Sunday, March 25, 2007

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Liars, the Switch, and the Wardrobe

By now it has become pretty evident that Jack Bauer is (physically and mentally) simply a mess. Jack’s injuries from months of torture in China, his more recent torture by Abu (Mr. Clean) Fayed, his battle damage from the Russian embassy, and revelations about his family (and Audrey last night) have left him compromised, like a bruised and battered hunk of Swiss cheese. How Jack manages to move on makes us wonder about how he can function, yet seasons past have set a precedent for Jack to accomplish amazing things (think of how he bounced back from “dying” in Season 2). Thus, we suspend disbelief once again and go along for yet another ridiculous, but exciting, ride.

In Monday night’s episode we switched gears from one injured president to another. There is no mention of the wounded ex-President Charles Logan; the concern is now centered on the badly injured President Wayne Palmer. He has been put into a coma to stabilize him, and his sister Sandra does nothing more than stare at him during the episode. Perhaps she is thinking of Walid, or maybe of suing someone for something, but she does seem pensive and worried about Prez Wayne.

There is a good deal to worry about too, with Vice President Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels waltzing around the bunker like he has a Colt .45 strapped to his hip. He is literally gunning for the Middle Eastern country from which Fayed comes, but Tom (Twitchy) Lennox and Karen (Hillary) Hayes are quick to point out that this country (of course, unnamed) has disavowed ties to the terrorists. Jones doesn’t really give a hoot because he’s got the sun behind his back and he’s dying to draw his weapon.

Jack Bauer returns to CTU and is about to get some medical attention when he runs into his sister-in-law (and former girlfriend) Marilyn. Marilyn makes yet another move on Jack, but he turns away and explains his heart belongs to Audrey (White Coat) Raines. That metaphor from last season seems even more apropos when we learn from Marilyn that Audrey died in China. A livid Jack drops her faster than a hockey puck on center ice, runs off to Chloe, and demands to see the file.

Meanwhile, yet another mole is discovered in CTU. Loyal fans of the show have come to expect the mole thing, but at this point it is a device that has worn out its credibility. Way back in the Season 1 when Jamey was discovered to be a mole, it was a real shocker and very effective; however, we have had so many moles during the subsequent seasons that it borders on ridiculous that a government anti-terrorist agency couldn’t do a better job screening its own agents.

That said, it seems too obvious that Nadia is the mole. She is Muslim and a big deal is made of this by Milo when Doyle accuses her. It does seem that Milo’s protest could be connected to the fact that he gave Nadia his high-level clearance password, or it could be (as Doyle notes) that Milo is looking for some hanky with Nadia’s panky. Either way, it is way too simplistic for Nadia to be guilty. It could be anyone else, but Milo seems to be a good contender as does the erratic (but now sober) Morris. Chloe even kisses Morris to make certain he is not still drinking. I am sure with all the technology at CTU that there is a simpler way than that, but the kiss sends a message that Chloe actually cares for Morris and is willing to do just about anything to save him.

Jack looks at a file with Audrey’s photo and large letters spelling out “Deceased” across the page. There is something striking about the evidence, and it seems Jack sees it too because of the cock of his head as he stares at the remnants of her scorched passport. After yet another wardrobe change (I think I mentioned last week that Jack has changed clothes more this season than in any previous one), Jack rushes over to Bill (I Miss My Wife) Buchanan and demands to take point on the next raid. Bill is about to argue this when Jack tells him, “You should have told me about Audrey.” Of course he should have, Jack, right as you were being led to die after spending 20 months in a Chinese prison.

Jack and Doyle are off to the position where yet another bald guy is piloting the drone with a the suitcase nuke by remote control. We previously get a glimpse of Mr. Clean and Gredenko (Mr. Dirty) arguing over minutiae as they blame each other for the lack of success in their mission. Instead of getting caught, they decide to keep fighting in transit and load the last two nuclear suitcases onto a truck. We know from this exchange that the drone is carrying one bomb and its target is San Francisco (stock up on the Rice-a-Roni, folks).

Back at the looney bin (oh, I mean the White House bunker), Jones is pressing for a “tactical nuclear strike” against the unnamed country. The Joint Chiefs and other advisors aren’t too keen on this, and Hillary goes off about policy and that sort of thing, with Twitchy silently showing his disapproval too. Out in the hallway Twitchy will not support Hillary, but we have a feeling that he is wavering and will eventually take her side. Hillary goes to medical and wonders about waking up Prez Wayne long enough to get him to intervene in matters, but this kind of thing could cost him his life.

Jack and Doyle break into yet another warehouse and take out the bad guys, wounding Baldy in the process. One important thing to note here is Doyle defers to Jack’s leadership, so it seems like they will be able to work together. We haven’t gotten enough about Doyle yet, though in his earlier confrontation with Milo it appears as if he may be a little bit anti-Muslim, which could complicate matters.

