Previously on 24...
Jack Bauer fought valiantly against evil terrorists led by the charismatic Habib Marwan (Arnold Vosloo) and encountered/defeated many foes, including a cameo by Naked Mandy. Yet it all came down to the newly sworn in President Logan's right hand man Walt Cummings who sent a loyalist Secret Service agent into CTU to bring in Bauer. Of course by "bring in" I mean "kill the hell out of" and so Jack faked his death and fled Los Angeles. The only ones who knew he was still alive were ex-President David Palmer, Tony Almeida, Michelle Dessler, and Chloe O' Brian which meant Bauer's lover Audrey Rains was left on the floor of CTU crying her eyes out in anguish as Jack walked off into the sunset leaving his world behind.
The following takes place between 7 a.m. and 7 a.m. tomorrow...
As much of a reboot as Season Four was, Season Five levels the playing field with a wrecking ball. Over the course of 24 episodes, practically the entire original cast is permanently removed from the series so much so I'm convinced that if a character's name isn't "Jack Bauer" in the credits then it is only a matter of time. My main fear going into each season of 24 is how much of it will get derailed by a useless subplot that drags down the whole enterprise.
I need not have worried because there is not a single moment wasted in the entirety of this season. There were a few times when my "Useless Subplot" alarm started going off, but within the span of an episode the new plot development would sort itself out and make sense. What does that mean?
No Kim Bauer screwing things up.
No stupid psycho daughter killing herself for attention.
No cougars anywhere.
No amnesia anywhere.
In short, this is Jack Bauer set on "Pure" and it is a wicked kick to the adrenaline gland. The show just builds and builds to the point where it's almost impossible to take and then it goes deliriously over the edge and keeps the suspense high while racing to the finish. Everything that's worked before is cranked up to an 11 and everything that failed before is thankfully tossed aside. Bauer is pure righteous fury from beginning to end as he tries to sort out who would want him and his friends dead, and who has the means to accomplish it.
President Logan (Gregory Itzin) is a brilliant creation, all twitches and tics and insecurities that is somehow perfectly matched by his wife Martha (Jean Smart). The ways Itzin and Smart play off one another are wonderful because they nail the shorthand couples develop over 30+ years of marriage. They say more to one another in a look or a gesture than others could in a speech. Smart has the trickier role at first because Martha has a history of paranoid delusions and clinical treatment, and as the events unfold she starts seeing through the cracks but no one will help her. Without spoiling anything further, I'll say that everything for her changes slowly as the day moves on and by the end of it she's gone through a personal hell.
The secondary roles are again filled out by the characters we've come to know and love over the last few years. Mike Novick returns at Logan's chief of staff and he's again perfectly played. When the facts are brought to bear on him towards the end he leaps at the chance to do the right thing because of his failings in season two. Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce returns and is surprisingly given far more to do this year than in seasons past.
Also, Pierce gets the best line of the entire season during a confrontation towards the end. All of Jack Bauer's many, many throwdowns pale to the amount of genuine fury and rage that Pierce puts into one line. He's been heartbroken by what he's seen and when placed in front of the source of the day's problems, Pierce looks the villain square in the eye and just throws down. I cheered too because as great as Jack's similar confrontation in the final episode is, Pierce delivered his stinging rebuke with a wounded dignity Jack is physically incapable of managing.
In short, it was the stand out moment in a season of such moments.
If you have never seen 24 and want to know where to start, then I'd recommend picking up season four then five. Season four was more of a reboot of the series than anything else, and since they cover most of the backstory with throwaway bits of dialogue you should be good to go. Season five is worth it though because it is damn near flawless from the brutal beginning to the cliffhanger ending.