Sunday, August 18, 2002 by

Someone once said that the eventual parting of the ways overshadows every meeting. As 24 set off on its linear and inexorable course back at the start of the year, the prospect of its final instalment has always been in mind. Every episode has in effect contributed to a cumulative countdown towards the series’ end and it’s something us viewers have kept half-an-eye on throughout. The clock has been ticking and as such, it’s made us savour the programme that bit more.

So the question we can’t dodge is: did the last episode of 24 deliver? Well, we’re going to get that salubrious task of bestowing judgement on the programme out of the way early here with an unequivocal “yes”. This viewer left tonight’s episode feeling well satisfied – and for a programme that’s been as convoluted, complicated and inconsistent (albeit only ever wavering between compulsive and watchable) as 24 has over the last six months, this is no small feat. The much-lauded downbeat ending didn’t feel especially brave to me (as it’s been described elsewhere) but it did feel fitting. After everything that’s been pitted at Jack Bauer it would have seemed a major cop-out for the series to rest with all elements restored to normal and everyone happy. A lasting sacrifice had to come to legitimise the 23-episode preamble.

Three months ago, OTT reported back as 24 reached midday. At that stage we identified a watershed in the series’ development. The initial storylines had been exhausted and there was a sense of the programme shedding its skin as Gaines, Kevin Caroll (the bogus “Alan York”) and Gaines’ compound were all written out. And it certainly was the case that from this point onwards 24 seemed a little less focussed. Storyline threads were not so neatly bound in with the main narrative, and that sense of a strong, thumping logic driving the story became a bit more diffused. What had felt contained – a pressure cooker – now seemed to be bubbling over and spilling out in every direction. Yet, the programme remained essential viewing, thanks to the characterisation and some shameless set-pieces.

In that previous review of 24 OTT commented: “Palmer remains underdeveloped, and apart from where his own storyline has intersected with Bauer’s, he has remained one of the least interesting elements of the programme.” Almost to spite this criticism, the relationship between David and Sherry Palmer has grown over the series’ second-half to become one of the most fascinating aspects of 24. Whereas a lot of US TV drama venerates ambition, 24 refreshingly presented Sherry Palmer’s desire for David to get into Office as a deeply negative force. The programme didn’t particularly seek to challenge her motivation, only to show the damaging effects of untempered ambition. The break-up of the couple’s marriage as a result in the final episode was as well realised as any seen on screen for some years, and marked out this “B” story as something equally as compelling as Jack Bauer’s exploits.

However, whereas 24 took its own path in the depiction of the Palmers’ relationship and with many of the conventions of TV drama, it did let itself down badly with one key casting decision. Dennis Hopper as Victor Drazen was an unhappy confluence. Enlisting this notable Hollywood “baddy” as the series’ ultimate bogey-man smacked of a lack of imagination which remain unredeemed by the accompanying poor performance. His death half-way through the this final episode was rightly hurried to make way for the excellent denouncement as Nina Myers shot her way out of CTU. Only in the final reel did 24 recapture some of the inventive and scary villainy that Gaines had effortlessly peddled earlier on.

Thankfully, though, 24 has been too rich a series to be undermined by one square-peg. Destined to be tagged as one of the defining programmes of 2002, upon reflection it could be argued that the series’ strongest asset wasn’t its “real time” format, at all. 24‘s greatest strength has been in clearly delineating how and when the narrative will progress, timing us into and out of each episode, rolling along on a format that invites us to always look forward to the next instalment. As it is, I’m looking forward to series two. The clock’s ticking…


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