Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Episode 19 of 24: Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut


By Victor Lana


One durable device used to advantage on 24 has been occasional comic relief, usually provided by our intrepid gal Chloe. Just like the gravediggers scene in Hamlet, it brings a brief respite from the charnel of horror we know is going to occur elsewhere. In this amazingly fast-paced and increasing grim season, comic relief has never been more welcome. In past seasons the interactions between Chloe and others, particularly Edgar, have given us that quick chuckle we need before getting back to business. With Edgar gone, humor has also surfaced with Shari (Twitchy/Nutso Girl) and Miles (Touchy Feely guy). Good thing too because in last night’s episode, things became increasingly dark and disturbing within the first few moments.

A question that has been posed throughout Season 5 has been the sanity, or the lack thereof, of certain characters. Most prominent has been First Lady MacDeath, who has dealt with one tragedy after another going from a semblance of composure to at times what seems to be complete meltdown. President Lowguns has used her mental instability to his advantage, and at other times for sympathy. Those around her are not sure if her spouting of conspiracy theories is coming from her derangement or her medications.

Sweet Chloe has always come off as a bit mentally unbalanced, but she is a computer whiz with a heart of gold, so we’ve all cut her some slack. Edgar seemed at times a little looney tunes as well, but the grand nutcase of the year is now Twitchy/Nutso Girl. But within the words of madness there is the inevitable truth, and by the time Touchy Feely thinks he has his golden moment (bringing his former accuser of sexual harassment before Karen (Cruella Once Mean to Bill), it is apparent that Cruella is changing her stance and even listens as Shari speaks of how “crazy” Chloe is thinking President Lowguns is somehow behind the day’s catastrophic events.

At the airport Audrey sits on the floor as Jack tends to her wounded arm. Her once unblemished white coat (with which we’ve had some good fun) is becoming increasingly soiled, certainly a metaphor for not only her relationship with Jack but the whole season as well. Audrey looks damned fine sitting there, her long and lovely legs positioned just so on the floor of the hangar. A lesser man than Jack (and, hey, most are lesser men than Bauer Power) would be a bit tempted to just hold her and be passionate, but Jack has bigger fish to fry.

With Chloe and Bill helping from the mini-CTU established at Bill’s pad, Jack is back in business and tracking Robo Henderson via satellite. How Chloe can actually take an ordinary laptop, some household bleach, and WD 40 and do the things she does continues to amaze, but I’m starting to think she might be the illegitimate child of old TV vet MacGyver. Anyway, Chloe is doing what she does best, but Cruella has Touchy Feely trying to find her whereabouts, and he is so bent on getting his, uh, hands on Chloe that he is one dedicated but rather sick dude zipping around the inter-whatsitface to get our gal.

Somehow or other Jack finds Robo, drives him off the road, and handcuffs him to a pole (yes, I know Jack was handcuffed to a pole last week). As each episode has progressed, Henderson has been bathed in a deeper red hue, as if all the death and destruction he has caused are simmering right beneath the surface, and yet he glares at Jack with those cyborg eyes and we know he’s got nothing inside that Dorothy’s Tinman would ever wish for in Oz.

As in the past, Jack leaves someone he loves to go off and do his work. This occurs because of one turning point: Secretary of Defense Nuts Landing has apparently died in a car accident. Once Robo is captured he tells Jack he has a contingency plan (how this guy manages all this during martial law and at two o’clock in the morning is beyond understanding), which is that a helicopter has been following Nuts since he left Lowguns ranch.

If Jack doesn’t allow Robo to go free, Nuts gets crushed. Jack offers Robo his freedom for the tape, but Robo has handed it off to some dude and that’s why Jack was able to catch up with him so easily. Jack talks to Nuts on the phone, but Nuts blames himself for not trusting Jack earlier. He knows what’s best for the country now. Jack needs to get that tape and the hell with it all. Nuts basically is saying, “Goodbye, cruel world” as he drives off an embankment and his car crashes into the shimmering lake below.

Now, Jack has lost enough people today and he is even more angry. Audrey is livid. “Kill him, Jack!” she says (imagine when their married and the mail is late?). Jack knows he needs Robo alive, and Chloe is able to determine that whomever Robo gave the tape was in a car that has returned to the airport. Jack gives Audrey agun and a cell phone (man, he knows how to treat his women, right?) and tells her not to even talk to the handcuffed Robo. In another slick move, Jack has somehow managed to get Curtis and a CTU team to come retrieve Audrey and Robo. The problem is Curtis is a “few minutes” out, but we’re even wondering where the hell Curtis has been the last few weeks. He was supposed to be taking Jerko Bierko, Russian super bad guy, to the CTU medical center (the place where it seems good guys die and bad guys live to tell the tale and escape), but we haven’t heard about him and glad the guy is still alive anyway.

Jack gets back in the police car and drives to a rear entrance to the airport where he checks out the plane in question. Security personnel are everywhere, but Jack’s eyes are spinning as he thinks about how he’s going to get on that plane and retrieve the tape. Bill and Chloe are still providing tactical when Bill gets a call from Cruella after Touchy Feels discovers Chloe’s location at Chez Bill. Seems Cruella just got off the phone with Mike (The Grimace Novick), and he is not only in the dark but out of the loop. Cruella makes a quick decision to circumvent protocol and move toward the light. She warns Bill that he and Chloe have about seven minutes until a team comes to get them.

Meanwhile, Lowguns has been dealing with his own demons and Lady MacDeath. His interaction with a shadowy group of men is revealed, and the Gang of Four is a bit worried themselves that things are unraveling. Gang Leader seems to be bossing Lowguns around a bit, and now we wonder who the hell these guys are to be more powerful than the President (hmmm, oil company execs perhaps?). No matter, Gang Leader tells Lowguns, his synthetic spine clearly popping out of his shirt collar, that Lady MacDeath must be dealt with. Lowguns does not tell them that he has revealed everything to the Lady, who is mourning the loss of Super Secret Agent Costner (who is said to be reassigned, which is kind of like the show Joey being on hiatus). Lowguns assures them that all is well, but he is sniveling more than Nixon right before the Checkers Speech.

All this time Robo has been handcuffed with Audrey holding a gun on him (some men might kill for this opportunity, by the way). He sees the cell phone and goads her into feeling a daughterly duty to save her daddy. Nuts has been in the lake for thirty minutes. He might have an air bubble. We can save him. Blah-blah-blah. Audrey is a little jittery and wants so badly to give him the .45 caliber tonsillectomy he so richly deserves, but her hands are shaking and she just can’t pull the trigger.

Robo’s men suddenly come on the same helicopter that sent Daddy Nuts into the drink, and Audrey runs and prepares to use the gun as necessary; however, Curtis appears and his men take out Robo’s dudes and get him too (man, that was just way too easy). Audrey is safe and on her way back to CTU (wait, nobody is safe there, especially with Robo and Jerko Bierko in the house).

Meanwhile, Jack wants to get on that plane real bad but has misplaced the frequent flier miles somewhere in that bag of tricks he’s been carrying. Our hero has been informed by Chloe that it is a diplomatic flight (which explains why it could be flying during a time of curfew and martial law), so Jack knows the tape is in the hands of someone probably very important on that plane. So, how the hell is Jack getting on that jet? No problem: he stows away on top of a truck, gets inside the gate, grabs two pieces of luggage, puts his hood over his head, and walks up the freight ramp like any other baggage handler. Man, Jack is a creative dude.

