Season 6 of 24 proves the series is a lot like pizza — even when it’s not at its best, it’s still good enough.
Still, of the seasons, this is the weakest thanks to a combination of weak villains, dubious plot twists, deaths and questionable casting choices. This season also had the misfortune of following the series’ best. Going back through it though it wasn’t nearly as lackluster as I remembered as there’s a decent amount of strong moments and characters to help stave off some of the weaker moments.
For the first time in the series, the writers seemed to lack much conviction in their decisions regarding characters. It felt like the agendas and personalities of certain characters were drastically altered to better appease viewers. While the multiple villain approach helped avoid a big bad getting stale over the course of a season, none ever truly managed to feel like a real threat.
The U.S. has struck a deal with China’s Cheng Zhi (Tzi Ma, The Farewell) to trade Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) to CTU. This isn’t a joyous reunion as Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) and Curtis (Roger Cross) inform Jack that he’s being handed over to Abu Fayed, a man with intel on terrorist Hamri Al-Assad (Alexander Siddiq, Gotham) in order to prevent an escalation in suicide bombings that have rocked the country. Jack is fine doing his duty until Fayed pulls a fast one and is revealed to be the real threat while Al-Assad is trying to stop Fayed from unleashing five suitcase nukes in California.
Nuclear weapons aren’t exactly the kind of threat that should be used too often and this was already done in Season 2. Thanks to the personal nature of that attack, the loss of colleagues and an uncertain status at CTU for Jack, that season was far more explosive (pun intended) and entertaining. Season 6 marks the point where the writers start to realize they’re starting to repeat themselves with squabbling between CTU agents, CTU constantly ignoring Jack’s advice/working against him and shoddy security leading to another tragedy. You’d think for a place that lost agents due to a nerve gas attack in their building that CTU would have impregnable security.
At least the writers tend to course correct much faster this season. Instead of CTU clashing with Jack over the course of three to four episodes, it only takes one or two to resolve the conflict and admit he was right. Early on, the writers explore a broken Jack, still somewhat broken after being tortured for over two years by the Chinese, but it’s a subplot that gets dropped before the midway point.
Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside) has followed in his brother, David’s, footsteps and is the president. While Wayne has some good moments and eventually has a season-defining highlight, it never felt like he was able to make much of a mark. Surviving an assassination attempt only to go into a coma, get awakened from the coma and being hospitalized again didn’t help Wayne’s arc. If anything, this end point would have been better served for a second season under Wayne’s presidential leadership. There’s a cursory line about understanding David’s shoes better now as president, but Wayne trying to establish his own legacy out of David’s shadow could have been an entire season arc for him.
If there was a bright side to Wayne getting sidelined it allowed for his bullish vice-president Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe, Agents of SHIELD) to run amok. Noah lacked any of the grace of his predecessors and was a fascinating powder keg capable of going off on someone at any moment. Even when he was extending an olive branch and being cool, Noah seemed like his fuse could blow any second.
James Cromwell is fun as Jack’s bastard father. He makes for a good foil and occasional threat even if his plans seemed to range from super genius to typical 24 villain as it suited the writers. The season probably would have worked better if he was just the main villain throughout instead of bringing in Middle Eastern, Russian and eventually the Chinese to be the focus for 3-4 episodes. Peter MacNicol (Agents of SHIELD) proved to be one of the more layered characters as he started off as a potentially xenophobic member of Wayne’s staff only to have arguably the most complex arc of anyone.
I did like 24 tackling racial profiling of people of Middle Eastern descent. CTU Nadia Yassir (Marisol Nichols, an actress of Mexican, Russian Jewish/Hungarian descent ironically) deals with this firsthand while Wayne’s sister, Sandra (Regina King in a far too brief role) experiences it with her boyfriend, Walid Al-Rezani (played by Harry Lennix, Man of Steel).
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Typically, the late arrival of relatives by the sixth season of a series comes off silly. In Jack’s case it’s a bit more understandable, but it felt like a stretch that David and Wayne’s sister would never have shown up over the course of five seasons. At least King is a strong enough performer that we can just roll with it. Jack’s sniveling brother, Graem (Paul McCrane, Robocop), and his wife, Marilyn (Rena Sofer), and son, Josh (Evan Ellingson), felt far more superfluous.
Easily one of the more annoying aspects of Season 6 was the ridiculous death of Curtis. Jack’s expert marksmanship had been well established by this point and it was ludicrous to think he couldn’t have found another way to disarm Curtis, whether by clipping him in the knee or arm to avoid him killing Hamri Al-Assad. CTU tech analyst Milo (Eric Balfour) had one of the more shocking deaths of the series. It was a startling reminder that no character is safe, but it was a terrible way to write off a character that had so much storyline potential left.
This season also started a disappointing trend of diminishing the diversity that was a hallmark of the series’ previous years. Curtis was replaced as head of field ops by Mike Doyle (Ricky Schroder) reflecting more of an overall lack of diversity in CTU. Also none of Wayne’s aids were minorities. It also didn’t help that some of these new additions weren’t great fits. Sofer has done good work on shows like Heroes and Melrose Place, but her performance often felt out of place in the 24 realm.
Schroder tried, but it was hard to believe him as a tough, no-nonsense agent even when the writers worked hard to make him unlikable. Doyle was the most inconsistent character as he would go one episode throttling Nadia in an interrogation to being deeply concerned for her. Outside of the new drama, it was hard to see why he was a better fit in everything than Curtis.
Fortunately the show could always rely on Sutherland’s gritty, intense, performance as the time-challenged Jack. Mary Lynn Rajskub as tech guru Chloe, Carlo Rotta as her ex-husband/lover Morris and Morrison also helped provide stabilizing work in supporting roles. A few guest appearances also helped the season whenever it started going too far off the rails.
Season 6 seemed to have better action set pieces and standout battles. The CTU invasion by Cheng’s forces and the final showdown in the season finale was solid as well.
While hardly the best example of the series at its finest, Season 6 does offer enough thrills and surprises to still make it entertaining though it was hinting that it might soon be on fumes. Fortunately that proved wrong.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Fox