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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

TV Review: S6:23&24 of "24" - Jack Strikes Back!

During this season I have frequently alluded to the Star Wars films, almost as an extended metaphor, when discussing Jack's relationship with his father. There was certainly a Return of the Jedi moment toward the end of last night's second episode, but Phillip Bauer's grandson Josh also played into this scenario. Josh was unable and unwilling to be a pawn in Grandpa's game and he fought back (in true Bauer fashion), even shooting the old man. Jack came onto the scene as almost an Obi Wan Kenobi figure, counseling Josh that killing someone who is evil doesn't necessarily make one feel good, nor does it make one inherently good in the process. Who would have ever thought that 24 would develop such a metaphysical nature?

The best way to summarize this two hour season finale is to say that we have yet another example of why everyone should always listen to Jack Bauer. Everything Jack predicted would happen (his father would double-cross them, for example, in the Josh for the component deal) happened, and if not for Jack the armies of China, Russia, and the USA would likely be engaged in the start of WWIII. Where is the big "thank you, Jack" that we should expect from Vice President Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels and the rest of the bigwigs and blowhards that run the country?

Karen (Hillary) Hayes and her loyal husband Bill (The Stoic) Buchanan take a stand to help Jack, as does Nadia (Squinty) Yassir. Bill tells Nadia "You did the right thing" and she squints, letting us know she appreciates hearing that. She also understands that they have been thwarted by Jack's father, and now Agent Mike Doyle is a victim of this as the false component blows up in his face, possibly leaving him in need of a guide dog for the rest of his life.

Jones is trying to keep Russian President Subaru from driving full speed ahead into war, but nothing is going right for him. Tom (Twitchy) Lennox is there to help as well as that weird-looking dude Ethan who is the head of the Joint Chiefs. They all seem rather impotent in the face of this crisis. Thank goodness they have someone the likes of Jack Bauer to save their droopy butts from an almost inevitable war.

Of course, Jack has had a long, long day. If we look at the twenty-four hours that he has spent this season, we can only wonder how he is still standing (broken ribs and all). Still, Jack is a good soldier and at his best against impossible odds. After Jack learns that his nephew has been taken out to an oil platform owned by his father, Jack does the only sensible thing to do: he commandeers a CTU helicopter to go out and retrieve the young man.

This is all more difficult than it sounds because not only does Phillip and Cheng have armed men all over the platform, but Jones has ordered two F-18s to take out the platform and destroy the component to appease Subaru. So once again Jack is running against the clock to save Josh before it is too late (anyone thinking of the Death Star and Darth Vader please note that I was thinking it too).

Jack utilizes all his training as a Navy Seal in this moment when Bill flies the helicopter onto the landing (hey, who knew Bill had such a big pair?). Jack wields a machine gun like a Samurai does his sword, taking out the bad guys left and right and blowing up a barrel of fuel that badly burns the evil Cheng. Bill takes Cheng into custody as Jack races to find Josh and get him out of there before the F-18s shoot their load.

This is when we have the classic Star Wars moment where Josh (looking a lot like a young Jack) takes a wrench and whacks Grandpa over the head. Josh then grabs the gun and resists Phillips's overtures about love and "doing this all for you" crap. As the old man lunges at Josh the kid shoots him in the shoulder. Papa Bauer falls to the deck just as Jack arrives on scene. It is reminiscent of that lovely moment in Return of the Jedi when Luke and Anakin make some kind of peace and reach an epiphany.

Unfortunately, no such catharsis is available to the ever-suffering Jack. He tells Josh that killing the old man is not worth it, and then after Josh has run off to jump on the helicopter, Jack contemplates justice for his father. Where Luke Skywalker saw sincere sorrow in his father's eyes, Jack only finds contempt and loathing. Jack wants Papa to face justice, but there is not enough time because of the F-18s. Before Jack leaves Phillip to a certain death, he tells him "You got off easy."

