Kelsey McNeal

On ''24,'' we see the perils of workplace relationships: Jack is arrested for ransoming Audrey, Daniels and Lisa get distracted, Chloe and Miles bicker, and Karen fires Bill

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April 24, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

”24”: The couples work out their problems

Last week, 24 gave us a good, swerving episode, one that steered the series into promising areas by doing what many of us had hoped: refocusing on core characters while providing strong scenes to guest stars like Powers Boothe. Always happy to give one of my favorite shows the benefit of the doubt, I saw a nice theme woven into hour 18, which I described as being built around couples: Jack and Audrey; Daniels and Lisa; Chloe and Morris.

Boy, did my burst of optimism come back to haunt me last night.

It was Couples Night once again on 24, but what a difference an hour makes. First there was the florid spectacle of Boothe’s Vice President Daniels breathing huskily into aide Lisa’s ear, ”I have the fate of the Western world, millions of lives, hanging in the balance, and I can’t stop thinking about you.” Lisa scampered off to bring back a change of clothes to spend the night. You’re too young to remember, but it reminded me of the title of an old Carol Burnett Show soap-opera-parody sketch: As the Stomach Turns.

Another couple, Karen Hayes and Bill Buchanan, couldn’t stop thinking of each other, either, but that was only because Karen had to fire her husband. Why? Because Bill once had Fayed in custody but freed him for lack of evidence. Since Reed Powell (Chad Lowe, briefly, via a small image on a computer screen, which is really the only way his character is even minimally bearable) spilled that bean to the Department of Justice, it might appear that Karen colluded with Bill to hide this fact, and because Bill is ”lower on the food chain” (the veep’s phrase), Karen had to let him go. And who did Karen think would be calling for a scapegoat? ”The pundits and the press,” she said. Huh?

I guess if you spin out the vice president’s theory (he’s now aided and abetted by Tom Lennox, who realigned himself with Daniels again last night — and it’s only because Peter MacNicol is such a good actor that this flip could be flopped with conviction), it goes something like this: If this info is leaked to the media — and Daniels would surely have someone to do with that — then the newshounds would howl for a fall guy. Okay, I’ll accept this reasoning for now, but that’s only because James Morrison as Buchanan turned in such a sterling performance as a quiet, non-action hero under siege as he was escorted off the premises, and because Jayne Atkinson as Karen does anguish with a fine flourish.

Another couple: Chloe and Morris. Sorry, didn’t buy their squabble at all. Frustrated by Morris’ professional meddling, Chloe snapped that he shouldn’t have armed ”nuclear bombs for terrorists” and then apologized for saying that! This is not the Chloe we have known in the past, and if we’re supposed to think she’s matured, gotten more in touch with her emotions, well, her feeble squeak of ”Morris!” as the disturbingly unbuttoned-to-his-chest-hair Brit stomped away to tender his resignation was — once again — stomach-turning, not heart-rending.

Another couple: Jack and Audrey. I must say, I had no idea how many of you hated the Audrey Raines character until you wrote in in droves last week; me, I always thought she was the sort of ice queen an inferno like Jack would melt for….No, that’s a completely mixed metaphor. I’m sorry. I’d resign, but we’re in the midst of a national 24 crisis and my editor stabbed me in the shoulder a few hours ago and I’m fighting through the pain and you know what I mean, don’t you?

Anyway, you may not feel sorry for Audrey, but I do. She obviously could not withstand the kind of torture at the hands of Cheng and his minions the way Jack (mostly) could, so she’s been reduced to quivering jelly. This does not bode well for future dating, even if and when Jack is freed from the custody that gung ho Doyle was only too happy to place him in.

But enough with the couples. Boy, those Chinese could really teach CTU a thing or two, couldn’t they? Jack, Doyle, and CTU field agents have never launched a field operation as successfully as these guys: Cheng pulled up in a limo but made his escape in a caravan of three Humvees, and the Chinese were able to shoot down the U.S. helicopter pursuing them. I wonder if they’re writing a parallel season of 24 over in China, too — it’s probably way better than this one.

So, what do you think? How long do you give Nadia as acting CTU head, and who do you speculate acting President Daniels will replace her with? Has Audrey become a brainwashed, Manchurian Candidate-style drone puppet for her captors? Will Tom Lennox accidentally walk in on Daniels and Lisa, and will his head then promptly explode?

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Joel Surnow,
Robert Cochran
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