Jack once again is in a position to save the day. He gets into the pilot seat and manages somehow to steer the drone off course and crash it far away from San Francisco. The problem is that when first responders arrive on the scene there is a heavy amount of radioactivity (these poor guys are as good as dead). The Hazmat team is called in, but when this information is relayed to VP Jones, he doesn’t care that a strike on the city has been averted. The radiation leak is enough to push the button, so he orders the nuclear strike to be initiated immediately.

While some of this is very reminiscent of Season 2 (another Palmer in danger, a pending strike on a Middle Eastern country that could start a world war, the possible mole in CTU, Jack being so badly damaged as to impede his ability to function), there are other things to distinguish the current situation. One of the most crucial elements is Jack himself, for the hope he seemed to have in Season 2 (mostly getting back to having some kind of family life with his daughter Kim) has been completely eliminated. Also, there is an eerie sense of the familiar in the way Jack tells Bill that when this is over, he is going to get those responsible for Audrey’s murder.

As this week’s episode ends, I can imagine many fans are happy to think that Jack will finally carry a bullet with Cheng’s name on it. We only have ten episodes left, but I have a feeling that Jack is going to revert to his terminating mode from Season 1 when, after learning Kim was dead (Nina was lying to him, of course), Jack went on a rampage and wiped out Victor Drazen and his men. At this point we have had enough of liars and switching allegiances, and Jack has certainly changed his clothes enough times. Perhaps we are slowly getting to the good stuff.

My predictions at this point are that Prez Wayne will wake up and stop Jones (but not until one of the last episodes); someone other than Nadia will turn out to be the mole (I think it is Milo); Marilyn is going to tell Jack even bigger news (yes, about his nephew Josh); and Jack is going to break Cheng’s fortune cookie along with most of the bones in his body (after taking out Fayed, Gredenko, and company).

The thing I am not certain about is the two remaining nukes. Since one has already gone off this season, the stakes have been raised immeasurably. What happens with them will be the biggest surprise of all.  ’ll keep watching and I bet so will you.

Until next week, Klaatu barada nikto!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

S6:13 of "24": Is This a Dagger Which I See Before Me?

“Art thee not, fatal vision, sensible/To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but/a dagger of the mind, a false creation/Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” Fans of Shakespeare’s Macbeth will recognize these lines (and the title) as one of the most insightful words a fictional character ever uttered. While these lines highlight Macbeth's struggle with his murderous tendencies, they also apply quite nicely to last night’s episode for, if anyone read my reviews of Season 5, he or she would know I frequently referenced Macbeth in discussing the Charles Logan-Martha Logan marriage and quest for power. I even used to jokingly refer to Martha as Lady MacDeath, and it seems there was a great deal of foreshadowing in that in retrospect.

Last night it all came to fruition when old Chucky went to visit the Lady and her new beau, stalwart former Secret Service Agent Aaron (Hawkeye) Pierce. It seems old Hawk is now devoted to the Lady, dutifully bringing her home fruit from her favorite store. The Lady is on the wagon now, so no more narcotics and cocktails for her. Fresh raspberries and grapes will have to suffice. It seems she is content with Hawk, until Chucky arrives on her doorstep looking for a favor. Admittedly, this seems a contrivance, but no more so than the evil Graem turning out to be Jack’s long lost brother. In the world of 24, we have grown used to these things and move on.

Our hero Jack Bauer is still locked away in the Russian Embassy. He takes a sweet Russian couple hostage after breaking free and killing the crumb who killed the guy who tried to warn Bill about the nukes in the desert. Got that? Well, now Jack holds the girl and sends the guy off to get a phone. It must be a Russian thing, because nothing seems to work very well in this building.

Back at CTU a new sheriff strides into town named Mike (Clint Eastwood) Doyle. Apparently, he is the head of Field Ops now and this ruffles Milo’s feathers. It seems apparent that Milo is permanently on the list for Mr. Personality, for he has a history with Clint that goes back to Denver. Either Milo can’t play nice or he just has issues. Clint struts around CTU and lets everyone know he’s taking charge. Bill skulks off to his office; Milo tells Nadia that he doesn’t like the guy but that he knows what he is doing; and Chloe and Morris exchange knowing glances, as if to say things just got much worse.

Chucky comes to CTU and talksBill into letting him go to see Lady MacDeath, hoping she will broker a deal with Russian President Subaru’s wife to allow an attack on the embassy. The Lady and Mrs. Subaru shared a defining moment in a limousine in Season 5 when they survived an assault that was engineered by husband Charles. No wonder she is so miffed at the guy. Bill seems to have lost his way and lets Chucky get a helicopter without even thinking through the ramifications. Maybe he is pining for Karen (Hillary) Hayes, who is in Washington where the stakes are getting even higher.