Jack makes a daring escape by grabbing a rope ladder on the helicopter just as the F-18s' missiles hit their target. The platform is completely destroyed as Jack dangles over the black ocean with the flames licking the dark sky. It is a surreal moment as we see the bloodied Cheng in the helicopter, now a prisoner at the end of the day just as Jack was in the beginning. One can only hope that Agent Burke is waiting back at CTU with his black box of goodies to give Cheng an idea about how Jack felt in his custody.

Jack drops off the ladder and swims to shore. Bill brings the chopper around to pick him up, but Jack waves him off and Bill realizes that once again Jack is probably going dark, fading into the fabric of the night like the shadow that Jack Bauer has become. Since Jack is officially dead (from Season 4) and has no real identity, there is nothing stopping this from happening.

Back at CTU we get a scene between Chloe and Morris. She fainted earlier and Morris comes into medical to check on her condition. Chloe tests him a little and then reveals that she is pregnant. More drama between these two? Please, enough already. Bill returns to CTU with Cheng as a prisoner. Before Cheng is led away he says that his people won't forget him the way the Americans forgot Jack Bauer. Here's to hoping there is a nice dark hole someplace in Kansas that this guy can be dropped in for a long time. Nadia asks Bill about Jack, and Bill says that they won't find him if Jack doesn't want to be found. Nadia persists and Bill says, "Just let him go."

These words actually foreshadow what is happening with Jack. Jack has conveniently swum ashore near former Secretary of Defense James (Nuts Landing) Heller's beach house. Nuts is on the phone talking to someone and hears a noise. He looks around and sees a soaking-wet Jack standing in his living room. Jack and Nuts have a nice follow-up conversation (to the one when Jack was in detention at CTU). While Nuts won that round, Jack is in charge here (as the gun he puts in Heller's face clearly indicates). Jack tells the old man off. The exchange is powerful and gives us insight into their relationship and Jack's inner rage. "I just watched my father die and I felt nothing," Jack tells him. Yes, it has come to that.

Nuts finally takes Jack into a bedroom to see Audrey. While it seems she is sleeping it is more like she is a vegetable, unable to open her eyes even as Jack holds her hand and tells her that he loves her with all his heart. This excruciating scene lays bare Jack's soul, and he is a man who has lost so much and given so much and has absolutely nothing to show for it. Audrey is his last chance for a normal life. He just told Heller "I want my life back," but it is clear that this will not include Audrey.

Since Jack loves Audrey so much, he does the only reasonable thing he can do: he lets her go. This is a sign of Jack's true goodness, a real indication of his nature as a tragic hero. Jack is forever inches away from the goblet brimming with salvation, but he is never able to take a drink. Jack looks toward the window where the first rays of sunlight are slipping through the cracks in the blinds and are worming their way across the shroud of Audrey's face. "I'm at a crossroads" Jack says, and damn if we as fans of the show are not right there with him.

Jack gets up and walks past Nuts on his way outside. He stops for a moment, Heller out of focus but visible in the background. The emotions are etched on Jack's face (Kiefer Sutherland can do more with silence than most actor's can do with lines of dialogue); we know there is nothing left to say even though there is so much unfinished business between these two men.

Jack walks outside holding the gun and goes over to the railing. He is staring out at the dawn of a new day, and he looks down at the waves coming in to shore. Literally and figuratively Jack is on the precipice; one quick jump over the railing could end it. He could raise the gun in his hand and do the same. Again, the expression on Jack's face is worth so many words. It is clear he has seen the horror of death from every perspective and now even the possibility that it could come from his own hand.

He blinks his eyes and stares out at sea. Jack has chosen life, but he may not know why. He has been as low as any man can ever be forced to go, and now there is a chance to not only let go of Audrey but of everything he has ever known. The screen fades and we get the 24 clock counting down silently to end the hour and the season. Traditionally during this series, the silent clock has meant the death of a character. Here it signals the end of the show (and Jack) as we know it. What comes next year? It's a long, long wait until January to find out.

Until next season, Klaatu barada nikto!

