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''24'': Another nuke is launched

On ”24,” as CTU attempts to stop the nuke from destroying San Francisco, it is revealed that there’s an office mole and an office sadist

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”24”: Another nuke is launched

Watching Jack Bauer steer the drone away from San Francisco last night was a little like standing over the shoulder of someone playing a videogame, but it was still pretty tense, and let’s face it, given the final moments of various 24 episodes this season, it sure beat sitting around and, say, listening to Karen Hayes or the president’s sister deliver a lecture about the Constitution, right?

I certainly liked the way Marilyn Bauer was hauled back into the series to break the news to Jack that Audrey is dead, right after she’d attempted to plant a wet one on our hero. Marilyn as messenger of romantic doom: Who saw that one coming? But the writers certainly are tough on the female characters this season, aren’t they? They’re strident bores (Karen; Sandra Palmer), or desperate hussies (Marilyn), or possible hussy traitors (Nadia finally gets a subplot and it positions her as a suspected lawbreaker and an implied love interest for Milo). As for dead Audrey, I’m not touching that with the proverbial ten-foot-pole. I’ll let you all hash it out on the message board: I’m sick of the ”spoiler” whiners who’ve posted that you don’t even want me to discuss the producer-edited, network-released coming attractions, because some of you consider those clips ”spoilers.” (I’m going to blog on this vexed subject — what’s a spoiler and what isn’t, and how the whole revealing-a-spoiler notion has become an increasingly intense taboo — for EW’s Pop Watch soon.)

Given the way previous episodes have played fast and loose with the time it takes for characters to travel or accomplish various tasks, I also liked the way this hour used the classic 24 real-time conventions so rigorously. We’d been told the terrorists’ nuke could go off within this hour, giving the episode a strong framework: No matter what else happened, that device had to be dealt with. And as the time ticked down, we were informed it could hit San Francisco ”within 20 minutes” — and sure enough, there were 20 minutes left in the episode. And Jack had three minutes to steer the thing out of range in the show’s final three minutes. It was an action-packed hour.

All this plus another Classic Chloe Moment for the second week in a row: When Milo asked her to check on Morris’ sobriety, Chloe just stomped on over and gave him a big kiss, explaining it with a deadpan ”Just checking your breath.” And Ricky Schroder’s Mike has been repositioned slightly but crucially: from gung ho action guy to conceivably sadistic gung ho action guy. (Whatever else we think of Nadia, we have to believe that she really did see his already legendary file from Denver, where he apparently liked to ”hurt people.”)

Regarding Vice President Daniels, the acting Commander-in-Chief: Reasonable people can argue that he shouldn’t nuke ”the country” (as that foreign entity is always glancingly referred to) once it was established that Jack had prevented the nuclear attack on San Francisco. But Daniels didn’t have to exaggerate the reason for ordering a retaliatory attack solely based on the one still-smoldering, radioactive nuke — don’t he and the rest of the cabinet remember that more than 12,000 people in America have already died from the first suitcase nuke? That alone seems like ample justification — if, that is, you believe his philosophy is sound, which is not just debatable but one major pivot point for this entire season: the question of whose foreign policy approach is better, Wayne Palmer’s or Noah Daniels’?

In the coming attractions…Oh, yeah, right: Never mind. The complainers have stilled my typing fingers for now. I’ll wrap it up, but I would like to know what you think: Nadia — was she the CTU mole? Or were those pointed close-ups on Milo meant to convey guilt rather than mere concern for her? Is Mike Doyle going to turn out to be a good guy, a bad guy, or a gray-area guy? Do you think the radiation of that fire-licked nuke is going to be contained? And who’s going to prevail in the government tussle?