At the White House President Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels is setting up a deal with Tom (Twitchy) Lennox concerning his involvement in the assassination attempt that has left Prez Wayne Palmer on hiatus (actually he is with Curtis and Karen having cocktails in some dark saloon). Twitchy agrees to implicate the now dead Assad in the attempt, although one can see that this goes against his grain (he actually does have a spine after all). Twitchy is bothered by the fact that Reed and Carson will seemingly get away with it, but Twitchy may not be done yet. The ambassador (lots of diplomats in these episodes by the way) from Assad’s country denounces the assassination attempt, but Jones is not buying it. He has a carrier group off the coast of this man’s country and an itchy trigger finger.

Chucky goes to see Lady MacDeath who won’t come out of the bedroom to see him. He and Hawkeye exchange something less than pleasantries (Chucky did try to have Hawkeye killed in Season 5), but it is a small triumph for the former president when his wife does appear to talk with him. Appropriately dressed all in black, Lady MacDeath berates her ex-husband and then throws kibble and bits at him. Chucky does ask her to call Mrs. Subaru in hopes she will intervene with her husband concerning the embassy.

Before you can say “Psycho,” the Lady has grabbed a knife and is plunging in into Chucky. It’s a shocking and devastating blow. Hawkeye, without the aide of a martini or Trapper John, tries to apply pressure to the wound as he calls for an ambulance. Imagine in one day an assassination attempt on a sitting president and an ex-president? Just what the country needs after a nuclear explosion, right?

MacDeath gets herself together enough after the bloodletting to speak to Mrs. Subaru, who does talk to her husband. Subaru calls Markhov at the embassy and tells him to surrender Jack Bauer and himself to the Americans. Markhov, who is in cahoots with Fayed (Mr. Clean) and Gredenko (Mr. Dirty), declines his boss’s request thus giving Subaru no alternative but to authorize the US assault on the embassy. Thankfully, we shouldn’t have any of the same minutiae that the assault on the Chinese consulate in Season 4 caused.

Clint leads the strike team attack on the embassy. Apparently, he enjoys wielding a machine gun as much as Jack does. He takes out guys left and right and eventually finds Jack in the basement. Jack finally tells Doyle about the nukes in the desert, and Clint relays this message to CTU.

We get a glimpse of Mr. Clean and Mr. Dirty with a drone that is all ready to drop another nice payload somewhere on Americans. At the same time Chucky is in the ambulance mumbling “Martha” under his oxygen mask. This dramatic irony becomes more poignant as the medic starts working on him and says, “We’re losing him.” It doesn’t look too promising for old Chuck.

Will CTU be able to stop the drone? Will Lady MacDeath be sent back to the funny farm? Will Jack be able to find Clean and Dirty and, with Clint’s help, neutralize the threat? What about Hillary? Will she be able to stop Jim Jones from wiping out a Middle Eastern nation with something a lot worse than Kool-aid? And, finally, will Chucky make it to the hospital or will he join David Palmer, Edgar, Tony, and Michelle at that great CTU set in the sky?

Until next week, Klaatu barada nikto!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

S6:12 of "24": Can You Say “Pinky Swear” in Russian?

One of the most insidious elements of 24 has always been the torture scenes used in various contexts. Jack Bauer has been tortured almost as often as he has tortured others, which does not justify his actions but rather qualifies them. In this world of high stakes, when lives are literally teetering in the balance in the wake of a nuclear strike and the promise of more to follow, one would expect that Jack would resort to any and all measures to get the information he needs.

In the wake of the Abu Graib scandal in Iraq and all sorts of reports about the issue, there was a story late last year of top American generals going to the set of 24 and asking the producers to “cool it” on the torture scenes. Apparently everyone involved, even those of liberal bent like Kiefer Sutherland (who plays Agent Jack Bauer), told the generals that this was a fictional show. In essence, this means that everything depicted does not reflect reality and, if it should happen to in some rare cases, that it is purely coincidental.

Now that we have that straight, the big moment last night came down to Jack interrogating Russian diplomat Markov in a very bloody and grizzly manner. Earlier, former President Charles Logan tried to meet with Markov in a civilized way, but the Russian blows off Logan and claims to know nothing about the whereabouts of Grendko (who just happens to have three nuclear suitcases and an itchy trigger finger). Logan comes out of his meeting and tells Jack that Markov is lying. What is there left for Bauer to do other than violate the embassy, kidnap Markov, and get to the truth in any way necessary?

