Right after Jack, Bill, and Renee bring Matobo to the White House, they pick up another assignment: find the president's husband and keep him alive

By Dan Snierson
Updated February 10, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST
24, Kiefer Sutherland
Credit: Kelsey McNeal/FOX

If your reaction to last week’s stepping-stone episode was something like ”meh” or ”huh?”, I’m betting that this week’s installment provoked a different type of response, perhaps more along the lines of ”Hell, yeah!” Because it appears that we’ve just arrived in Juicy Actionville. And our boy Bauer is Jacking up his game again, with both his hands and his mouth. Let’s recap and relive.

The action begins in an alley behind a greengrocer, where Traitor Secret Service Agent Vossler delivers a bound-and-gagged First Gentleman to a Dubaku henchman. After Dubaku casually strolls down the street (my god, someone grab him!), he arrives in the grocery’s basement and tells Vossler that his money will be wired to the usual account. FG’s gag is removed and he blurts out, ”You sonuvabitch. You’re behind my son’s death.” (Ah! He said sonuvabitch! Everyone drink!) Dubaku takes credit and asks FG, ”Does your wife love you enough to call off the invasion of my country?” 24 is all about tense, tough choices, and it looks a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is dilemma is about to stare down President Taylor…

…who has just been told by Ethan that Matobo has arrived, with special guests Bill Buchanan, Renee Walker, and Jack Bauer. ”Bauer?” she says with just a hint of Mr. Burns’ ”Simpson, eh?” (She might know him from such crazy plot twists as Let’s Kidnap the Sangalan Prime Minister!) Anyway, the Prez double-cheek kisses Matobo, and assures him that the invasion is a go. When he exits, she puts on her no-nonsense pants. ”I want an explanation and I want it now,” she growls to the trio. ”What the hell is going on?” Jack and Bill regale her with tales of government corruption tied to Juma/Dubaku and the effort to undermine her foreign policy. She’s semi-skeptical, but soon warms to the idea of Sorta-CTU finding Dubaku under the radar.

Speaking of that wily bastard, he calls the Prez to say that he’s got FG, and if she doesn’t withdraw her forces now and deliver Matobo to him at a power plant by 4 p.m., FG dies. To prove his point, he lets her listen as his goons cut off FG’s finger with a knife just used to enjoy lunch. He also warns: No rescue missions. As Madame President fights back the tears, Ethan gets word that the bodies of Samantha and Brian were found, with evidence that backs up Jack’s story. Ethan tells the distraught Prez that no one would blame her if she tabled the Sangala invasion. (Blame her? Maybe not. Call her a hypocrite? Yep.) ”How can I ask the American people to make sacrifices that I’m not willing to make myself?” she frets. ”I can’t give in.” (That answer is…correct.) Jack tells her that he’ll try to find FG before the deadline and that she can trust him. ”You resigned from government service and the Senate regards you as having been a renegade agent. How am I supposed to know where your loyalties really lie?” she asks. ”With all due respect, Madame President,” he says, all business, ”ask around.” BAM! And that, my friends, is a classic Jack comeback. (Also, clearly we need to send the Prez seasons 1 through 6 on DVD.)

Of course, she’s onboard now. He tells her to stall by pretending to comply with Dubaku’s demands, and asks Ethan for the deets on the Prez’s and FG’s Secret Service details. Renee thinks she can persuade Larry to access Traitor Brian’s classified phone records. Jack asks Renee if she trusts Larry. ”We know each other pretty well,” she answers in a way that suggests more than ”pretty.”

Renee dials Larry — who’s grabbing a coffee; long day and all — and explains that Jack was right all along. She also needs Brian’s phone logs because FG has been kidnapped by Dubaku. Larry wants proof that she’s not asking under duress and insists on meeting her at the Capitol reflecting pool ASAP. Down the hall, Sean is confused by the TV: Why is the Prez talking like the CIP device and Matobo have been recovered when he and the FBI haven’t heard that yet? His co-worker/fling Erika is kinda listening to him, but mostly she just wants to hook up later. He declines, playing the wife card, and gets rid of her. Janis approaches with a suggestion that he make a sign that reads: Hey world — we’re sleeping together! ”What are you, stupid?” she taunts. He agrees that he’s stupid and must end the affair. She warns him that he’d better do it before Larry notices or he’ll be starring in the spin-off FBI: Juneau.

Boss Moss won’t notice right now, because he’s at the Capitol pool, awkwardly reuniting with Renee and sharing intel. Turns out, Brian’s been speaking with Vossler, who was in Special Forces and served two years in Sangala. He also has a wife and baby. Jack’s plan: Hit a Special Forces man where it hurts: his family. When Renee tells him that’s ”stepping over the line,” Jack responds: ”You stepped over the line the second you interrogated Tanner.” (Zing!) More back and forth before Jack loses his cool: ”When are you people going to stop thinking everyone else is following your rules? They’re not!…Now you can either phone the President, explain to her that your conscience won’t allow you to do what is necessary to save him, or you can simply do what is necessary. Pick one!!!” (Frustrated, bottom-lining Jack is a great Jack to watch, no?) Renee heads out, shaken. Jack tells Larry to give him his car and to track Vossler’s cell. Larry attacks: ”You have lost everyone and everything you ever had by doing what you think is necessary. I won’t let you do that to her, Bauer. Renee will not end up like you.” Jack steps toward him, then growls: ”Are you gonna give me your keys or not?” Larry tosses the keys, and one more line: ”The rules are what make us better.” Once again, Jack gets the final word: ”Not today.”

