On ''24,'' while President Logan fusses and whines, Jack destroys a team of terrorists who have taken hostages at an airport

By Ken Tucker
Updated June 13, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Kiefer Sutherland: Anthony Mandler

”24”: Airport hostage terror

Any TV show that can turn Sean Astin, professional hobbit, into a badass in a black suit is capable of ‘most anything, I’d say, and sure enough, the second hour of last night’s 24 season launch did just that, introducing Astin’s Lynn McGill as a government overseer (Department of Defense? Homeland Security?) so adept at wielding power that he managed to make the show’s underrated man of granite, CTU’s Bill Buchanan, back down like a meek puppy. Astin’s McGill arrived to oversee the airport-hostage mess that was occurring as lily-livered President Logan was about to sign an accord with Russia. The lead terrorist had flushed Jack Bauer out of his air-duct hiding place by putting a gun to the head of his girlfriend’s teenaged son. (Sorry, I have a little trouble believing that no matter how hooked Jack has become in the past year or so on this woman, he would endanger a group of innocent-airport-bystander hostages just to save this woman’s son. Yeah, I know — Jack has lost his share of loved ones in the past, but still, he’s Jack Bauer, relentless man of justice who’s also done his share of killing….)

To show how lean and mean the season is, a second hostage was murdered for all the world to see (on live-feed TV) by the Russian terrorist leader Beresch. I still don’t really get the Russkies’ garbled beef: They don’t want a peace accord signed because it doesn’t represent ”the oppressed people of our region,” as Beresch said? Isn’t that more of an internal dispute? Oh, well, the hostage killing certainly made President Logan sweat and start doing that thing he does when things go the slightest bit wrong: He whines and yells and tells every adviser around him to do something about this right now! But of course he never has any ideas of his own. (Which makes us appreciate the decisive, smart, but unfortunately late ex-president Palmer all the more.)

Our new favorite character, Jean Smart’s wacky-like-a-fox First Lady, found the transcript of the message Palmer had left on her answering machine (and, it may have been implied, even more information than previously suggested). She stuffed the page down her, ahem, bodice and hightailed it over to her hubby, but not before encountering the season’s newly revealed mole, Walt Cummings, the presidential adviser who tried to arrange Jack’s death in season 4. Cummings put on rubber gloves, knocked out Jean Smart, and removed the info from, ahem, her bodice.

All of this summary does not do justice to the crackerjack editing and direction, which built extreme tension during the hostage situation and in the CTU command center — this new 24 season is one smooth, sleek action machine.

At the end of the second hour (that would be four total; next Monday’s 9 p.m. episode will put us onto the series’ usual one-hour track), Jack (with McGill’s help, again: Sean Astin as smart hero — who’d a thunk it?) had foiled the terrorists (that is to say, had them mowed down by a gaggle of invading CTU agents), and just as President Logan was smirking his biggest smirk to date, the cliffhanger was revealed. Somewhere under the airport, more terrorists blasted through a cement floor and uncovered a bunch of canisters that are holding…what? Nuclear power? (Can you tell I wasn’t a science major?) Nerve gas?

More questions, and your answers are welcome here: How could such obviously volatile stuff have been stored at an airport, where there’s so much takeoff and landing vibration? Does Connie Britton, playing Jack’s already-receding-from-the-plot girlfriend, have the most thankless role ever, spending two hours asking random CTU agents variations on ”My son — is he all right?”? And finally, just how p.o.’d is Jean Smart gonna be when she wakes up, reaches into her, ahem, bodice and finds out that the secret info that might have proved she isn’t a nutter is gone?

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