As Episode 19 ends Jack is secure in the baggage compartment of the jet, so we know we’re in for a bumpy ride. Will the Homeland Security team get to Bill and Chloe before Chloe can tell Jack what he needs to know about that flight? Will Touchy Feely find out that Cruella warned Bill and is turning away from the dark side? Will it take three weeks for Curtis to get Audrey and Robo back to CTU? Will Lady MacDeath keep her promise to be quiet or will she and The Grimace find a way to stop her slithering husband? Finally, does the flight Jack is on serve breakfast? The poor bastard must be starving.

Until next week, Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Episode 18 of 24: Double, Double, Oil and Trouble

By Victor Lana


There are always those characters on 24 who seem to make a complete turnaround during the course of the season. Think Erin Driscoll in Season Four or Nina Meyers in Season One and you know what I mean. Since the writers and producers of the series have admitted many times to “making this stuff up” as the season progresses, then it’s no wonder why President Lowguns has gone from The Incredible Mr. Limpet to Bad to the Bone Chief Executive during the course of Season 5.

Jack meets Bill to deposit Wayne Palmer for safe keeping. How and why Bill appears like this is not explained, but Jack must have called him during the commercial break (Jack’s cell is still cranking out with no problems). Bill looks old, like he’s aged since Karen Cruella Mean to Bill and her lackey Miles Touchy Feely threw him out of CTU (but we’re seeing him for the first time outside of that weird lighting on the CTU set). So Old Bill takes Wayne away and then Jack is free for his meeting with Audrey and her father.

Jack arrives at Van Nuys Airport in a police car just as Secretary of Defense Nuts Landing and Audrey are embracing (but with not that much emotion). It seems Nuts is kind of bothered by the whole mess, and when he sees Jack there’s no, “How are you buddy; thought you were dead” kind of thing. It’s more of Nuts getting angry, then listening to the tape implicating Lowguns, and getting Jack with a pretty nifty karate chop to the neck (Jack was probably pissed he didn’t see that coming). Soon Jack and Audrey are handcuffed to a pole in a storeroom and Nuts is off for his big confrontation with Lowguns (leaving the tape with evidence of Lowguns’s guilt behind with one of his flunkies).

Meanwhile, back at CTU Cruella and Touchy are out to get Chloe Babe for helping Audrey help Jack. Touchy is really hot for Chloe now, wanting to get her in a holding room and well, we’re not sure yet. Twitchy Girl sets Chloe up (obviously forgetting that Touchy tried to Feely her) and then Chloe’s in that pen and Touchy is there too. The really nice twist is that Chloe touches Touchy (got that?) and takes his security card in the process. Touchy gets all bent out of shape saying, “Don’t you touch me” making Chloe realize that Twitchy Girl is truly Nutso Girl. She uses this to her advantage while escaping CTU (apparently it’s as easy to get out of CTU Headquarters as it is to get in), and Touchy Feely lets her go into that good night. Chloe goes off to Bill’s place where she is ready to set up a mini-CTU no doubt to assist Jack’s every need.

At the ranch Lady MacDeath is desperate to get Lowguns into bed. It’s apparent that he and she are not making whoopee too often if at all. Lowguns is still adjusting to having that synthetic spine shoved into his back, so he’s not ready to stop quivering and get it on with the Lady. Then she hears that Nuts Landing wants to see him immediately, and that gets her all the more suspicious. To whom does she go but her Super Secret Serviceman Costner, and they get all close in the face like Whitney and Kevin ready to lip-lock, but Costner tells her he’ll meet her in the barn (MacDeath no doubt thinks “roll in the hay” and is all gushy about it). When Lady MacDeath does go to the stable, Costner is not there. She calls him on her cell and hears it ringing; she finds Costner’s cell in the hay (alas, no passionate moment). Where the hell is Costner?

Lowguns and Nuts face-off in a scene that should make diehard 24 fans just drool, and during the heated confrontation Lowguns reveals the ultimate motivation for his acts of treason that day: oil. It’s not surprising to us now that oil has inched over $70 a barrel (thus making gas reach the $3 a gallon mark) that Lowguns would be concerned about oil topping $100 a barrel someday, but to secure the oil for the country he has allowed innocent Americans to be at risk, many to die from the Sentox gas, and the assassination of President Palmer. Talk about impeachable offenses!

Nuts tells Lowguns he wants his resignation and the search for Jack called off. Lowguns while sniveling in the presence of this manly-man is thinking about Robo Henderson, whom he has dispatched to the airport to secure the tape. He has lied to Homeland Security about sending a military unity to get Jack, and Mike The Grimace Novick suspects something is wrong here too. Mike questions the Prez and gets rebuffed, but now Mike knows the truth that something is wrong also.

Jack and Audrey are still handcuffed to the pole with no time for a quickie. Jack decides to rise to the occasion in a different way and somehow climbs the pole and burns the restraints on his hands to get free. Soon Audrey is also free, a lackey is down, and Jack is asking Audrey to secure him. This is another 24 staple: Jack separates fromsomeone in a desperate situation and then that person gets in trouble. Jack goes outside and takes down Nuts Landing’s other lackey on the tarmac, taking back the tape with evidence to incriminate Lowguns. At the same moment Robo Henderson arrives via helicopter with his new team (AKA: dispensable bad guys), but Robo slips off into the hangar while Jack (with lackey’s help) takes out the team.

How does Robo know enough to go into the hangar if he’s being engaged outside? This is stretching it, but now we start thinking Audrey’s white coat is going to get like Mr. Tachacki’s suit in Die Hard. Jack knows Robo has gone in after Audrey, so he quickly dispatches the baddies, hops over the dead body of lackey (once again proving that any minor character who helps Jack dies), and is soon inside looking for his old Bud and his Babe.

Robo wants the tape and will exchange Audrey for it. He sends her out of hiding with blood dripping from her left hand (there goes the coat), and he tells Jack it’s some kind of artery and she has three minutes to live. Jack battles his inner conflict (maybe thinking about how he once told Tony to give up Michelle in a similar situation in Season 3), but he decides to make the switch and throws the tape to Robo, who promptly escapes. Jack ties off the artery and gets all snuggly with Audrey. He can’t lose her, man. No way can he lose another woman!

Lowguns temporary spine is almost popping out of his back as Nuts places a letter of resignation on the desk. Vice President Potato Chip Garner just happens to saunter into the office and witness the moment. Lowguns is just about to tell Potato Chip the deal when his cell rings. Of course, Robo has the tape and now the temporary spine snaps back into place and Lowguns stops sniveling. Nuts launches into a tirade in front of Potato Chip accusing Lowguns of his treason before the Secret Service escort him out of the house (why Lowguns doesn’t have Nuts locked up is surprising). Potato Chip stares at the Prez with his best Twin Peaks glare, and we know everything is place for more turmoil in the next episode.

Will Jack get back the tape? Will he ever kill Robo (who is escaping more frequently and annoyingly than Marwan last season)? Where is Costner? Will Mike and Potato Chip combine the power of their facial expressions to undo the Prez? Will Bill and Chloe be able to help Jack? Will Curtis ever get back to CTU with Jerko Bierko? And finally, and most importantly, will Audrey find a dry cleaner open at this hour to take care of that damned coat?


Until next week, Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

New York Mets Pay Tribute to Number 42


By Victor Lana


There are those rare moments on the baseball diamond when what happens there before the game matters more than during it. One of those times occurred yesterday at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York, when the New York Mets organization honored the late Jackie Robinson on the 59th anniversary of the day he started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, thus knocking down the hideous color barrier in baseball once and for all.

The sun was shining gloriously on this day at Shea, reminding me of those best days I’ve had there in my youth when the Mets were winning big games. I also remember moments of tribute like this, mostly for players like Rusty Staub or Mike Piazza. I don’t remember if the Mets won games on those days, but I will never forget the way the Mets honored those people. That lasts forever.

