”24”: Catching up with the family
Last night, watching 24, I experienced something I hadn’t in a long time with this show — not boredom, exactly, but impatience, and a certain lack of involvement with the action onscreen. I realized I’m beginning to watch 24 the way some people play videogames or chess — anticipating the moves rather than losing myself in the plot or the characterizations.
For instance: the Tom Lennox power play, getting Karen Hayes to resign in a matter of minutes. I understand why Lennox wanted her out fast. I understand that this was a pretty cool, efficient way to slip Chad Lowe into the show (as Lennox’s evil-drone political-operative underling): having Lowe gather the testimony Lennox needed to blackmail Karen into resigning (something to do with a possible bureaucratic ”gray area” — ”incompetence,” Lennox called it — involving Karen’s processing of some earlier detainees, including Abu Fayed, under the leadership of her husband, Bill Buchanan).
But I just didn’t buy the idea that once Karen had been coerced into tendering her resignation, the president would let her leave so quickly, with virtually no explanation. Remember, this is all taking place within minutes of a nuclear explosion in California, and Karen was clearly, among the president’s inner circle, the yin to Lennox’s yo-yo yang. Yet, except for a few spluttered variations on please don’t go!, the prez sighed and reassigned her to California. The end result made the president seem wimpier than ever, and what was intended to make Lennox seem like a very shrewd political player just came off as a stunt executed too easily — as though Karen was no challenge for him and Chaddy Boy at all.
Another example of last night’s narrative stumbles: Walid’s own ”stumble,” and the way he so deftly pickpocketed that cell phone from the detainee. Come on — Walid is supposed to be, what, the distinguished head of a Muslim civil-rights group. He’s a white-collar guy who in his everyday life probably attends a lot of meetings. Are we really supposed to believe he could lift that phone so easily and dial in the info to the FBI without anyone noticing? And did it come as any surprise to you that he’d end up getting the stuffing kicked out of him? Anyone who’s ever watched a TV show knew that was coming the first time Walid entered that prison yard.
Another plotline that didn’t get very far last night: Darren McCarthy’s search for someone to program Fayed’s nukes while he drove around L.A. with his sullen blond bombshell.
And my last objection before I do some praising: It was one thing for Nadia to become the object of racial profiling and have it interfere with her security clearance — that was provocative. But when Milo overrode the computer restrictions for her? That, in the 24 universe, is a huge uh-oh moment: When a character sticks his neck out for someone else in 24, it usually means that character has made an error in judgment — which means I will bet you that Nadia will prove to be a lawbreaker in some way.
Okay — what was good about last night? The very stuff I was worried would be bad last week: the Jack’s-family subplot. Thoroughly enjoyed seeing Graem yank on Jack’s guilt and then turn around and take Jack and their dad, James Cromwell’s Phillip, prisoners. Was intrigued when Graem dropped in that line, ”How about when Dad needed you and you disappeared?” (Made you want to know more, didn’t it?)
So I’m looking forward to seeing next week how the family dynamics play out (although those damn coming attractions kinda gave things away, didn’t they — showing Jack and Dad overtaking their captors and Jack getting Graem tied to a chair again and threatening ”pain”). And I’m looking forward to the furtherance of what Karen called ”the paranoid delusions of Tom Lennox”: So far, Peter MacNicol as Lennox is turning in this season’s best cool-bad-guy performance, although I do want to see more of the barely suppressed hot-monkey-love attraction with which Darren and his blond companion steam up their car.
In addition, Chad Lowe looks promising as a prim creep, and it looks like next week we meet Powers Boothe’s vice president — Boothe is bound to be good ‘n’ ornery after his stint on Deadwood, which can only help straighten the president’s spine, right?
It’s not like I’m really down on this season yet — that would be foolish: Kiefer’s still ramrod-great, and you know the writers have tons of stuff up their sleeves, including, somehow, eventually, the return of Charles and Martha Logan. Oh, and a shout-out to Morris back there at CTU HQ, being the amusingly sarcastic SOB I’ve come to love.
So what do you think of Tom Lennox’s power grab and Walid’s pickpocketing skills and the way the Bauer family plays together? Are you feeling what Graem termed ”that family love”?