On a purely visceral level, 24 has always delighted in conceiving of sequences that pile on dramatic complications, as if in homage to all those Republic Pictures serials of old. The latest installment in the series, 24: Legacy, retains that quality as well as one of the more dubious aspects of the original show: its broad-strokes political commentary. It would be a stretch to call 24 intelligent in its politics, but while the series was never shy about displaying its bona fides as right-wing fantasy, occasionally the writers were at least willing to acknowledge troubling moral gray areas.
One may recall the unsettling implications of an episode from 24’s second season in which Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland, an executive producer on 24: Legacy) had a terrorist’s entire family killed just to get that terrorist to give up a crucial piece of information; the revelation that the massacre was staged didn’t dispel disturbing questions of just how far Bauer—and our nation as a whole—was willing to go to win the war on terror. And even when the series began to show less moral ambivalence in its depiction of torture, Bauer’s anguish offered a bedrock reminder of the psychological toll of fighting terrorism, with every season seeing this ever-reluctant, much-beleaguered hero saving the world while losing bits of his soul in the process.
With the recasting of the franchise’s hero as an African-American former army ranger named Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), 24: Legacy attempts to tap more directly into the kind of inflammatory racial tensions that are currently gripping the United States. But as ever, the series does so in the most superficial of ways. A scene in the second episode in which Eric uses his skin color to get himself arrested by white cops in order to carry out a plan to steal some drug money is bound to inspire more exhilarated glee at the character’s Jack Bauer-style chutzpah in using racial profiling to his advantage than deeper reflection on what the act suggests about race relations in the country.
There’s also the tangentially connected subplot involving Eric’s estranged brother, Isaac (Ashley Thomas), a projects-dwelling drug lord who Eric reaches out to in order to help protect his wife, Nicole (Anna Diop), from danger. Worse than being the kind of eye-rolling time-filler that one would have expected from the original show’s mandate to fill 24 episodes with incident, this subplot—which features a possible revolt that Nicole gets wind of when she overhears a private phone conversation—can’t help but feel exploitive of real urban anguish, especially in the wake of recent television shows like Atlanta, which essay lower-class life with genuine lived-in sympathy.
Even at its most relatively nuanced, though, this series has always been a political comic book at heart, and the furious pace at which it burns through its real-time action perhaps inherently curtails anything more seriously reflective. Though the imposingly slim and tall Hawkins certainly looks and sounds authentic as an action hero, he’s less convincing than Sutherland consistently was in bringing darker PTSD-like psychological shadings to Jack Bauer. We have to take it on faith when Nicole confesses to Isaac that she worries that her husband embraces being back in combat with possibly too much zeal; for all his authority when he’s on the run, Hawkins is a bit too bland a presence to convey the kind of inner trauma Sutherland often effortlessly did to ground 24’s increasingly ridiculous terrorist scenarios in some kind of emotional reality. It remains to be seen whether Eric Carter will deepen as the series goes along; for now, though, Hawkins, like 24: Legacy itself, brings just enough intensity to get the heart-pounding job done.