It was only last week when I wrote an article about how I hoped the new stadium for the New York Mets would be named for Jackie Robinson. I wrote of the obvious connections between Brooklyn Dodger fans and Mets fans, how in my family and countless others like mine that the love, sweat, and tears once shed for the beloved Brooklyn Bums had been transposed to the equally loved Amazins of Queens.

There is a fierce loyalty amongst Mets fans, but that also extends to a sort of kinship with essence of Dodger memory. Besides great former Dodger players either having played for or coached or managed the Mets, there is the supreme and transcending legacy of 1955: the year the Boys of Summer took on the Bronx Bombers and shook their ivory tower by winning the World Series. No Met fan alive isn’t still happy about that or not looking forward to the day (perhaps in October 2006) when the Mets can return the favor to the old boys in blue and send Torre, Jeter, and company home with their tails between their legs.

So yesterday there was one of those timeless days of honor and tradition. Huge Number 42 logos were painted on the field, and there was Willie Randolph standing in the sunshine with Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, along with president of Major League Baseball Bob DuPuy. I felt the thrill of sweet serendipity as Willie, native son of Brooklyn and orange and blue in the blood Mets fan growing up, stood there with Mrs. Robinson. How fitting that the first black manager ofthe New York Mets stood there with the wife of the first black player in baseball, who also happened to be a Brooklyn Dodger!

Randolph, who has the same grace and dignity for which Jackie Robinson was so well known, explained that he has pictures of Jackie in his office at Shea and thinks about him every day. And well he should, for because of Jackie Robinson there are so many talented players of color in all sports, enhancing the playing level and enjoyment of the game. Of course, Jackie Robinson is synonymous with opening doors both figurative and literal, and that is why the Jackie Robinson Foundation established in his honor has provided college scholarships to over one thousand needy students in the last twenty-five years. One of those students, currently studying at Rutgers, was there to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Just for the record, the student was white, and I think that speaks well for Jackie’s legacy. He is one of the most significant figures in baseball history not just because he was the first black man to play in the majors, but more because he stood for opportunity for all.

The ceremony was touching yet without pomp and circumstance, which seemed to me to be just the way Jackie would have wanted it. Still and all the images of Jackie that flashed on the huge DiamondVision in the outfield sent a powerful and lasting message of accomplishment. I know the Mets lost that game yesterday, but that’s not what is important. Ten or more years from now I will remember the indelible moment of Randolph and Rachel Robinson basking in the sunshine, of a young girl who got the chance to go to college and also throw a ball on the field at Shea, and I will recall that day was all about what that mattered most: honoring the legacy of one of the greatest baseball players of all time.



Copyright Ó Victor Lana 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Mystery and Glory of Holy Week

By Victor Lana



As my four year old daughter and I left a department store yesterday, we were confronted by a giant electronic Easter Bunny who was rising out of a cracked egg. The bunny’s arms were outstretched and had a silly grin on his face, and then he suddenly dropped back inside the egg keeping my daughter spellbound. After a few seconds, the bunny rose again with his silly grin and floppy ears, and I hurried my daughter away knowing that she loved it, but the problem for me is that this kind of thing reconfirms what she has been seeing for weeks now.

Everywhere we go there are bunnies, little chickens, colorful Easter eggs, and baskets overflowing with candy and toys. If she were to judge by just what she has seen, Easter would be about nothing but a bunny who inexplicably comes from an egg and then distributes more of them along with goodies to good little girls and boys. There is nothing there that is religious in nature, and that’s probably why it is appealingly safe for retailers, school teachers, and advertisers.

Let’s face it, Easter is a difficult holiday when one looks at the reality of it. In church last week as palms were distributed for Palm Sunday, my daughter watched silently and listened to the readings. When we went outside after Mass, she asked me if the palms were like flowers because Jesus had died. I went on to explain what they meant and also that we would talk about how and why Jesus died later on. This little exchange reminded me of a time (I must have been around five) when I told my father that I liked the Baby Jesus much better than the older Jesus. Of course, Baby Jesus is soft, cuddly, and easy to like (and he comes at Christmas along with Santa and his toys), but the adult Jesus who dies on the cross is a tough thing for a child to understand let alone like.

Growing up as a Catholic here in New York City, I was probably more confused about Holy Week than anything else in the faith I was being taught. The good Dominican Sisters did their best to instill the catechism and scripture in our hearts, but my mind wandered sometimes back to only a few months before when we were celebrating the birth of a little baby. When I was very young, I didn’t understand how that baby grew so fast between Christmas and Easter.

As I got older and understood the timeline of events, I still had a hard time with the reality of Holy Week as something to celebrate. It is a rather grim moment in time when we reach what we call Holy Thursday because we know the Last Supper is going to be indeed Christ’s last meal, and yet we are taught to find this also glorious because here Jesus teaches his Apostles the sacrament of the Eucharist, celebrating what is ostensibly the first Mass and thereby displacing the tradition of the Seder.

At some point during this meal and before the actual breaking of the bread, Jesus turns to Judas and tells him to do what he must do. Thus, Judas leaves the room and does not have the opportunity to consume the bread made flesh or drink the wine made blood. No matter what grade level I was in, this always seemed to be an obvious punishment in and of itself for Judas, for he failed to receive the sacrament and then went on to betray Jesus and ultimately hang himself once he realized his sin.

Once the object of the meal is complete, Jesus and his followers went to the Garden of Gethsemane for prayer and reflection. While Peter and the rest were a bit drunk on the wine and fall off to sleep, Jesus had what I have always believed to be his most human moment (except for that time in the temple when he goes ballistic on the vendors and money lenders). Here Jesus fell to his knees and begged for the cup to pass from his lips. His godhood was subsumed briefly by his humanity, and he wanted to keep his human life despite all its frailties and afflictions.

This brief time in the garden always frightened me the most, because whether or not it was Satan who was using this human frailty to advantage (the scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ takes us in this direction), this does show how afraid Jesus was about dying. I do understand now that this makes us aware of the duality of Christ’s nature and helps us understand better that he was given a soul with freedom of choice just like all of us. In the end Jesus acquiesced to his father’s will and prepared himself for the horror that awaited him the following day.

Judas brought the Temple Guard into the garden and betrayed his friend with a kiss. Jesus was taken away and brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of elders for the Jews. Here he was questioned and eventually sentenced to death for saying that he was the Son of God. Since the Jews did not have the authority to put anyoneto death under Roman occupation, Jesus was sent off to the procurator Pontius Pilate in hopes that he would see the danger Jesus posed and crucify him.

I know how this all turns out, but of course each time I read the scriptures or see a film, I wonder what it would have taken to change things. Surely Pilate, despite being a corrupt bureaucrat, would have seen that Jesus was just a poor itinerant preacher wanting to be some kind of prophet and was no danger to Rome. Yet, despite the reality of this, Jesus was dragged in front of the gathering crowd outside and put alongside a murderer and thief named Barabbas. Pilate asked the crowd which one should be released, and the multitudes (prompted by the Temple Guard under the direction of the High Priests) inexplicably screamed for Barabbas to be freed, thus condemning Jesus to death.

This part always puzzles me the most. Here was an odd crowd indeed, for many of them no doubt had lined the streets of Jerusalem only that previous Sunday to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem by waving palms and singing his praises vociferously with “Hosanna.” Now they screamed for a murderer and thief to be spared, knowing that Jesus would die because of it. I didn’t understand it as a kid, and now I believe it is just part of the fickle nature of human beings. Once Jesus had been taken into custody, was stripped of his dignity, and had been scourged, he appeared to them as frail and human as any one of them. They were right about that part but the ultimate spiritual message was lost on them.

