Judge Mike Rubino never knew breaking into the White House was so easy.
Our reviews of 24: Season One: Special Edition (published June 6th, 2008), 24: Season Two (published October 7th, 2003), 24: Season Three (published January 12th, 2005), 24: Season Four (published January 9th, 2006), 24: Season Five (published January 1st, 2007), 24: Season 6 (published December 4th, 2007), 24: Season 7 (Blu-Ray) (published June 26th, 2009), and 24: Season Eight (Blu-Ray) (published December 29th, 2010) are also available.
"I am more than willing to be judged by the people you claim to represent. I will let them decide what price I should pay. But please do not sit up there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions I have made. Because, sir, the truth is…I don't."—Jack Bauer
24 was supposed to be dead. After a terrible sixth season, a writer's strike, and numerous delays, everyone was proclaiming this series done for. Following Jack's lead, 24 went rogue, shaking things up at every turn. The question is: did they shake too much?
Facts of the Case
Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, The Sentinel) arrives in Washington D.C., prepared to face a Senate subcommittee and testify to his torturous deeds while at the defunct intelligence agency CTU. No sooner does Jack begin his testimony, than terrorists launch a strike in the nation's capital.
The FBI, led by Larry Moss (Jeffrey Nordling, D3: The Mighty Ducks), decides they need Bauer in order to stop these guys. Larry dispatches Renee Walker (Annie Wersching, General Hospital) to get Jack out of the hearing, and in turn opens up a can of worms that Larry can only hope to contain. Jack's rough edges and maverick persona causes friction with the Feds, but it also leads to the discovery of a mysterious CIP device, a vigilante group of CTU agents, the resurrection of Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard, Alien Raiders), and a devious plan to threaten the president (Cherry Jones, Signs).
That's about as spoiler-free as this review is going to get.
It is no understatement that there was a lot riding on the seventh season of 24. After an awful sixth season, and the end of President Bush's second term in office, plenty were questioning the show's relevance. Season Seven would need to be something dramatically different in order for the series to redeem itself.
With almost an extra year between seasons, the show's producers had an opportunity to conjure up some big changes. In the fall of 2008, FOX aired a two-hour prequel called 24: Redemption, which found our hero deep in the heart of Africa trying to find some comfort for his troubled soul. That movie (sadly not included in this release) set the stage for an ambitious season promising a new locale, fresh faces, and a very dispirited Jack Bauer.
Season Seven takes place in the heart of Washington D.C., which gave the show an inherently ponderous atmosphere. The FBI offices that Jack works in are sterile and fluorescent (Dilbert-esque?), rather than dark and trendy like-CTU. The action, especially in the early episodes, is mainly urban (even if D.C.'s infamous traffic seemed to disappear just in time for Bauer to hit the road). Finally, there isn't some silly reason for the president to show up in California, Jack can just drive over to the White House and see the president in person. The change in scenery does the show some good, even if there is still a fair amount of time spent in loading docks or warehouses.
With the dismantling of CTU, however, Jack finds himself in limbo. It's been four years since Season Six, and he doesn't belong to any official organization. He's permanently rogue. This makes for some interesting tension between his eventual partners at the FBI, as well as the surprise return of some old friends.
Unlike previous seasons, where an imminent threat loomed over the cacophony of storylines, Season Seven is filled with crisis after crisis. Ideally, each new development would be bigger and deadlier than the previous one, but that's not the case here. First there is the threat of African despots controlling air travel across the nation; then the emergence of vigilante CTU agents traveling around like the A-Team—led by Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) with a ridiculously awesome haircut—and then the discovery of a rogue private military company. After the show spends several hours going down a very rewarding rabbit hole (one that happens to involve the skillful acting of Jon Voight), the story comes to a grinding halt. It's hard to discuss without ruining everything, but let's just say someone gets sick, someone is a turncoat, and more rich white guys are to blame.
The stifling amount of twists and threats this season brings about a handful of great and not-so-great characters. Jack Bauer is his usual, awesome, self. Kiefer Sutherland plays the part with a newfound dramatic sorrow; he's more reserved than in seasons past, and no longer feels like a caricature. His sidekick for much of the season is Renee Walker, who gets an aptly moralistic treatment by Annie Wersching. She does an excellent job of towing that line between FBI by-the-book-er and Bauer Lite. The entire season you're wondering if she's going to go over to the dark side. Renee is backed up by a new gaggle of FBI archetypes, all essentially bizarro versions of CTU characters: Larry Moss, her straight-laced superior; Janis Gold, an eye-gougingly annoying techie, played by a whiney Janeane Garofalo; and Sean Hillinger, Janis's Mad Men-esque assistant, played by Rhys Coiro. It shouldn't be a surprise to hear that Tony Almeida is back and as gruff as ever. Also from the old CTU days are Bill Buchanan and Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who have apparently been working from home for four years. Their arrival is one of the most triumphant moments of the entire season.
