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'24' recap: Jack's back (and so is...)

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Kelsey McNeal/FOX

’24’ recap: Jack’s back (and so is…)

How surprised was I to wake up this morning and realize that the first two hours of 24‘s season 7 would debut on my dusty, trusty Toshiba in mere hours? Not surprised at all, given that my face had been sufficiently rubbed in billboard/TV ads warning of oncoming Beep!-BEEP!-Beep!-BEEP! Perhaps the better question was this: Was I ready? After all, it’d only been almost 20 months since the last season ended? Slow down, Fox! Give season 6 a little time to breathe! We’re still processing all the craziness that happened! (Wait. What did happen? I seem to recall that the old dude from Babe got blown up on an oil rig. And that we all tried to forget a lot of that season.) Luckily, I’m a forgiving guy, and there’ve been so many gripping years of 24, I found myself rather psyched for another full-on Jack Attack. (There was, of course, a Jack Attack Jr. — the ”Look! Over here! We haven’t forgotten about you!” two-hour prequel in November. For those who didn’t watch, super agent Jack — who’d been chilling peacefully in the fictitious African nation of Sangala — was suddenly charged with keeping innocent schoolchildren out of the hands of a blood-thirsty militia. And although he saved the day, er, two hours, he ultimately had to surrender himself to Billy from Ally McBeal, who, on behalf of the U.S., wanted Jack back in the States to answer questions about playing Mr. Mean Guy with suspected terrorists.)

Enough gum-flapping and backstory. Let’s get on with the show-by-blow, which may or may not occur in real time.

First thing I notice about the first hour: The following takes place between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Okay, that’s better than those 6 and 7 a.m. kickoffs of recent seasons, but still a tad early for my blood. I’d prefer to get moving at, say, 10:45 — sleep in, have a scone, flip through the Times — but whatevs. Second thing I notice: The action is now based in our nation’s capital, far away from L.A. The producers decided to shift the focus from CTU to FBI HQ in D.C., which seems like an appropriate shake-things-up move. Hey, there are only so many horrific things that can happen in one city, even L.A.

After watching a father and daughter in a car banter cutely about their cell phones, we are treated to not one but two jarring car crashes before the dad is kidnapped and threatened by a masked man in a van: ”We don’t want your money, Mr. Latham. We just need you to fix something for us.” Hmmm, that voice sounds familiar, but I can’t place it….

Meanwhile, That ’70s Show patriarch Kurtwood Smith is running a senate hearing on intelligence-gathering techniques, and he’s trying to roast himself some Jack Bauer, who declines counsel. (Be careful, Jack, he may call you ”dumbass” and ground you so you can’t go out with Donna tonight!) The Senator grills him about his ”extreme interrogation methods,” and when asked if he broke procedure, Jack answers bluntly: ”Probably.” I’m liking Kiefer’s Bauer here — he’s not playing any political games, besides wearing a suit. (I would’ve been even more impressed if he’d worn a T-shirt that read, ”My two favorite teams are CTU and whoever is playing the terrorists.”) But seriously, give the show props for putting this season in a post-Abu Ghraib context; Jack’s take-no-prisoners exploits have been begging for legal consequence. During a tense exchange with the Senator, Jack shoots back, ”And please do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions that I have made, because, sir, the truth is, I don’t.” (Cue Team America‘s ”America, F—Yeah!”, because you can’t handle Jack’s truth!) Before Jack can further incriminate himself, the Q&A session is disrupted by FBI business; Jack is remanded into the custody of an attractive agent named Renee Walker. Congrats, Mr. Bauer, you have just pulled the ultimate get-out-of-study-hall card.

NEXT PAGE: We know that face!

Whaddaya say we head over to FBI HQ to meet new people? Hey, there’s Janeane Garofalo, playing analyst Janis! (Is she the new Chloe? Cool! No, wait, I love Chloe! Brain confused about which tech chick to like best.) Her foil is fellow techie Sean, who seems to be the new Edgar. (You know Sean better as douche-y Queens Boulevard director Billy from Entourage.) There’s also Guy-in-Charge Larry Moss, who doesn’t care much for Bauer. I sense a showdown at a time to be named later.

