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TCA: '24: Exile'/The Return of Jack Bauer

July 14, 2008 | 10:38 pm



If there hadn't been a writers strike, "24" fans would have gone from seeing Jack Bauer despondent, standing on a cliff at the end of the sixth season, to watching him defend himself in front of Congress at the beginning of the seventh.

But, now thanks to a prequel that Fox is airing Nov. 23, viewers will get to find out what happened to Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) in the span of the year that passes between seasons. The seventh season was delayed a year because of the labor stoppage that interrupted production on the show as it was beginning to film the seventh episode.

"We've been very good from year to year drawing the bridge emotionally and narratively from one season to the next," Executive Producer Howard Gordon said Monday at the Beverly Hilton. "This year had a slightly colder opening because Jack is at the end of a cliff at the end of last year and what does that mean? It's very obtuse. This year, he's in a Senate investigation. What happened between the cliff and the Senate hearing? It was really almost too great a gap to fill in, so what's wonderful about the prequel is that it really tells a very exciting story on its own terms  but, most importantly, is an emotional story that transitions us from that cliff moment to Jack answering for his sins."

On Monday, TV critics were shown clips of "24: Exile," which takes place partly in Africa and reflects in real time two hours of a single day of the discredited special agent’s life. In a break from form, a prologue will begin the episode and then the clock will begin ticking, Gordon said. (Gordon, other producers and members of the cast, including Sutherland, made themselves available at the hotel).

The episode takes place on Inauguration Day, as former President Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe) is handing power over to Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), the first female president of the United States. At the same time, a military coup has begun in a fictional African country where Jack has gone to help an old friend (Robert Carlyle) who runs a school for children rescued from civil wars.

"We learn in the prequel that Jack has been traveling the world," Gordon said. "He'€™s been going from country to country for very short periods of time, never settling anywhere. He winds up in Africa.  In the prequel his hand is forced to face his past. He doesn't do it gladly. He's not particularly sanguine about having to do this. But Jack has come to terms with who he is. That doesn't mean he's not still damaged but he'€™s not apologizing for who he is. He'€™s a little lighter, leaner."

Explaining some of the character development he was criticized for last year, Gordon acknowledged that it's become more challenging to write the character of Jack as he'€™s run out of people in his personal life to save or lose.

"Last year was a very existential year for Jack," Gordon said. "It was a lot easier to write the show when Jack aspired to get his family together, when Jack aspired to have love for the second time. Jack comes back from a Chinese prison wanting to die because he'€™s got nothing and no one to live for. To have a character who doesn't aspire to anything, except maybe death, is a very challenging place to begin a season. Because Jack has exhausted, honestly, his personal story, it's gotten a lot more nuanced. It'€™s gotten a lot harder."

But the strike provided the "happy accident" of time and allowing for the creation of a prequel that can satisfy questions from fans and critics alike, Gordon said.

"Season 7 is better with the prequel,"€ Gordon promised.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

(Photo courtesy Fox)