TV Review: S6:22 of "24" - Lovers and Other Stranglers

When Jack Bauer dispatched bald villain Abu Fayed in Episode 17, I was worried that the remainder of the season would be a letdown; however, I had nothing to fear. The last five installments have been a grinding ascent along the ladder of rising action toward what I am predicting will be an explosive climax followed by a resonant (and I believe) devastating resolution, but more about that later.

We picked up where we left off last week with the CTU crew and Jack being held hostage by Zhou and his Chinese gang, who were working for the evil Cheng Zhi. Jack didn't understand why these thugs wanted his nephew Josh, but we already knew that his father Phillip (Stretch Cunningham) Bauer had orchestrated this assault to liberate his grandson. Jack, never more dangerous than when unarmed and cornered, has the wheels spinning in his head as to how to get out of the situation. Everyone else is sitting around rather helplessly with Milo's corpse sprawled on the floor as a reminder of how ruthless these guys can get.

Cheng and Phillip are in contact by phone, and we see that there is a tempestuous relationship between them. Phillip seems to have the upper hand since he is in control of the component, but he also makes veiled threats that seem to have the usually unflappable Cheng a little nervous. He warns Cheng that he won't be the one to deal with him should he fail, and we are left to wonder who the bigger fish are in the slimy little pond that these guys call home.

At the White House Vice President Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels is awaiting word on how his sting operation is going that involves his former lover Lisa Miller and the Russian spy Bishop. He has a heart-to-heart talk with Karen (Hillary) Hayes about his shortcomings as a leader (and, without saying it, as a lover). Hillary has never seemed kinder than at this moment, praising Jones for his strength in this tough situation, but Jones is hardest on himself, knowing he had the power to keep the country out of hot water and failed because of a blonde in a short skirt.

At Bishop's apartment the sex has been steamy, but Lisa has an expression on her face (like she just made love to a slithering eel) that gives her away. Bishop knows something is wrong, but when she excuses herself to go to the bathroom, Bishop jumps up and is ready to download info from her PDA for his Russian superiors. Something spooks him though (probably because it all seems way too easy this time), and when Lisa comes out of the bathroom Bishop attacks her and asks for answers as he strangles her (maybe he's the right guy for lovely assassin Mandy).

Tom (Twitchy) Lennox and his men have been outside watching the whole thing in a van. It seems to pain Twitchy to give up this vicarious pleasure, and that blow-up doll back in his closet at the White House is so far away, but he rises to the task at hand and they burst into the apartment and stop the attack. Lisa is in bad shape and an ambulance is called, and Tom has Bishop secured in the bedroom where they have a little talk about crime and punishment. It seems that Bishop has only one choice: help with the situation or face the death penalty for treason (same argument they used on Lisa).

Back at CTU Zhou and his men are getting ready to escape with Josh in tow. They begin herding the personnel into rooms before they make a getaway. This gives Jack the opportunity he was waiting for. He and Nadia hatch a little plan and, as the process takes place, Jack and Nadia attack the terrorists. Morris (Yul Brenner) O'Brian gets in touch with his inner Navy Seal and participates in the fun. Jack snaps Zhou's neck, but Nadia seems to be losing her battle until Doyle and the cavalry come riding into view and take out the rest of the bad dudes.

Two of the terrorists have made off with Josh, but Jack and his new BFF Nadia reach an understanding that gives Jack a gun and Doyle as a partner. They go off after Josh, and it seems these two guys do work well together (when they are not on opposite sides of the fence). A quick pursuit leads to Jack and Doyle dispatching the bad guys, narrowly missing getting Cheng Zhi, and securing Josh once again. Josh and Uncle Jack have a quick moment to bond and gives that paternal side of Jack a chance to shine. One can only wonder how good a father Jack could be if he just was given a chance at a normal life.

When Josh explains that his grandfather spoke to him on the phone after he was captured, Jack realizes that Stretch is involved with Cheng. While not saying anything directly, we can see Jack processing this information as he puts it all together that his father and brother were no doubt behind his incarceration in China for all those months. Poor, poor, Jack (and Josh), to have been born into a family such as this.

