|'several interesting things that come to play crucial roles in the 24 canon are trialled for the first time here and, largely, fail'|
Whilst hardly the unbridled 45-minutes of madness the show apparently becomes in some of its later series, you can see the reigns starting to come off the 24 producers and storytellers during the course of Season Three. Not one, but two female characters you might have thought had had their day from Seasons One and Two return to prominent roles here, prompting reactions of the 'oh come on' variety; not for the first time during a period of watching this show.
This is also the first time 24 noticeably had to work to stretch its narrative out to the self-set rule of the series' own title, a rule recently broken by the Live Another Day miniseries. Perhaps that is something everyone with the show should have looked at ignoring earlier. The start of this series features the absolutely pointless shooting of Tony (Carlos Bernard - just what is the motivation of the character who shoots him?), whilst he is in pursuit of Kyle Singer (Riley Smith), a semi-antagonist far less important to the eventual plot than the first six or so episodes allow you to think.
Meanwhile, several interesting things that come to play crucial roles in the 24 canon are trialled for the first time here and, largely, fail. Season Three sees us in the company of Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) for the first time. Has a worse character ever endured longer than Chloe's 126-episode run? Whilst you can see what the producers were going for (there are hints that Chloe is meant to be some sort of difficult genius, with some level of psychological condition that no-one seems comfortable specifying or discussing), they fail spectacularly and Chloe consistently comes off as a terrible, annoying presence. Meanwhile, the recasting of Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) as a strong CTU agent lasts all of six or seven episodes, before she again reverts to kidnap victim.
Even with all of that going on though, there is enough contained within 24 Season Three to mean that it pretty much matches the previous high point of Season Two. Kiefer Sutherland, now utterly entrenched in the role of Jack Bauer, benefits from having James Badge Dale's Chase Edmunds to fire off. Chase's rebellious streak means that Jack no longer looks like the sole rule breaker in an otherwise straight agency and their changing relationship throughout the season is a highlight. Note how the writers miss no opportunity to complicate the Jack/Chase/Kim dynamic, including late developments which enter into soap opera territory.
Once the plot has worn out the Kyle Singer arc, something it takes a touch too long to do, things perk up noticeably and the focus switches to the Salazars; Ramon (Joaquim de Almeida) and Hector (Vincent Laresca), with de Almeida in particular exemplary in a role he has been typecast into for years. The Salazars provide cunning interest, and the dynamic between Hector and Jack is particularly satisfying. They also however give the series the non-American bad guys it so obviously pines for. You wonder how well a series like 24 would do if it launched now, with lines like 'your constitutional rights no longer apply' delivered with illiberal, right-leaning celebration.
The Jack/Hector dynamic hits another point of interest for this series during the prison break. This is arguably the start of 24 getting much harsher than its first two seasons hinted it might be. The Russian Roulette scene in the prison is close to devastating, a feeling mirrored later on when Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth) is in the hotel. Whilst Season Three may mark the start of 24's increasing abandonment of reason, at least it produces gut-wrenching plot turns, such as that which befalls Chapelle (Paul Schulze), in a television moment still towards the top of my all time greats.