Kim Raver: Kelsey McNeal
Ken Tucker
June 13, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”24”: More woman trouble for Jack

As seems to be increasingly the norm, I begin at the end:

Holy crap! Audrey sold classified info to an ”international intelligence broker,” the Mata Hari-esque Collette? Can it be? As someone who’s waffled on the Audrey Quandary — i.e., is she a better, more fully drawn and therefore more sympathetic character this season, or is she still just a blond wet noodle? — I must say it was kind of thrilling to see Jack grab her by the throat in the coming attractions for next week’s inevitable are you a traitor? showdown.

Okay, back to proper 24 chronological time. My slight lingering doubt last week about the death of Tony proved to be pointless: In the opening scene, a sheet was pulled over his body. But before you can say ”rest in peace,” the hour took off. Once again the show brought back characters we thought had gone for good: Wayne Palmer, the dead president’s brother, returned to give some information to…Agent Pierce? First the First Lady and now Wayne Palmer: When did Pierce become the go-to guy for confiding things? And the episode fleshed out some recently introduced characters. The casting of 24 this year has been truly superb: Jayne Atkinson’s bluff Homeland Security honcho, Karen Hayes, is a grim taskmaster who could have come straight from the recesses of either the Clinton or the Bush administration. We saw that she’s planning to take over (or, in her creepy verb, ”absorb”) CTU as soon as things get under control — but when are things ever under control on 24?

The main plot picked up with last week’s connection between nerve-gas king Bierko and ”independent contractor” Collette. She had the information (schematics and access codes) he needs to let loose enough gas to kill at least 200,000 people, but she was tailed by Jack and his CTU team and betrayed by her boy toy, Theo, who turned out to be a German undercover intelligence agent who’s been using her for months to elicit the identities of a whole passel of worldwide terrorists.

In one of the more outlandish stunts this series has pulled on us, Jack tricked Theo into helping him capture Collette, promising an info-packed memory card full of spies’ names. But once Jack had Collette in his clutches, Theo’s memory card (preprogrammed by Jack) self-destructed. Hey, baby boomers: It was like the opening moments of the original TV version of Mission: Impossible, wasn’t it? I was relieved that the writers didn’t allow Collette to kill herself before being captured (been there, done that numerous times), but disappointed they did pull out the old I won’t tell you what you want without full presidentially approved immunity gambit.

You can help me out here in the Wayne Palmer subplot, please, posters: If Wayne made it past the military blockade in his mysterious quest to rendezvous with Pierce, who were the black-hooded guys in the black van who ran him off the road? Military types answering the orders of the increasingly evil vice president?

More loose ends that only increase the tension: Where’s Peter Weller’s Henderson, after needle-killing Tony? (If I were editing the show, I would have stuck his face in the traditional, everything’s-happening-at-once grid of faces that concludes every hour: It would have been a nice jog to our collective memory.) Will Chloe be pulled out of service for a while for helping Jack against Homeland Security’s orders? What will the First Lady and Chief of Staff Mike do to derail the vice president’s ascent to power? Boy, this season is good: You can fill up a paragraph and not even get to the hero himself. But I’ll wrap it up with him: What will Jack do to get the truth out of Audrey? (Now, now: No mean jokes about force-feeding the skinny lady ice cream and cake as torture, okay?)

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