We get another glimpse of Jones and Hillary heading into the Cisco Conference Room (talk about product placement), where Russian President Subaru is revving up the engines of war. He knows that Jones has not secured the component and continues his threats to attack US interests (a base in Central Asia) in two hours if the situation is not remedied. Jones has had a really bad day (not quite as bad as Jack Bauer) and he seems unable to handle Subaru like the cowboy that I thought he was.

Stretch then calls the White House (I wonder how all these guys get such easy access to the President's phone line) and offers a deal: he will give Jones the component in exchange for his grandson. Hillary chides Jones about such a preposterous transaction, but before we can say "Monica Lewinsky," Jones has called CTU to authorize this exchange.

This explains why in the last scene Jack and Josh are separated by Doyle who has his men secure Jack (obviously, Doyle is not foolish enough to try to take on Jack by himself). As Doyle rushes Josh onto a helicopter, Josh is screaming "Uncle Jack" and Jack is at once shocked and angry that Doyle has turned on him so inexplicably. The last scene shows us a frightened kid being torn away from his family in order to settle a bigger score, and this sets Jack up for next week's big showdown.

Jack almost got to Cheng in this episode but he escaped. I imagine that in the exciting two-hour season finale next week that we are going to have some major league battles. Among them will no doubt be Jack verses Cheng, Jack verses Stretch, and perhaps even Jack verses Doyle (which, in essence, once again pits Jack against CTU, the White House, and all odds). I don't even have to guess who will win, because in the end, Jack Bauer is an iconic figure who can now be mentioned in the same breath as John McClane, James Bond, John Rambo, and Indiana Jones.

Jack's biggest battle of all may just be Jack verses Jack, and I think we are being set-up here for Jack's reclamation, but at what price? Can he reconcile the despicable things his father and brother have done with the notion of saving (what is left) of his family: Marilyn and Josh? And, when the day is done, will Jack be back on the CTU payroll or is he heading off to bigger and better things in another city, another state, or even a foreign country? That will be discovered next season, but I have a feeling that 24 and Jack Bauer are never going to be the same when Day 6 is over, and that might be the best thing that can happen for the fans and to the show itself.

Until next week, Klaatu barada nikto

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

TV Review: S6:21 of "24" - National Insecurity

Thus far, we have had two mini-climaxes this season: the nuclear explosion in Valencia (which we haven't heard a thing about in weeks) and the battle between Jack Bauer and Abu Fayed, which resulted in Fayed's death. These moments were essential culminations of the plotline, yet they also contributed to the overall thrust of the dramatic flow that we were hoping would bring Jack Bauer toward a necessary and compelling awakening of spirit. Sadly, as events have unfolded, especially with the Jack's rescue of Audrey and traumatic discovery of her catatonia, it seems more unlikely than ever that Jack will find some peace (at least in this season).

Last night's episode was a buffering one to be sure, a filler to get us closer to the ultimate climax of the season. Anytime Jack Bauer is kept in custody for most of the hour usually falls into this category, and we can see the wheels spinning in Jack's head as to how to get out of that holding room and get in on the action.

Conveniently, his sister-in-law (and old flame) Marilyn is still on the premises along with his nephew Josh. Chloe brings Marilyn in to see Jack, and their exchange is another in a series of longing glances and deep stares. The expression on Chloe's face is not exactly one of jealousy but more disdain for Marilyn, confirming what we have always believed: Chloe has deep feelings for Jack that go beyond the professional level.

Jack is told that Audrey has been whisked away by Secretary James (Nuts Landing) Heller, so this goes down as one of the most brief and yet devastating cameos in 24 history. Jack is not surprised by Nuts taking his love away, but Marilyn is steadfast in her expression of loyalty and affection to Jack. This gal really, really wants to comfort Jack in the worst way. If only Chloe would get lost for a few minutes, Marilyn could get down to business. Oh, but wait, Jack has already rebuffed her advances and probably would once again. It's not easy being Jack Bauer under any circumstances, but he is like a caged tiger at this moment.

