Tony falls for a set-up as the Starkwood forces gather for a fight, and Jack faces an extreme health crisis

By Dan Snierson
March 31, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Kelsey McNeal/FOX

Jack is infected with a deadly pathogen! Tony is duped by a fake deadly betrayal! Larry is engaged in a potentially deadly deadlock! I repeat: Jack is infected with a deadly pathogen! Indeed, episode 16 of 24 contained some dangerous drama that begs examination. So, what do you say we strip it naked, hose it off with some chemicals, and run a comprehensive battery of tests on it? I’m positive that our conversation will prove contagious.

Infection misdirection You knew Jack would reap the consequences for playing hero and getting bio-agent on him, and what an ominous opening to the episode: Hazmat-suited CDC staffers washing down a naked Bauer, asking for blood, saliva, and spinal fluid samples. (And when was the last time Jack was so, um, exposed? Season 2’s electroshock torture scene?) The show’s scribes devised a shrewd mislead for the inevitable outcome (unless you thought Jack avoided infection by holding his breath): After watching the CDC doctor open the door to hand a quarantined Jack the results of his tests (that’s a good sign, right?), and Jack react ambiguously (was that eye-close and slight laugh an expression of relief…or a pang of uh-oh?), we ultimately learned that he wasn’t contagious, but he was infected. And that’s infected with a capital I: We’re talking prion variant. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Attacks the brain and nervous system, causing dementia, physical deterioration, and death. The normal strain kills within a few months, but this weaponized prion disease claims its victims within a day or two. Worse still, there’s no known cure. Damn. Make that a double damn. All right, 24 scribes, we really look forward to seeing you try to wriggle JB out of this killer jam….

Jonas Hodges gets a little cheeky Hodges was none too pleased to learn from an underling that the bioweapons wouldn’t be ready for another two hours. ”They’re coming,” he warned about the feds. ”And they’ll be coming with everything they’ve got!” When he walked away and breeeeathed, Jonas looked stressed for the first time. (Granted, not Ethan-in-the-last-episode stressed, but stressed.) Too bad his hostage, Tony, wasn’t talking. (”He’s the brave type,” Jonas told Seaton. ”Know the psychology of your subject. It’s in our manual.”) After Stokes and his crew worked Tony until he was bloody, Jonas asked Tony nicely to divulge what the FBI knew: ”I can’t say you’ll walk away smiling — that would be unrealistic, but you’ll be alive. Hear me?” Tony paused, then tauntingly whispered, ”But I don’t know anything…Mr. Hodges.” Now, this is usually the point in the Hollywood action where the Jonas figure chuckles, starts to turn away, and then violently sucker punches the Tony figure. Instead, Jonas smiled and started slowly patting Tony on the face, each pat a little more forceful. What a neat, tiny moment of tension.

Bizarre love triangle? In my imagined history of the Larry-Renee relationship, the two of them got drunk at the office Christmas party, and, against her better judgment, Renee hooked up with Larry in the mainframe room. The Moss magic faded after a few months, though, and now she keeps him at bay, holding out for a hero (enter: Jack). But after watching the scene in which Larry broke the news to Renee about Jack’s exposure, I wondered if there was still something there. ”I was wrong not to trust you and I-I let my prejudice about Bauer get in the way,” Larry admitted while she shed a tear over Jack’s dire situation. ”But, Renee, you should have kept me in the loop. You should have trusted me.” ”I know,” Renee rasped softly, as their faces close together. ”I should have.” This very intimate moment, (nearly a prelude to a kiss?) ended abruptly when Renee suddenly looked down and slapped on her business face: ”When are we moving on Starkwood?”

NEXT: Aaron’s still in the house…the White House that is

Later, Jack emerged from the elevator in medical whites, and there was Renee, anxiously waiting for him. ”My blood work came back positive,” he stated. ”I’m infected.” Before leaving to change, he told the reeling Renee, ”It’s fine,” knowing that it wasn’t: He’s patient zero of an untreatable, lethal disease. Things turned more awkward when Renee walked in on him while he was changing and noticed his disturbing chest scars. Jack mumbled uncomfortably, ”Sorry.” (The only one who should be apologizing is the Chinese government!) She changed the subject, and was clearly moved that he risked the our favorite Port Authority cop. Jack mustered a quiet ”thanks” to that. Renee then walked out the door in frustration/sadness, while Jack looked like he wanted to tell her something. Renee then walked out the door — perhaps overcome again with emotion — leaving Jack alone with his unshared thoughts. Oh, you two could-be lovers: TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS! WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!