For such a diverse mix of old and new, it's only fitting that we have a new president—one who is much more capable than the Jimmy Carter-esque disaster of Wayne Palmer and the Dick Cheney-craziness of Noah Daniels. Enter President Allison Taylor. She's easily the best president since the beloved David Palmer—when you consider the guys who have occupied the office between them, it's not a hard call to make. Her strength and leadership skills are put to the test early on, and Jones handles the character exceedingly well. If only everyone around her wasn't so shrill and aggravating. Oddly, for as close in proximity as Jack is at times with the president, her storyline becomes less and less important as the season progresses.
To be honest, everything sort of becomes less important around Hour 19. I'm not going to ruin anything, but if I could go back and stop watching the show around the 18- or 19-hour mark, I would. If that were the case, this year would have been almost as good as Season Five. Unfortunately, it isn't, and the producers' need to constantly twist and subvert expectations went too far this time around. Season Seven falls apart in its waning hours, and crawls across the finish line with a mixed bag of force-fed reconciliation, lame final showdowns, and a cliffhanger ruined by a press release announcing Season Eight.
For perhaps the first time in series history, the entire season was filmed before the premiere last January. This allowed Fox to have this DVD set on store shelves the day after the season finale. It's an impressive move, although I fear that the amount of special features and the packaging suffered as a result. I can confirm, however, that the show looks and sounds as good as it did on TV. This standard def release is in widescreen with crisp (and patently grainy) visuals, and a booming 5.1 surround track with the predictably spot-on score by Sean Callery. The special features don't fair as well, with just three featurettes, selected episode commentary tracks, and some deleted scenes across the six-disc set.
All three featurettes are well produced and insightful, but left me wanting more. The making-of video is especially interesting, as the show's writers spill the beans about the two other storylines that were scrapped before settling on this one. From the sound of things, they really worked overtime to get this season together. Sadly, there isn't much in the way of cast interviews or behind-the-scenes footage in this video. Hour 19 is a featurette focused solely on the building that blows up in episode 19 (the one that wrecks that FBI task force). It's a cool video that makes good use of split screens to show the explosion from every angle. I wish there were more featurettes like this in the set. The last video is a concert of Sean Callery conducting an orchestra through various movements of this season's score. It's very professional, and highlights one of the better theme songs in recent television history.
The commentary tracks are hit or miss, but all seem to feature different actors from the show alongside writers and producers. You don't learn a whole lot from the tracks, and the commentary is a little too loose for my tastes (Carlos Bernard does do a pretty good Rush Limbaugh impersonation though). Finally, there are a handful of deleted/extended scenes, almost none of which really matter. It would have been nice to see these deleted scenes grouped with each episode, like the commentary tracks, rather than just bunched together on the last disc; either way, you're going to have a hard time finding everything, because the bonus features are spread out over all the discs and there isn't a booklet or listing to tell you where they are.
Sadly, if you're a stickler for consistent packaging, you'll be disappointed to find that all six discs of Season Seven have been crammed into a single, clear Amaray case with two flippers inside (not unlike the packaging CBS uses for shows like The Fugitive). With every other season collected in a nice box with slim-line cases, complete with episode descriptions and special feature listings, this new trim packaging is a let down.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
When looked at from start to finish, 24 Season Seven isn't the disaster everyone feared…but it certainly isn't the fresh new champion that people were hoping for, either. It's somewhere in the middle, with a very excellent two-thirds giving way to an awful, awful finish. The series has always prided itself on subverting people's expectations, and in this case it did: I expected it to end with a cool storyline and some memorable villains…and the writer's subverted my hopes by churning out five lame hours of television that cast a shadow over all the good things this season had going for it.
24 Season Seven isn't the worst season by any means (that still belongs to Season Six), but it certainly nuked the fridge with an unnecessarily complex twist right as it entered the home stretch. Still if you remember the season for the good parts, like when Jack drives a car off the third floor of a parking garage and walks away unscathed, then things don't seem so bad.
For me, I'll just keep dreaming of that rogue CTU A-Team spin-off with Chloe and Bill driving around in a black box van. Oh, what could have been…
Guilty of five hours of torture.
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