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24 Season Premiere Recap: Terms of Engagement

The first episode of Day 8 finds Jack Bauer unwillingly pulled back into service to prevent an assassination plot. We already know Bauer will find himself in the thick of things. But along the way, the makers of 24 weave the beginnings of a theory about isolation and engagement in life, in politics, and in love — and the prospects for success of each.

Who Is Jack Bauer
At the conclusion of last season, Jack Bauer was in a hospital possibly dying from the effects of a biological weapon. He was finally forgiving himself for all the terrible things he had done in the name of defeating evildoers — a kind of personal empowerment absolution.

Of course, Bauer survived. But he has been changed by his most recent near-death experience. When we first encounter him at the start of this episode he is being woken up from a nap by a three-year-old girl holding a stuffed white bear. She calls him “Jack” but he tells her, “Sweetheart, we already talked about this, remember? You’re supposed to call me grandpa.” Bauer is trying to escape his old self, to retire Jack in favor of “grandpa.” His daughter points out, “You don’t look like a grandpa.” She knows what we know: this guy is still Jack Bauer. He may be intentionally disengaged from the slings and arrows of the world’s troubles, but Jack will be back.

When Jack tells his daughter that he is going to fly to Los Angeles — where he plans to become a consultant — with her that evening, you know that’s not actually happening. It’s like saying “I’ll be right back” in a horror movie. Unfortunately, we realize this long before Grandpa Bauer does, which saps much of the dramatic tension from watching his return.

Soon enough, though, an old informant literally comes knocking on Bauer’s door with information about an assassination plot intended to disrupt a peace conference. Because the man has already been shot, Bauer volunteers to escort him to a CTU helicopter landing just a few blocks away. On the mean streets of Chelsea, however, they encounter a team of gun-toting assassins — one of whom Bauer kills by chopping him down with an axe. Bauer’s informant dies before they ever reach CTU, with Bauer learning only that the assassins have “someone on the inside.”

Bauer goes back to CTU but still insists that he is going back to L.A. tonight. It’s only after he is confronted by his daughter — who has learned about the assassination plot — that he finally relents. “If something terrible happens to you, I don’t believe you would be able to live with yourself,” she says.

Bauer realizes she’s right. The old warrior must give up the isolation he has chosen and engage the evildoers once more!

A Lasting Peace
At the United Nations, the president of the United States has been negotiating a peace treaty with “the Islamic Republic” — a stand-in for Iran. The leader of the Republic, Omar Hassan, has agreed to nuclear disarmament. The only matter of contention is whether the inspectors who will monitor the disarmament will be American or international forces. In the spirit of compromise, they agree to an international team lead by an American.

Both world leaders hope that engagement will produce a “lasting peace.” This U.S. president, we are meant to understand, is much more like the current resident of the real-life White House than his predecessor. But Bauer had hoped his personal isolation would allow him to lead a peaceful life. Will engagement turn out to be as much of a pipe-dream as isolation?

The early indications don’t quite inspire hope. Hassan is secretly estranged from his wife and having an affair with a blond American journalist — which would surely provoke a backlash from the mullahs back home. His own brother, who is a skeptic of the peace process, is complicit in framing her as part of the assassination plot. (The assassins have apparently framed her to throw CTU off their scent.)

The U.S. president decides not to warn Hassan about the assassination plot, fearing he might flee before the peace deal is cut. So this engagement is already fraught with duplicity and deception.

Happily Ever After?
We encounter the theme of engagement again in two new characters based in the New York headquarters of CTU. Cole Ortiz — a young agent so upstanding that another character calls him “Captain America” — is engaged to marry CTU agent Dana Walsh. (CTU apparently has no anti-fraternization policies in place, despite the fact that this causes trouble almost ever season.) We learn that Walsh won’t return Ortiz’s sister’s phone calls about bridesmaids’ dresses. They haven’t set a date yet. A fellow agent asks Ortiz if Walsh is getting cold feet. Walsh flirts with another agent.

Walsh herself is leading a double life. She used to be called Jenny — and was something of a wild child — and now an old boyfriend is out of jail and stalking her. She worries that the revelation of her past could end her career and her engagement — notably, in that order. Jenny, like Jack, cannot really suppress who she was just by willing herself to be someone new.

Who Is Mike Farmer?
An unconnected man turns out to be behind the hunting down of Bauer’s informant, the framing of Hassan’s paramour, and the assassination plot. He is a mysterious figure who is never named. The only tips we have to his identity is that he speaks with a Russian accent and is seems to have everything under control. He seems to be intentionally cutting himself off from anyone who might be able to trace him to the assassination plot. He is, in short, isolating himself from those who might be threats.

By the end of last night’s two hours, however, we learn that he has been living under a false name — Mike Farmer — disguised as a cop from the outer-boroughs. But he isn’t just any old member of the New York Police Department. He is a member of the U.N. security squad — an inside man! His connected life — in which he is buddies with his fellow officers and their families — is just a cover story.

As the clock ticks toward 5:59, Bauer — the man who wanted the quiet life but whose nature drove him back to engagement — is hot on the trail of faux-Farmer, the man who only pretended to lead the quiet life.

More Recaps:
Amanda Rykoff's obsessive minute-by-minute commentary celebrates the triumph of Jack over grandpa: "Jack is back! We now resume to our regularly scheduled ass-kicking."
Unqualified Offerings points out that we’re already two hours into 24 and there are no weapons of mass destruction!
The Bauer blog gets deep, noticing that Jack's granddaughter's stuffed bear is symbolic: "Bauer has been awoken from his slumber, and like all bears, he's pissed off he's back at work ..."

Photo: Courtesy of Fox