Agent Awesome, Re-reporting for Duty How psyched was I to see Aaron Pierce again? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say…10. FD bumped into Aaron in a White House hallway — remembering to call him Aaron — and asked if he would handle her security detail while she filled in as chief of staff. (By the way, how fantastic was Tim’s fleeting are-you-kidding-me? THAT-one? reaction when the Prez mentioned FD’s promotion?) Alas, Aaron politely declined, telling her that he was retired and there were ”plenty of fine agents” on the roster. ”But I don’t want them — I want you,” she purred, the implication being: What FD wants, FD gets. She pitched harder, noting that the threat wasn’t over. ”I trust you, Aaron. I can’t say that about a lot of people.” (REALLY. YOU CAN’T TRUST OTHER PEOPLE? YOU? HA! HA! STOP! MY SIDES! THEY WON’T STOP SPLITTING!) Off Aaron’s hesitation, FD said, ”I’m running into a meeting with the President. I’ll assume your answer is yes.” (Did she just Jedi mind trick him?) With FD suspiciously pushing a new chief of staff of her choosing (Rick Berman, presumably a name nod to the Star Trek producer who created Enterprise with 24 co-executive producer Brannon Braga), and plotting god-knows-what-else, we’re going to need Aaron around to serve as the disapproving father figure who keeps her in check. Because Mama Prez, who knows FD’s checkered past, is clearly drinking the fool-aid.

But no mention of the Insurrection Act of 1807? Perhaps a constitutional law professor who knows his/her post-Reconstruction federal statutes was chatting on a cell outside the window of the 24 writers room, because I heard the Posse Comitatus Act get name-checked this week. (According to the legal experts I contacted Wikipedia, the PCA is a federal law passed in 1878 that limits the powers of the government to use military personnel for law-enforcement purposes, unless authorized by Congress.) As the Prez & co. considered using military force on the heavily fortified Starkwood compound (which was teeming with 1,500 mercenaries), one inner-circle member warned that such action would be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Regardless, you sensed that some kind of scary showdown with Starkwood was on the docket. ”God forbid they decide to resist,” warned a military adviser, ”we could have a small war in our backyard.”

Jack Bauer, inaction hero After the Prez decided to authorize the Starkwood compound invasion (she?ll deal with the Attorney General later), Jack tried several times to persuade Boss Moss to let him join the cavalry. ”Larry, please — I’ve earned this.” Oooof, that sounded almost desperate. Larry paused respectfully, then responded. ”Jack, I know what you’ve done today, the sacrifice you’ve made. Under any other circumstances I’d want you out there with us, but you’re sick. And we have no idea when you’re going to start showing symptoms. I cannot risk that happening out in the field. I need my best men for this operation. I hope you can understand that.” (Jack is no longer a best man? That hurts.) Next came a surprising reaction from Jack: ”You’re right. You’re right…Yeah.” A half-laugh head shake. ”I always knew eventually we’d agree on something.” Larry restated, ?I?m so sorry, Jack,? and departed. Jack soon walked away, on a different path, a beaten man on a mission he was no longer expected to complete.

NEXT: The stand-off: Would you take those odds?

Seaton Gall A tip of the trickery cap to Greg Seaton, who turned out not to be the rollover right-hand-man we thought. Having established Seaton as Jonas’ cautious if unconvinced underling, the writers cleverly sold his ”defection” to Team Tony and promise to give him the location of the weapons as a ruse to buy Jonas more time. (My only quibble was that his ”disagreement” with Jonas was staged too closely to Tony, who should’ve sniffed a set-up.) I did lower my skepti-guard after seeing him plug Stokes, who was about to whack Tony (”For the record, I bet Mr. Hodges a pair of Redskin tickets you wouldn’t talk….Looks like I’m gonna be sitting on the 50-yard line”), and after he negotiated his immunity deal (which was made possible via the wonders of WebEx. The Seaton set-up delivered a dramatic payoff, as the good guys blasted through the warehouse door, only to find BUBKES. ”Almeida was threatening to kill me,” Seaton told Moss. ”I told him what he wanted to hear.” Tony called him a sonuvabitch. (Clink!) ”He’s lying, Larry,” insisted Tony. ”He played me.” (Larry’s deadpan response: ”Yeah, I know — looks that way.”) On the bright side, Tony: You totally beat Seaton in the stare-down contest.

Standoff at Starkwood Tony and Larry were still wiping Greg egg off their faces when danger confronted them: As Larry ordered a point-by-point search of the compound, a squad of armored Starkwood vehicles screeched onto the scene, surrounding the FBI. ”If you don’t want to lose your men, you’ll get ’em to stand down now. NOW!” Jack advised the FBI from HQ. Next surprise: a very alive Stokes emerged, and Seaton slipped Tony a you-got-pwned look. ”We cooperated with your demand to search this building,” Stokes told Larry. ”Now we’re asking you to leave.” ”There are biological weapons on this facility,” responded Larry. ”We’re not going anywhere without them.” When Stokes objected, Larry yelled: ”You are threatening federal agents! Stand down! NOW!” But Stokes did not. Rather, he warned: ”Now we don’t want any bloodshed…but you try to advance any farther, you will be fired upon.” Larry grimly surveyed the scene and his options: Lay down the law…or his weapons? You’ve got a week to make your decision, Boss Moss, because it’s midnight and we are all out of time….

So, what did you think of this episode, 24 Nation? What’s Larry’s next move? (Temporary surrender, no?) Did Seaton get you with his faux switch-of-sides? And, most importantly, how will our dear Jack defeat this death sentence? Your opinions and theories are critical to this operation….