On ''24,'' another civilian dies when Jack robs a bank to get the goods on the president

By Gary Susman
June 13, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Kiefer Sutherland: Anthony Mandler
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”24”: Jack finds the smoking-gun recording

Greetings, 24-heads. Don’t worry, Ken Tucker hasn’t been absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security. I’m just a temp, and Ken will be back quicker than you can say Christopher Henderson.

Speaking of RoboCop, how disturbing was the smoking-gun recording of the conversation between Henderson and President Logan? Listening to that brief exchange — the sought-after evidence that White House aide Evelyn Martin had recorded and hidden in a safe deposit box — it became monstrously clear that Logan was in on the entire terror plot, including David Palmer’s assassination, even though he didn’t exactly approve of that particular killing. See, Logan has principles! He won’t order the death of just anybody. Jack Bauer? Sure. His own wife Martha? If necessary. Innocent civilians by the tens of thousands? No problem. But not the universally beloved former president. That’s where he draws the line. (By the way, am I the only one who’s reminded of The Manchurian Candidate when everyone, even a stranger like bank manager Carl Mossman, says to Wayne Palmer, ”I admired your brother a great deal. He was a great man”?)

Oh, and are you still having trouble wrapping your mind around last week’s reveal that the dithering, feckless Logan (Gregory Itzin) is really this season’s Big Bad? That all the terrorist masterminds we’ve seen until now were red herrings? It’s certainly a nervy choice for 24‘s writers to make the president the ultimate villain. For one thing, it throws a monkey wrench into the season-long game of Guess the Political Allegory. Is Logan’s perceived bumbling (and now, his strategy of letting his opponents underestimate him) supposed to remind viewers of George W. Bush? Or is Nixon the model for Logan’s conspiratorial behavior (including secret recordings), his insistence on praying alongside his aides during moments of crisis, and his receding hairline?

Maybe neither; as some of you have commented, Itzin’s Logan is reminiscent of that classic Saturday Night Live sketch in which Phil Hartman played President Reagan as a genial, doddering stooge until the cameras went away, then instantly transformed into a knowledgeable, take-charge leader, barking orders and solving problems. It’s an about-face so complete that it’s no wonder Logan’s own wife is confused. How creepy was it to see Martha, whom Logan has been gaslighting all day, cozy up to him and tell him how ”magnificent” he’s been in handling the day’s crises? At least her BS detector isn’t completely turned off, registering something amiss when her husband took Henderson’s call and reverted briefly to his panicky public self. No matter which president he reminds you of, Itzin has my vote for an Emmy for his work this season.

Still, the reveal about Logan is a little disappointing, in part because all that’s left to play out over the remaining seven episodes is the endgame of Logan’s cover-up attempt vs. Jack’s effort to stay alive long enough to prove the truth. But it’s also disappointing that Logan seems to have had no grander plan than his underling Walt Cummings did with his plot to let the Russian separatists steal the nerve gas and use it to destroy terror bases overseas. (Poor Walt, who died thinking the plot was his own idea, without realizing he was the patsy for his boss.) The ostensibly patriotic reason behind the scheme, to ”make our country safer, stronger” and ”protect our interests” (as Logan put it in another conversation with Henderson) didn’t really fly when Walt ran it up the flagpole, and it won’t fly for Logan either, if Jack ever gets another face-to-face confrontation with him.

As it turns out, Jack, too, has a problematic willingness to exploit civilians for his own patriotic ends. First, there’s Evelyn’s little daughter. Leaving her alone with her wounded mother in a motel was a bad idea. It was inevitable that the girl would call 911 for help, thus revealing Evelyn’s location to the authorities and leading Henderson’s thugs to Jack.

Second, there’s Audrey, not technically a civilian but not a member of CTU either. Jack’s dependence on her has endangered lovable computer curmudgeon Chloe, Jack’s last remaining ally at CTU. In helping Audrey escape her trackers, especially by tampering with the CTU server, Chloe has risked firing and probable jail time (as the previews for next week suggest). If she gets busted by Homeland Security weasel Miles, who’ll be left to hack for Jack?

Finally, there’s Wayne, who thinks of himself as a tough guy but who, until last week, had never killed anyone before. Another reason he makes a poor ally for Jack: He’s a public figure with a famous face. Sure enough, Mossman, the bank manager Wayne and Jack kidnapped to facilitate an after-hours break-in to the vault housing Evelyn’s recording, recognized Wayne from his appearance on TV that morning, forcing the slain president’s brother to explain what he and Jack were after. As poor Mossman correctly predicted, learning Jack’s intent made him complicit and made him a target.

Out of loyalty to David Palmer, Mossman decided to help Jack and Wayne escape the bank in the shootout Jack orchestrated between Henderson’s men and the LAPD officers who responded to the vault’s silent alarm. For his troubles, Mossman was fatally wounded. As usual, however, there was no time to mourn the collateral damage, whether a longtime favorite like Edgar or Tony or a civilian who was shanghaied into this mess. For Jack and Wayne, it was on to Van Nuys Airport and a rendezvous with Audrey and her father, Defense Secretary Heller (William Devane), who (as the preview for next week promised) will move quickly to confront the president.

Riddle me this, readers: Why are Logan and Henderson still conversing on cell phones when that’s what got them in trouble in the first place? Is Karen, the Homeland Security honcho who smelled something fishy in Logan’s attempt to frame Jack yet again for the Palmer assassination, going to figure out what’s going on and help (what’s left of) CTU instead of hindering? Will the captured Bierko yield any useful information, or has his plotline been rendered irrelevant by last week’s reveal about Logan? And now that the nerve gas is no longer at issue, how will the show’s writers stretch out Jack’s attempt to expose the president over the length of seven more episodes?

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