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24 Recap: No More Mr. Nice Jack

Now that the writers have broken two of 24’s main gospels, why not make it an unholy hat trick? President Taylor’s corruptible. Chloe’s reluctant to back Jack. And Jack suddenly seems a little iffy on the whole difference between good and evil. He’s making up deals with terrorists on the fly. He’s going back on his word. By the end of the hour, his death toll will include a few familiar faces. Next week, he’ll acquaint Renee’s killer with the business end of a blowtorch. The killer instinct isn’t new, but the look on Jack’s face is. Has Renee’s death morphed our hero into the kind of single-minded revenge-seeker he’s spent the past nine years bringing to justice? Or is this just another incoherent plot twist in what passes for suspense in this season? Time to make the Asburd-o-nuts!

Naming conventions. Dana’s replacement finally showed up at CTU, in the form of a soft-spoken young Asian fellow with a sparse goatee. Breaking with TV tradition, Insignificant Helper Asian is actually given a name. And that name is … Devon Rosenthal. We are not here to question actor James Hiroyuki Liao’s Hebraic bona fides, but we are here to count down to his death. Sorry, James, no minority with three lines in the entire episode gets named unless the show needs to elicit just a whiff of sympathy when you’re shot down in the crossfire by covert Russian operatives. Fingers crossed that Jason Pillar’s foxy sidekick (“Agent Provocateur”) is somehow involved.
Absurdity factor: 4

Bauer Enchanted. Jack Bauer’s awful lucky for a guy who’s lived through eight of the worst days known to man. He makes quick work of a cadre of waterboarders to free Dana, shoots D.B. Sweeney in the mustache, and still has enough bullets left over to escape a pair of NYPD first responders. (Sorry about your foot, officer!) In fact, somewhere along the way, it seems like Jack acquired the counter-terrorist’s version of Amy Adams’s powers in Enchanted. If two sentries and a lookout stand between him and his target, he finds an alleyway mysteriously unguarded. If it’s time for a shootout, an abandoned building littered with hiding places suddenly appears. And if our man needs to clear an escape route, why, he finds his pockets magically lined with grenades.
Absurdity factor: 6

What’s my motivation? The dream of coherence between the old President Taylor and the halfwit now living inside her purple power suit is long dead. But we assume she’s still operating under the principle of free will. And if that were true, why would she let Logan appoint his executive assistant Jason Pillar to take over the manhunt for Bauer now that Dana has escaped? Up until now, all of her dealings with Logan have been in secret — and all ended disastrously. Now she’s signing her own impeachment by putting her name on the executive order to have Pillar (who can be traced back to Logan in two shakes) take over. But it’s good news for the still-more-good-than-bad guys. Chloe’s been looking for an excuse to rewrite the narrative to make Jack righteous once again. The fact that Pillar’s been out of Homeland Security for years (and demonstrates serious villain face) plants the seed of doubt.
Absurdity factor: 8

Under the bridge downtown.
Once Jack and Cole have sprung Dana from her waterboarders, Jack tells her the new deal: give up the evidence and he’ll let her go. When Dana laughs off his offer, as it doesn't come with immunity, Jack pulls the car over and shoves Dana (neck first) against a concrete pillar. You know, to convince her he was totes on the up-and-up about letting her go after. What follows is maybe the most hilarious two-minute sequence of the season. Jack points his gun between Dana’s breasts and says he’s going to shoot her in three seconds if she doesn’t tell him where she stashed the video file. At the last second, she gives up the goods: The file’s in a safety deposit box at some UES bank as part of her and Cole’s joint account. Of course it is. Then Jack steps away from the car just to be polite and give Dana some time to fuck with Cole’s head. Dana, fresh off the death threat, launches into Cole about Jack’s real agenda. He’s going to take the evidence and then go after the guilty parties vigilante style, “starting with me,“ she wails. Cut to a shot of Jack (two feet away) rolling his head and clenching his teeth. Can he hear her? Is he on something? Is Mr. Hyde about to come out? After that, Cole and Jack tousle in the dirt about whether he was really going to pull the trigger and breathe heavy on each other’s faces. Basically this scene would make an excellent PSA about the long-term effects of abusing cocaine.
Absurdity factor: 9

International Law 101. Once they’re at the bank, Dana tries another tack to convince Cole that Jack’s not looking for justice. She points out that the people he’s exposing to the press are Russian diplomats with full immunity. “They’ll be indicted by the World Court and hauled up in front of the Hague,” Cole retorts. To which Dana responds, “You really believe Jack Bauer wants to trust some toothless international tribunal to mete out justice to the people who killed Renee?” Um, toothless tribunals — what show are were we watching again? The most we can say in defense of Cole as a human being is that his skin is stretched over his bones, so we highly doubt he’s familiar with the intricacies of trying diplomats for crimes against humanity. But we like that Dana shows up to open her security deposit box looking, well, like she’s just been waterboarded. Cole opens the box and a flash bomb goes off in his face, giving Dana just enough time to grab her gun and the evidence, call the police on Jack, and escape. No matter that a flash bomb’s only supposed to blind the victim for a while, Dana shoves Cole into a wall and that’s that, folks.
Absurdity factor: 10

A rift in the lover-killer continuum. Outside the universe of 24, we understand that it’s possible for one person to embody two contradictory emotions. But for most of the hour, Jack and Dana vacillate so wildly between the sentimental and the merciless that it makes our head spin. (That’s why Dana knows what Jack’s up to before he admits it to himself. She recognizes the crazy in his eyes.) Dana professes to love Cole, then shoots his childhood friend in cold blood. She blinds him (temporarily), then caresses his face before she calls the cops on his partner. Last week, Jack was the only one seeing clearly about bringing the Russians to justice, now he’s making a hit list and checking it twice. Jack checks to make sure the lookout on the roof is bleeding, but doesn’t let D.B. Sweeney finish his sentence before killing him cold. What exactly are the writers trying to say with all this muddled morality? By the time Jack corners Dana and whimpers that she can’t do “nothing” to make it better before he shoots her twice, it actually feels like the most believable part of the episode. Ten points for the homage to Laura Palmer with the blonde corpse in plastic wrap.
Absurdity factor: 10

Other Recaps:
HitFix thinks the show’s final run feels anticlimactic, but that D.B. Sweeney “sure got toe-picked like a muthah.”
PopWatch, president of the Jack Bauer fan club, called the episode first-rate and “can’t remember the last time our hero showed a combination of despair/resolve/regret/anger.”
The AV Club says the season has given up on coherent storytelling and was already yelling at the TV during the scenes from last week.

Photo: Kelsey McNeal/FOX