The season of ''24,'' reboots, with Jack once again squaring off with the evil Cheng in a mission to save Audrey without jeopardizing world peace

By Ken Tucker
April 17, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
24: Isabella Vosmikova
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”24”: The season reboots, with love and revenge

Well, lookee here: Dump the more tedious villains, put some core 24 characters we care about front and center, toss in a few surprise turns, and give Jack a personal goal to make his action heroics poignant, and we get a superb episode: It’s as if 24 hit a reset button and its contents were freshened. The nefarious Chinese kidnapper and torturer Cheng Zhi has become Jack’s great archenemy — a Moriarty to Jack’s Sherlock Holmes, a Lex Luthor to Jack’s Superman. The combination of Cheng as the taunting enemy and Audrey as the noble bait made it impossible for an emotionally and physically wracked Jack to resist fulfilling Cheng’s demands — with a Bauer twist, of course.

The notion that the Chinese would want a key to Russian technology (the ”component,” the ”circuit board,” the doohickey that will give the Chinese crucial Russian defense codes) was a neat way to link the new direction of 24 with what has immediately preceded it. But personalizing the stakes made all the difference as drama. There’s no way, after all Jack has gone through with his own torture by the Chinese, and with the family stresses and tragedies he endured earlier in the 24 day, that he could let Audrey die.

And it was a thrill to watch all this being set into motion. Having Jack enlist Chloe in his plan; having Chloe get caught by Morris filching intel from Morris’ computer; having Chloe tell Bill Buchanan what’s going on; and then having Jack convince President Wayne Palmer that he would make this dangerous scheme work — this was an intricate set of interlocking relationships that the show’s writers made briskly exciting. Given the combination of Jack’s patriotic loyalty and his devotion to Audrey, a potentially ludicrous 24 plot device — his promise to load himself with C4 explosive to kill himself along with Cheng during a fake-out component handover — seemed just the opposite: a totally cool Jack attack plan.

And at long last, we also got, in the corridors-of-government-power section of the show, the Powers Boothe scenes we’d been wanting since Vice President Noah Daniels was introduced. His snarling resentment when Palmer revealed he knew about the treason-plotting tape recording Tom Lennox had — the way Boothe growled, ”How dare you!” and ”I refuse!” when the president asked for his resignation — that’s the angry, vindictive, scheming guy we’d been waiting to see. (So were the intimate moments between Daniels and his amorous aide Lisa — it was like a bear stroking a cobra: creepy-crawlingly good.)

Palmer’s cerebral hemorrhage during a press conference, followed by the look of smug satisfaction on Daniels’ face, set up a new world order of danger and chills. Yet I must also add that scrubbing Jack’s mission didn’t seem that cruel if you looked at it from Daniels’ point of view: What does he care about Jack’s relationship with Audrey if it means endangering international security? This episode was such an improvement, such a return to the 24 we know and love, that we could understand even a ”bad” guy’s motives. Heck, Daniels made perfect sense when he said, ”Even Jack Bauer can’t guarantee” the outcome that Jack was promising. This enriched the suspense.

So did Jack’s pulling a gun on Doyle in the final moments. It was terrific the way Jack invoked his shooting of Curtis to convince Doyle he’d blast him if he kept him from rescuing Audrey.

I liked the way the hour was built around couples, and repeated phrases. Jack and Audrey; Daniels and Lisa; Chloe and Morris. The way Chloe told Morris she trusted Jack with the information she leaked him because Jack gave her ”his word,” and the way Jack convinced Palmer to go along with his plan because he gave the president his word. In this hour, Jack really stood for something again — he’s a guy who’ll keep his word, or die trying.

So: Were you as reinvigorated by this episode as I was? What will acting president Daniels get away with before Palmer recovers — and will Palmer recover? How far will Doyle go to try and keep Jack from reaching Cheng?

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