''24'': Jack's family ties
And here I thought the nuclear bomb was going to be the big-bang change in the tone of 24. I figured the producers would have to spend a chunk of last night's hour dealing with the shock and awe of a nuke whose effects could extend, we were told, ''over one square mile'' of suburban California, with a minimum of ''no less than 12,000'' people dead. But I should always remember that the ruthlessness of this show's actions is nearly always matched by the ruthlessness of its storytelling. Which I mean as a compliment.
Could you believe how quickly that mushroom cloud paled in comparison to the nuclear-family drama that exploded last night? The Bauer clan is looking like the most dysfunctional family this side of oh, I think we may have to reach all the way back to Hamlet.
So it turns out Jack's estranged dad, Philip who, as we saw in the coming attractions, is played by James Cromwell, late of Six Feet Under and to some of us eternally the ''That'll do, pig'' farmer in Babe has some connection to a Russian ex-general who helped Fayed gather his nuclear devices. More immediately, we met Jack's brother, Graem (ER's Dr. Romano, Leonard Betts in a memorable X-Files, Emil Antonowsky in RoboCop, and you'll have your own favorite among Paul McCrane's zillion other credits). Graem was, you'll recall, the guy who orchestrated the Sentox nerve-gas hullabaloo during day 5, conspiring directly with then-president Logan.
This nasty little piece of work is married to Marilyn (Rena Sofer, who's made her own Jack Bauer-like exchange program, not with the Chinese but with I think my head is going to explode Heroes, 24's time-period competition, where she plays Adrian Pasdar's wife!), who once had the hots for Jack. (Let's see, if you had to choose between the Bauer brothers, who would you marry, Graem or Jack? Short, angry guy or lanky, dashing hero with unlimited cell-phone minutes? Hmmmm....Well, this attraction was probably happening while Jack was married to Teri, anyway, right?)
Boy, 24 is really venturing into some dangerous territory here, messing with its key concept of Jack as lone wolf. The series has been all about stripping him away from the people he loves, and now he's got family he mostly hates but inevitably feels conflicted about, especially, it looks like, his daddy. Less so about Graem, whom Jack felt little remorse over tying to a chair and suffocating with a plastic bag to get info on the whereabouts of Dear Old Dad. When the Fox announcer plugged next week's episode by saying, ''Keep your enemies close and your family closer,'' I felt a twinge of worry that 24 may be close to crossing a line: On this side lies taut drama; on the other side lies a steep descent into Kim and Cougarville.
Okay, okay, the subplots. I'm intrigued by the Brit, Darren, who's somehow going to help Fayed try to detonate the rest of the nukes with help from a sorry, it's sexist, but there's no other shorthand way to put this hotsy blonde played by countless-hotsy-blonde-role expert Missy Crider. But I can't watch the actor playing Darren, David Hunt (real-life husband of Patricia Heaton), without wondering what the fab Eddie Izzard, originally cast in this role, would have done with it.
Next subplot: Man, am I not buyin' the Let's wire up poor ol' Walid and have him get some terrorist-detention-camp info for the FBI while the president's lawyer sister does 386 squeaky variations on ''You can't do that legally!''
Final subplot: Man, I did not want to see the already weak-seeming President Wayne tell Peter MacNicol, ''Tom, I can't let the American people see how scared I am.'' But I'm comforted by the fact that I know the producers wanted me to be put off by such a vacillating, confused, in-over-his-head president as the one they've created this season. The nice thing is, he's only going to screw things up more, always a good thing in 24 America, right?
So what do you think? How are Jack's family dynamics going to play out? What is Darren's plan? And were you satisfied with the way the show handled the immediate aftermath of the nuclear-bomb detonation? (For example, the dangling rooftop helicopter: Please discuss.)