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As is often the case, Jack Bauer is one angry hero.

When we revisit our beloved agent for the first time since 24 ended in 2010, he's in exile (again), this time in London, and time has not been kind.

"He is massively damaged, and now he's just pissed off," says Kiefer Sutherland. As Fox's 24: Live Another Day picks up with Monday's two-hour premiere (8 ET/PT), now-president James Heller (William Devane) is in town to sign a treaty with the British prime minister, but the CIA's station chief (Benjamin Bratt) frets that Jack, who was blamed for killing Russians as the last season ended, is plotting an attack. Instead, he's merely trying to save the world.

"He's not been able to explain his side of the story from that last day, and he's been hiding from it for four years," Sutherland says. "It's an interesting dynamic when you're trying to help the people who are hunting you. That was the thing that caught me," luring him back to the role that shaped his career. "This was something different we can do, or a shade of different. We're not trying to reinvent the story, and we hardly do. But it was a different point for me to jump off. And it's going to be a crappy day."

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First, he has to rescue trusty sidekick Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who's now associated with a WikiLeaks-like group led by hacker Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott). "She became disillusioned with the government, and what she had been privy to them seeing and knowing," Rajskub says.

But she's no longer cutely awkward Chloe, loyally mapping out coordinates for his missions. After helping secure his escape, she's deeply unhappy with him for the toll it exacts on her. "Cross was someone who saved her when she was vulnerable and gave her something to fight for. It's the first time she's making up her own mind rather than just following Jack," Rajskub says. "It's a cool place for me to start. No matter how intense the situation, there's always a reservoir of sarcasm, and that's just not there for Chloe this time around. She's too pierced, too tattooed, too damaged. I certainly wasn't playing it for laughs."

Especially since a controversial military drone program is a target for hackers looking to use it for their own nefarious deeds. Also on board this season is Audrey (Kim Raver), Heller's daughter and Jack's former love; her husband, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan), the president's chief of staff; and Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), an agent who was disgraced by her own husband's actions and who's on her way out of the CIA.

The 12-episode season, half its usual length, is "a little bit faster and a little more intense," Rajskub says, while Sutherland likens it to "concentrated orange juice."

But some issues remain unchanged. The shorter season, still confined to a single 24-hour day, was designed to allow writers the flexibility to skip through time here and there, but the first eight episodes are set in consecutive hours.

"I thought it was going to be an amazing opportunity to go, 'Hey, next week we're going to be in Istanbul,'" Sutherland says.

"It seemed like a liberating idea at the time," says executive producer Howard Gordon, "until you try to do that. The sweaters are interwoven tightly," so stopping multiple story lines and later accounting for the passage of time proved too difficult. "There were more moving parts than we imagined."

The final episodes still haven't been written, and producers are running into the same plotting hurdles in the same spot, two-thirds of the way to the finish line, despite having half as many episodes. Turns out that fewer installments provide "less runway to land the plane," metaphorically speaking, Gordon says. "You can't mold chapter and verse how things are going to morph; there's still a bit of improvisation."

But the persistent obstacle "surprised me immensely," Sutherland says. "That dynamic hasn't shifted. The challenges from telling a story in real time are what they are. It's still a bend to try to finish it, and now we're trying to make the shift."

And somehow fill the rest of Jack's bad day. "In the end, it might be me on one long flight for 11 hours from London to L.A."

Could Jack come back yet again? "Anything's possible, if the audience responds to it," Gordon says. "I think it's something we'd all be open to."

Except Sutherland, who's 47. "My bones are creaking. What am I going to do, Jack Bauer in a walker? So, yeah, this is it. For me, it's done."

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