I always thought calling this day Jesus was crucified “Good Friday” was a strange thing. I wanted to call it “Dark Friday” or “Solemn Friday” or whatever else, but the obvious compulsion toward solemnity is not required here. Yes, Jesus was brutally murdered on the cross, but the ensuing vigil always leads to a glorious moment on Easter Sunday when a victory over death is assured. So even in my darkest despair, I know that I will feel a little leap in my soul two days later, which is probably nothing compared to the overwhelming joy his followers must have felt when they first saw the risen Jesus.

I haven’t gone into details about the dying and resurrection with my daughter yet because she is just like I was when I was little, and I know she wants everything, not just endings, to be happy. So, for now, I will accept the bunnies, eggs, and little chicks associated with the holiday. This Sunday we will get up, have our Easter Egg hunt, get dressed for Mass, and enjoy the most lovely service of the liturgical year. I’ll do this knowing that one day, when she is old enough, I will sit her down and tell her about the real importance of Easter: the great gift of eternal life that came from the sacrifice of one man whom I believe happened to be the Son of God.


Copyright Ó Victor Lana 2006

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Episode 17 of 24: You Can Bank on It

Episode 17 of 24: You Can Bank on It

By Victor Lana


As the excitement and conflict continue to escalate on 24 this week, we can see a brilliant use of drama and action to facilitate the move up the ladder toward an inevitably bloody Shakespearean kind of climax and resolution. This season more than ever has revolved around the head of state and, just as Old Will focused his tragedies on kings and queens whose flaws were their undoing, we see President Lowguns and Lady McDeath moving along a similar path. Now, since their underlings either know the truth or are starting to surmise that there is indeed something rotten in the state of things, we can look for a stage no doubt littered with corpses before the final act is over.

Last night’s episode revolved around “the tape” that would incriminate old Lowguns, who has suddenly grown a spine this week. Evelyn has the tape hidden in a safety deposit box, thus Jack and Wayne Palmer decide to kidnap the bank president (how Evelyn knows his home address is a mystery) in order to infiltrate the bank, enter the vault, and recover the tape. As soon as Jack and Wayne kidnap the Bank Dick, we know for sure he is toast (this is a consistent formula in the world of 24: an minor character who helps Jack is almost certain to end up dead.

Back at the funny farm Lowguns talks to Robo Henderson on the phone, and by now it is obvious that the President has known about everything that has happened this day and is behind most of it. Robo Henderson has been driving for the last two episodes without ever being stopped despite a curfew; damn, either his car has the Klingon’s Cloak of Invisibility contraption or he is just a very fast driver. Despite his being behind the wheel, Robo has managed to assemble a team to hunt for Jack and gets his opportunity when Evelyn’s daughter calls 911 because her mother has collapsed in a hotel room.

Over at CTU things are not going so well. Miles, the Touchy Feely guy, and his boss Karen Cruella Mean-to Bill are not happy with the Homeland Security takeover of the agency. Cruella starts doubting whether they are right to be doing this so quickly and inefficiently, but Touchy Feely is certain they are on the right track because he has lots of women he can harass in the office, most especially Chloe and, hey, the Twitchy Girl is somehow back (didn’t all of CTU get fired and sent home like Bill?) Cruella also indicates that Jerko Bierko is in the house and soon to be interrogated (probably by Burke who has the shakes because he needs his fix of hurting someone real bad). Of course, this also means that Jerko will somehow escape ala Robo and lots of other bad guys in the past who always manage to punch their way through CTU’s paper bag security.

Audrey tells Cruella that she is going home to sleep, but Cruella knows she must be meeting Jack. Touchy Feely arranges for a tracking device to be placed on Audrey’s car, but with Chloe’s help Audrey stops at a gas station, removes the device, and places it on a truck. Chloe is almost caught by Touchy Feely as she makes believe she is leaving the bathroom, and there is that tension from knowing that Touchy wants to Feely her in some way and that gets Chloe out of a jam yet again (the ghost of Edgar is no doubt roaming the halls of CTU and watching over her). Meanwhile, Audrey talks to her father on the phone and asks for help. Secretary of Defense Nuts Landing, who is on his way back home on his private jet, agrees to meet her at the airport. It’s good to see Nuts back, but we must wonder how far he will go to help Jack against Lowguns.

Robo Henderson goes to the hotel room and kills the paramedics who have been helping Evelyn. The daughter screams when she sees Robo do this, and the camera pans to his face and he is looking more like an evil version of that robotic Detroit cop than ever before. They’re doing something with the lighting, making his face at once bathed in red and yet also glowing as if he is indeed mechanical inside. It’s a nice touch with this character who is as much of a killing machine as our man Jack, but since he is not in touch with his softer side (Jack after all loves Audrey, Kim, a good knife, etc.), we know Robo is irredeemably bad (hey, he even was willing to let his wife take a bullet previously this season). We soon see him back in the car talking on the phone with Evelyn and her daughter nowhere to be found, so we know they have probably gone into that great big Behrooz Room in the sky (where character’s whose endings are not definite but it seems likely they are dead go for all eternity).

Back at the castle (I mean western White House), Vice President Potato Chip Garner

and our main man Super Secret Service Agent Costner are both becoming wise to Lowguns in some way. A scene between Potato Chip and Lowguns right before a press conference seals the deal, for now Lowguns has revealed that he has put out an order to arrest Jack Bauer (which Costner overhears). As Potato Chip questions Lowguns, we can see the snivel coming back to his jowls, the temporary spine trying to wriggle out of place. Lowguns ends up holding his ground, but Potato Chip gives his best Twin Peaks glare to let us know that all is not right between them.

Costner, who has become a more important character this season and deservedly so, does the honorable thing among heroes and calls Jack. As I mentioned last week, Jack has the best cell phone batteries in the world. Also, wasn’t this guy supposed to be dead for 18 months? How does everyone have his cell number? Kind of a little thing, but strange nonetheless. Anyway, Jack appreciates Costner’s call and knows that there is a search under way and a warrant for his arrest. Still he, Wayne, and Bank Dick make their way inside the bank only to soon be surrounded by Robo’s men.

A little hocus and lots of pocus later, Jack is in the vault and listening to the tape with Wayne and Bank Dick standing by. Indeed, the tape is incriminating, showing that Lowguns was talking to Robo about the assassination of David Palmer and giving Jack just the proof he needs to capture the conscience of the king (or maybe he’ll just rip his heart out). Now Jack figures that if they trip the silent alarm, LAPD will show up and engage Robo’s men, giving them time to escape. Jack is always right of course, and soon the black and whites pull up and the party begins. The three try to escape, but not before Bank Dick is wounded. By the time Jack asks Wayne how the guy is doing, Wayne tells him Bank Dick is dead. Jack gets on the phone and Audrey tells him that she’s meeting her father at the airport, so Jack agrees to bring the evidence there forthwith to present to Nuts Landing.

With seven episodes of 24 left this season, we can only wonder what will bring down Lowguns. It’s a clever twist to have a tape recording possibly be his undoing, since Lowguns looks so much like Nixon and this happened to him. Also, Lady McDeath is clearly on a downward spiral herself, and it seems only a matter of time before she is trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands. When she finds out the depth of her husband’s guilt, will she try to kill herself and will Costner be there to stop her?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a possibility for a truly Shakespearian ending here with corpses everywhere. With Homeland Security up against CTU, with at least one Secret Service agent aware of the treachery of the President, with Potato Chip in charge of the procedures for martial law and questioning Lowguns’s authority, with Robo Henderson running around with an apparently ever ready militia at his bidding, and our man Jack poised to kill or be killed, there is plenty of opportunity for death and destruction. Can we hope when the dust settles that Jack is the one left standing? Uh, yeah, you can bank on it.


