GeekPlanetOnline’s resident telly addict, Gillian Coyle, likes to write about the box almost as much as she likes to watch it. From soap operas to space operas, if you need some thoughts on a television show she’s your woman…
Although it has become a shadow of its former self, there’s no denying the impact and influence 24 has had on television over the last nine years. This eighth season is to be its last, and I know I’m not the only fan who thinks that it’s a fitting time for it to end. While others may talk about the influence of its real-time format, the visual style, the near-future tech, the improbability of the plots and the all-round badass that is Jack Bauer, I want to talk about another aspect. Inspired by the film I’ve punned on in the title, I’m going to discuss eight of my favourite 24 women.
Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson Jerald) was endlessly duplicitous, controlling and watchable. From blackmail to destroying evidence, from convincing an intern to seduce her husband to covering up murder, Sherry was prepared to do whatever it took to protect David Palmer’s career and maintain her position of power.
In that last, she failed. After the events of Day 1, David divorced her, but he couldn’t keep Sherry on the sidelines. Throughout Day 2 she wove webs of conspiracy after counter-conspiracy; no one was quite sure whose side she was actually on. Despite her machinations, her former husband retained enough respect and love for her to help her avoid a life-sentence in prison.
In Day 3, Sherry finally crossed the line. After she murdered Alan Millikin, David abandoned her. Incensed, she turned the full force of her vitriol upon him and explicitly conspired against him. She was willing to go to prison, as long as David went too. That Sherry was shot dead by Millikin’s insipid wife, Julia, is a travesty. This magnificent, twisted woman deserved a better death than that. Interestingly, Jerald continued to breathe after she was shot, in case the producers ever decided to bring Sherry back. If anyone could survive a double-tap to the chest, it’s Sherry Palmer.
Nina Myers. Two words that are still spoken in hushed tones by the 24 faithful. Jack’s ex, Jack’s right-hand woman, Jack’s nemesis. Nina (Sarah Clarke) was the first and greatest CTU mole, long before we started playing Spot the Mole at the beginning of every new season.
Nina’s turn was a genuine shock. Although she was in a relationship with Tony Almeida, we all knew her loyalties lay with Jack. Or so we thought. The genius of Nina was that while she worked with the bad guys, she had no more loyalty to them than she did to Jack. As Jack once told her, “You’re worse than a traitor. You don't even have a cause, you don't believe in anything." We were never given a weepy “I do this because…” speech by Nina; she was simply a force of nature.
For me, Nina’s defining moment was her Day 2 request to President Palmer that she be granted immunity for a crime she had yet to commit: killing Jack. There was never any doubt that Jack and Nina’s relationship would end with one of them killing the other. Personally, I would have liked it to happen in the dying seconds of the last ever episode, with both of them toppling off the Reichenbach Falls. Cut to black, pip, pip, pip, pip.
Finishing my troika of brilliant baddies is Marie Warner (Laura Harris), AKA Hannibal Barbie. She wasn’t a patch on either Sherry or Nina, but she was fun.
At the beginning of Day 2, we bitched about the two dull blondes and wondered where this interminable wedding storyline was going. The groom, Reza was clearly not a baddie. Yawn. From out of nowhere, bam! Killing two CTU agents and Reza in quick succession, we realised that Marie at least was anything but dull.
A one-woman argument against racial profiling, Hannibal Barbie was a committed member of the terrorist group, Second Wave. She covertly funded the organisation using her family’s wealth, and was not above getting her hands really dirty. Harris put in a great performance. Her Society Blonde cover was flawless, but as soon as she switched not a trace of it remained, except in cynical impressions. The scenes with Marie in custody in CTU, refusing to speak to her father and scorning her sister were truly chilling.
24 doesn’t just excel at creating believable villains. Michelle Dessler (Reiko Ainsworth) was always a good guy. She arrived in Day 2, a member of Tony Almeida’s CTU team. We were supposed to think she might be a mole, but she clearly wasn’t. As time went on, her steel, intelligence and fierce loyalty began to shine through, largely due to Ainsworth’s subtle performance.