At the White House plans have been made for Lisa to reconnect with Bishop. Her PDA has been loaded with misinformation to hopefully be sent to the Russians. The goal is to avoid a standoff, or worse, an attack by the Russians on an American base in Central Asia that would warrant a response (and seemingly start World War III). Lisa's character seems nothing like the coldly calculating woman who was assisting Vice President Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels on his course to take over the presidency. Now she acts the part of scared little blonde, which does nothing to endear her to Jones. Lisa is sent back to Bishop's apartment wearing a wire, while Tom (Twitchy) Lennox and his men wait outside for her to successfully complete her mission.

Meanwhile, Agent Mike Doyle and his team are searching a warehouse for Cheng and his men based on a lead provided by Audrey. It seems Cheng had been holding Audrey there and is now gone, so Doyle is going to search the place for clues, but it seems like a waste of time and more part of the filler I mentioned previously.

Cheng's evil plan is revealed as being an attack on CTU itself. In the past, security has been breached in various ways at CTU, but this is the first time that the whole building has been invaded by hostiles and taken over. It seems a bit too easy for the Chinese terrorists to come in through the sewer system and take control of a major branch of the government like this, but that is exactly what happens.

Once the leader Zhou and his men have control of the place, he asks who is the boss. Nadia is scared but Milo (who found a pair earlier in the day when he rescued Marilyn and got shot in the arm) steps up to the plate and announces that he is Milo in charge. Zhou quickly puts a bullet in Milo's head, effectively ending his return engagement at CTU. Chloe, Morris, Nadia, and the rest are mortified by this abrupt killing, and they realize that this bad day has taken a real turn for the worse.

Of course, Jack Bauer hears the attack going on and manages to get out of holding and soon has a gun in hand. He tries to rescue Marilyn and Josh and brings them pretty close to escaping. Josh gets into a ventilation duct and starts crawling away as Jack runs out of ammunition (this has happened more times this season than ever before). Jack and Marilyn are taken prisoner as Josh scrambles off into the ventilation system.

The object of this invasion of CTU is revealed as Zhou focuses on capturing Josh. The expression on Jack's face conveys his puzzlement at this. Why would they want his nephew? Zhou gets on the PA system and tells Josh he is there to rescue him and take him to a safe place. Josh isn't buying this, so Zhou warns him that if he does not come out of hiding that he will kill Marilyn. A countdown begins as Zhou holds a gun to Marilyn's head, but Josh crawls out of the ventilation duct and is taken prisoner.

At this point we are all wondering what is going on. Zhou calls Cheng and informs him that Josh is now under his control. Cheng is happy with this news and then makes another phone call. What to our wondering eyes should appear? Papa Phillip (Stretch Cunningham) Bauer on the other end of the line. We have been wondering where Stretch has been since he ran away from Jack and left him the message to call ex-president Chucky Logan. I guess he's been down at Kelsey's having a few beers, but during that time he also managed to give Cheng the access codes to CTU. So that's why it was so easy to take over the place!

The episode ends with a close-up of Stretch, looking extremely satisfied that his grandson is now under his control. As we wonder about next week's episode, we are obviously being set-up for a showdown of epic proportions, a Shakespearean-like final act that will leave the stage strewn with bodies (hopefully Cheng and Stretch will be among them). We know Jack is going to do something to try to save Josh, and Mike Doyle is like Fortinbras, a man of action ready in the wings to swoop in and become a major player.

As I noted earlier this season, the dynamic between Jack and his father explains a great deal about Jack's life as an agent. It is a classic battle between good and evil, with Jack being the Luke Skywalker to Stretch's Darth Vader. Jack has spent a good deal of time trying to reach the light, but he has been haunted by the dark side all along. His rebellion against his father and escape from the family and its nefarious business has been all about Jack finding a way to right the sins of the father.