Sunday, April 9, 2006

A Fitting Name for the New York Mets' New Ballpark: Jackie Robinson Field

A Fitting Name for the New York Mets' New Ballpark: Jackie Robinson Field

By Victor Lana



The City of New York and the New York Mets have unveiled plans for the new stadium that will replace Shea Stadium on Opening Day in 2009. One major question is this: what should be the name of this new park? Shea Stadium was named for lawyer William Shea, whom Mayor Lindsay at the time noted was the most instrumental person in getting the place built, thus the appellation for the place that the Mets have called home for forty-two years was odd but understandable; however, they will have to give the new stadium a different name, and I believe it should be Jackie Robinson Field.

The connections between the New York Mets and the Brooklyn Dodgers are quite tangible and most vivid for Mets fans, especially those persons who are fifty-five years old and older. Just like our Mets, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the underdog team in a city dominated by the damn Yankees across the river. They were a blue-collar team to be sure (as Newsday sportswriter Jon Heyman has noted, the Yankees are “about as blue-collar as Monte Carlo”), having a deep fan base in the poor and working classes in Brooklyn, Queens, and later Long Island. While they had some amazing players over the years (Duke Snider no doubt being their best all around player who eventually rivaled Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle as the top centerfielder in baseball), none had such a visceral and long lasting impact as Jackie Robinson.

Whatever the motivation was for Branch Rickey to sign Robinson (and I have heard many varying stories over the years), the fact that the first black player in the Major Leagues was on the Dodgers changed baseball and American society forever. World War Two had ended only two years before and the armed forces were still segregated during that time; when the Korean Conflict started a few years later, our forces would be integrated and there would be a move across the country to do the same thing in schools, the workforce, and in communities.

Jackie Robinson opened the door and behind him hundreds of other black players were waiting. Robinson was an exemplary person, an extraordinary ballplayer, and his success and good will were felt by players of all colors. Because of Robinson, the Major Leagues slowly becamediversified and play rose to an infinitely better level. My grand uncle, who played in the minor leagues in the 1920s, said, “Our white team was always beaten when we played against the black teams in pick-up games because the blacks were better players,” so this influx of talent certainly pushed all players to be better athletes out of necessity.

Another reason the new stadium should be named for Jackie Robinson can be found along a snaking road that connects Brooklyn to Queens and Long Island that used to be called The Interboro Parkway. It is a terrible road with sharp curves and narrow lanes, and I know because I’ve driven along it many times in my life. The traffic is always backed up along this route; it has only two lanes going in either direction, and the precipitous turns and short exit and entrance ramps make drivers slow down for safety. Back in 1972, my eighteen year old cousin was killed in an accident while riding his motorcycle along its most dangerous stretch through Cypress Hills, where quite fittingly there are cemeteries on either side.

It is not a road I’ve ever felt fondly about, that is until a few years ago when the name was changed to The Jackie Robinson Parkway to honor the groundbreaking ballplayer from the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was along this curving thoroughfare that winds its way through Brooklyn cemeteries and Queens parklands that Mets manager Willie Randolph’s father used to drive him from Brooklyn into Queens to see Mets games. Little did young Willie know that the parkway would one day be renamed for the great Jackie Robinson whom he so admired or that he would be the skipper (and first black manager) of the team that he so loved.

As I watched the presentation about the new stadium (I saw it here in New York City on the new Mets Channel SNY), I knew many people would be excited by this development, but I felt it was bittersweet for I have so many memories connected to that place. Shea is hallowed ground for Mets fans: most notably left field, where Cleon Jones genuflected as he squeezed the fly ball for out number three and the Mets first World Series victory in 1969, and the mound, where Jesse Orosco threw that last strike of the 1986 World Series.

It has also been a sight for rock concerts, visits by the Pope, and a venue for other conventions and convocations. Most hallowed of all ground is the area around second base that should be preserved forever to mark the place where the stage stoodfor the legendary Beatles appearance in 1965. Before the Beatles, no rock and roll act could have sold out a 57,000-seat stadium, but they were like no other band before or since. I recall reading once that John always said that the concert at Shea Stadium was not only his most exciting moment as a Beatle, but also was the defining moment for the band in terms of popularity and their legacy.

Despite these things, Shea Stadium has no doubt outlived its viability as a sports arena. If you’ve ever attended a game there, you know that there is a strange alignment of seats to the field. No matter where you sit, it seems you’re pointed toward the outfield wall. My theory on this is that the stadium was built with the thought of also accommodating a football team, which it eventually did (New York Jets). The trouble was that the seats were no better suited for football than they were for baseball, but that was always part of the fun at Shea. There were also the horribly slow escalators, the horrendous odor in the bathrooms, and the tedious wait at the vendor counters in long lines with no way to see the action on the field.

I’ve provided the following information and believe you will find it interesting when comparing and contrasting the new ballpark with old Shea:





Opening Day



Total Capacity

45,000 (approximately)


Seating Categories

Concourse Level: 18,000

Club Level: 7,800

Promenade Level: 15,500

Field Level: 11,149

Loge Level: 8,852

Mezzanine Level: 14,156

Upper Deck: 20,420

Seat Width

19” to 24” (21” average)

19” to 20” (19” average)

Legroom Between Rows

33” to 39”


Average Concourse Width

46’ - Concourse Level

40’ - Promenade Level

23’ - Field Level

18’ - Loge Level

25’ - Mezzanine Level

18’ - Upper Deck

Wheelchair Seating



Luxury Suites



Restaurants (capacity)

Ebbets Lounge: 734

Sterling Lounge: 1,600

Left Field Club: 500

Promenade Grill: 500

Diamond Club: 309

The Grill Room: 219

Field Dimensions

Left Field: 335

Left Center: 379

Center: 408

Right Center: 391

Right Field: 330

Left Field: 338

Left Center: 371

Center: 410

Right Center: 371

Right Field: 338

*Statistics taken from New York Newsday

Fortunately, all the many things that have plagued fans at Shea have been considered in the planning for the construction of the new ballpark. It seems the first and foremost priority was aesthetics, and that is very pleasing to this fan. Reminiscent of the old home of the Dodgers in Brooklyn, the new structure will have striking brick arches along the façade with limestone and granite flourishes; the arches will contain semicircle windows in the top of each arch just like the ones in Ebbets Field. There will be space made for commemorative bronze plaques along the top of the building, and any exposed steel will be painted in rich Mets blue. This kind of return to a traditional styled park will please most Mets fans, for Shea has always been a clash of 60s modernism and practicality with the harsh reality of its obviously unpleasant structural incongruities.

Also, looking at the statistics above, one can see that the goal was to make the amenities available to a smaller and more comfortable crowd. The Upper Deck at Shea has always been nosebleed land, and the wind whipping off Flushing Bay swooshed around those seats unmercifully. Now there will only be two major seating decks and a Club Level for the lounges and restaurants. All the facilities will have easy viewing of the action on the field, and the Promenade Grill sounds most promising as a restaurant that will be hanging down from that level and almost over the action on the field.

Listening to Jeff Wilpon, son of team owner and former Brooklyn Dodger fan Fred Wilpon, talking about the project made me convinced that this was a labor of love. There were original plans for a domed stadium prior to 9/11, but Mr. Wilpon indicated that event changed everything, including the vision for this new park. Now the park is being designed to be more intimate, with a good deal less ground in foul territory because of seats that will extremely close to the field. And, speaking of seats, there has been obvious attention to the fact that watching games at Shea used to be uncomfortable. The seats will be wider and legroom has been increased significantly.

