A feeling of mournful resignation permeated all through last night’s hour of 24. Day turned to night as this transitional hour felt like one last intake of oxygen before sprinting to the finish line. Not much in the way of bang-bang action, which gave the hour a little more weight. Nighttime is when things feel just a little more hopeless, and that’s when 24 is at its best.
Simone found herself in even more critical condition as she was wheeled into the infirmary of the CIA. Jack, talking to Morgan by phone, pushed her to get the doctors to let her talk to Simone. (“If she dies, so be it!”) The swelling in Simone’s brain was so severe that the doctors needed to drill a hole first. Navarro, not the brightest guy in the room, asked, “Is there anyway to wake her after you’ve drilled the hole?” The Navarro subplot is pretty much a bust. Benjamin Bratt has always been a slight actor. He’s one of those actors you remember as a blurry presence. On Law & Order, his terse line readings gave the illusion of authority. In movies like Bound by Honor or Pinero, he receded into the background. (His only memorable screen role is as Juan Obregon in Steven Soderbergh’s sprawling Traffic.) His familiarity offers viewers comfort, but he’s basically a mid-tempo actor. 24 usually does a good job of taking lightweight actors and recasting them into something subversive. Both Rick Schroeder and Freddie Prinze Jr. have had memorable arcs as no-bull action figures. Casting Bratt as an asshole traitor seemed like it would offer a good showcase for him, but no luck. At this point, you want Morgan to find out Navarro betrayed her and set up her husband just so she can kick the shit out of him. (At least we have that scene to look forward to.)
The hour was given an internal ticking clock by Margot ordering Heller to be at Wembly Stadium by the end of the hour. This led to an intense and emotional scene between Jack and the president. Jack is shocked that the president is thinking of submitting to Al-Harazi’s demands. Heller tells Jack that he has written a letter of resignation that will be effective the moment he enters Wembley, effectively making this a personal decision, not a national issue. When Jack protests and tells him this about more than him, Heller rages, “I KNOW it’s not about me! … It’s about the thousands who will die next time she attacks … Let me make it real simple for you, Jack. If you were standing right here in these shoes in my position, you would do the exact same thing.” Sensing Jack is about to relent, Heller clinches his support by saying, “Face it, son, you and I are the only chance they have.” Seeing as this was the last big scene William Devane and Kiefer Sutherland would have together, both actors clearly relished the dramatic sparring. Devane does Steiger-like rages that are kind of touching, and Sutherland knows when to stand still and that silence can speak volumes. The scene was given a little extra dramatic force from Sean Callery’s fine score. Too bad director Jon Cassar felt compelled to break up the scene with little edits. I counted at least four cuts during two lines of Heller’s. The Shield did a better job of cutting up handheld dialogue scenes.
Jack agreeing to sneak the president out the embassy without being detected led to the hour’s best scene. Heller enlists Boudreau to help Jack execute their plans. Stunned, he reluctantly agrees to participate, which led to Boudreau and Jack working together. Acknowledging the obvious tension in the room, Boudreau says, “Never thought this would happen.” Unlike Bratt, Tate Donovan is precisely the kind of slightly blank actor who can leave an impression. I first noticed him in the uneven but funky Love Potion No. 9 (1992). He has popped up in countless movies and TV shows, never really becoming the “star” that some of his fans probably think he should have become. In indies and ensembles, Donovan is able to stand out. He starts out unassuming, but by the end, you’re surprised to find yourself rooting for him. (His best acting remains his work on Damages.) As Boudreau, Donovan has been given his most Donovan-like character. While his order to hand Jack over to the Russians was not mentioned, Boudreau’s conflicted feelings are felt throughout the hour. Jack doesn’t let him off the hook for anything, but he understands. When Jack tells him to make sure Audrey also attends the emergency staff meeting, Boudreau says, “She’s never gonna forgive me for this.” Jack’s nonverbal reaction to this basically said, “I’ve been there.”
Michelle Fairley had a couple of good moments. While they’ve tried to turn her son into some kind ruthless No. 2, he comes off more like a punk kid who needs his ass kicked. (Too bad the show didn’t bother trying to inject some Animal Kingdom–like kinkiness into their conversations.) Still, Fairley did a fine job of suggesting Margot is disoriented by Heller agreeing to her demands. (“If a murderer like Heller can keep his word, then so can I.”) There’s a twisted logic at work as the moment of truth approaches, and Margot says, “Let the world see that justice was done. That even a so-called terrorist can keep her word.”
The Wembley Stadium sequence was preceded by a confrontation between Boudreau and Audrey. We could guess the trajectory of the argument, but Donovan’s ability to switch from defensive husband to authoritative chief of staff was impressive. Audrey’s rage is understandable, but Boudreau quickly takes control of the situation as per the president’s instructions. When Audrey asks who’s with her father, he says, “Someone he trusts. Because he trusts me.” Prediction: Boudreau will help Jack evade capture from the Russians. He owes him that much.
Arriving at Wembley by helicopter provided the episode with some beautiful aerial shots at night. The stadium looked like the far side of the moon as the digital night photography created an almost otherworldly atmosphere. Jack could easily be piloting a spacecraft through the vast blackness of space. Standing in the middle of the stadium, Heller looked like the only man left on Earth. Confirming through facial recognition that it is indeed Heller, Margot says, “I’ll push the button.” And with that, this hour of 24 went from being all set-up to enacting one of the most shocking moments in the show’s history.