Die Hard is probably my favourite movie to just watch. And 24 Day 5 is just like Die Hard, except, well, eight times MORE. This is another one of those multi tiered seasons for me which I love on a few levels, but I won’t kid myself. Day 5 wouldn’t have made it this far up the list if it wasn’t basically the most kickass action movie I’ve ever seen that is also sixteen hours long. This is one of those very rare seasons I watch almost yearly. Not out of tradition or anything, but because I genuinely want to experience this crazy ride really often.
There are a staggering number of exciting action sequences and nailbiting scenarios throughout Day 5. There’s hostage situations, narrow escapes, ambushes, nerve gas attacks, explosions, a helluva sequence on a crashing airplane, and miscellaneous gunfights and chases on an hourly basis. It’s all confidently executed, and paced relentlessly. There are stretches of episodes in other 24 seasons that match or even surpass Day 5, but those other seasons usually have severe low points. This one is FUN from start to finish, almost completely lacking the irritable tropes and character types you usually associate with 24.
Certain characters this season had far less screentime than I think most of us would have liked, but many more have expanded, highly rewarding roles (almost the entire cast from the end of the last season returns more or less intact, which is a rare thing for this show). First, the amount of Chloe in Season 5 is just right. She’s a tricky character, but her brand of comic relief this season is unobtrusive. Audrey Raines moves past her whole “Jack’s helpless girlfriend” thing and becomes a highly admirable character who always fights passionately for what’s morally right. Bill Buchanan quickly becomes one of the most helpful CTU bosses, which of course means his leadership has to be threatened constantly over the course of the season. Long time guest players Mike Novick and Aaron Pierce finally get to hang around an entire season, which is extremely welcome. Julian Sands and Peter Weller are a fantastic couple of villains. Jean Smart as the First Lady steals pretty near every scene she’s in, and Greg Itzin’s President Charles Logan? He’s the key to the whole damn season.
24, although it takes place in a crazy worst case scenario America that’s constantly on the verge of attack, has actually made me discover more about myself as a person than anything else on TV. This show, when it’s at its very best (which IMO is the last thirds of Seasons 2, 3, and 8 and the entirety of Season 5) is really about principles and what happens when they’re tested beyond what you thought possible. The theme of Day 5 is about whether the ends ever justify the means, and that’s embodied by Charles Logan, a President who is deeply flawed at best and an opportunist craven coward at worst. He’s unsuited to be running the USA by any standard, especially in comparison to Presidents like David Palmer and Alison Taylor.
Those characters are these incredibly stalwart, larger than life figures who always react to crises like you want them to (and when they don’t, it has a huge impact). Logan, slimy as he often is, is an incredibly human and often relatable figure this season. He’s faced with horrible choices seemingly every hour, and decisions he’s made even before the season began come back to bite him in the ass. I constantly found that I was putting myself in his shoes and realizing that maybe my own principles don’t mean shit, because I might have done the same things in his position, and put my trust in the wrong people just like he did. Yes, you’ve got Jack out in the field being decisive and kicking asses all over the place, and that itself makes for a really fun season by itself. But Logan is the one who gives 24 Day 5 some real juice.
Finally, I hope I’m not overrating this season by putting it in the #2 spot. This could have been the first time I’d ever been watching the “IT” show before everyone else. When Season 5 premiered, it seemed like EVERYONE was suddenly as excited about 24 as I was. I have distinct memories of watching episodes with friends, and the sort of discussions we’d have the next day. This was also one of the first times I’d realized the level of investment you can have in a really good story and its characters when it manages to maintain its momentum over many months, and I’ve spent my life chasing that high.
If I Had to Nitpick…: The “death” of Tony Almeida. It’s hard to get too mad. After all, the showrunners clearly recognized Tony’s value later on. Resurrecting the character and putting him in the spotlight for an entire season is the best possible apology, and his seeming end here is now much easier to take. But the character’s minimal screentime and every character’s inexplicable apathy towards his death remains a sore spot.
And the season goes off the rails very suddenly, very late in the season. The Jack vs. Logan arc gets more thrilling with every new episode. And then that story hits a dead end in the 22nd episode, and the terrorists from earlier in the season return with a scheme that feels uninspired compared to what the writers were coming up with earlier, and then THEY’RE unceremoniously taken care of and we’re back to Jack and Logan. Now believe me, in the pantheon of Most Egregious Plotting Mistakes of 24, this one wouldn’t make the Top 20. But in a season that had maintained its momentum so well for 21 episodes, any sort of stumble in the home stretch is gonna have some impact.
Notable Episodes: Again, this season had so many one/two episode crises, it’s a bit easier to single out individual great episodes. The airport hostage situation spanning 9 A.M. – 11 A.M. was a nailbiter, especially considering that both episodes aired on one night. 4 P.M. – 5 P.M. (the motorcade episode) spotlighted every major character and was a great ride. Both the 6 P.M. and the 7 P.M. hours raised the stakes and the intensity to almost unprecedented levels (even if the writers had overly itchy trigger fingers at this point). And 3 A.M. – 4.A.M. started out with the audacious and thrilling set piece on a plane, before transitioning to something deeply melancholy and subdued.
Honorable Mentions: Season 2, which would probably find its way onto the tail end of this list if not for some wretched subplots, plus I already gave Season 8 a break.