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''24'': The perils of workplace romance

On ”24,” Jack has to interrogate ex-girlfriend Audrey when the bad guys set her up as a suspect

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Kiefer Sutherland: Anthony Mandler


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”24”: The perils of workplace romance

The ’60s feminist slogan ”the personal is political” was dramatized with exceptional skill on last night’s 24. Peter Weller’s wily Henderson played mind games with Jack and, by extension, the bossy Department of Homeland Security nerds occupying CTU HQ. Henderson had the mercenary Collette accuse Audrey of having provided information to the enemy in this whole nerve-gas mess. This led to a couple of nicely tense scenes of Jack interrogating his once and future lover, who in the process had to give up not espionage secrets but the fact that she slept with the dead Walt Cummings. Er, before he was dead. While Audrey thought Jack was dead. But she only did it once. Why? ”Because,” Audrey murmured to Jack, ”he wasn’t you.” Smooch followed. End of romantic moment.

Now back to longer sentences: Henderson had tried to throw Jack, his former protégé, off the scent by framing Audrey, but Jack got wise to that, ignored the orders of the Homeland Security official and interrogated Collette, who told Jack the next nerve-gas target was a natural-gas company. (The idea was to release the nerve gas via the natural-gas pipes and kill hundreds of thousands.)

Subplots? Henderson was seen in a car, rasping into a cell phone, ”Is Wayne Palmer dead?” That was Henderson’s prime goal of the night. Also, we met Edgar’s replacement, a young woman named Shari Rothenberg. (Recognize her? It’s Kate Mara, of Brokeback Mountain and Jack & Bobby.) She helped the CTU team figure out what the terrorists were up to in the natural-gas plant, but not before introducing her own mini-plotline: She had once filed a sexual-harassment suit against Homeland Security assistant doofus Miles, and we briefly thought, ”Man, Miles is even doofier than he’d seemed,” but then after Bill Buchanan praised her work while walking past her, Shari said to Chloe that Bill’s hand brushed her shoulder and that that was improper conduct. If there’s one thing we can sorta be sure of in this crazy 24 world, it’s that Iron Bill Buchanan never harassed a woman in his life; therefore, the producers have made Shari a flake — even Chloe gave her a ”Are you for real?” fish eye. Not exactly a feminist message — see my opening quotation — but note with admiration how quickly a character can be introduced, made sympathetic, and discredited all in a matter of a few crucial minutes on this show.

But I happily digress. Meanwhile, Julian Sands’ Bierko and his dastardly crew were shooting innocent gas-company guards and workers, and they managed to begin releasing some of the 17 canisters of nerve gas into the plant’s system, just as Jack and Curtis and some CTUers arrived. Much gunplay, during which time Jack still had the presence of mind to try and explode the gas pipes before they could disseminate the deadly gas. One of the continuing great things about 24 is that it can get me revved up over details I barely understand: The ”PSI” levels had to drop below 50 percent before the nerve gas could be released? Huh? Okay, I guess, but what I do know is that the devilishly witty producers had managed to add an extra nerve-racking time element on top of the series’ ticking-clock device: We also had to watch a needle slowly dip down to 50 percent. Suspense from watching a gauge whose function is barely comprehensible! Hitchcock would be proud.

The hour ended with Jack trying to capture Bierko by stuffing him in an empty police car as various huge gas tanks exploded all around them. The rather weak cliff-hanger had Curtis yelling for Jack to respond to his radio, and silence from Jack, but exploding gas pipes or not, it’s a pretty sure bet we didn’t just witness Jack’s final acts of derring-do. Or am I wrong?

More questions: What do you think the president and the First Lady were doing during this hour? (We never saw them — were they debating the fine points of his declaration of martial law or arguing over which of them has a better grasp on reality?) What is the connection between Henderson and Wayne Palmer? What info does Wayne have? And do you think Audrey has been temporarily redeemed but will face some further life-threatening danger before she can re-smooch Jack?