24 - Season Five
Arguably the series' best season to date, season 5 of 24 literally starts with a bang and never lets up, with an intricate executive-level conspiracy to control Central Asia's oil supply. Piling crisis upon crisis in an escalating series of deceptions, twists, and deeply hidden agendas, the day-long ordeal begins with a devastating political assassination connected to a disgraced former CTU agent (Peter Weller) and a radical group of Russian separatists (led by British actor Julian Sands) threatening to release lethal nerve gas in Los Angeles to protest a U.S./Russian treaty about to be signed by President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin). As Logan's unstable wife Martha (Jean Smart), Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce (Glenn Morshower), and chief of staff Mike Novick (Jude Ciccolella) gradually uncover the conspiracy, CTU maverick Jack Bauer (series star Kiefer Sutherland) emerges from self-imposed exile to aid his CTU colleagues in a life-threatening quest for the truth. Meanwhile, CTU chief Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) is thwarted by an inexperienced, overbearing superior (Sean Astin) and an executive takeover of CTU led by Homeland Security chief Karen Hayes (Jayne Atkinson), forcing Bauer and his CTU loyalists to "go dark" and work independently to honor the memory of a slain friend and leader. Also figuring in are CTU's resident hacker-nerd extraordinaire, Chloe O'Brian (played to perfection by Mary Lynn Rajskub), Bauer's estranged daughter (Elisha Cuthbert), and his beloved CTU colleague Audrey Raines (Kim Raver).
Pivoting on a declaration of martial law and a mysterious cabal of unnamed conspirators, "Day 5" shocked even loyal 24 fans with a high body count including several important supporting characters. It all adds up to an exceptional season that earned Sutherland a well-deserved Emmy (for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series), equally deserving Emmy nominations for Itzin and Sharp, and an Emmy win for co-executive producer Jon Cassar's direction of the riveting season premiere. And while the breathtaking twists of 24 don't always hold up to intense scrutiny, these 24 episodes (running about 43 minutes each) are tightly written and flawlessly directed with an involving emphasis on thriller plotting and dramatic focus on the complex and operatically tragic relationship between President Logan and his traumatized wife. Add it all up, and you've got an addictive reason to look forward to season 6. --Jeff Shannon
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