TV Recap

Hell to the Chief

On ''24,'' the terrorists hit their target: The stolen fighter jet shoots down Air Force One; meanwhile, the earthbound romances start to crash and burn

24, Kiefer Sutherland | THE PLANE TRUTH Jack tried to talk the rogue pilot down
Image credit: Kiefer Sutherland: Isabella Vosmikova/FOX
THE PLANE TRUTH Jack tried to talk the rogue pilot down

''24'': The terrorists hit their target

Don’t know about you, but I like to see my president scared. Not melting-down, sky’s-falling, oh my god I’m gonna die kind of scared, but certainly something more than just an oh crap I forgot to sign that bill to save the kangaroo rats in California kind of look. A terrorist is headed your way, Keeler! Furrow your brows! Drop some sweat! Show a freakin' pulse already! And how 'bout that terrorist? Pretty smooth move by the 24 writers, having the guy who shoots down Air Force One turn out to be a white guy from our own military, not a Muslim committing a terrorist act on American soil. Nice one.

So was this the event that changed everything, as Fox promised? Well, it depends. Fox, I’m sure, hopes it makes a big change in the ratings, since 24 is typically beaten by Everybody Loves Raymond and 2.5 Men and typically averages around 12 million viewers. (American Idol, in comparison, is closer to 30 million.) But I don’t believe that’s quite the change that 24 was hinting at. The show’s writers and producers are well aware of the fact they could be treading on potentially thin ice here — depicting an assassination attempt of a U.S. president while the country is still at war in Iraq. In fact, I get a sense they're almost eager to get a rise out of us! They will, but probably not for the reasons they may be expecting.

I, for one, wanted more panic on Air Force One. Like the look on Chloe’s face, but transferred to Keeler. Otherwise, I’m pretty okay with seeing the president’s plane get shot down in a prime-time drama. Wait, lemme check again — yep. I’m totally cool here. Despite the ongoing presence of the WWF and more installments of The Swan, I do not believe TV is going to hell — at least not this month.

I do like what the attack opened up. Suddenly, I’m pretty interested in this trigger guy — the man named Anderson who was flying the stealth fighter that attacked Air Force One. By some extraordinary leap of faith, Jack not only managed to obtain a phone number for Anderson but reached him only moments before he released the missile into Keeler’s ride. Jack was too late, of course — the episode ended with the now anticlimactic attack — but I do hope it’s not the last we hear about Anderson and why he decided to change his identity to Tommy McTreason.

Habib, meanwhile, is on the lam again after his base of operation was stormed by CTU during a modern-day shootout at the OK Corral. (Special mention to Jack for being the only CTU agent to not don protective gear during the gun battle. Whatta man!) Shortly thereafter, Habib realizes that some backup hard drive was hidden somewhere in Anderson’s apartment, so he sends his girl Friday (that gal who waylaid the real Air Force pilot) to find it so CTU won’t get there first and discover the target of their plot. But there’s no accounting for the speed of light at which Jack works to find his next clue; burned documents at Habib’s base led CTU to Anderson’s apartment, where Girl Friday was already digging for the hard drive. She quickly killed the female FBI agent who was dispatched to look for Anderson but got herself eliminated after Jack arrived and realized what was up. That’s when Jack grabbed the hard drive, got in contact with Anderson, and made the call in what felt like a very suspenseful end of this season's second act. I haven't changed my mind yet; this is still the best season of 24.

Back at CTU, Tony is starting to realize he may not get a little hubba-hubba by May sweeps after all, because his ex-wife’s paramour just happens to be Buchanan, the guy from division. Forget, for the moment, the utter preposterousness of this whole story line — that CTU would dispatch a couple to run the damn place in the face of a national disaster. And I know how you folks can’t stand anything preposterous — like, for instance, the possibility of Dina being alive. Yeah, I understand, she’s dead. I got that. What I do know is that the 24 producers originally planned to shoot Dina in the head on camera, but then changed their mind and decided to have her shot off-screen. A spokesman wouldn’t explain why, but I have my theory: They were considering keeping her alive but later changed their minds. Hey, it can happen! The producers write this show by the seat of their pants; stuff changes all the time. That in turn, makes it all the more genius for us.

And if there was any question whether Jack and Audrey would remain an item, it was answered when we learned that Paul was most likely paralyzed and would probably not recover if things didn't start looking up soon. I guess Audrey isn’t going anywhere now. Too bad, because I loved the way this season began with the promise of a new relationship for Jack. It was a different side to my favorite antihero, and I liked it — for as long as it lasted, that is.

So what more do I want to know? How Habib got his hooks into Anderson, obviously. I'm still curious about the whereabouts of Heller; not so curious about his son or why Keeler's son, for that matter, randomly reared his head on Air Force One. Like it suddenly becomes sadder that an innocent boy might lose his life in the attack? Mostly, I'd like to know if presidents say lame things like ''pick up the torch and carry it forward'' to their vice presidents when death is near.

What do you think? Are the romantic subplots on 24 a plus or a minus? Did you really care what happens to President Keeler? And is it irresponsible for Fox to show a presidential assassination during wartime?

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Originally posted Apr 05, 2005
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