In the grocery basement, Dubaku, ever the humanitarian, suggests cauterizing FG’s bloody wound with a blowtorch. He then gets a dinner-confirming call from Marika, the woman who thinks his name is Samuel. He sweetly cancels, and he’s still smiling after they hang up. Back at Marika’s, her wheelchair-bound sister, Rosa, squabbles with her about Dubaku. ”What if he’s not the importer he says he is?” she says. ”Or that he’s in this country illegally?” (Or that he’s a world-class terrorist? Think big and mean, Rosa!) When Marika leaves, we see that Rosa is holding an envelope of evidence in her lap. Hmmm….

In other deception-based news, at the White House they’re scheming stall tactics, like using a double for Matobo in the car they’ll send to the plant. And in other vehicle-based news, while Renee takes Vossler’s wife and baby hostage, Jack careens down the streets, fueled by Larry’s updates on Vossler, who’s headed to Andrews Air Force Base. J-Man cuts down a one-way — which is almost as dangerous as driving without an earpiece (hint, Jack!) — and rams into Vossler’s car! He jumps out and subdues Vossler, but Vossler won’t spill. So Jack rings Renee and says to Vossler, ”Talk to your wife.” Vossler calls Jack a… c’mon, please say it…sonuvabitch! (Drink!) Just before a rattled Renee does something horrific to the baby (nah, she was bluffing…right?), Vossler agrees to reveal FG’s whereabouts. But after he does, a passer-by distracts Jack, and Vossler attacks. When his knife tries to make friends with Jack’s face, Jack supermaneuvers out of it and fatally drives the blade into Vossler’s stomach. Jack hobbles away, carjacks someone so he can rescue FG, and calls Renee with news of FG’s location and Vossler’s death. Renee’s eyes go wide; this is all too much. Jack asks if she’s okay. ”No,” she says, tearing up, ”I don’t think I am.” First Vossler’s wife called her a monster and now Vossler’s baby is looking at her, like Why did you kill my Daddy? All I ever did to you was be adorable. Jack offers Renee a chance to quit. ”Maybe you should get out,” he suggest. ”Maybe I will…tomorrow,” she says with a mix of resignation and determination, knowing that this day will be filled with even more impossible choices.

Let’s double back to the White House, where Fake Matobo gets in the car and Ethan tells the Prez that this ploy will buy them 10 to 15 minutes. (Which, according to Bill, happens to be the time it’ll take help to arrive at FG’s location.) Now we’ll pitstop at the FBI, where Erika shows Sean a memo from Homeland Security that essentially confirms Sean’s suspicions; Janis gives Erika an I Know What You Did Last Night look. (With all of this screen time, Erika is feeling more mole-y by the moment.) Sean approaches Larry: ”I’m feeling like there’s something going on behind our back here.” (Maybe I should send Sean a copy of seasons 1-6 as well.) Larry is interrupted by a call from Renee, who turns down his offer to send a SWAT team (cannot trust compromised bureau), but needs a teeny favor: Keep Vossler’s death quiet. ”Dammit, Renee,” fumes Boss Moss, borrowing a key Jack cuss, ”What the hell are you doing with this guy? We’re supposed to bring suspects in — not murder them!” Then again, when Renee asks Larry for something, Renee gets it: He’ll talk to his boy at D.C. metro.

In the greengrocer basement hideout, Dubaku is informed that (Fake) Matobo is on the move. Then, an unwelcome call from Rosa: ”I’m looking for you, Samuel, or whatever your real name is.” She’s got friends at immigration services who confirmed that he’s lying. Her offer? Dump Marika tonight, and she’ll say nothing. Be careful, Rosa — you should never negotiate with terrorists…even if those in the Oval Office are pretending to. Watching on satellite, the Prez, Bill, and Ethan advise Fake Matobo to stay in the car at the power plant, against the orders of Dubaku’s men. A suspicious henchman relays this info to Dubaku, who deduces: ”The Americans have been playing us. Destroy their vehicle.” (Shouldn’t you at least ask again, or force open the door, just to doublecheck? Isn’t Matobo valuable?) The Prez is uneasy, and wants Team Fake Matobo to retreat. Too late. Car, meet rocket.

Next matter: Will FG meet Jack and Renee? At the grocery, the two use the clerk to scope out Dubaku’s set-up (that poor guy’s cooperation is rewarded with a KO from Jack). After J & R communicate via cool hand signals, a lieutenant receives an order from Dubaku (who’d left to deal with Marika-Rosa issue) to kill FG. The lieutenant worries about losing their leverage; Dubaku reasons that the Prez was going to let FG die. Suddenly, Renee is spotted, and there’s a shootout over some cases of imported beer. Jack and Renee are taking out Dubaku’s crew, but one wounded goon limps over to FG. Jack nails him, but he still gets off a shot into FG’s chest, knocking his chair over. Renee enters the room, horrified to find Jack tending to a bloodied, unconscious FG. The final, frantic line of the episode: ”GET AN AMBULANCE!”

Anyone need a spare oxygen mask? The action, the drama, the dialogue — it’s popping now. And if this Marika-Rosa story line pans out, we should be in great shape. What did you think of this episode? Is Dubaku running out of options or just getting started? Will FG live to see another day or even another hour? Start typing.

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