prior to 9/11 and as such many of the show's signature themes about the moral hurdles in the war on terrorism had yet to surface. Far from the self-sacrificing American hero he would become the Jack Bauer of season one was the type of chap who actually put the lives of his family ahead of (or at least on a par with) duty, and his actions that day can be seen as the ultimate expression of just how far a man will go to protect the ones he loves.
Day five starts out, quite literally, with a bang. Killing two major characters, including former US President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), and leaving one in critical condition hours before current President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) is due to sign a monumental treaty with the Russian President.
Just outside of Los Angeles Jack Bauer has assumed a new identity as Frank Flynn - doing casual work in an oil refinery and lodging with single mother Diane Huxley (Connie Britton) and her son Derek (Brady Corbet) - but when the news of these attacks reach him alarm bells ring. Four people knew that Jack Bauer was alive, and now two are dead! The time has come for Frank to return to his old identity and bring his friends' killers to justice. Of course a day in the life of Jack Bauer is never simple and the next 24 hours see Jack uncover evidence linking his friends' deaths to a terrorist plot to use military nerve gas against US citizens, which may have links to high ranking members of the government.
Meanwhile President Logan's day isn't going any better. Terrorist demands are threatening to derail his career-defining treaty, and his unstable wife Martha (Jean Smart) is convinced that David Palmer was assasinated because he knew too much about the terrorists' plot. Could it be that somebody inside of Logan's administration is behind everything?
After the rocky fourth season day five feels like one of 24's strongest and most consistent outings to date, and benefits from an infusion of new writing talent including David Fury (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Manny Coto (Odyssey 5, Star Trek: Enterprise). Last year Jack was very much treated as the cliched maverick cop within CTU, ignoring the rules but getting results "DAMMIT". This year there's more to it than that - he has personal motivations once again and the stakes seem higher as a result. What helps is that we get a spectacularly well-concieved villain this time around. Unlike the generic middle-eastern terrorists (whose countries of origin remain unstated) that plagued day four Christopher Henderson (Peter Weller) is charismatic and complex in his motivations. More than this he actually has a connection to Jack (as the best villains do) and stands as the dark side of Bauer's pragmatic take on the War on Terror - convinced his actions are in America's best interest. Having previously worked with Coto on Odyssey 5 Weller is an excellent casting choice, and his chemistry with the constantly fantastic Sutherland no doubt raises the bar for future seasons.
Alas the same cannot be said for the (un)surprising mid-season return of Elisha Cuthbert as Jack's daughter Kim Bauer. After three perilous days as the least credible part of the show Kim ended season three with the rare honour of retiring more-or-less unscathed, and rode off into the sunset with her boyfriend in tow. Whilst Kim's brief return thankfully isn't accompanied by Cougars, murderous employers, or any of the other dangers she's previously attracted, her presence does nothing beyond retreading the same emotional ground covered during season two. We know she has issues with her dad's job, but we also saw her get over those issues. All Kim's return achieves is to reopen old wounds and detract from two of the season's best episodes in the process.
Day five also boasts some of the best plot twists since Nina Myers' betrayal at the end of season one. Of course to many viewers these shock revelations are 24's raison d'etre and to reveal them in this review would be an offense worthy of serious punishment. Out of respect those who have yet to see the latter episodes of the season I shall keep its secrets, but rest assured they are worth the build up.
With the exception of the first season every 24 set so far has been a prime example of a TV release done right, and the seven discs have been packed full of insightful extras. Season five is no exception and boasts the usual line up of commentaries, featurettes and deleted scenes. Unlike season four all of the commentaries are present on the region two release so there's no need to import on their account. However what remains exclusive to the region one set reviewed here is the prequel for the new season.
Season 6 Prequel
Since season three was released in 2004 these special mini-episodes that set up the next day's events have been a tradition on the region one releases and this attempt is arguably the best so far. Unlike the previous efforts this is less of a glorified trailer and more of a micro-narrative in itself following a set story from beginning to end and featuring events that may have nothing to do with season six. Sadly the Toyota product placement is rather gratuitous and it's hard not to be slightly irritated in the chase scene between a shiny SUV and a couple of military vehicles.
Season 6 Trailer
A trailer. It's for season six. However, if you're expecting a fantastic sneak peak of the upcoming season you're in the wrong place.
Members of the supporting cast (meaning everybody who isn't Kiefer Sutherland) discuss their roles on the show. More-or-less the entire regular cast, plus major guest actors like Jude Ciccolella (Mike Novick) and Glenn Morshower (Aaron Pierce), contribute and praise the freedom they have been given to develop their own characters. Of course the other major topic is the rather short life span of the average character, which the actors seem rather philosophical about. There is also some attention to the actors' other activities outside of the show, some may not find that of interest but I feel that it adds a greater depth to the feature.
Unsung Heroes: 24 Camera Department
As you may have guessed this featurette follows the work of 24's camera department. Here we get to see the work that goes into capturing an action scene on film, complete with large explosions, and observe the work of several camera men as they prepare for a major scene towards the end of the season. Once again everybody waxes lyrical about how special the show is and how much respect the producers have for the cast and the crew. I expect similar sentiments will be present on next year's featurette on the 24 catering department.
