What made last night’s episode of 24 compelling was its focus on the female characters, and how they discovered some hard truths about the lives they’ve led. Being a hot-button political drama on Fox means there’s always been a schematic nature to the female characters on 24. They’re usually seen as assassins, traitors, stern bureaucrats, or unlucky in love. They all exude a sexual confidence that intimidates men but leads to loneliness and disappointment. And the fear of female sexuality has been one of the underlying themes that runs throughout the entire series.
Fans of the show share an unspoken knowledge that it doesn’t shy away from using sex in order to resolve a plot point. (One of the most legendary moments in the show’s history was in season five, when troubled First Lady Martha Logan was told that she needed to stall her husband for at least 20 minutes while CTU agents got into position. Martha, knowing her husband all too well, told Charles to tell the Secret Service to wait 20 minutes as she got surprisingly amorous with him.) Jean Smart’s Martha Logan and Cherry Jones’s President Taylor are memorable exceptions to the rule. This season, we’ve seen both Mary Lynn Rajskub and Yvonne Strahovski play different notes that we don’t normally see on 24. Rajskub has been allowed to play more than Chloe’s trademark scowling, keyboard-pecking attitude, while Strahovski has infused Morgan with a ferocious sense of desperation and rage that’s become quite moving.
The hour began mid-action, as Jack was on the trail of Navarro. The plan was for him to exchange the override device for money and papers so he could escape the country. Chloe quickly figured out Adrian was attempting to get back the override device, and was visibly disturbed by this. Cross’s explanation for taking back the override device was that he wanted to expose the weaknesses of all the defense systems around the world. His logic being that once everyone sees everyone else’s weaknesses, they won’t be a threat to one another. I’m fairly certain that both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange would call bullshit on Cross’s logic. Despite the pleasure of Michael Wincott playing an amoral “middleman,” the entire Adrian Cross arc was a blown opportunity to examine the moral complexities of leaking classified documents. The show pretty much takes the hard-line view that Snowden and Assange are in the wrong. That kind of didactic viewpoint does no favors for dramatic storytelling.
Adrian does do one decent thing by double-crossing Navarro long enough for him to get captured by Jack. Meanwhile, Ritter has apparently recovered from being blown up earlier in the day so that he can take over as acting CIA leader. Upon hearing Navarro is the one who stole the override device, Morgan does some digging and discovers that he set up her husband for treason by selling secrets to the Chinese. There’s some jockeying for power between Ritter and Jack when Ritter sets up Navarro in the “special activities” room. Jack knows Navarro isn’t intimidated by people who used to work for him. When Ritter relents and lets him lead the interrogation, Bauer hisses, “Just so we’re clear, I wasn’t asking. That was me being courteous.” The interrogation sequence was unique because it gave us what we wanted but also subverted our expectations. Benjamin Bratt’s blandness complemented the character’s smugness beautifully, especially when he had the audacity to ask for full immunity in exchange for the location of the override device. Bauer’s response was, “I can assure you full immunity is not on the table, but your hand is,” then went all Luca Brasi on Navarro’s left hand. It was vintage Jack Bauer, and we wanted more.
The scene in the infirmary centered on Morgan seeming to lose control when she clearly could see the full picture. Her need for revenge for what Navarro did to her and her husband was not overshadowed by the need to locate the override device. That’s what made her threatening Navarro so exciting: Strahovski’s ability to let us see she’s in control while making everyone around her think she’s unstable. It’s what makes her a perfect match for Sutherland. The personal exchange between Morgan and Jack revealed just how connected they really are. Morgan says she knew the moment her husband decided to kill himself was when he realized she stopped believing he was innocent. She wonders how she lives with herself knowing this. Jack tells her you learn to accept it “… and then one day you can forgive yourself.”
This led into Adrain and Chloe reaching their destination only to discover the people Adrian was dealing with have been killed. We finally meet Adrian’s Chinese handler, and it’s revealed to be Cheng (Tzi Ma). This blast from the past was one of the better surprises of this entire season. (The showdown between Cheng and Jack should be a good one.) Cheng shoots Adrian in order to force Chloe to modify the override device so he can use it. We think Chloe will be able to outsmart Cheng, but he’s one step ahead of her. Adrian knows this and tells Chloe he lied to her about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Morris and Prescott. He says he needed to give her a reason to join his cause. In the end, he realizes the truth will set him free. And as the hour ticked down, Chloe watched helplessly as Cheng commandeered the override device to send a directive to an American Naval warship to fire two missiles at a Chinese carrier. The final image of Chloe let us see that someday she’s going to have to learn to forgive herself.