Besides all the technical information that is impressive, most of all I think the city and the Mets organization have done justice to baseball history. The New York Met fans of today would not exist without the Dodger fans of yesterday. Dodger fans lived for their team, even when it was losing, and they went to games in a small ballpark where there was significant opportunity for exchange with each other and the players too. This has been recognized in the planning of this new park, and in my mind it takes a great deal of love to say we will design a park with ten thousand less seats in order that each fan who does attend a game will feel right at home. That’s a design that doesn’t have making money as a top priority (for more seats = more tickets = more money).

The Dodger fans of the past gave birth to the Met fans of the present. It has been a sometimes difficult process, but all the love, sweat, blood, and tears that were transferred meant more than just the change of a borough (Brooklyn to Queens) or change in name (Dodgers to Mets). For in the end, the quintessence of passion, spirit, and love of team has been passed on to Mets fans. Anyone who has ever been at Shea when it’s a full house and has heard the fans screaming “Let’s Go Mets” will know exactly what I mean.

The Mets are recognizing their connection to the past with the new stadium taking on the ghost of Ebbets Field and giving shape to a new and lasting presence in brick and steel.

Now that the city and the Mets organization have done so much right in the planning of this new park, it is time to make the right call and name the park after the greatest Dodger of all: Jackie Robinson. In that way we will be honoring his memory, his team’s legacy, and the hope for the future of Mets baseball will be very bright indeed.

Copyright Ó Victor Lana 2006

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Thinking About a "Do-Over" on Baseball's Opening Day

Thinking About a “Do-Over” on Baseball’s Opening Day

By Victor Lana


Ah, Opening Day! As I observe the jubilant people sitting around me in the mezzanine section behind home plate at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York, I think, “Is there a more purely happy moment for any baseball fan?” There is an at once familiar yet new aroma in the ballpark of fresh paint and simmering hotdogs, a chill in the air (courtesy of the wind blowing off Flushing Bay), and the grass on the playing field has never looked greener. The base paths are pristine; the blue and orange seats glisten even in the mist of the rainy April day, and the ballplayers all seem young, strong, and fiercely ready for the season.

Opening Day is like spring itself: a time of renewal, of invigorated spirit, and hope for what is to come. On this day every regular player stands equal: all are batting .000 and have no homers or runs batted in. The pitchers all have an 0.00 earned run average and have no strikeouts or walks. It is the one moment, however fleeting, when all players are different and yet very much alike. As a Met fan who has seen many years of poor performance from his team, there has always been that wonderful feeling on Opening Day that we were just as good as any other team on paper, though this indubitably would change after the first pitch was thrown.

This year is supposed to be a little different at Shea, and yet the ceremonial first pitch was being thrown by Jesse Orosco to good old Gary Carter. Talk about nostalgia to a Met fan, and he or she has no choice but to look back whimsically at 1986. The sight of these two guys makes me get a little teary eyed (but I claim it’s that damn wind off the bay), for I recall that night in 1986 when Orosco threw that last pitch of the World Series, got Boston’s Marty Barrett out, and threw his glove up into the hazy night sky over Shea. Gary Carter ran out to the mound to embrace him, and our city erupted in a frenzy unseen since 1969 (at least for Mets fans).

Back in the 1980s the Mets owned New York City. It was a blissful time, a dreamtime for Met fans, and the always despised Yankees were just a bunch of has-beens across the river. We had no idea what would be coming in the 90s, that a former Met named Joe Torre would defect to the Bronx and turn everything ugly. The name Jeter was meaningless (he was just some funny guy on that show Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds and his toupee), and we had no idea that much of the city would turn on us, even former Met fans, because the Yankees juggernaut would be so overwhelming and last so long.

So as I sit there and watch Orosco and Carter run off the field and see the new 2006 Mets take their positions, I feel a tingling along my arms and know we have a chance for something special once again. There is David Wright at third and Jose Reyes at short where he has always belonged, and I think that there probably hasn’t been two more exciting and talented young guys playing alongside each other since Boston’s Jim Rice and Fred Lynn back in the 1970s. These are the new Met stars, and along with Carlos times two (Beltran and Delgado), Cliff Floyd, and the rest, we are looking at what should be a very good year. Even so, I turn to my old friend and say, “I want a do-over.”

He laughs because that’s something he hasn’t heard in a long time. “A do-over for what?” he asks.

I am thinking at first for 1986 to happen again, but that really isn’t what I mean. It is all the sordid stuff that has happened since 1986, most specifically the steroid mess that has ruined baseball. I want to get rid of the McGwire-Sosa homer competition because, even though it seemed to make the term “national pastime” relevant again, it was a farce, a sleight of hand by tricksters who had pumped themselves up like alien creatures. I want a “do-over” to get back to a purity of the game, something I can still smell in the air on this Opening Day, despite the noxious fumes from the malevolent shadows of Bonds, Palmiero, Giambi, Canseco and others who have almost irreparably scarred this magnificent game.

When we were kids the “do-over” was a simple solution to a multitude of problems. Since we played in the street, there were many things that could happen that only a “do-over” could make right. For example, if someone hit the ball and it bounced off one of those cars parked along the street, one of us would immediately yell out, “Do-ovah!” If the ball hit a lamppost, a trash can, an electrical wire, or went down a sewer, that was also time for the all powerful “do-over.” More importantly, since we were playing these games without any umpires, the “do-over” was especially helpful when someone did something untoward (like shoving a player or running out of the base path). Any infraction that could not be settled (one side said “out” and the other said “safe” was the classic example) was solved with the “do-over.”

Perhaps the “do-over” was a placebo, but that didn’t matter because it worked so well. Growing up here in New York City, there were limited places for us to play real baseball. We could walk up to the field at PS 68 and hope it was free, but that was usually not the case. Besides, it was a cement field with no possibility for stealing a base, diving to make a catch, or sliding into home plate. For somewhat innocent kids who fervently believed in the “purity” of the game, it goes without saying that we felt this was a compromised version of the sport we loved. Thus, we turned to stickball.

Stickball is a New York City sport that is played in many variations (with gloves, without gloves; with a rubber ball, with a tennis ball, etc.) . The great Willie Mays grew up playing stickball, and we knew this and it inspired us. One kid would come down the street with his mother’s old broom handle; another would bring the electrical tape to wind around one end to protect the batter’s hands, and someone else brought the ball which was usually a Spaldeen, though sometimes we’d get lucky and someone bought a bright pink Pense Pinky (those always traveled farther when hit). One of us always had a hunk of chalk to make home plate and the bases, and then we were ready for action.

We spent hours playing this game we loved. In the street we usually bounced the ball and hit it basically for practical purposes: Either we didn’t have a catcher or, if we did, we didn’t want the ball to be missed and roll down the block into the sewer. Over the years many balls were lost in the NYC sewer system, though we had perfected a wonderful way to “fish” for these balls using connected wire hangers that we straightened and bent a small loop at the end to hook the ball. I stuck my arm down many sewer gratings, determined to get that blackened pink ball despite the rats big as cats swimming below. We weren’t ready to spend another 25 cents for a new ball if we could help it.

If we had the inclination and it wasn’t too hot, we’d all walk up to the supermarket and use the back wall as our backstop. Drawing a large rectangle on the wall in chalk for a strike zone, we then could pitch the ball and be assured it would come back toward the pitcher (unless the hitter socked it). The supermarket parking lot spawned all new reasons for “do-overs,” must notably the haphazardly left shopping carts, parked trucks, and garbage bins that were in the way.

