I've been a diehard devotee of 24 from Day One (no pun intended.) For five seasons, I gleefully accepted every leap in logic, every defiance of time and space, every torture scene (I'm thinking all of Day Three's plotline here) that they could throw at me. I never wavered from my devotion to Jack Bauer, no matter how preposterous the plotlines became. After all, the writers were working on the fly, and even they had no idea where it was going. You have to get behind that kind of moxie.
After the ratings triumph that was Day Five, it was screamingly apparent that 24 would be around for a while. Sure enough, FOX guaranteed it at least three more seasons, and made Kiefer Sutherland an executive producer of the series. It also became increasingly obvious at that point that the series was about to jump the shark.
Let's face it: Day Six has been an almost incomprehensible mess, full of plotlines that sprouted like weeds, and were discarded just as quickly. It's as if the writers realized they'd painted themselves into a corner when they shipped Bauer off on a slow boat to China at the end of Day Five. From the moment Day Six opened, with Bauer released after 20 months of Chinese interrogation, nothing felt right. Within two hours, he got a designer haircut and a shave, (presumably debriefed while he was being groomed) and set about to doing what he does best: killing bad guys in creative ways. And that was all in his first couple of hours of freedom.
Sure, other things have happened — nuclear attack on LA with 12,000 casualties, failed coups, dueling terrorists, near-martial law in the US, paranoid romantic intrigues at CTU — but they were treated as minor annoyances. Bauer got all that cleaned up with six hours to spare – plenty of time to thread a new set-up poised to place Mike Doyle center stage next season.
I'm not privy to CTU memorandums or FOX board meetings, but in my own private spoiler world, I'm almost certain that Ricky Schroder's Mike Doyle will be the new 24 action figure next season. That's not to say Bauer will disappear – he may become next season's CTU director, a position befitting a TV series executive producer. Bauer's days as a renegade lone wolf world savior are almost certainly over, though. He's getting a bit long in the tooth to make it even remotely believable. It's time for Sutherland to pass the torch to younger blood, a la Bruce Willis when he gave up his action star status. Bauer can still be menacing, even in a desk job.
The Mike Doyle character came out of nowhere this season, a sort of young Jack Bauer whose dedication to CTU was beyond reproach. While other characters in Day Six come across as plot devices with no discernible motivation, Doyle has been fleshed out as the season progressed, so that now we see him as a man with a shadowy past who keeps people at arm's length as a defensive mechanism. We know he's a student of comparative religion, that he is not above bending rules in the name of the greater good, that his dedication causes him to be reckless on occasion, that he will get his mission accomplished come hell or high water. But most importantly, he's playing Robin to Bauer's Batman.
When I add all that together, and couple it with the fact that both Bauer and Doyle are blond, grimace at inappropriate moments and have similar tastes in street-fighting clothes, it's not a major leap of faith to see Doyle as Bauer's heir apparent. It makes sense in other ways, too. Schroder has time to grow into the stress lines that are part of Bauer's character. Since there is a bit of a similarity between the two, his presence wouldn't have a jarring effect on audiences. Since he's mysterious at this point, the series writers have a new sphere in which to work. And as the new world savior, he could serve as the perfect foil to a more seasoned, wiser, more bureaucratic Bauer.
I could be wrong, of course. This is 24, after all. Doyle could be killed off next week. WWIII might break out, making Day Seven a post-apocalyptic snooze. I sort of doubt it, though. One thing is certain though. CTU is too small for two blond bad boy world saviors.