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''24'': The suits put Jack back on a leash

Sean Astin’s Lynn McGill drives an episode in which Jack has to negotiate with a pervy terrorist associate

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Sean Astin: Kelsey McNeal


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”24”: The suits put Jack back on a leash

The key figure in last night’s 24 was Sean Astin’s Lynn McGill. We found out he’s got some wack-job crackhead of a sister, Jenny (apologies to all recovering drug addicts), who set Lynn up to get beaten and robbed by some equally devious pal of hers. But Lynn also gave the night’s crucial order for Jack to stop his ”interrogation” of — i.e., infliction of severe pain on — the white-bearded creepo Rossler, who was helping the terrorists reconfigure the triggers on the nerve-gas canisters.

This, after the 24 writers really made sure we hated Rossler by putting a 15-year-old Ukrainian sex slave in his apartment. (24 can push our buttons the way Jack can push a villain’s head into a wall.) My question: If Jack was shown in the opening moments last night agreeing to temporarily rejoin CTU at the behest of the president, who told him he would have ”full autonomy,” why didn’t Jack interpret that leeway from the Commander-in-Chief as allowing him tell Lynn to go jump in a trash bin? I know it made for more drama, but obeying Lynn through gritted teeth makes for one impotent Jack.

Other than that small complaint, this was a razor-sharp edition. The suicide hanging of Walt Cummings was truly surprising/disturbing — proof that the violence of this show does not desensitize a viewer to a shocking moment such as this. I also liked the way the series teased us with the pending reintroduction of Jack’s daughter, Kim, a return anxiously awaited by (a) admirers of Elisha Cuthbert and (b) lovers of campy plot turns. Last night, Jack got no further than asking Audrey to summon Kim to CTU, so he could tell her in person that…hello, Daddy’s alive! But no sign of her yet.

Very much in view, though, was Jean Smart’s First Lady, never smarter than when she slapped her husband, the Leader of the Free World, and said, ”Never do that to me again” — that is, try to have her committed to a mental institution because she’s being pushy. Nice scene in which the two of them, in a rare moment of bonding, hammered out the president’s statement to the press about this whole terrorist mess. These few minutes featured some of the president’s most effective mealy-mouthed sucking up — truly, Gregory Itzin deserves a hearty clap on the back for his assiduously unlikable President Logan.

Don’t think I don’t realize that some of you are vastly relieved I haven’t mentioned Chloe and Edgar until now — reading the message boards here, I seem to have set off an anti-Chloe eruption by expressing too much fondness for her character. Suffice it to say…in your face, complainers! Mary Lynn Rajskub’s squinch-faced performance when Chloe had to have former loverboy Spenser momentarily released from custody to crack some wicked code was a small triumph of nuanced ambivalence. Plus, how ’bout that nice little smirk from Edgar when Chloe chewed him out for the umpteenth time? It shows the big guy understands what makes his tense co-worker tick.

Another message I hear loud and clear from you posters: I’ve got to give James Morrison’s Bill Buchanan more credit for his superbly gruff, controlled performance. Bill didn’t have much to do in this episode, but I promise: The kudos will be sent out at the next opportunity.

The final seconds last night did a very cool subversion of the show’s usual structure: The screen started splitting into sections as it always does, showing us the whereabouts of the players in their various subplots — but instead of ending, the 15-year-old Ukrainian girl grabbed Jack’s gun and plugged her pedophiliac abuser, the one guy Jack needed alive to maintain contact with the terrorists. We could cheer, but only with our hearts in our throats.

And so for now, to paraphrase All the President’s Men, follow the nerve gas. And prepare for (maybe) the return of Kim!

So, what do you think? Will Jack start disobeying Sean Astin next week, when, as the coming attractions showed, the terrorists will try to release nerve gas in a shopping mall? Will Kim finally reappear? And are the president and the First Lady truly a couple again, or just going through the motions?