No matter how much we loved stickball, it was the Mets we were emulating (even in their darkest times). Living in Queens and just a bus ride away from Shea, we all became devoted fans in 1969 and then continued that way into our adult lives. Any kid who liked the Yankees (and there were a few to be found in the area) was a traitor, and we certainly let him know how we felt about his wrong choice in teams in a vociferous way as he’d walk down the block.

More than anything else, we believed passionately in the game. We used to watch wrestling on Channel 9 on Saturday nights and laugh because we knew it was fake, but baseball was real as anything could or should be. What happened between those baselines was a religious experience, the communion of ball and bat a true sacrament, the players all men restricted by the holiest order imaginable: the integrity of the rules of baseball.

Our passion for the game increased as we got older, even after we left the unique tapping sound of the dropped stickball bat on pavement as the hitter raced toward first base behind. We got jobs, some of us married, and we all moved away from the old neighborhood and left our ghosts on the street where the chalk outlines of home plate and the bases long ago faded away. I’ve been back there several times over the years, and not once have I seen kids playing stickball on that block now crowded with cars. A few kids were jumping rope, some playing handball against a house, but the old game we loved obviously had been long forgotten.

Now, I sit in the stands on Opening Day watching the 2006 Mets and am talking about “do-overs” and how the steroids scandal is ruining the game. An old man, probably in is eighties, overhears my friend and I talking. He leans toward us, his faded old Mets cap bright even on this rainy day, and says, “You know, the game has never been as clean as you want it to be.” I must look like I am in shock and he laughs, “No, I am serious, boys.” It sounds funny to hear anyone calling us “boys” anymore.

He takes a puff on his cigar and continues. “I used to play on a minor league team for the Dodgers years ago. There was always some guy ready to cheat somehow. Some used too much pine tar or corked their bats; pitchers used grease on the ball, cut it with razor blades, or used sandpaper on it. There were always guys like that.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I say, turning away and watching the field with a few tears in my eyes again. Was the game I thought I loved not the game I was now watching? Were the purity and sanctity I believed in just myths, a stack of cards, a dream that could never be realized? Despite understanding that cheating was maybe always inherently part of the game, there were still those players (the majority, I believe) who chose to do it the pure way, the right way, the way a ten year old kid or a forty year old on Opening Day could still believe in.

So, I watch the game, enjoy David Wright’s opposite field homerun, and Billy Wagner’s getting the last out. No matter what anyone else says, I still want the game the way it should be played. Maybe that is folly, a naïve wish that will never be fulfilled, but I don’t care. I still want one last chance to say “Do-over” in order to erase all the impurity and to leave nothing but the truth of the game as I want it to be: ball players on the field with nothing more than pure talent flowing through their veins. I think that the future of the game can somehow be saved by this kind of return to innocence, by an integrity that for now seems only to be found in a kid’s baseball dreams.

Copyright Ó Victor Lana 2006

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Episode 16 of "24": Wagging the Dog

Episode 16 of 24: Wagging the Dog

By Victor Lana


Since the very beginning of the series, 24 worked because of the dynamic between politicians and the people protecting them and the American people. The relationship that Jack Bauer and the Counter Terrorist Unit developed with David Palmer was the cornerstone of this relationship, a sort of failsafe kind of connection that would guarantee Jack’s (and CTU’s) position because it was valued and respected. Even when others thought Jack was wrong, Palmer knew Jack was doing his best (and the right thing) for the country.

From the very first minutes of Season 5, all of this came undone, most notably when someone put a bullet into Palmer’s neck and ended his life. Thus, Jack and the gang at CTU were now totally on their own. With spineless President Lowguns at the helm, it seemed obvious that he would only do what he thought would be popular and not necessarily right. This season he has evolved into an even more dangerous variation of himself: now he is doing what he thinks is right and not necessarily popular. This has become a disaster for all involved.

Last night our hero Jack survived the explosion, carrying Jerko Bierko out of the jaws of hell and bringing him in for questioning. Jerko never wakes up during the episode, but Jack asks Cutris to take him back to CTU and to make sure he lives. Of course, Jack’s hope is to eventually get to “talk” to Jerko, which is Jack’s way of using a knife in ways its manufacturers probably never imagined.

Costner (the super Secret Service Agent) saves Wayne Palmer’s life, and Wayne recovers rather quickly (last week it seemed that he was dead) and gets to talk to Evelyn (personal assistant to First Lady McDeath). Evelyn has seemed quivery from the start, her mouth always moving around to indicate discomfort. Now we find out that it was she who had some kind of connection to President Palmer, passing him information about the conspiracy. She is caught in a difficult situation because they have kidnapped her daughter, and she is about to exchange her “evidence” for her daughter’s life.

Wayne and Costner are in touch with Jack, who understands better than anyone that this thing reaches the highest levels of government. At one point, Jack actually tells Bill (on the cell phone) that he is “scared” about the situation, and it’s not too often that we hear Jack say that. Damn, this must be serious.

Wayne meets with Evelyn and they decide to rendezvous with Jack, but in the hallway Wayne bumps into Potato Chip (Vice President Garner). Potato Chip seems genuinely pleased but surprised to see Wayne and talks some gibberish about David being a great man. We figure this nutcase either means it or is ready to slit Wayne’s throat. Later on Potato Chip mentions Wayne’s presence to Lowguns, and the President doesn’t seem too pleased with not being granted an audience but also understands that Wayne came to see Costner to give him a token of appreciation (yeah, right)!

Meanwhile, back at CTU, Cruella Mean-To-Bill and her lackey Touchy Feely (Miles the sexual harassment dude) are busy dismantling that agency. Bill and the rest are dumbfounded as the Homeland Security team comes in to take over their posts and the jobs they love (I mean, Edgar, Lynn, and the others aren‘t even cold in their graves). Touchy Feely gets Audrey into a quiet corner (man, she is looking finer each week, especially since Jack almost choked the crap out of her), and we see his eyes getting all wider as he looks Audrey over and thinks about how he can grope her. Unfortunately, Audrey will not agree to sign his statement (indicting CTU and Bill I particularly), nor will she undo the top button on her blouse.

Of course, another crucial dynamic in this series is the certainty that Jack in the field can call in and get the info he needs when and where he needs it. This basically translates into having Chloe available to download, upload, uplink, and do whatever other damn thing she can get her hands on. Audrey confers with Jack on the cell phone (Jack’s phone must have the best long-life batteries around) and decides to make a huge sacrifice; she will sign Touchy Feely’s statement, but only if she remains on the job and has Chloe directly working for her. Thus, the Chloe factor remains a possibility, and she quickly helps Jack through use of a satellite.

Robo Henderson and his geeks have Evelyn’s little girl trapped in some facility, but Jack and Wayne are coming to the rescue. Evelyn will give Jack the information if she gets her daughter back. Jack and Wayne bring her to the facility, and Wayne is quick to point out that he is a former Marine. Jack knows all and reminds Wayne that he never saw combat, but Wayne is pumped to get the baddies who gave David a tracheotomy with a bullet, so Jack gives Wayne a gun and they prepare to save the day.

Jack takes out the sentries with Chloe’s help, making us aware Audrey did the right thing (though that last puppy dog glance from Bill as he was leaving CTU with his brief case makes us know he is wounded to the depths of his heart). Jack then grabs the sniper’s rifle (that was meant to take out poor Evelyn) and waits for Robo Henderson and company, who come out with the little girl. The exchange is made and then Jack and Wayne start firing away. Since Jack wants Robo alive, he doesn’t put a bullet in the bastard’s head, and predictably Robo Henderson gets in Evelyn’s car and drives away (this guy has almost as many lives as Jack).

