24: Redemption

Dir: John Cassar
Star: Kiefer Sutherland, Cherry Jones, Colm Feore, Robert Carlyle

Ah, Jack Bauer; how much we have missed you. If it seems like a long time since the last episode, that’s because it has been: due to the writer’s strike, this inter-series special premiered almost eighteen months to the day after Season Six ended with Jack recovering the nukes and preventing war with Russia. Just an average day for our favourite counter-terrorist. Unfortunately, even he was able to do nothing about the writers’ strike, which began in October 2007. Although eight episodes of the seventh series were already in the can, the producers opted to postpone the show. Redemption was chosen to bridge the gap; an early draft of the story for Season Seven had Bauer in Africa, getting caught up in things there, Black Hawk Down style, but the costs of filming an entire 24-episode season there proved prohibitive.

The idea was transformed into Redemption; a two-hour special which explains what happened after the end of the previous series, and sets up the new one, introducing us to a number of new characters. In a significant diversion, Jack (Sutherland) is no longer part of CTU: he has been travelling the work, but seems to have found some measure of peace working at a school in the fictional country of Sangala, alongside another veteran, Carl Benton (Carlyle). However, peace is temporary, as a military coup led by General Juma (Tony Todd) threatens to turn the pupils into unwilling soldiers.

It’s up to Bauer and Benton to get the kids to the American embassy, through the fighting, so they can be sent to asylum in the States. Meanwhile, in the US, a new President, Senator Allison Taylor (Jones), has been elected and is about to be inaugurated. The choice of a woman is interesting; 24 had a fictional black president, David Palmer, six years before the nation elected one, so this must give Hilary Clinton hope for 2016 or thereabouts, even though she seems to be a Republican [assuming the one she replaces President Daniels was a Democrat, as he assumed power after Wayne Palmer – David’s brother, who became President too – was incapacitated by a bomb-blast in Season Six]. Barack Obama, however, will be hoping life is not imitating art, since both black Presidents in the show have met untimely fates.

A friend of her son stumbles across evidence implicating Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight) in the coup, though this thread is clearly designed for much greater exploration in Season Seven. Similarly, more of a scene-setter than anything else, is the angle that Bauer is now wanted for questioning before a Congressional committee, to answer accusations of torture and other un-American activities. He initially has no intention of complying with such a request, but as ever in 24, things have a nasty habit of changing in a flash. I don’t think it’s giving away much to say that Season Seven will find him back on American soil, not entirely at liberty, though I doubt that situation will remain the case for long.

Perhaps as significant as what was in Redemption, was what not in it, most obviously, CTU. This may have been something of a reaction to the sixth series, where it seemed that the writers couldn’t come up with any new threads for the agency [frankly, it seems they ran out of ideas for the show entirely, after the suitcase nukes were recovered, around hour 16] and the department has been disbanded. Fortunately, not all the characters were written out, with abrasive tech goddess Chloe O’Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub), among the most memorable of the program’s subsidiary characters, still taking part in Season Seven.

So, is Redemption any good? Yes, with some qualifiers: being a reboot of the franchise as much as it is a continuation, it takes quite some time to get going, having to establish an entirely new set of characters and situations: Bauer and outgoing President Daniels (Powers Boothe) are almost the only person you’ve seen before [unless you count Todd, since he played a cop in Series Three!]. It’s almost forty minutes before Jack Bauer kills anyone, f’heavens sake – given the tally was about fifty, one way or another, in Season Six. Normal service is, however, swiftly resumed as he takes out a number of insurgents as they attack the school; while eventually, even Jacks has to succumb to being out-numbered, this is merely a pause in activities, before Bauer takes someone out with the back of his knee. That’s how hardcore a man he is. Chuck Norris wears Jack Bauer pyjamas, as the saying goes.

From there, the film continues in the style to which we have become accustomed; in real time, with cutting between Bauer and the other characters, to cover moments when nothing much is happening. Obviously, in two hours, there isn’t the same scope for plot complexity as in a normal series, and the sequences in the United States are almost irrelevant, little more than place setting for things to come. Their purpose mostly seems to be to allow for some rather heavy-handed product-placement on behalf of sponsoring companies such as Cisco, Nextel and Hyundai – a little harder to do in the African bush, where Jack is stuck, without the ability to reposition satellites or call in backup at a moment’s notice.

Still, that makes for a lean, stripped-down Bauer, who admirably demonstrates that his own resources are more than up to the task. These scenes play somewhere between The Wild Geese and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, as the hero has to guide his young charges through unfriendly countryside, enemy forces, bureaucratic obstruction and land-mines. [Fortunately, there are no mountain lions to be seen… 🙂 Sorry, inside fan joke] The UN certainly doesn’t come out of this looking very effective: their official is, at best a coward, prompting Jack to taunt him as the soldiers approach the school, “Why don’t you go hide in the shelter with the rest of the children?” He doesn’t get much more impressive from there: meanwhile, the program featured an advert in which Kiefer Sutherland urges you to stop malaria, and the DVD has a documentary on the plight of child soldiers. Hmm. I’m prepared to bet the UN have done more in these areas than CTU ever did.

Mixed messages aside, it might not count as the best 24 ever, but it is still an improvement on 90% of the television out there, and whetted our appetite nicely for the long-delayed Season Seven, finally scheduled to start on January 11. With both Bond and Batman having benefited from a reboot of their franchise, a third B seems intent on joining them. “It’s been a while… It’s worth the wait,” proclaims the trailer below. Having been following Jack’s adventures since all the way back in Series One, let’s hope so. I’ll bring the popcorn.