''24'': The baddies mess with Jack's heart
First of all, big thanks to the mighty Gary Susman for his sterling 24 TV Watch-ing last week while I was off on vacation, lying on a beach sipping drinks with umbrellas and never once thinking about...oh, who am I kidding? At 9 p.m. last Monday, I shushed the family members in the house we were renting and hunkered down in front of 24 to puzzle over, as Gary so astutely put it, ''the endgame of Logan's cover-up attempt vs. Jack's effort to stay alive long enough to prove the truth.''
To keep the game from ending too quickly last night, writer Howard Gordon, an X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer vet as well as a current 24 executive producer, marched in to author a script that juggled action with exposition from scene to shining scene. I liked the way the episode brought in a lot of characters, even if only for a scene or two. Jolly good to see banished Bill Buchanan's locked jaw enter the screen, even if it was only so that Kiefer's Jack could hand over Wayne Palmer for Bill's safekeeping. And it was tantalizing, much later, to see First Lady Martha Logan whisper sweet somethings into Agent Aaron Pierce's ear once more, in hopes of securing and sharing info about what her nefarious husband is up to.
And what about President Logan, now outed as an oily-in-every-sense bad guy who wants to control fuel supplies in ''Central Asia,'' even if it means giving nerve gas to terrorists. The idea being that the terrorists' dastardly acts will enable the president of the United States to look like a take-charge hero in command of not just the 50 states but the world, and to keep oil from (let's say it together now; we keep hearing it all the time in the ''real'' world, don't we?) hitting $100 a barrel. Well, things worked out pretty well for Logan. He diverted the plan cooked up by William Devane's Defense Secretary Heller to force the corrupt president to resign. Logan's henchman Henderson (Peter Weller, who spent most of the episode, until the final gunplay scene, with the camera pushed up against his superlatively craggy face) claimed possession of the tape that links the prez to Henderson and the assassination of President Palmer, leaving Heller with a very sour look on his mug. (William Devane, his mouth one long, down-turned crease in his face, is perfect at conveying bitter disappointment he spent a decade perfecting it on Knots Landing, after all.)
I was suspicious when, early on, Jack said to Heller, ''You're the only one I can trust'' Jack may be a great man of action, but as he has proved so many times in the past, as a judge of character, he's about as accurate as Paula Abdul.
Ditto, I'm afraid, Chloe, who blabbed too much to that Homeland Security patsy Shari about Logan's plot, and had to flee CTU and take it on the lam with Bill Buchanan. (This scene provoked some of that very odd James Bond-style action music that so many of you pointed out from last week's episode. Who at 24 thought this distracting, melodramatic music was a good mood setter?)
The showdown between Jack and Henderson was undercut by a predictable move you just knew that if Henderson had Audrey captive, Jack would have to cave: Bauer couldn't see yet another person he's close to die, could he? On the other hand, having Jack bark hoarsely, ''Our government has no integrity!'' certainly contradicts much of the reportage that co-creator Joel Surnow, an avowed conservative, is steering the show toward the right, don't you think?
All in all, a good evening that kept everyone hopping, switching strategies you could almost see the thought processes of characters like Jack, Logan, Heller, and Henderson as they made their lightning-quick-change decisions.
My questions to you: Will Logan be able to maintain his position until the very end of the season? Will Heller's awkward attempt to help Jack end up hindering our hero and lead to something bad happening to Heller? (After all, if Audrey doesn't die, the 24 previous-season playbook suggests that she's the kind of supporting player who could easily Lose Someone Dear to Her.) And what did Logan mean, in the coming-attractions teaser, when he said into a phone, ''The situation with Martha is taken care of?'' Is Martha gonna bite the dust or just get re-admitted to a mental institution? Now is the time for sane readers to respond.