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''24'': Losing possession of the nuclear football

On ”24,” despite Jack’s best efforts, Marwan escapes with the keys to some nuclear weapons; meanwhile, something seems rotten in the office of the new temporary president

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24, Kiefer Sutherland
Kiefer Sutherland: Anthony Mandler/FOX


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”24”: Losing possession of the nuclear football

Okay, if I was in the middle of the desert camping with my significant other and I happened to come across the president’s nuclear football — and of course I’d know it was the president’s nuclear football, having read about it in a magazine while getting a mani-pedi — I would not do what Jack said and find safer ground with the football in tow while avoiding some mean ol’ terrorists who I just learned were behind the day’s disastrous events. I’d drop the damn thing and run like hell, baby! But this not-so-happy-but-very-savvy-on-nuclear-warfare camper did what he was told, and you had to know he’d be worse off because of it.

I just wish this episode had run as part of a two-hour episode last week. We already knew from weeks of set-up that the president was gonna be shot down, so the payoff was pretty empty. (I mean really, who cared about Keeler? We’ve spent all of 10 minutes with the guy this season.) It would have been nice to see the results of the crash on the ground immediately after the attack. And apparently, the results were . . . not so bad! Though his poor sap of a son died in the crash, the president and a few Secret Service men managed to survive the attack. That was all by design, of course; Marwan wanted to keep the plane partially intact so he could track down that nuclear football. Which, of course, we could all instantly recognize on the desert floor at midnight because we had read about it in a magazine.

Knowing they had recovered the football, Jack persuaded the camper and his wife to seek refuge in some desert substation until he got there in a flash. But there’s no hiding from Marwan and the state-of-the-art technology he seems to have at his fingertips! A quick scan of the desert with some impressive thingamajig led Marwan and his bad guys to the substation, where we were soon treated to our weekly dose of torture, 24 style (I can just see the special features of the season 4 DVD now: torture scenes that were left on the cutting-room floor because they seemed way too tame to air.) After damn near shooting the camper’s leg off, Marwan managed to retrieve the football — but only for a minute. Jack killed one of the terrorists and grabbed what was left of the football; missing was Marwan and the activation codes to some of the nation’s many nuclear warheads. Just once, I’d like to see Jack pump his clenched fist in the air and scream, ”Curses! Foiled again. I’ll get you, Habib Marwan!”

Meanwhile, in Washington, the VP had to get busy invoking the 25th Amendment so he could make himself king for a day. (And who doesn’t like this VP? Unlike Keeler, he shows emotion. He looks scared. In fact, I got scared just looking at him getting scared.) Which brings us to the curious reappearance of Mike Novick. As you fans will recall, he was Palmer’s chief of staff in season 2 and was bloody bummed that his boss wasn’t declaring war fast enough on the so-called terrorists who planted a bomb in L.A. And . . . he got along with Sherry! In the end, the chrome-dome nightmare’s overzealousness led Palmer to fire him. Now Novick is a big cheese in Keeler’s administration and up to his old tricks, like getting the cabinet ready to vote before the VP even gives him the okay. Novick got his way — the VP was sworn in by episode’s end — but Novick had kind of a funny look (more like a small smile, actually) when Jack called him to say that Marwan had the activation codes. And why was it so important to Novick that the VP do a televised press conference in the middle of the night?

Speaking of imponderables, can’t imagine why a guy as important as Bill Buchanan would take time out from his day hunting down a terrorist to tell Tony that it’s Tony who Michelle really wants, not an old windbag like himself. Like we couldn’t figure that out. So it looks like hibity-dibity for Michelle and Tony is back on for May sweeps.

I’d like to interrupt this column to put out a special bulletin. We’re on the lookout for characters that have managed to disappear into thin air. Anyone with any information on the whereabouts of Secretary Heller and his son or anyone working for McClennan Forrester, as well as Behrooz and the body of his mother, Dina (because, let’s be honest, she was an Oscar nominee and deserved a better departure than that!), please notify me immediately.

So what do I hope for from 24‘s final weeks? Just an old-fashioned cop and bad-guy chase. Sure it’s neat to see all the latest bells and whistles coming out of CTU. (Need to get to someone on Air Force One, stat? Leave it to Jack, who knows each Secret Service man has some sort of personal locator thingie that won’t be destroyed during a major stealth fighter attack!) But really, it’s getting a little old, rolling my eyes and saying, ”Yeah, like that would happen that way, and so quickly too.” There’s an inordinate amount of attention on high-tech gadgetry this season — way more than what’s needed, I think. Remember, 24 writers: Season 1 was blissfully thingie-free, and no less genius. Then again, where would that leave Chloe? Gotta find a place for Chloe.

So what do you think? Is Novick on the right side of the law? Will he be the one to bring Palmer back into the game? And did anyone happen to pick up a magazine recently that had a feature on the president’s nuclear football?