Music by Sean Callery
Composer Sean Callery discusses his work in scoring 24. The major focus here is on a scene between Jack and Audrey (Kim Raver) from early in the season and Callery demonstrates how he uses music to convey the emotion of the scene long before the dialogue begins. I found this to be the most interesting piece on the set, and it certainly gives the viewer a greater appreciation of the role music plays on shows like 24.
Construction coordinator Phil Stone tours the Presidential retreat set built for the start of this season. Stone points out all of the tiny details that went into putting the set together and comments on the reasons why various elements were incorporated into the set.
Extended and Deleted Scenes
23 additional scenes that can be branched into the episodes or viewed on disc seven with, or without, audio commentary from Stephen Kronish and Scott Powell. Whilst many of these scenes would have added to the story they were all unnecessary and in some cases would have slowed the show down considerably.
100th Episode Reel
An extended trailer for 24's 100th episode (episode 4 on this set) recapping practically every major plot event from seasons one to four and showing a few scenes from this season. This trailer probably makes for good viewing if you're starting the set and need reminding of what happened previously but it's of little interest beyond that. Oddly this seems to be the only effort to celebrate the show's hundredth hour, with the episode itself not really standing out as anything unique.
24: Behind the Scenes Book Sample
A collection of behind the scenes photographs taken from a new book of, erm, behind the scenes photographs. The watchword here seems to be cross-promotion, although I wasn't persuaded to purchase the book.
12 commentaries from various members of the cast and crew on key episodes of the season. The quality of the commentaries does vary wildly from those that merely state the obvious to a number of highly informative offerings. Undeniably the best of the selection is that from Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart who demonstrate the same chemistry that they share on screen, and reveal the effort they put into crafting their characters' (unseen) backstories. Sadly the decision to double up on commentaries for the season premiere (using Jon Cassar both times) was not wise and a lot of information is repeated for that particular episode. The line up is as follows:
7:00AM - 8:00AM
-Kiefer Sutherland & director Jon Cassar.
-Director Jon Cassar & writer Howard Gordon.
10:00AM - 11:00AM
-Writers Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff.
12:00PM - 1:00PM
-Writer David Fury & John Allen Nelson (Walt Cummings).
2:00PM - 3:00PM
-Writer Evan Katz & director Brad Turner.
3:00PM - 4:00PM
-Director Tim Iacofano & Julian Sands (Vladimir Bierko).
4:00PM - 5:00PM
-Jean Smart & Greg Itzin
5:00PM - 6:00PM
-Producers Matt Michnovetz & Duppy Demetrius, & writer Nicole Ranadive.
9:00PM - 10:00PM
-Director Jon Cassar & production designer Joseph Hodges.
12:00AM - 1:00AM
-Writer Howard Gordon & Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian).
3:00AM - 4:00AM
-Writer Manny Coto & Jude Ciccolella.
6:00AM - 7:00AM
-Writer Bob Cochran & Greg Itzin.
Last summer Fox set up an online poll asking fans to chose from a series of covers for this set. Of the five that were provided (including last year's region two cover) there was no clear winner, however the survey also asked for feedback and the artwork for season five was (apparently) created based on the opinions of real fans. Fans were also asked if they wanted to retain the traditional digipacks of 24 box sets or switch to thin cases. It seems that thin cases won out and the seven discs are now held in four double cases. Obviously it makes the set a lot thinner when placed next to the other seasons, but if your shelf space is at a premium then it probably comes as a relief.
As usual 24 gets a good video transfer and a 16:9 anamorphic picture. The picture quality is generally superb with most scenes appearing sharp and most dark colours handled well. My only gripe would be with a number of scenes set at night or in dark places that do seem rather grainy. That said these scenes are relatively few in number and certainly do not damage my enjoyment of the season as a whole.
With regards to audio the Dolby Digital 5.1 track does a fine job, especially when it comes to music and action scenes. Although the audio does not come close to competing with most feature films it does enhance the experience enormously and adds another reason why 24 is best viewed on DVD.
In comparison to many of the other hits of recent years 24 is something of a unique animal. Whereas a show like Lost functions on the principal of delayed gratification, forever promising that the big revelation is just around the corner, 24 exists very much in the moment. In this show revelations come by the dozen, but the real secret is that their is no big end game. As the producers will proudly admit little is ever planned beyond the next few episodes, and new story directions can be created (or dropped) on a whim. It's an approach that creates more than a few inconsistencies and continuity errors (both of which this particular season has its fair share) but then that hardly matters when the next big betrayal or shock cliffhanger has the audience on the edge of their seats. As far as this season goes it's a stunning return to form after the flat and predictable day four and easily stands amongst seasons one and three as one of my personal favourites. If one thing disappoints it's that they, once again, opted to end on an unexpected cliffhanger. It's not an approach I personally enjoy, especially in a show that has them every week anyway, and if the beginning of season three is anything to go by its resolution may well be skipped past as quickly as possible (of course by the time you read this season six will have aired on Sky One so I may have been proven wrong). Of course that is a small blemish in an otherwise outstanding day.