Image Credit: Greg Gayne/FoxBefore I address tonight’s stomach-churning episode (d’oh!), I’d like to revisit last week’s thrilling episode. There was a lot of discussion — both inside EW and in the comments here — about whether Dana Walsh’s death was considered a “big shocker.” Personally, I wasn’t the least bit gobsmacked by her offing (though I was surprised by the startling lack of blood spray, considering how close Jack pointed the gun at her). We’ve seen a lot of shocking deaths over 24’s long and storied history — Teri Bauer, Michelle Dessler, Curtis Manning, Ryan Chappelle, Edgar Stiles and even Renee Walker – but I don’t believe Dana belongs on that illustrious roster. What’s your final word?

But if you want to talk about the shocking ways in which people die on 24 — well, then tonight’s episode should be on the top of the list, baby! How appropriate that one of show’s last acts of torture would result in a victim not wanting to spill the beans (as if Jack would let Pavel off the hook, anyway). I actually laugh out loud at these moments, mostly because I spend the time imagining how those strung-out 24 writers probably killed themselves in an effort to find new and creative ways to inflict pain this season. “Have we done a blow torch before? How lethal can a can of Bic Lighter Fluid be, anyway?” We got our answer tonight. The credit goes to the magnificient Joel Bissonnette as Pavel Tokarev. I don’t remember him from the bazillion other TV roles he’s played (he was in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, too!), but something tells me I missed out on something awesome. The way he screamed when Jack sprayed him with the “lighter fluid” was convincing as all hell – but then so was the work by the night’s other big baddo, played by Reed Diamond.

We’ve yet to learn who’s the ultimate villain behind this year’s bad day but it’s hard not to think it’s Jason Pillar (with Gregory Itzin’s Logan serving as a close runner-up). Tonight, Diamond enjoyed some of his meatiest scenes to date, first with his attempt to convince Cole that he was saddling up with the wrong side and then when he failed to sway Logan to get out while the gettin’ was good. I found tonight’s high-pressure scenes with Pillar the most exhilarating — even if that plastic assistant of his looks like she was recruited from the Playboy Mansion.

Thanks be to God that Chloe has finally seen the error in her ways. Pillar’s dogged pursuit of Jack finally tipped her off that Jack’s cover-up allegations may be true. I dug how Arlo become Chloe’s new confidant as they figured out a way to throw off Pillar so they could question Cole about Jack’s whereabouts (nice product placement by Sprint and that little black box that offers an “alternative network”). Meanwhile, Jim (i.e. Jack’s new Chloe) became the man with impeccable timing, as he knew exactly where to find the rifle-toting Pavel at the mall — Jack’s rendevous point with Meredith.

And that brings us back to Jennifer Westfeldt’s character. I wasn’t sure why the writers created a reporter who fell in love with Fantastic Sam but her involvement ended up giving the writers an organic way for Jack to expose the truth in these final hours. She’ll write about cover-up, of course! Granted, I was a little annoyed by her pleas for Jack to stop the torture — this was the guy, after all, who killed her loving man — but it’s a journalist’s role to protect the Constitution (even though her moral responsibility to remain objective flew out the window when she hooked up with Hassan).

And finally, the torture: I won’t tear apart this scene in quite the same way that Jack did a number on Pavel’s stomach, but clearly, our boy has gone off the reservation. He’ll stop at nothing — even the wall of an assassin’s stomach — if it means getting the evidence he needs to bring the Russians down. Other than briefly questioning the speed at which he retrieved the SIM card, however, I didn’t bat an eye at what he was willing to do (or cut, or torch) to avenge Renee’s death. Have I been sufficiently desensitized to Jack’s methods? Maybe. But I still root for Jack to get whatever he wants — at whatever cost — so I’m eager to go along for the ride (even if I have to suspend belief that Pavel’s stomach was completely devoid of acid that would have destroyed the evidence). I expect some of you will think otherwise, and that’s a discussion I look forward to reading on this always juicy message board.

Last thought: Obviously, Dana was telling the truth about wanting to marry Cole — a revelatory moment, only in that it helped to establish that she was on the up-and-up and that maybe Jack didn’t need to assassinate someone who was just a pawn in Pavel’s chess game. I’ll let you pontificate the significance of that disclosure. And while you’re at it, was Pavel’s death any more or less shocking than Dana’s? Do you think Pillar and Logan are the ultimate enemies? Where do you think it will go from here?

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