”24”: Jack collaborates with the evil Henderson
It’s become a writing-school cliché to say that one should reveal character through action — that is, don’t describe, show. And that’s what last night’s 24 was a classic example of: It seemed to be on the verge of outracing its own time clock, events were happening so quickly and simultaneously. The episode didn’t waste much time with last week’s weasel move by Miles in destroying the info on the president-incriminating tape Jack Bauer had fought so hard to bring to Chloe — there wasn’t time. Because of the tape and Miles’ snitching, President Logan knew that Jack was aware of the treachery being committed in high places. That’s why Logan suddenly had all charges dropped against him — because it left Jack out in the open, vulnerable to a presidentially ordered hit.
The villains began to overlap in excruciatingly tense ways. With Bierko’s escape, Jack had to turn to the season’s true central villain, Henderson, to help him locate the new link to the poison-gas-toting Bierko, a terrorist named Joseph Malina, played by Jose Zuniga. (If his face was familiar, it’s because Zuniga had a small role in Mission: Impossible III and has been in a handful of episodes of CSI as Detective Cavaliere.)
The scenes between Bauer and Henderson were the soul — the essence — of the hour, and maybe of the season. Because as Bauer again faced down his former mentor, he could see how a good man could go bad in the name of patriotism. Without forgetting for a second that Henderson has the blood of President Palmer and Tony Almeida and others on his hands, Jack also knew that Henderson was his only hope, and Henderson relished his moment of regaining control over Jack. When he lectured him about realpolitik, about ”how the world really works,” and about how reality isn’t what surfaces on the ”op-ed pages of The New York Times,” you knew he wasn’t telling Jack anything Jack didn’t know but was forcing Jack to admit to himself that it was this idealistic America he spends 24-hour days defending, while fractured mirror images of himself — like the cracked ”patriot” Henderson — exist as a rebuke to everything Jack stands for. And what does Henderson want out of it? (I believe he really did want his plan to work, to get Malina to download all his precious info onto a flash drive and then get that to Jack.) Henderson wanted what all great spies — heroes or traitors — want, ultimately: to disappear, to find safety in the erasure of identity, just as Jack had tried and failed to do at the beginning of this season.
Now, all around Jack, the structure of 24 is crumbling artfully, carefully, with meticulous disorder. Jean Smart’s Martha had to kill the government stooge who was going to kill Agent Pierce, thus drawing her deeper into not just danger but the sort of moral confusion and guilt that has plagued her for so long. And Bierko’s takeover of a Russian submarine could cause not only the death of innocents but also the final ruination of the U.S.-Russian pact that began so much of this season’s action.
Like all great spy-fiction and hard-boiled-noir writers, from Eric Ambler to Raymond Chandler to Kem Nunn (don’t recognize that last name? you will when David Milch makes it semifamous with his next HBO project, a recently announced pilot based on Nunn’s terrific novels), Henderson understands the code of the hero — our hero, Jack. He knew that Jack would follow through on his deal with him because Jack gave him his word. Said Henderson, ”I know what your word is worth to you, and that’s all I need.” Indeed, it’s living by a moral code that keeps Jack sane and yet ends up hurting so many of those around him. And the circle of people getting hurt will just keep getting wider and wider, until next week’s two-hour finale, at which time we can expect that that circle will close in on Jack like a noose around his neck.
So — the big questions: How do you think next week’s jumbo-size finale will turn out? Who’ll be dead and who’ll be left standing? Will Jack leave the scene again with the world in better shape or worse?