24 Season 4 found the series at a weird crossroads. After three years, it was getting time to shake things up a bit. To their credit, the show runners went all-in with an all-new, all different 24.
Everywhere you looked there was a replacement for the old guard. The emotionally detached Erin Driscoll (Alberta Watson) now ran CTU. Curtis Manning (Roger Cross) was in charge of operations, Sarah Gavin (Lana Parrilla) was his top analyst and the good-natured, but somewhat naïve Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi) was trying to measure up to Chloe O’Brian’s irreplaceable skill set. There was even a new president in John Keeler (Geoff Pierson), who faced off against President Palmer last season.
Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was now an agent with the Department of Defense. The new assignment under Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane) proved a good fit for the embattled former CTU agent. Jack was now emotionally in a place to be in a loving relationship with Heller’s daughter, Audrey (Kim Raver).
Since Jack can’t have nice things, everything gets crazy upon a visit to Los Angeles. Heller and Audrey are kidnapped by terrorists, who have a long-term plan involving nuclear weapons. Pressed back into action, Jack has to utilize every resource to stop this terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Even if it means stepping on CTU’s toes to get the job done.
Problem was this new CTU crew just weren’t very engaging. None of their subplots truly clicked whether Driscoll’s schizophrenic daughter or Curtis’ concerns about an opportunistic ex-flame (Aisha Tyler) looking to advance her career. Their subplots felt more like obstacles and with none of the new CTU aiding Jack after Chloe’s dismissal, it was hard to invest in anything they were doing. In fairness, the Season 1 crew got time to develop their characters and agendas. CTU ver. 2 immediately failed to measure up.
Recognizing that, the show runners started a course correction and gradually brought back the old gang. Questioning who he could trust, Jack reached out to Tony (Carlos Bernard), who needed a reason to keep going after the events of last season. Michelle (Reiko Ayelsworth) returned, estranged from Tony and now working at Division. Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) came back too.
As the season unfolded, the replacements quickly found themselves replaced with only Curtis and Edgar surviving the purge. This was a smart move as Curtis and Edgar easily fit into the established CTU dynamic. Curtis made for a strong field partner with Jack while Edgar brought in a special brand of office awkwardness. The mid season addition of CTU Division head Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) was handled much better. It was nice seeing a Division head with heart.
There was also the matter of the Middle Eastern family playing a pivotal role in the terrorist attack. In the first half of the season, they get a lot of screen time, but their arc wasn’t nearly as shocking and tragic as the Reza/Warner family arc from Season 2.
The presidential subplot got a much needed boost when Keeler was incapacitated and his woefully inadequate vice president Charles Logan (Gregory Itzen) stepped in. Logan made for a fascinating character as he was unlike Palmer and Keeler in every way. He was weak, impulsive and prone to buckling under pressure. Logan’s ineptness also made for a clever avenue to bring Dennis Haysbert back in a new role as presidential advisor. And nobody is better at playing the role of president than Haysbert.
Fortunately, the writers’ gambit to keep the main villain, Habib Marwan (Arnold Vosloo) in play for most of the season, pays off. Marwin is another impressively competent adversary that poses a significant challenge for Jack and company. Mia Kirshner returns later in the season to further provide that homecoming feel with another dangerous foe.
Season 4 feels a lot like Season 2 with Middle Eastern villains and an imminent nuclear attack. The threat level of Season 4 never quite reaches its even-numbered predecessor though. Arguably, Season 4 plays out best during its second half functioning as an extended prologue for Season 5, the series’ greatest season.
While Marwan and company meticulously planned their attack, it’s CTU’s encounter with the Chinese Consultant that provides some of the season’s most breathless moments. To some extent, Marwn’s subplot gets upstaged by Cheng Zhi’s (Tzi Ma) menacing investigation into a disastrous CTU mission.
As always, the writers pack in a ton of shocking moments and fake-outs. One big highlight involves Audrey’s ex-husband, Paul (James Frain, Gotham) who wants back in her life at an oddly suspicious time. Overall, the Heller family arc was the best for surprises and satisfying subplot resolutions since Season 1.
There’s few surprises with the acting. Sutherland has the intensity to make every scenario seem like a matter of life and death. Bernard and Ayelsworth have a powerful chemistry that makes the Tony/Michelle feel so genuine. A lot of action shows stumble with romance elements, but Bernard and Ayelsworth make those moments meaningful without being cheesy. Raver doesn’t fare quite as well as Audrey’s reactions to Jack desperately trying to save thousands makes her look a little foolish.
The action and relentless pace definitely didn’t let up for Season 4. While it might not hit the heights of its predecessors, this was still a very strong season that works best in the context of knowing what lies ahead.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: FOX