No plot against America, however dastardly, contains enough red herrings and revenge-seekers to sustain viewers over 24 episodes. And so it is with the IRK operatives. Like clockwork, here at the season’s two-third’s mark, the evildoers we’ve been fretting over for seventeen hours turn out to have been pawns in another villain’s even more evil power play. In just a few more shuffles of the deck, we get a new president of Kamistan (a reluctant Dalia), a new director of CTU (a reluctant Chloe), and a new turncoat in the situation room (wild card ex-president Charles Logan and his shifty looking manservant). But where does that leave our man Jack? After scratching out a few gravelly apologies for a job not done, he takes Renee back to the Hotel Chelsea to show her what a hero does in his downtime. Looks like someone’s gonna need a reason to get back in the game. How about a terrible tragedy? Absurd-o-Meter, ante up.
Security breach. Say you had the man who publicly executed a foreign head of state on U.S. soil in your custody. You didn’t get there in time to stop him from doing the deed or broadcasting it on the Internet, mind you. And it slipped your attention for a bit that your senior data analyst/fiancée had been feeding him intel since 4 p.m. But now he’s strapped to a gurney and yours for the interrogating. Or is he? Two minutes after bungling Hassan’s rescue, Cole (and the six odd NYPD officers in the narrow hallway) look away just long enough for a Russian hit man (disguised as an EMT) to inject Samir with a syringe full of toxins. The hit man plays fair. He gives them the length of time it takes for some sidelong villainous glances to catch him in the act. Too bad everyone’s too busy saying their good-byes. At least a phone call to Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Novokovich, who was about as hot on the peace accord as Samir, introduces our replacement bad boys. But dipping back into the Cold War well for the series finale feels like an oddly safe choice, doesn’t it?
Absurdity Factor: 3
Counter-terrorism is a series of coincidences. We try not to question why it is that the fate of the country has come to rest on one man for so many days through so many years. When that man was the only one who could convince Renee to leverage her connections from a six-year-old undercover operation to help find some Soviet fuel rods, we likewise kept our head down. But now that ties to the Red Square have resurfaced again as the only clue CTU has to go on, it makes us realize how tenuous this whole keeping America safe business really is. After spotting the hit man rush down the stairs, Renee is suspicious enough to look back, but doesn’t bother to mention it. It’s only threat level “blood red,” why let anyone else in on your hunches? Still, when Chloe calls later to tell her Samir’s been assassinated, Renee doesn’t blink before placing the EMT back at that same six-year-old op. Maybe the roll in the hay jogged her memory?
Absurdity Factor: 5
You get a promotion! And you get promotion! Everyone gets a promotion! With the men-folk in a bed or a body bag, we get our second XX-heavy episode of the season. Thankfully this week it’s not just President Taylor consoling Kayla and Dalia Hassan over and over in various antechambers around Fort McGuire. We’re not sure if the writers realized how strange it was to have essentially the same arc (asking a subordinate woman to step into a position of power in the absence of a capable male lead) happening to two different characters in the same hour, but the effect ended up undermining both developments. The writers threw enough surprisingly reasonable-sounding explanations at it: The people of Kamistan would embrace Dalia as a successor because history has demonstrated the political capital of being a martyr’s wife — and despite Chloe’s lack of field training, she has the most crisis experience of anyone in the building. But with all the foisted responsibility, it felt like Fox’s takeaway was that it’s only ladylike to accept power if offered, never to demand it. We promise to take it all back if Dalia turns out to have masterminded the whole thing. She did somehow manage to slip into a more presidential ensemble around about the time her husband’s head got divorced from his neck.
Absurdity Factor: 6
A half-hour of happiness for a lifetime of pain. By our count, that’s about how long Jack got to feign like he has a functional personal life. At 8:21 a.m. he thrust Renee against a bookcase for the most awkward make-out sesh since MJ and Lisa Marie, and by 8:51 the sniper was zeroing in on his bed sheets. Let’s just say it’s clear Jack’s been out of practice. Maybe if they let the beleaguered savior experience non-violent human interaction for longer increments he wouldn’t look so desperate and strained pawing at a woman. There was more tenderness when he affixed Hassan’s head back to his spinal cord. But Jack finds his footing again once Renee’s been shot in the back. “Keep everybody in the lobby, there’s a sniper outside. Call 911 now!” he barks at the people milling about Hotel Chelsea. (Surely tales of Jack Bauer’s exploits haven’t reached so far that they don’t suspect the man with a bloody woman in his arms is actually the killer?) At the sight of Renee dead on the operating table, Jack’s bottom lip attempts a quiver. We know it will harden, with his resolve, by 9 a.m. But it was still a cheap move to sacrifice last season’s moral center to morph Jack back into the Hulk. The second silent clock in as many episodes didn’t redeem the loss.
Absurdity Factor: 7
The jowls of Nixon, the ego of Lear. You remember President Charles Logan, right? Some handy exposition from President Taylor reminds us he trampled the Constitution and helped conspire to keep the plot to assassinate David Palmer a secret. But in fact, his litany of crimes against the homeland reads even longer than that. President Taylor puts up a fight for awhile when she realizes she’ll have to lean on Logan’s Moscow connections in order to keep Russia at the negotiating table for the peace accords. But when Logan refuses to reveal what leverage he has on Moscow or how exactly he found himself so well positioned for the role of negotiator, she doesn’t put up much of a fight. Perhaps she found statements like, “I have close friends in Moscow. In some ways people there appreciate me more than in my own country,” more comforting than we did. Oh well, maybe the decision to give a man with an ax to grind against the U.S. government a chance to stick it in your back might liven up the rest of the day.
Absurdity Factor: 8
HitFix is happy for Chloe, but thinks “being the head of CTU is a little like being the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwart’s. Things tend to not go well.”
PopWatch thinks Jack and Renee’s awkward bookcase make-out didn’t deliver a proper climax.
TV Squad also thought Renee’s death was a cheap move to jump-start a lifeless episode.