‘24: Legacy’ Abandons Torture, But Its Islamophobia Remains Intact
The latest edition of Fox’s beat-the-clock series sees Corey Hawkins step into Kiefer Sutherland’s shoes. But quite a lot’s changed since then.
The clock resumes ticking this Sunday when 24 returns on Fox immediately following the Super Bowl, albeit this time with the addendum Legacy—the better to highlight the new era this reboot is looking to initiate. Gone is Kiefer Sutherland’s longtime hero Jack Bauer (at least, as far as anyone knows), who’s now been replaced by The Walking Dead and Straight Outta Compton star Corey Hawkins’ Eric Carter. Aside from a different actor at the center of its terrorism-related narrative, however, little about the show’s format has actually changed in the three years since the 2014 miniseries 24: Live Another Day (and six years since the original run’s finale). And as Legacy suggests, time now seems to have passed the program by.
No matter the presence of Hawkins, nor the decision to limit its run to 12 hour-long episodes (thus calling into question how this can really be called 24), Legacy will strike fans as wholly recognizable, almost to a depressing degree. The show’s signature aesthetics remain, from split-screens, transitional fades, and cross-cutting, to that ever-present ominous clock chime. So too do the show’s dramatic hallmarks, including lots of panicked cell phone conversations, point-blank executions, frenzied shootouts, and good and bad guys yelling at people to do outrageous things—and then doing even more outrageous things themselves. Regardless of the absence of Bauer, one of TV’s all-time craziest badasses, everyone is still simultaneously level-headed and complete insane in 24: Legacy, capable of performing with amazing competence under extreme duress, and yet prone to behaving in ways that should immediately land them behind bars… or in the loony bin.
That state of affairs is clear from the series’ pilot, which introduces us to Hawkins’ Carter, a decorated Army Ranger who, having been part of a squad that helped kill notorious terrorist Sheik Ibrahim Bin-Khalid in Afghanistan, is now living with his wife Nicole (Anna Diop) under a new identity in an anonymous California suburb. Domesticity is not in the cards for Carter, however, as he’s soon forced to flee for his life after Bin-Khalid’s men arrive on his doorstep, looking for some mysterious lock box that was apparently stolen during the raid. Intent on figuring out what they’re really after, Carter gets in touch with his former boss Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), and informs her of his blown-cover situation, as well as the fact that all but one of his comrades have already been executed. Since only a few people knew Carter’s new identity, Ingram—who’s just resigned from CTU so she can support her senator-husband John Donovan’s (Jimmy Smits) presidential campaign—deduces that her replacement, Keith Mullins (Teddy Sears), must be a mole. And so of course she promptly tazes him, ties him up, and begins her own covert op from within CTU.
That’s not all the typical 24 craziness to be found in Legacy. To protect Nicole from harm, Carter drops her off with his drug-kingpin brother Isaac (Ashley Carter), with whom she was previously engaged—and whose own girlfriend doesn’t appreciate Nicole’s return to the neighborhood. Carter then goes in pursuit of his last remaining Ranger mate Ben Grimes (Charlie Hofheimer), who’s living on the streets as a PTSD-afflicted hobo-conspiracy theorist. Meanwhile, Smits’ would-be commander-in-chief (whose dad is…Gerald McRaney?) must contend with a possible scandal involving his Huma Abedin-ish Muslim right-hand woman Nilaa Mizrani (Sheila Vand), who has prior ties to an anti-American mosque. Oh, and did I mention that there’s also a subplot involving a Chechnyan teenage girl named Amira (Kathryn Prescott) whose boyfriend thinks she’s plotting an attack on their high school—which she is, with her nerdy science teacher (and lover!).
Legacy spins this convoluted web with aplomb, casting each scene as a desperate race to avert disaster. And though he’s not nearly as off-the-wall intense as Sutherland’s Bauer—a fact that’s true of virtually every fictional character, ever—Hawkins’ Carter makes for a suitably frazzled protagonist, one whose righteousness is laced with undercurrents of anger and, as his wife says, a secret love for the violence he supposedly wants to leave behind. For those simply interested in enjoying more of the same, the show delivers on virtually all counts—including some fan-service nods, most notably via dearly beloved analyst Edgar’s niece Mariana (Coral Peña), and the eventual appearance of Bauer’s BFF-turned-madman (and expert furrowed-brow brooder) Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard).
At least in its first few episodes (which were all that was provided to press), Legacy doesn’t indulge in the one device that made its predecessors’ so controversial: namely, torture as an act that’s necessary, and justifiable, in moments of true desperation (if ultimately scarring to those who perpetrate it). Nonetheless, the series continues to exploit hot-button issues for pulse-pounding fantasy—albeit in a manner that, when contrasted to the more modern (if equally silly) Homeland, comes across as clunky and outdated. At every turn, it feigns genuine interest in real world dilemmas by posing questions that always have two answers. Are cops racist? Absolutely! Excluding all the good ones. Are Muslims terrorists? Of course! Except when they’re wrongly accused of being just that. Should good guys kill? Sure! But, you know, they hate it. Can anyone be trusted? Naturally! Unless they know anyone at CTU, or know anyone who knows anyone at CTU, or know anyone who knows anyone at all.
Does that have-it-all-ways approach prove that Legacy continues 24’s long-standing tradition of using topical stereotypes and assumptions to misdirect its audience with bombshell reveals about rogue agents and traitors? As always. But there’s something so old-hat about its tactics, it feels completely out of step with our current Trumpian reality. Which isn’t to say that we’re not, as a country, still grappling with Islamic terrorism, or national security responses to it, or the cost our anti-terror actions have on both the world and ourselves. It’s just that those issues have mutated in new, multifaceted ways since 24 was last on the air, but the show still addresses them via the same stock dynamics and situations. No matter its inevitable litany of shocking-Shocking-SHOCKING twists to come, it’s hard not to feel like Legacy is stuck in a woefully predictable past.