Penultimate episodes of 24 are kind of hard to recap. It’s always a game of show-and-tell. The creators of the show pack in a lot of action and high drama in the second-to-last hour, but they make sure to hold back just enough so that the final hour will be filled with twists, shocks, reversals, and a sense of the day coming to an end. Last night’s episode was no exception to this pattern. While it wasn’t exactly spinning its wheels, you did get the sense that there was a little bit of padding going on. Still, it had enough dramatic confrontations that got you primed for next week’s “shocking” final hour.
The terrific opening shoot-out worked so well because it’s almost always better when the audience knows more than the protagonists. In this particular instance, we knew that Jack was being ambushed by Russians sent to apprehend him by Boudreau. This was keeping him from reaching Cheng and getting ahold of the override device and saving Chloe. The shoot-out was well staged, with 24’s trademark handheld camerawork used to good effect, especially when Morgan shouted out, “Aim for the propane tanks!”
The reveal of Cheng as the new villain for these last episodes of 24 have really energized the story. Tzi Ma’s disaffected, squirmy demeanor makes him the perfect foil for the stealthy, no-fuss Jack. The long history the two men have gives certain actions and reactions an extra layer of meaning. When Jack and Morgan entered where Cheng and his men had been hiding, Jack sensed something was wrong with both the ambush he had just encountered and the discovery of Adrian Cross’s body. When Morgan found the still-recoding cell phone that Chloe had tricked Cheng into throwing away, Jack’s suspicions were confirmed. His reaction to hearing Cheng’s voice was incredible. Just like any victim of violence, Jack could never forget that voice. He says, “This man captured me and tortured me for over a year and a half.”
The same was true for Audrey. Her discovery of Cheng still being alive was just as dramatic. (Needless to say, she’s had a rough day.) The phone conversation between Jack and Audrey was a beaut. Jack’s discovery of Boudreau setting him up for the Russians meant his relationship with Audrey was probably going to fracture. Their conversation was at cross purposes, as her need for revenge and his need for her not to hate him and to know that he only resurfaced today to protect her and her father met on some kind of traumatized common ground. Audrey said, “Do what you have to do, do you hear me, Jack?” It looks like their conversation will propel the remaining action of the season.
Easily the best scene of the hour was the showdown between Jack, Boudreau, and Heller. Heller’s rather smug black-and-white morality was finally called out by Boudreau after Heller’s outrage over the forged signature. Tate Donovan owned the scene, as he was able to get us to see Boudreau’s actions as appropriate while still inexcusable. There’s a crystalline logic when he says, “Mr. President, don’t be so naïve. My job is to keep your hands clean. That means mine get dirty!” That’s the kind of hard-truth statement Jack has told his superiors many times over the years.
This led into setting up Boudreau for redemption (and potential sacrifice) as he went undercover in order to gain access to the Russian living quarters in order for Jack, Morgan, and the rest of their team to get a location on Cheng. Jack was put in the position of looking out for the man who tried to send him away for the rest of his life. The scene between the two as Boudreau got ready was nicely understated. We know Jack isn’t going to let anything happen to Boudreau, which gave their exchange a sense of guarded understanding.
A good amount of suspense was generated as Boudreau played the desperate traitor in order to gain access to the head Russian. Like Navarro, he wanted money and asylum; but unlike Navarro, we could see he was still loyal to his country and the president. This double awareness of the character’s strengths and weaknesses is a Tate Donovan specialty, and Mark Boudreau will go down as one of the most Tate Donovan–iest of characters.
I was surprised that Boudreau made it to the end of the hour. In fact, I counted at least three characters set up in positions to be sacrificed for Jack’s actions. We still have Chloe, who was kept mostly quiet this hour. I was certain Boudreau wasn’t going to survive that final shoot-out, but he did. Finally, there’s Audrey, attempting to help her father but somehow still finding a way to get in trouble. The show did a nice bait-and-switch as the Chinese diplomat Audrey was meeting with didn’t turn out to be working for Cheng. As the final seconds ticked down and Audrey was put into a Perils of Pauline–like situation, my heart sank a little. Jack Bauer is like a black-ops Forrest Gump. No matter how much good he does, he can’t help but run into tragedy and heartbreak.