So, now let’s learn stuff. The kidnapped dad is Michael Latham, a.k.a. the guy responsible for designing the government’s infrastructure security system. This firewall is important because we’re told it is, and it protects every major infrastructure system — telecommunication, transportation, power grids, etc. Interestingly enough, the group that abducted Latham appears to be the same group responsible for a string of technology thefts. Renee then drops a bomb on Jack, telling him that, ”one of the men behind this threat is someone you know.” (Hmmmm…. Is it Edgar? No, he’s dead. David Palmer? Dead too. Nina? No, she’s dead. And a woman.) Picture on computer screen loading: Holy crapola, it’s definitely dead Tony Almeida! Jack can’t believe it and assumes the skeptical role of every 24 fan. But the producers, er, Renee has an incredible explanation: Tony was rushed away by the EMTs a minute later, and…voila! Still not convinced? Renee had his grave exhumed, and DNA tests confirmed that the corpse wasn’t Tony’s. Still not convinced? Well, when he ”died,” there was no silent clock — as is standard tribute for dead important folks on 24 — so he MUST be alive. Still not convinced? Seriously, stop asking me this question. But let me ask you this: Wouldn’t you have rather seen the order of those first two Tony moments reversed? I think the more impactful moment was when he stepped from the shadows of his bad-guy lair and ominously asked: ”Are we in their system?”

No time for second-guessing: General Benjamin Juma is doing some ethnic cleansing in Sangara, to the tune of 300,000 civilians. Seeing that those wimpy UN sanctions aren’t working, he must be stopped with military force, according to our new President, Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones). She’s a woman on a mission. For example, when talking about trying to solve this crisis while still coping with the death of her son, she says: ”I’m about to take this nation to war. And grief is a luxury I can’t afford right now.” If I hadn’t already forgotten about former President Wayne Palmer, I did by the time she finished that statement.

Over at air traffic control, their computer system has been compromised, and they’re about to learn that a JFK-bound 767 is no longer under their control. (Partial blame goes to a frightened, bloodied Latham, who caved to Tony’s fix-this-gadget-or-else threats.) The good news is…well, there is no good news. But it’s interesting to note that one of the dudes manning the terminals is Krazee-Eyez Killa from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Doesn’t 24 have the best random casting in non-lead roles?

While the FAA freaks out, Renee tries to persuade Jack that Tony is a bad man, theorizing that he wants revenge on the government that betrayed him. Jack has his own theories, including one about forged access cards that aided in those tech thefts; he persuades Renee to let him pay a visit to an old contact who’s likely linked to Tony. But Guy-in-Charge Larry is unsold, and tries to provoke Jack. When Jack steps to him, Larry taunts: ”Oh, is this how it starts? You get in my face, you tighten your jaw, and then if I say something you don’t like, you slam me against a wall?” Surprisingly, Jack doesn’t end him with his pinky, and reluctantly, Larry lets the pair chase down this lead. But not before reminding Renee: ”We’re the FBI, not CTU. We honor the law, even when it’s not convenient.”* (*May not apply to certain situations that are really, really inconvenient. See later episodes for details.)

NEXT PAGE: Meet the First Dude

So…who enjoys B-plots? Meet the President’s husband, Henry, also awkwardly known as the First Gentleman. I think we should call him FG instead. We watch FG work a TV journalist: Instead of reporting a negative story about the planned U.S. invasion of Sangala now, might I interest you in an exclusive peek at my wife’s post-invasion plans? (I would’ve just offered him a dozen Krispy Kremes, but what do I know?) Suddenly, FG gets a call about his dead son, Roger. FG is so obsessed with proving that Roger did not commit suicide, he hired a P.I. (Chuck Tolan, not Magnum), who has learned that Roger’s girlfriend, Samantha, received 400 large in an offshore account three days after his death.

Back in A-plotville, when suspect Gabriel claims not to know anything about a revived Tony, Renee tells Jack, ”Do whatever it takes.” Just as Jack is about to renovate his face with a Papermate, Gabriel starts to sing…but is immediately killed by sniper fire. Then the phone rings. Omigod, is the sniping coming from within the house??? No. But it’s Tony on the line, and he’d like to dedicate this dour warning to you, Mr. Bauer! ”Get away from this, Jack. There’s nothing you or the FBI can do about this. Stay away.” Geez, Tony’s been so somber and scowly since his return. Hey! Just got an idea for the world’s worst birthday party! Invite Tony and Jack to your house and make them sit next to each other on the sofa, all sullen and sulky in their party hats. Maybe they get in a fight over the chips-n-guac bowl — I haven’t fleshed that part out yet.

Speaking of party hats, keep yours on, because episode 2 has just begun! It doesn’t start with a bang, but rather with the repercussions of one. Thinking about Gabriel’s death leads Jack to hypothesize: Tony must’ve been tipped off by someone inside the FBI. (Of course! No once can sniff out a mole like Jack. I’m pretty sure he could’ve won The Mole, if that were a show worth winning.) Now, roles reverse as Renee plays Scully to Jack’s Mulder, defending the cleanliness of her agency. His response? ”Yeah, and I didn’t want to believe Tony Almeida was a terrorist but at some point we have to deal with the facts, not with what we want to believe is true.” So Dr. Phil of you, Jack.

