Previously on 24...
A personal vendetta from the past culminating in the murder of Jack's wife... a nuclear threat against the city of LA culminating in Jack's daughter terrorized in the wilds of California... a viral threat culminating in a franchise spinning its wheels out of control...
These are the personal trevails of Jack Bauer. His continuing mission: To explore strange, new hostiles. To boldly kick their asses like no man has kicked them before. So it was that Day 4 of the "Jack Bauer Power Hour" was brought forth unto Casa de Skim and explored forthwith. The day began innocuously enough as a train was derailed via exploding truck. A man onboard was found laying next to the wreckage with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. That proved to be no problem for a different man on a dirtbike who drove up, shot the man on the ground, used a bolt cutter on the handcuffs and rode away with the suitcase. Thus bagin Day 4...
I have to say that after the lackluster Season 3 that 24 regains a much needed focus with this season. For starters, we learn who the primary villain is almost from the beginning and he terrorizes everyone for the duration. Habib Marwan, as played by the great Arnold Vosloo, is relentless in his assault throughout the day. He's always two steps ahead of Jack Bauer and CTU and when he strikes he does so with fiendish precision. It was a huge kick to have this sort of recurring villainy throughout the season instead of learning who the main villain is around episode 15 or 16 because the danger to everyone is constant instead of constantly changing.
Welcome Departure #2 was no Kim anywhere at all. There's a single reference to her at the very beginning and after that she's never mentioned again. For the record, this is exactly as it should be.
CTU was also filled out with an almost entirely new crew save for Chloe, pretty much the sole hold-over from season 3. Jack was fired by the new CTU head, Erin Driscoll, and he works for the Secretary of Defense. Once things are in motion it isn't long before Jack starts butting heads against Driscoll and others all while Marwan continues to execute a plan so far reaching in its impact that no one can figure out the end goal(s).
It's exciting stuff and even though 24 is basically a Hollywood action thriller blown up into 24 hours instead of two there are enough twists, turns, and dramatic beats that it somehow manages to sustain the ride for the entire season. This particular season though draws heavily on seasons 2 and 3 with a heavy emphasis on round 3. I found this odd considering the previous year was extremely boring by comparison, but certain character arcs won't mean a thing unless you watch one before the other.
I enjoy large ensemble casts because if the writers completely fail at nailing one character then at least I have a few others to fall back on. ER somehow fails at this entirely but I chalk that up to it being more soap opera than ordinary drama. The fun of 24 though is how there is a large universe of characters established by this point and you never know when someone else is going to drop in. I was stunned outright by one reveal late in season 4 because I figured they wouldn't deal with that character until the final season, whenever that may be.
One other thing they handle well is the derth of utterly stupid sub-plots. Normally, there's one primary sub-plot that brings the show to a screeching halt whenever it's focused on and this year is no different. What is different is how quickly it's resolved and how it removes one of the not-so-interesting characters only to replace them with one of my favorite characters. To the show's credit, as stupid as this one plot thread is they end it very, very well before putting the hammer down and barreling through the second half of the season.
If you stopped watching after the boring season 3 then know that season 4 returns to the all-out frenzy of season 2. That's a very good thing and one I'm personally grateful for. The "Jack Bauer Power Hour" Vol. 5 hits street in the first part of December which gives us plenty of time to get ready for January's premier of season 6. Judging from the preview it looks like a lot of the groundwork laid in the final few episodes of season 4 paid off at some point the following year. Personally, I can't wait to learn how.