Usually, when action heroes come back after a hiatus from the screen, the actors in that recurring role brings more baggage with them. Since they are older, they do not move or react as quickly. The fire dissipates. (Evidence: Harrison Ford’s dormant performance as Indiana Jones in the disappointing 2008 sequel, and a large wealth of the cast from The Expendables.) However, in Kiefer Sutherland’s return as Jack Bauer on 24: Live Another Day, the actor is turning in strong work week after week – and almost none of it needs the character’s signature yell. He is not as loud or overbearing as he used to be, but Jack is still one length ahead of the rest of the people hoping to catch him.
For a character who finished last week’s hour running into the U.S. Embassy, guns-a-blazing, Jack is still one of television’s most nuanced and commanding action heroes. He speaks to Lt. Tanner with conviction, sympathizes with the hostages who are trapped in the Embassy’s communications office with him, and is stern and direct with President Heller. He does much of this without raising his voice. As much as Sutherland has been mocked for his forceful yelling and the high quotient of “Dammit!” shouts per episode, he has been just as effective this season by toning down the volume.
While Jack has eased up with the intensity, the fourth episode of 24: Live Another Day is breathless entertainment that breaks ground in all of the subplots without steering too much away from the action inside the Embassy. For a series only giving audiences half of the usual allotted time, things are clicking in place at a terrific pace.
The most thrilling parts of the episode come from the cat-and-mouse antics between Jack and the marines, running alongside Kate and Erik. Jack literally locks himself into a corner to let the flight key data decrypt, leading to a tense stand-off with the troops outside the Embassy’s communications room, which has three hostages inside. Since the decryption is coming along very slowly, we get the chance to check in on other storylines before the troops get the necessary approval to fire on Jack. Atop Sutherland’s work, Mary Lynn Rajskub is also doing a fine job this season, as a more emotionally involved Chloe O’Brian, loyal to Jack’s cause and trying hard to get Adrian on their side.
The most shocking display of violence does not come from Jack’s gun this week, but from another split-second decision. It comes from Michelle Fairley’s Margot Al-Harazi. To get Navid to side with her terrorist plan, she orders a guard to snip off her daughter’s fingers – shown, although bloodless – and have him watch. 24’s villains are usually not subtle, and so far, it is nice to see Fairley munch into some sinister one-liners, although her brutality toward her daughter felt too sudden. Perhaps some muddled family drama will show its face in a later episode.