Back at the bloodied White House conference room, a wounded Wayne Palmer is taken away to the medical center and is still kicking. Hamri (Cat Stevens) Al-Assad is not so fortunate. He loses his life in saving Prez Wayne, but anyone present in the room to attest to this heroic act is apparently dead. This leaves a convenient opening for Reed (Rob Lowe’s Little Bro) to point a finger at Assad. He goes back to the room where Tom (Twitchy) Lennox is still tied up and dreaming of his blow-up girl doll in his office closet. Bruce (Kit) Carson who assembled the bomb is there threatening to kill Twitchy, but Little Bro steps in and says Twitchy can be trusted.

No sooner than they are all in the hallway, Twitchy gives up Kit and Little Bro to the Secret Service and remands himself into custody. As typical of 24 in its twisting allegiances and plots, Twitchy has now emerged as a stand-up guy, though as he truthfully tells his story to the Secret Service, it does sound dubious at best. The VP Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels arrives on the scene ready to kick Muslim butt, but he wants Twitchy (the architect of the Muslim butt-kicking plan) to be on the same page. Twitchy has problems with this but does still believe in his plan.

On a collision course with these two weasels is Karen (Hillary) Hayes Buchanan, Bill’s betrothed who has been twiddling her thumbs waiting for a flight to LA. As she speaks to Bill on the phone, we get the sense that she has been out to that fast food place where Curtis used to go hang out for several hours on his way back to CTU. Now that Hillary is back in the picture, and once she hears about the assassination attempt on Prez Wayne, she rescinds her resignation and is on her horse back to the White House. Here she no doubt will stand firm against Twitchy, Jones, and anyone else who wants to contradict Prez Wayne’s earlier decisions about maintaining the sanctity of protected rights for all Americans. Are you thinking what I am? Maybe Little Bro can get Kit to make another bomb.

Jack calls Chloe (thankfully and finally) and needs her help “under the radar” to get into the Russian consulate. This is reminiscent of the good old days when Jack and Chloe were a team, when Chloe had to find every trick in the book to squeak info to Jack and was always under suspicion. Those days are long gone now, mostly because Bill is a level-headed boss who happens to not be a bureaucratic idiot like Ryan Chappell, Alberta Green, or Erin Driscoll. Still, even Bill would not advocate sneaking into the Russian Embassy. Logan even chides Jack about doing the same thing he did to the Chinese, but Jack is on autopilot as he mounts the embassy wall and readies himself for a bumpy ride.

Once inside Markov’s office, he quickly locks the door and slaps the diplomat around some. This reminded me of the great scenes from Lethal Weapon 2 when the pompous South African diplomat was doing all sorts of illegal things, and finally when he shows his ID to Danny Glover’s Murtaugh after trying to shoot the cop and running out of bullets, the diplomat spouts something about diplomatic immunity, but Murtaugh puts a bullet in his head.

Ah, such serendipity is not available to Jack. He needs Markhov alive to get the information about Gredenko. The Russian is not talking (oh, by the way, Jack earlier displays a neat ability to speak Russian; Nina Meyers is not the only one with foreign language skills), so Jack looks around and finds a cigar cutter on the desk (during the scene with Logan, there was not too subtle foreshadowing when Markov used it to snip a cigar). Apparently, Jack doesn’t know how to say “pinky swear” in Russian, so instead he slips the cutter over Markhov’s little finger and, quicker than that little piggy can go to market, Jack has severed the digit.

Back at the funny farm, Jones has to get on the phone with Russian President Subaru, who is still ticked-off about his motorcade coming under attack in Season 5. Subaru is annoyed about the invasion of the embassy too, but Jones is quick to explain that the nukes may be tied to Markov through Gredenko. Blah, blah, blah! Subaru seems willing to hear more but Jack better get info soon.

Jack does end up getting Markov to talk. The Russian starts telling stories better than Tolstoy about the drones, the nukes, Gredenko, and Fayed. Jack has what he needs and is about to call CTU, but the Russian agents blow in the door and take Jack hostage (this is episode 12, so Jack is definitely overdue to be taken as hostage). Markhov punches Jack (bloodied pinky and all) and seems to want to do more things to him after checking in with his superiors.

Jack is of course bound and talking to one of the agents, revealing all the plans that Markov confessed to knowing about. It seems this is a good Russian who will help, and he goes into the next room and is about to call Bill at CTU, but another agent puts a bullet in his head. So much for honor among these Russian comrades.

Thus, Episode 12 ends on a down note with Jack tied up and the nukes still out there. How will Jack escape? Will he get the information to Bill about the drones before it is too late? Will Markov try to stick his pinky back on with Crazy Glue? Will Hillary and Twitchy form an alliance to bring down Jim Jones? And where has Jack’s father Darth Bauer gone off to? Troubling as it may be, the dark side is victorious for now.

Until next week, Klaatu barada nikto!