Using and abusing the FAA computer system, Tony’s crew charts two planes to collide at JFK. But at the very last second, Tony orders one of the planes to pull up. (Hmmm, maybe Tony isn’t what we think?) He calls a flustered FAA official to say that the near-miss was just a warning shot. When the official asks what he wants, Tony responds, ”You’ll find out soon enough.” Too bad the official doesn’t hand the phone to Krazee-Eyez Killa. He’d handle this, no problem.

Next, Tony talks vague, evil shop with one of his cohorts, and tries to get him to spill the master plan. No dice. But the guy assures Tony, ”C’mon, after this next job, we’re done. Cash out our chips. Do whatever we want.” Beware of the ol’ one-last-heist plotline, Tony — that never ends well.

While President Taylor plots military intervention, Jack clashes with Renee at the snipe site. She tells him to back off and makes him wait in the car. (Oooh, that’s gotta sting.) Inside the car, an FBI grunt kisses Jack’s butt and says he’s getting a raw deal with these hearings. ”It’s better that everything comes out in the open,” Jack responds. ”We’ve done so many secret things over the years in the name of protecting this country, we’ve created two worlds — ours and the people we promised to protect. They deserve to know the truth and they can decide how far they want to let us go.” It’s one of those sobering, end-of-movie speeches, but again, suffuses the show with present-day context. (Not that Jack won’t be ripping some baddie’s arm out of his socket by episode 5. Dude was born under a badass sign, and that’s just the way it is.) Jack then steps out of the car in time to notice…shoes. The sniper — who’d slipped out of the sealed-off building with the help of a dirty agent — walks by in an FBI jacket and tan boots; everyone knows that FBI agents wear black kicks. Mole theory proved; Renee’s trust in Jack restored.

NEXT PAGE: It’s a Jack attack!

In a shadowy, high-tech room somewhere, Tony & Co. meet with Colonel Dubaku — a Sangalan military leader working for Juma — to give him the dangerous CIP device and talk nefarious strategy. The Colonel reminds the important suit in Tony’s crew that the American government killed his brother and tried to kill him, so now they will ”pay a steep price for…interfering in our affairs.” Meanwhile, Renee fibs to Larry so she and Jack can follow the ignorantly shoed sniper to the docks. (A suspicious Larry instructs Janis to keep dibs on Renee with a little walkie-triangulation magic. Maybe he’s also jealous that she’s spending so much quality time with Jack.) And remember FG? Yeah, he’s got a bee in his First bonnet. He pays a work visit to Roger’s girlfriend, Samantha, and accuses her of hiding the truth in an offshore account. She gives him the ol’ the-money-is-my-aunt’s-and-she’s-had-difficulties-since-my-uncle-died-and-I-moved-it-to-an-offshore-account-to-hide-it-from-the-IRS. Know what that answer gets you, Sam? A dramatic FG arm grab, complete with this threat: ”I’m going to find out what you’re hiding, and when I do…God help you.”

Down at the docks, Jack subdues the Sniper with two punches and a kick. Next, he uses the sniper as bait/human shield as he approaches Tony & Co.’s boat, but the bad guys shoot the Sniper, which is not-so-secret code for: #@%! our friend. We mean evil business. After a shootout, Renee finds the bad guys’ laptop onboard, but it’s already finishing a function called: ”Delete all system files.” (Hundred bucks to the person who shows me a real computer that flashes those words across its screen.) Renee watches the files go bye-bye, while Jack searches the boat for Tony. Where could he be? Behind this curtain? Nope. Behind Door No. 1? Yup! Drats, he’s getting away! When Jack semi-corners him and yells, ”Tony! Stop!” the Tonester issues a grave look (mixed with a hint of ”Think you can stop me?”) before taking off again. Jack does a flying leap off the boat and grabs Tony. A tussle. After Jack slams him against a pallet, Renee hustles in, and informs Jack that the device is gone and the files have gone to a better place. But wait — what’s this? Larry appears above in a helicopter, looking down at Renee like a stalky, betrayed boyfriend. I spy awkward in the sky. And also here on the ground. Jack mutters to his old buddy, ”What happened to you?…. What the hell happened to you?” Yeah, Tony, what Jack said. Explain how the last time we saw you, you got stuck with a lethal needle and died in Jack’s arms. Explain how you’re now America’s Most Wanted. Explain that. But no, Tony will not explain. He will only offer a nihilistic, bloody, scruffy scowl that ends the episode….

I kinda wish Tony had given us a juicy line there to chew on, but overall, I saw encouraging signs that 24 is getting back on track. And I’m looking forward to another jolt of Jack in less than 24 hours. What did you think of the two-hour premiere? Are you down with — or down on — the return of Tony? Do you dig the new cast members and the D.C. setting? Start spilling below…and then see you back here tomorrow night.