After last week’s exhilarating premiere, 24 returns with a decidedly less impressive episode. Jack and Chloe continue to track down the woman who made off with Yates’ drone-control device, Kate and Erik continue to track down Jack and Chloe, President Heller insists on addressing the British Parliament despite his illness, and we learn more about this year’s batch of terrorists.
1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. is mostly a bit of a run-around, where all the various pieces are shuffled around to get into place for the next story point. This is the kind of thing I was hoping the 12 episode format would largely avoid. That said, there’s a number of beats in this episode that are entirely necessary. I just think many of them could have been delivered in a more interesting way.
We get a good deal of Jack chasing the woman who killed Yates and took his device, Simone, through London with even a short jaunt on the tube. This whole sequence was a bit of a mixed bag. Here and there we had some fun moments where both characters used their resourcefulness to outwit the other. I’ve always enjoyed that sort of improvised, clever sort of cat and mouse. Unfortunately, outside of those flashes of inventiveness, the chase lacked the suspense it really needed to carry it along.
I said last week that I was interested to learn what drove Chloe to a life of crime and dressing like she’d gotten beat up by a Hot Topic. I got my wish, but the reveal was ultimately disappointing. She’s gone emo because her hubby and son were both killed in a car accident she believes was a hit meant for her. Sigh. I guess I should have seen something like this coming, but I can’t help but feel it’s a little lazy. The psychological trauma is apparently so severe that the mere sight of a happy family exiting the train station distracts her to the point of losing Simone as she makes her escape. However, when Jack confronts her, Chloe’s confession completely lacks emotional punch. Mary Lynn Rajskub is usually really wonderful as Chloe, but here she’s so flat when she talks about the death of her family, she may as well have been discussing the weather. Hell, Keifer Sutherland sells the moment more than Rajskub, and he’s playing a guy who’s essentially dead inside. How much Jack really cares versus how much he’s just trying to keep her head straight so he can get what he wants is still up for debate.
And I liked Morris. He was witty and charming and very different from Chloe’s socially awkward sarcasm. They played off one another really, really well. I think it’s just fucking lazy to kill a former main character off-screen like that. It could have made for a dramatic moment if we had gotten to see it, but learning about it after the fact and having it delivered so terribly just undercuts any power it may have had. Hell, this means that Chloe is essentially in the same boat as Jack now, as someone who has lost everything. It could be interesting to see her deal with that in a different way than Jack has. Or, perhaps, even lead to some conflict between the two. I could definitely see Chloe harboring some resentment that all her years of helping Jack have left her with fuck all to show for it, and he turns up to use her yet again. But, no, it’s all wooden as fuck. I am, however, the teensiest bit intrigued by Chloe’s theory that someone wanted to kill her because she knew what happened on the day Jack disappeared. Now that could make for an interesting tale.
I’m also a little dismayed by the continued role of Open Cell, Chloe’s silly uber-hacker group. While I mostly enjoyed our visit there in the premiere, and Jack’s snippy banter with Adrian Cross, I can’t help but feel like it’s just another CTU replacement, only with shittier decor. Part of the appeal of Live Another Day was that Jack was on the opposite side of the law for once, and that he and Chloe would not have the usual resources at their disposal, instead having to rely entirely upon their own skills and smarts. The way Open Cell was portrayed this week was pretty much no different than how CTU was utilized in the past. It didn’t feel at all like a bunch of WikiLeaks-style hackers. They agreed to edit some fake credentials for Jack into the security files to get him into Parliament like it was no big deal. For fuck’s sake, if they’re that good, I don’t think they’d be hanging out in the ghetto accomplishing not much of anything. I’d much prefer to have the CIA’s London office fulfill the CTU role this year and to have them not be Jack’s friends.
Speaking of, I continue to be impressed with Kate’s disregard for authority and unorthodox methods. Her interrogation of Basher wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before, but it was still very fun to watch, and it’s nice to see that both Erik and Navarro are beginning to respect and trust her instincts, something I do wish Jack had been afforded more often over the years. I’ve seen some chatter online about how Kate’s just a Mary-Sue and her Bauer-like excellence is being shoved down the audience’s throat. I find that kind of unwarranted, myself. I mean she seems pretty three-dimensional to me, she’s made mistakes and she’s just doing what she thinks needs done by any means necessary. That is exactly what Jack has done since the series’ beginning. I dun get it, interweb.
The presidential storyline was probably the strongest throughout the episode. Heller continues to make for an engaging president and the Alzheimer’s is a pretty cool element to add to the character. Tate Donovan is making me hate him again, but in a good way. Mark Boudreau is proving to be quite the slimy little scumfuck, indeed. His quest to keep Jack’s reemergence from both Heller and Audrey has gotten to the point where he’s forging the President’s signature on Bauer-hunt paperwork, which, like… I cannot wait to see you get caught, you fuckface. It was very gratifying indeed to see Audrey take him to task for being a controlling creep both towards her and the President.
Heller’s appearance before Parliament proved to be just as much of a clustershart as you’d think it be, and it was absolutely delightful. William Devane is acting his socks off without saying a word as the British MPs steamroll over anything Heller has to say and you can just watch the man’s heart sink. That is compelling TV. And it brings us more Stephen Fry, which is awesome because… you know the drill by now.
Meanwhile, at on the terrorist front, we learn our (possible) mastermind is Margot Al-Harazi, a British national who married a now-deceased al-Qaeda member and is continuing to be evil in his stead, I suppose. Simone is her daughter, and we’re introduced to Ian, Simone’s brother, who appears to be their tech guy and has no real personality yet, and Naveed, Simone’s husband. Naveed seems to be uncomfortable with his wife having sex with random men while undercover, and understandably so. The whole thing smacks of the annoying subplot no one cares about thing we mentioned last week, so here’s to hoping that it plays into the story in some significant way down the road.
Margot herself, played by Game of Thrones‘ Michelle Fairly is definitely the pick of the litter here. Margot clearly has an unhealthy relationship with her children. While I think we can be relatively (hurr hurr) certain that we’ve left the incest behind in Westeros, she seems to have completely manipulated her children and drafted them as soldiers for her cause. I don’t think Simone and Ian are brainwashed per se, but Margot clearly exerts tremendous influence on them, and beneath that familial bond there lies an element of menace. I absolutely believe that this woman would kill her own children should they fail her or should it serve her greater purpose. I must admit I’m a little irritated that we have an Arab terrorist group posing the threat again. What about the IRA? Or some other UK-grown group? Why not these same characters without the al-Qaeda connection? Like offing Morris, it seems lazy. 24 will often have a character set up as the initial mastermind, and then reveal a still-greater puppetmaster later in the season. I’m not sure that we have time for that, with just twelve episodes, and I don’t necessarily want to lose Michelle Fairley, either.
Despite this episodes’ flaws, 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. comes to a very tense and exciting conclusion. Jack’s attempt to get into Parliament and speak to the President has all that suspense the earlier chase scenes could have used, since for once the hack-fake-credentials gag doesn’t fucking work, and just as Kate and Erik arrive on the scene to boot. Jack opens fire on the peace protestors to start a riot and slip inside in the confusion while the two CIA agents are in pursuit. It looks like three of our main plot threads have all gathered in the same place and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them converge. That’s one hell of a cliffhanger, and if there’s one thing 24 has always been good at, it’s leaving you desperately wanting the next hour right fucking now.