Her relationship with Tony was one of the few in the series that weren’t based on deception. Neither was using the other for information, access, or as a cover. They just loved each other. They had ups and downs, they worked well together, and they stood by each other and their friends.
After Day 4, I had happy dreams of Tony and Michelle escaping to the LA underground, where they survived as soldiers of fortune. Running a private security tech firm wasn’t quite as romantic. I was heart-broken at the beginning of Day 5 when Michelle and her unborn child were killed by a car bomb. So much for happy endings. RIP Michelle.
Renée Walker (Annie Wersching) débuted in Day 7. The show had missed a year due to the writers’ strike, and fans hoped that the producers would have used the time wisely to reinvigorate the show. Shifting the action to the FBI, and introducing Special Agent Renée Walker, we took a tentative, happy sigh.
There was a glint in Renée’s eye that told us she was dying to cut loose, and cut loose she did. Not for nothing do fans refer to her as She-Bauer. She’ll torture to get information. She’ll shoot first and ask questions later. In Day 8, she even freaked Jack out with her unique solution to freeing an informant wearing a parole tag: she cut off his thumb with a power saw.
We’ve seen beneath her cool, calm, exterior into the fragile, damaged soul within. We saw her frenziedly stab a Russian gangster rather than maintain her cover and allow him to rape her again. And frankly, good on her. For a moment, it looked like Renée and Jack might find happiness together. But a sniper put paid to that, and she died, wrapped in a bedsheet, in Jack’s arms.
Martha Logan (Jean Smart) is based upon Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General. When Mitchell tried to expose conspiracies within the White House, she was dismissed as a drunk.
Martha Logan suffers from mental illness, which is exploited both to control her and to belittle her attempts to expose her husband’s misdeeds. I find her a truly heroic character: while other characters stop nuclear weapons, Martha has to free herself from the control of her husband, the mistrust of those around her, and her own problems, all in the face of life or death peril. What’s more, she succeeds. She even finds love with Secret Service agent, Aaron Pierce.
Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) may be my favourite President in the 24-verse. In the final analysis Palmer will probably pinch it, but she’ll be a close second. There have been other fictional female US Presidents, but Taylor is the first to convince me that she could actually earn, deserve and do the job. Crucially, she’s not a female President; she’s the President. I admire her integrity, her courage, her empathy and her intelligence. I admire her willingness to do the hard thing, if it is the right thing.
I’m not impressed that she’s fallen for the poison that Logan has been dripping in her ear, but I have faith that she’ll pull it back. Even Palmer made mistakes.
Finally, we come to not only my favourite female character in 24, but my favourite character bar none. That’s right, Kim Bauer.
Nah, I’m just fucking with ya.
I am of course talking about Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Snarky, curt and with no appreciable people skills, yet almost universally beloved by fans. To think that Jack almost fired her for putting some files in the wrong place! Chloe is the only person who he really trusts, and her loyalty to him is unwavering.
Perhaps it’s precisely because Chloe has no people skills that she’s so trustworthy. If Chloe says you’re doing a good job, you’re doing a good job. Of course, if she thinks you’re doing it wrong, she might just pull a gun on you.
It was gut-wrenching at the start of Day 8 to find Chloe as an anonymous agent in the DC office, getting disrespected by no-marks like Dana Walsh and Brian Hastings. How did she fall so low? Before long though, they all screwed up: Walsh was a dull mole rather than a dull girl-with-a-past, and Hastings was out the door.
Finally, our girl got her props. Promoted to acting Director of CTU, personally thanked and commended by the President, and getting the respect her experience, talent and skills deserve.
So there they are. Eight women. All different, all wonderful. All a big part of why I have watched 24 religiously for eight very long days. Thanks ladies.