Screenwriting guru Robert McKee has a principle that when an audience is watching a story unfold, they have to be slightly ahead of what is going on. If the audience is left behind, they will be confused and frustrated. If they are too far ahead, they have too much foresight and will tune out the conflict as it plays out. However, staying just ahead of where the story is allows a viewer to create expectations on how things will play out. Alas, the best scenes are ones that subvert expectations; therefore, if a writer can set up a confrontation or big moment with clarity but keep the viewer on his or her toes by turning the story in a slightly different direction, the scribe should follow that impulse.
So, if Jack Bauer is trying to assume a false identity to get entrance into a high-security clearance site and we see a few minutes earlier that Adrian Cross wants to thwart this plan by plotting into the system the wrong clearance number, we can only wonder what will happen to Jack. The thing about Jack, though, is he is the most tactful improviser in counter-terrorism. When he changes his clothes, hides a gun underneath a jacket and goes in guns a-blazing, it was not just a cathartic climactic moment, but one that delivers a surprise that is both thrilling and authentic to the character. 24: Live Another Day is turning into the real deal, folks.
Despite the last minute of pandemonium, this is a very character-driven episode. The “previously on 24” segment, notable for its freeze frame smash-cuts to the characters’ names, selected the names of eight characters. There are many pieces to this thriller so far and 24: Live Another Day is doing a fine job giving each subplot a level of intrigue. Therefore, to have an episode that worries less on action but focuses more on broadening our insight to the relationships is perfectly fine – especially when it only unravels a more complex web than we initially thought.
Of course, a thriller is only as good as its villain. So far, Michelle Fairley is a steely sensation as Margot Al-Harazi, who we learn is the wife of an Al Qaeda member who was murdered in a drone strike in Yemen a few years back. Along with her is daughter Simone (Emily Berrington), who we met briefly last week, her son and Simone’s husband, Navid. Therefore, this terrorist plan is a family affair, and Margot has the potential to be gloriously vindictive. She tells Navid, who she believes is nervous due to Simone’s role-playing as Derrick’s love interest, that Margot was required on occasion to get close to other men, since she “was doing what needed to be done.” It is great fun to see Fairley, better known as Lady Catelyn Stark on Game of Thrones, watch over her daughter with strategically placed security cameras and toying with Simone’s leg wound.
Simone managed to flee from Jack at the episode’s start, when he pursued her on the Tube. (The subway setting brought a chilly reminder of the 7/7 attacks). The episode kicks off into a thrilling race against the clock with the usual suspects – Jack nonchalantly sneaking into a crowded area as Chloe sits in the car and gives him the logistical layout. However, Chloe manages to mess it up, lingering her stare for too long on a young boy walking with his parents right in front of the car. Why did she freeze up? The boy reminded her of her son, Prescott, who died recently.