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'24' TV Watch: Go to Aunt Shelly's, Ma! Marcos is gonna blow

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Image Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FoxHell yeah, now we’re talking: not every episode of TV’s best action drama can hit it out of the park, but tonight’s episode (finally) had everything going for it: murder, suspense, sex, submerged bodies and Mare Winningham! The timing couldn’t have been better: the network has yet to be convinced whether to order future seasons of the series, which remains Fox’s second-most watched show behind House even though it’s down almost 13% in viewers (to 10.4 million from 11.9 million). Production on the current season is scheduled to wrap March 24 so if this ends up being the last, the writers will want to prepare a series finale. Do you think the franchise should end with Jack and Renee running off to Los Angeles?

Before we pontificate the show’s future, let’s address tonight’s terrific episode: Jack kicked off the action with a little pep talk with a junior CTU agent – a nice moment of foreshadowing that all but guaranteed that this young dude would stare danger in the face sometime later. Thanks to Farhad, we now know that members of Fantastic Sam’s covert intelligence operation, aka the IRK, are behind the decision to detonate a dirty bomb in New York – a sobering bit o’ news that prompted President Taylor to demand that Sam reveal their identities or risk retaliation if the bomb should go off in the Big Apple. Speaking of which, I do have a small gripe about the show’s change of venue this season: I really have no appreciation for how hard it may be to film a TV show in New York City but this season is woefully short of landmark shots. With Taylor held captive in the U.N. and Chloe forever stuck behind her desk, the show might as well have been filmed in a Burbank sound stage. I realize that the last few episodes have occurred in the middle of the night so I’m going to optimistically assume that the producers are saving the adrenaline-fueled chase scenes through 30 Rockefeller Plaza for the end of the season, when Jack, say, tramples the Conan-hating Jeff Zucker while on his way to saving another day.

We actually got vintage Jack in several scenes tonight, from the angry and impatient way he berated a CTU agent for not resuscitating Farhad fast enough (“You keep that man alive, you understand me???!!”)  to how he shrewdly suggests that CTU trick the TV press into believing that Farhad had survived an attack on his life. Oh that Jack, always the smartest guy in the room! His little ruse worked; the men of the IRK were immediately concerned that Farhad might end up exposing their mission, so they dispatch the American-born Marcos to do what another gunman couldn’t – take out Fantastic Sam’s brother once and for all. But more on this (awesome!) development later.

Since Taylor only seems to communicate by phone these days, I got a kick at the corny, three-way video conference she scheduled to fully appreciate the scope of the threat that comes with the detonation of your typical dirty bomb. Short of streaming scenes from I Am Legend, Tim Woods and his homies laid it out on the line: the radiation coud contaminate approximately one square mile, kill tens of thousands of people and make New York inhabitable for a good 40 years. Naturally, they should keep something like that to themselves! Elsewhere in the U.N., it didn’t take much to scare Sam into outing his covert team; exposing his secrets would prove to be only mildly painful compared to the realization that his daughter was about to sleep with the enemy. Sam’s ex-security man Tarin not only escaped custody but persuaded Kayla to meet him in a clandestine hotel for some hibity-dibity –  a pretty genius visual, especially when it’s juxtaposed with Taylor evacuating the U.N. and Sam rubbing his weary eyes during one of those split screen moments. Kayla’s betrayal drives Sam back to his scorned wife Dalia, who agrees to lend a Van Cleef and Arpels-bedecked hand.

Now back to Marcos. So glad to see the producers step up the role played by Rami Malek, who looks as if his eyes are propped open with toothpicks yet exudes enough fear and intensity to play a fictionalized version of Azzam the American. Fully prepared to become a martyr for the IRK, Marcos first displays a little humanity by encouraging his Ma to escape to Aunt Shelly’s (St. Elmo’s Fire alert! Welcome back to TV, Mare!) before strapping on the explosives and taking one last stab at eliminating Farhad. But his actions don’t go unnoticed by Chloe, who discovers via surveillance cameras that Marcos is carrying a detonator that has to be connected to a body pack of bomb-foolery. This is where that junior CTU agent comes in: Owen has to stall Marcos’ march into the hospital and get him to reveal the explosives near a camera – that way, Chloe can check out the do-hicky that’s attached to the thingamajig on his chest and launch some sort of Commander 10,000 program that will intercept the detonator’s frequency. Preposterous? Hell yeah – but I dug every second of it, including the part where Chloe succeeded and Marcos hurled himself out the window. Who-da thunk he would survive, much less hole himself up in an oxygen chamber so he could phone the boss and say that Farhad was not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead? Looks like the mission is still on, dudes! Not even Jack could appeal to Marcos, who ends the episode by calming smashing the chamber’s intercom. Smashing, indeed!

If I had to come up with a beef about tonight’s episode, it’s Cole’s head-scratching decision to dig an even bigger hole for himself and Dana by submerging the bodies and hoping this hot mess of a C-story will solve itself and essentially go away. If only. I imagine Arlo will have a say in this, especially since he was the one who knew that Dana and Cole were up to no good in the first place. What do you think will happen next? Will Marcos hit the kablooey button? And do you predict there will be another season of 24?