''24'': Jack confronts a traitor and an ex-lover
Hmmm...lotsa action, not much fun in this episode, didn't you think, gang? Any edition of this season's 24 that gives more screen time to dour Audrey than to dear Chloe is definitely a notch below the show's usual high standard. The dialogue was painfully wooden at times, starting with Audrey's early-in-the-hour murmur to Jack: ''I'm sorry if I'm being distant....It's taking me a while to get used to you being alive.'' First of all: Hey, Audrey Jack at his most somnolent is more alive than you are when you're acting overjoyed, which is, like, never. And second: You're saying this while Jack is in the midst of (a) saving the freaking world again and (b) using what's left of his busy brain to disconnect emotionally from Diane, the woman he's been involved with for the last six months. The excruciating thing is that Jack ends up telling Audrey, ''I never stopped loving you, not for one second.'' Why does Jack always fall for the drippiest girls? Because they give him the unconditional love Donald Sutherland never gave him? Ooops, sorry confusing actor with character: must stop this line of analysis.
Okay, let's get down to CTU business: The nerve gas was being used by self-proclaimed ''patriot'' Walt Cummings as a ploy a ''smoking gun,'' as he put it to make America think there is nerve gas, a ''weapon of mass destruction'' (again, quoting Cummings), in Central Asia, thus giving the U.S. the excuse to invade and literally take the high ground in overseas oil reserves. The 24 writers are pursuing timely headline-news threads here, mixing them with the assassination plot. ''Walt Cummings ordered the assassination of David Palmer!'' Jack yelled at the more-stupid-by-the-tick-tick-tick-minute President Logan. ''That is the equivalent of a coup d'état!'' Jack bellowed, and believe me, bellowing ''coup d'état!'' is no mean feat: No wonder Kiefer just snagged a SAG award.
All of Jack's discoveries redeemed, of course, the First Lady's ''conspiracy theories.'' Our Lady, Jean Smart, was found hiding in some horse stable (you know how girls like horsies) and was about to be shipped off to that oft-mentioned Vermont rubber room, but Prez Logan realized she's not nutty, so he raced to her side. This occasioned the night's best moment: He puckered his wimpy thin lips for a forgiving smooch, but Jean Smart turned away and gave him her cheek she was super-pissed, with good reason.
We were also treated to a good old-fashioned Jack confession tune-up, as he held a knife to the right eye of traitorous Walt, but Walt gave up the info before Jack could carve out his eyeball. (It says something about 24 that I wouldn't have been at all surprised if the camera had cut away and we had seen an eyeball plop to the floor, y'know?) Beyond that, the thrills were withheld I mean, they kept Chloe pretty much off camera until the final ten minutes. Don't the producers realize that for many of us, 24 is now as much The Chloe and Edgar Show as it is Jack Bauer, Man of Torture?
This episode felt like one that needed to be inserted into the series to reveal a few secret agendas, set up the next phase of the nerve-gas threat, and (boo!) put Jack and Audrey back together again. For a little while, of course. Because we saw Jack tell the president that he wanted to continue with this mission but that after this one's over, ''I will simply disappear again.'' To which the president whimpered meekly, ''All right, I think that would be best for the sake of the country.''
What's not good for the sake of the plot is putting Jack with Audrey once more if he's saying from the git-go that he's just gonna ''disappear again.'' And what's not good for the sake of the country (ours, now) is a rather limp edition of 24.'' C'mon, you 24 producers: Don't you know that you're the only hour-long show on Fox that redeems the network from the odious plague otherwise known as American Idol?
What do you think? Do you want Jack to wind up with Diane or Audrey, or do you wish the show would stay away from the personal stuff? Does the First Lady know more than she's letting on? And were you happy to see Bill Buchanan stand up to the hobbit?