On ''24,'' Jack is released from the Chinese prison straight into the hands of double-crossing terrorists; fortunately, he has a dental plan
24, Kiefer Sutherland
Credit: 24: Kelsey McNeal

The ”24” season premiere: Jack bites back

Talk about having a quick bite.

When Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer, his hands tied, sank his teeth into a terrorist guard, killing him instantly at the climax of the first half of the two-hour season premiere of 24, we were reminded once again that the visceral impact of this series sometimes has something to do with literal viscera. Bodies are blown up; knives are twisted into people to make them give up information and then die; Jack has to bite a bad guy in just the right sweet spot to put him out of commission.

It’s tremendously exciting — this series knows how to generate tension and throw you off your usual TV-watching balance better than any other — even though much of the action leaves you feeling a little ashamed that you got off on it so much. Which is part of the effect Sutherland and his fellow producers want you to feel, for sure.

So at the beginning, we got a quick resolution to last season’s cliff-hanger: Jack Bauer has spent the past 20 months in Chinese captivity. Over the past couple of months in 24 time, terrorist attacks have occurred in 10 cities; in the first two hours last night, bombs went off in Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Time to get Jack back and pursuing one terrorist leader, Hamri Al-Assad (Alexander Siddig). Or so thinks the new President Palmer — Wayne (DB Woodside), three months in office and still just as callow as he was the last time we saw him. (How did this guy get elected? Oh, yeah — I guess once 24 America got President Logan out of office, a blando like Wayne Palmer looked like a nice calm, safe way to go. Bad idea, 24 America.)

These first two hours were, as always, crammed with info and action. We had to meet the new CTU analyst, Nadia Yassir (Marisol Nichols) — finally, a CTU suit who can actually speak Arabic, like so many 24 foes! We had to get used to the idea that Bill Buchanan is really married to Homeland Security chief Karen Hayes (Jayne Atkinson) and get used to the fact that the new fidgety weasel in the Oval Office advising the president is Thomas Lennox, played by Numb3rs‘ Peter MacNicol. (Incidentally, the results of an unofficial EW-commissioned Venn diagram for the overlap of people who watch both Numb3ers and 24? It’s zero — no overlap.) And did we all notice that Stephen Merchant (Ricky Gervais’ collaborator on The Office and Extras) had a wordless cameo sitting at a desk at CTU headquarters, and that the fair-haired FBI agent who took the president’s sister (Regina King) and her Islamic civil-rights-leader boyfriend (Harry Lennix) into custody was played by Scott William Winters — Cyril O’Reilly from HBO’s Oz and real-life brother of Dean Winters, who recently played Tina Fey’s boyfriend on 30 Rock?

Anyway, there was quite a bit of stiff dialogue to get through last night. Jayne Atkinson’s ”There are people willing to tear up the Constitution in the name of security!” was matched only by Regina King’s ”Once you start ethnic profiling, it’s a slippery slope!” for Serious Statements We Wish Weren’t Stated As Clichés.

But I really liked these opening hours’ switcheroo — the terrorist the government thinks is the right target, Assad, is actually trying to ”mainstream” his politics to broker a truce with the U.S., and the worse bad guy is another terrorist, Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis).

And I really like the notion of Jack Bauer as damaged goods. By throwing a scarred, freshly tortured Jack into action, the show has given us a hero who thinks he’s losing his touch. The best example occurred when Jack inflicted mighty pain upon a suspect to elicit info on Fayed’s whereabouts; after the screaming schemer said he didn’t know, Jack told Assad, ”I can see in his eyes he’s not gonna tell us anything.” Normally, this would be end of scene and cut. But Assad just walked over and stabbed a knife into the guy’s knee and twisted, and the terrorist gave up the info Jack wanted. Jack’s reaction was ”I don’t know how to do this anymore.”

Mark those words, folks. I think it’s a key theme for the upcoming season: Jack getting his mojo back….

I realize I haven’t even gotten around to Chloe’s sniffy ex-husband and now office mate, Morris, who’s so sarcastic he even annoys Chloe. Next time. Meanwhile, please tell me who you’re loving and hating the most, and which plot twists you’re buying or not buying at all.

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Kiefer Sutherland
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