38. 24: Day 8 (2010)

It’s Got: The peace treaty at the UN, Katee Sackoff and Freddie Prinze Jr., Charles Logan’s jowls, Jack Bauer in a Darth Vader/Jason Voorhies mask.

The eighth season of 24 has some truly dreadful material. And not even the so-bad-it’s-fun type of dreadful I can get on board with. There’s a major subplot that’s like a whirlpool of suck, pulling in everything that could be construed as remotely entertaining, for eight straight episodes. It’s a waste of Katee Sackoff’s time, and somehow a waste of Freddie Prinze Jr’s time as well. Aside from them, the early episodes are littered with dull characters and boring storylines that seemingly will never intersect with the main action. If you watch the first half of the season in its entirety, with no knowledge of where the story is going, the idea of 24: Day 8 placing on any sort of Best Whatever list is ridiculous.

But here’s how it is. These subplots may be a cancer upon Day 8, but they’re not malignant. They don’t spread to the rest of the season. Now that I know when to fast forward, it is entirely possible to skip past the bad stuff and have the rest of the season make perfect sense. And when I do that, this magically becomes maybe one of the five best seasons of TV I’ve ever seen. It’s an astoundingly well crafted story that builds momentum like a rolling boulder, confounds your expectations at every turn, and blurs the line between right and wrong to the point where I don’t know who to root for, even my third or fourth time watching it.

About two thirds of Day 8 is incredible storytelling, and I think that’s worth a 38th place ranking. I’ll always ignore the bad stuff when I watch it, and I realize I ought not to do that in this list. But please. Let me have this.

The season begins fairly innocuously, as 24 goes. There’s going to be a peace treaty between the U.S. and the Middle East, someone is trying to assassinate a key signatory, and Jack Bauer is pulled in to save the day. It’s very standard 24 at first. Conspiracies to unravel, bad guys to chase, all weighed down by those aforementioned horrible subplots.

But eventually, one by one, all the characters in the season are gripped by a powerful sense of desperation. Everyone who wants to derail the treaty begin to go to extreme lengths to get what they want. The supposed heroes of the story must commit unthinkable acts if they want to fight back. The stakes just keep getting higher and higher over the course of the day, the action becomes more intense, and the feeling of uncertainty grows stronger and stronger. That’s all you can really ask for in the final season of a thriller, a sense that you don’t know how it’s all going to turn out. Jack Bauer’s life is never really at stake (there was eventually a ninth season), but literally everything else is.

There isn’t a single major misstep in the second half of the season, every single episode from Hour #11 and on delivers big time. I don’t want to say anything specific, but the season is absolutely worth your time, even with the really rough start.

If I Had to Reiterate the First Paragraph Again…: I won’t.

Notable Episodes: “3 A.M. – 4 A.M.” (the 12th hour) marks the point in which the season fully snaps out of it and starts moving at a dead sprint. “9 A.M. – 10 A.M.” pulls together several tragic events from the past few hours and uses them to launch a massive, unexpected conflict between two pivotal characters that will drive the rest of the season. “1 P.M. – 2 P.M.” is a nonstop ride that’s almost literally soaked in blood. And “3 P.M. – 4 P.M,” the finale, is appropriately murky and tragic.

#39 | THE LIST | #37

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