Finally, last night 24 resembled the show of our memories. It seemed like every segment of the episode had a ticking-clock deadline. It’s now pretty obvious that it was impossible for this shortened season to replicate either the element of surprise of season one or the emotional sucker-punch of season five. Instead, this season has been both fast-paced and grindingly plodding. But this latest hour saw the show in near-top form. I spotted at least three countdowns going on at once, and that beat-the-clock brinksmanship in tandem with Kiefer Sutherland’s breathless energy is what’s best about this season so far.
Of the three story strands going on, only one of them matters to us. Frankly, President Heller (William Devane) speaking in front of Parliament or the domestic tension in the Al-Harazi hideout aren’t very compelling. What we care about is Jack Bauer (Sutherland) trying to accomplish his goal, and that His Girl Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is around to assist him. The show seemed to sense this, as the scenes that didn’t directly involve Jack were kept tight and to a absolute minimum.
Picking up with the chaos at the American Embassy, we see Jack is on the move as he punches his way through armed guards in order to get to Lieutenant Tanner (John Boyega). The McGuffin of the episode is Tanner’s flash drive that contained the keystroke history of the drone system that Margot Al-Harazi (Michelle Fairley) wants to control. Jack needs to get this information to the president in order to prove that a terrorist attack is being planned, and to clear Tanner’s name in the dry-run drone attack that Yates initiated earlier in the day. The scene between Tanner and Jack was brief, but contained one of Jack’s patented persuasive statements. When Tanner asks Jack why he should trust him, he says, “Son, right now the point is I’m the only one who believes you.” And with that, Jack is off to the next level of his mission.
With the building on lockdown and Agents Morgan and Ritter closing in on Jack’s location, he decides to turn the tables on them and take hostages as a way to buy time. (Being labeled a terrorist means you can do these kinds of things and no one will question your motives.) Holed up in a communications room, Jack tells the negotiator that he has three hostages and will shoot them if anyone attempts to breach the room. In movies, Sutherland excels at playing desperate psychopaths (Freeway), and it’s fun to see him play those notes as Jack Bauer. It gives his performance an extra shading of menace, and lets us know just how far Jack has fallen from since we first met him. The sequence ends on a sly note of self-awareness as Jack tells the frightened hostages, “I need them to take me seriously. I have no intention of hurting any of you.”
The hostage-taking situation is just a diversion so Chloe, Cross (Michael Wincott), and the rest of their crew can decrypt Tanner’s flash drive. This is when we got our first ticking-clock, as Chloe told Jack it was going to take 20 to 30 minutes in order to prepare the evidence. This countdown was intensified when we found out that the drone system Margot plans to hijack will be operational in less than one hour. The domestic tension between Simone (Emily Berrington) and her husband Navid (Sacha Dhawan) isn’t very interesting. (Navid is having doubts about the mission. He wants Simone to leave her mother and run away with him.) The only good thing to come out of these scenes is watching Fairley intensify her resolve to accomplish her mission. When convinced that Navid won’t participate, she uses both Navid’s and her own love for Simone against him. 24 turned briefly into Game of Thrones when Margot answered Simone’s question about what she was doing with, “Whatever’s necessary!” and her left hand was being stabbed.
The third ticking clock came when military forces decided to figure out a plan to enter the room where Jack is holed up by using the ventilation system. This is where Jackie Bauer (I mean, Agent Morgan) entered the scene. I had noted in a previous recap that Yvonne Strahovski’s eagerness to leave an impression had rendered her performance, at times, a little one-noted. This hour saw Strahovski finding her stride and being close to equal with Sutherland. Unlike Benjamin Bratt and Tate Donovan, who are not given much room to move around, Strahovski has added some shading to Agent Morgan. She no longer is desperately trying to clear her name after being disgraced by her husband. Like Jack, she follows the evidence and wants to prevent anything bad from happening. Her big scene with Jack at the end of hour had a nice echo from the scene between Jack and Tanner as she tells him, “I believe you.”
But the centerpiece of the episode was the conference call between Jack and Heller. Heller makes it very clear that he’s not thrilled to be hearing from Jack, but knows there’s an explanation for what he’s doing. The first part of the conversation allowed Jack to bring everyone up to speed as he gave a rundown of the events of last three hours in about 90 seconds. It’s the kind of breathless run of exposition that only a pro like Sutherland can deliver. Then, the second half of the conversation shifts to something more complicated. When Heller asks Jack why he didn’t just come to him in the first place with this information, Jack says, “With all due respect, Mr. President, it was your state department that labeled me a terrorist and made me a wanted man, a man who was never even offered the opportunity to tell his side of the story, which, by the way, sir, I felt I had earned.”
And in that moment, Jack’s anguish over the way he’s been treated by his country comes to the surface. He still continues to go beyond the call of duty, and has yet to be thanked for his service. (It’s at this moment that Morgan, who had been listening to the call, decides to believe Jack.) it’s moments like these, where exposition turns into something deeper, that 24 excels at. Is Jack a fool for still caring even when it’s clear that those he’s helping think he’s a threat? Is he part of the problem? Do his rule-breaking tactics cause more harm than good? It’s hard to say. What was certain as the final seconds ticked down to 3 p.m. is that the drone system is under the control of Margot Al-Harazi, and that Jack has yet to be wrong today.