Evelyn has been wounded in the exchange but not seriously. Jack tells her that it’s time to tell what she knows and asks about Potato Chip’s involvement, but Evelyn says he has nothing to do with the conspiracy. We then see Robo Henderson driving easily through the streets (though a curfew is still in place) and letting the big honcho know he will assemble a new team (how he will do this so quickly makes no sense) and get Jack Bauer. In the very last seconds, we see the silhouette of the honcho and the camera pans up and shows us the face of Lowguns, the invertebrate President, who is the one behind it all.

With eight weeks to go, there are some exciting possibilities. Now that we know Lowguns is the “mole’s mole” in the White House, will Lady McDeath and Costner team up and stop him? Will the CTU team bringing Jerko back to headquarters have a chance? Will Burke get to jab needles into someone, anyone, because man he has a need? Will Touchy Feely keep staring at Audrey like she’s today’s lunch special? Will Chloe be able to stay at her post and relay to Jack all pertinent things like where the terrorists are and the closest McDonald’s? Will Robo Henderson ever be caught? Will Evelyn and her daughter be okay? Now that Wayne Palmer is in touch with his inner Rambo, will he join Jack as a killing machine? And, finally, does Jack ever stop and take a leak?

Until next week, Klaatu Barada Nikto!


Saturday, April 1, 2006

Disney's High School Musical: Teen Angst and Lots of Singing and Dancing

Disney’s High School Musical: Teen Angst and Lots of Singing and Dancing

By Victor Lana


Since I’ve watched Disney’s High School Musical numerous times thanks to my daughter’s obsession with this TV movie, I have been thinking about it’s impact on her and the other children (ages 4-14) who have made it so popular. There is something very addictive about it because she cannot get enough of the songs, the stars, and the dancing. So what magic formula makes this movie so appealing?

Directed by Kenny Ortega, whose credits as a choreographer include Dirty Dancing, Newsies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Olympics, the movie tells the very timeless tale of Boy Meets Girl. The clever thing about it is the almost seamless way the music is integrated into the action, along with the truly amazing dance numbers, which creates a vibrancy and earnestness that appeals to the senses and the heart.

In many ways High School Musical combines thematic links to Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, but there is no tragedy to be found here. Troy Bolton (played by Zac Efron doing his best David Cassidy impression) and Gabriella Montez (a lovely Vanessa Anne Hudgens who looks like a young Natalie Wood) meet across a crowded room like Juliet and her Romeo while on a family vacation. They are pushed into a karaoke situation where they almost immediately drop their initial shyness and sing their hearts out while exchanging expressions of attraction. This leads to a romantic New Year’s Eve at midnight countdown, but our (star-crossed?) lovers do not kiss; instead, they stare up into the sky and watch fireworks (which mirrors what’s happening inside their hearts).

Back in the real world of Albequerque, New Mexico (the movie was really filmed in Utah), Troy returns to school the conquering hero, beloved by all as the leader of the basketball team and all around good guy. Greeted by Chad (Corbin Bleu), his ersatz Mercutio, Troy is swept back into school by cheerleaders and teammates who are joyous with the notion that their team will win the big game.

Waiting in the wings for Troy are the brother-sister villains Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel), who are no real threat but do provide some conflict in the story. They have starred together in school plays since Kindergarten and control the school’s Drama Club, and thus the attentions of teacher/director Mrs. Darbus (played by Alyson Reed with an apropos over the top flair). Sharpay obviously has an attraction to Troy, but his head has already been turned by Gabriela who just so happens to have registered in East High School that very day.

If you’re expecting dance numbers with opposing gangs like the Sharks and Jets forget about it; this is a Disney version of high school. Ryan is no Tybalt or Bernado, and there isn’t a chance in the Magic Kingdom that Gabriela will end up like Juliet, nor will she ever have an opportunity to speak Maria’s (Natalie Wood) immortal line “How do you work this gun, Chino?” No, this is homogenized and pasteurized for our viewing pleasure, and that’s exactly what the kids like about it. The threats are minimal at best but are there to promote some sort of dynamic that will make their littler hearts flutter, because they know that Troy and Gabriela belong together and will be happy despite the obstacles, however miniscule, that are in their way.

Gabriela and Troy feel something for each other and know the thing that unites them is their passion for singing, something that neither one really knew about before that karaoke night. Despite the pressures of his being the big basketball star and she being a math genius, they try out for the school musical and this sets in motion a series of events that produce some kind of turmoil in the school and the characters’ lives.

Troy’s relationship with his father Jack Bolton (Bart Johnson), who happens to be coach of the Wildcats basketball team, provides additional conflict. Efron does his best to squint his eyes and show there is internal conflict to deal with besides the external conflict of friends and team. Hudgens’s has grace and beauty and Gabriela’s one solo, “When There Was Me and You,” shows her walking around a conveniently empty high school, pining for her lost love after their friends set them up to think they have betrayed one another.

At this point the kids must be really worried because it seems the lovebirds will never get back together again; however, all fears are quickly allayed when Troy goes to Gabriela’s house to win her back. There is even the obligatory balcony scene. No, Troy does not say “what light through yonder window breaks”, but he does come prepared with a song in his heart and wins back his love.

The musical numbers are really smoothly done, with a feel of the big musicals of the past combined with a revitalized kind of energy. Ortega takes what he learned in those big scenes in Dirty Dancing and transfers them to the small screen, filling the dancers with a sense of purpose that is found in the fluid movements and athletic choreography. The school cafeteria number, “Stick to the Status Quo,” depicts all the kids, now released from bondage of pretending to be something else by Troy’s bold decision to tryout for the play, revealing their secret desires. It’s a huge production with a number of solo vocals, but the highlight is when Gabriela slips and dumps her lunch on Sharpay’s shirt. If one is looking for sub-textual references, this has all to do with Gabriela doing as much to change the antiseptic “status quo” in the school as Troy.

One of the funniest sequences involves auditions for the musical, the play within the play that we never see. This brings out some of the odder (and less talented) members of the student body who sing, dance, and mime their way into oblivion as Darbus does her best Simon Cowell impersonation. When Ryan and Sharpay sing their over-rehearsed version of the song “What I’ve Been Looking For,” we cringe for them but are meant to understand that Darbus thinks this is great stuff (that is, until she hears Troy and Gabriela sing an understated and rather beautiful version of the same song).

The last sequence involves a basketball game, a final audition for the musical, and an academic competition all happening at once (so arranged by the malevolent Sharpay). Troy and Gabriela (with the help of their friends who are now quickly converted and supporting their musical efforts) find a way around this, and their duet “Breaking Free” aces their roles in the play and yet does not bring down the curtain.

The finale is the finest musical moment in the film where the cast comes together, dances all over the auditorium (Troy’s team wins the trophy by the way), and sings their little hearts out. The quality and scope of the production indicates the high caliber of Ortega’s talents, and it also shows Disney’s willingness to make this a first class film that stands the test of repeated viewings.

My daughter always gets up at the end and dances all over the room. This made me recall when I went to see Dirty Dancing the first time. It has a similar top-notch finale, and I remember people literally dancing their way out of the theatre whenit was over. Lucky for us, Mr. Ortega has stayed true to that kind of invigorating formula, for it works here and no doubt will continue to do so since there are two sequels planned in the near future.

It goes without saying my daughter can’t wait, but until then she can continue to enjoy the original while I keep wondering what Ortega can do to make a sequel as good as or better than this one.