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''24'' airs tonight -- see our guide to season 3

Catch up with the characters in season 3 of ”24,” TV’s most suspenseful show; producer Howard Gordon hints at what we can expect

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Kiefer Sutherland
Kiefer Sutherland: Lorenzo Agius

Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland)

HIS JOB Director of Field Operations, CTU (Counter-Terrorism Unit)

HIS LONG DAY To paraphrase a running gag from ”Airplane!,” it looks like Jack Bauer picked the wrong day to give up heroin. Bauer, who almost quit the spy biz after losing his wife in season 1 (not to mention nearly losing his daughter Kim to kidnappers and a wild cougar), has rededicated himself to his work. But a between-seasons undercover mission to bust drug lord Ramon Salazar left him needing heroin the way his show’s producers need cliffhangers.

”This was a way to underscore the irreconcilable challenge of having a personal life and doing the kind of work that he does,” says ”24” exec producer Howard Gordon. So Jack will be sweaty and ill-tempered as he attempts to simultaneously go cold turkey and stop Salazar’s brother from infecting Los Angeles with a killer virus. ”Jack begins this year with a hard-bitten and hard-boiled sense of duty and purpose,” Gordon says. ”He’s had to kill part of himself.”

Following his split with girlfriend Kate Warner, Jack won’t have a new sweetheart to improve his mood. ”We’ll discover that he had a lover during his undercover operation, which helped make his civilian relationship with Kate impossible,” reveals Gordon. We won’t see a flashback, though; that’s a no-no when your show runs in real time.