There's not one cougar to be found in 24
's dynamic third season, and that's good news for everyone. After Jack Bauer's daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) survived hokey hazards in season 2, she's now a full-time staffer at CTU, the L.A.-based intelligence beehive that's abuzz once again--three years after the events of "Day Two"--when a vengeful terrorist threatens to release a lethal virus that could wipe out much of the country's population. Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) attempts to broker a deal for the virus involving drug kingpin Ramon Salazar (Joaquim de Almeida), whose operation Jack successfully infiltrated at high personal cost: to maintain his cover, he got hooked on heroin. That potentially deadly triangle--drug lords, addiction, and bioterrorism on a massive scale--sets the 24-hour clock ticking in a tight, action-packed plot involving a potential traitor in CTU's midst; the return of TV's greatest villainesses in Nina Meyers (Sarah Clarke) and former First Lady Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson Jerald); a troubled romance between Kim and Jack's new partner Chase (James Badge Dale); and a scandalized reelection campaign by president David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), who monitors CTU as they struggle to (literally) save the day.
The intricately woven subplots that are 24's greatest strength are masterfully developed here, and character arcs are equally strong, especially among CTU staffers Tony (Carlos Bernard) and his wife Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth); CTU director Ryan Chappelle (Paul Schulze), who is season 2's tragic bargaining chip; and the annoying but well-intentioned Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who makes pivotal contributions with by-the-book efficiency. It's 24's superior casting that overcomes the series' occasional lapses in credibility, and season 3's twists make marathon viewing a nerve-wracking delight. By the time it's all over, with a high body count and the surgical reattachment of a main character's severed hand, 24 once again leaves you gratefully exhausted. As always, Sutherland anchors the series in the role he was born to play. When Jack takes a private moment to release 24 hours' worth of near-fatal tension and psychological anguish, Sutherland proves that 24's dramatic priorities are as important as its thriller momentum. DVD extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes (about the prison break sequence, climactic F-18 Hornet air-strike, and real-life bio-weaponry) that pay welcome tribute to the series' hard-working crew, who create Emmy-worthy television under pressures as intense as 24 itself. --Jeff Shannon