Will there be a final battle between Stretch and Jack (light sabers not included)? Will Josh be liberated from Cheng? Will the rest of the CTU crew survive? Will Doyle arrive in time? Will Lisa accomplish her task after all the hanky and the panky are done with Bishop? And where the hell is Bill Buchanan during all this? Let's hope the next episode is more than filler, giving us some answers instead of all these annoying questions.

Until next week, Klaatu barada nikto!

TV Review: S6:20 of "24" - Is Jack Bauer Really Cursed?

At the end of last night's episode, after Jack was willing to blow himself up in order to save Audrey's life, her father James (Nuts Landing) Heller appears on the scene and unrelentingly disparages Jack. While it is bad enough that he forbids Jack to see his daughter ever again, Nuts also puts a whammy on him by saying, "You're cursed, Jack. One way or another, everything you touch ends up dead." Nuts in some ways is playing the part of Job's comforter here, and his words add heft to the burden Jack already carries.

Since Jack Bauer has certainly put his share of people into graves (either by his own hand or dealing with someone he loves dying), viewers might argue that what Nuts says to him isn't far from accurate; nevertheless, this cruel verbal assault literally cuts right into Jack's heart, for he no doubt is thinking of his wife Teri and all the friends he has lost. Is Jack really cursed and has this curse brought death and misery to everyone he cares about?

I have been contemplating Jack's relationships and the dynamics involved, and Jack's case aligns similarly to the Biblical character of Job. One might ask how much can one man take, and when will that man eventually turn and curse that which he loves most. In Job's case, his wife wanted him to "curse God and die," but for Jack it is even more complicated. Jack lives in an almost godless universe, where nothing is sacred and everyone has his or her golden idols. For some it is money, others power, and for someone like Cheng Zhi it is a political goal.

Over the course of six seasons we would have to say that CTU is the place that Jack has loved to hate. If Jack has any faith remaining it is intricately entangled with CTU, the people who work there, and his desire to find some kind of love. What is clear is that Jack remains capable of love, despite all the fractured years he has lived without it. Jack wants to love, but he needs to find a way to get there first.

After losing Teri there might have been no hope except for his daughter Kim, but they are estranged and may never reconnect. His chance to love again came in the form of Audrey, daughter of the Secretary of Defense Heller for whom Jack worked. This seems to be the relationship that Jack has lived for, through all the bad days and even his incarceration at the hands of the Chinese. Yet that love has been undeniably impossible to realize, for one obstacle after another gets thrown in his way.

The Job analogy can be further supported by the introduction of Jack's phantom family this season. Instead of being able to find comfort in home and hearth, Jack learns that his brother and father are behind all the machinations of last season and this one. They are thieves, murderers, traitors, and terrorists: the same kind of people Jack has sworn to stop at all costs. This dramatic irony is not lost on the viewers, but this almost piling on of hardships makes like the straw that should break Jack's back, but he soldiers on because what he believes is his greater purpose is bigger than all his personal hardships.

We must wonder if Jack will end up like Job and be rewarded for remaining steadfast in his faith. It does seem impossible right now, yet Jack Bauer is the reason why we watch this show and why we invest so heavily in the plot and events that take place. In essence, we wait to see if Jack will overcome the slings and arrows and, by opposing them, find a way to defeat the bad guys and attain some personal harmony.

Last night's episode was largely about Jack's incarceration in a holding cell at CTU, his escape with the help of Mike Doyle (he's not such a bad guy after all), and Jack's attempt to not only save Audrey but to gather some kind of information from her. A doctor from District has come with nefarious plans for Audrey, which include a medically induced "shock" that could snap her out of her catatonia or kill her. The doc is willing to take this chance, but Doyle knows it smells bad.

Jack does liberate Audrey and they escape into the bowels of CTU (it is amazing how a security agency can have so many unguarded areas) and have an opportunity for a brief, tender reunion. It is truly bittersweet for Jack, because he can see what the Chinese have done to her and understand it better than most (since he himself has endured it). Jack speaks softly and reveals his love for her, reminding us that he remains hopeful and believes he can still attain some kind of happiness. If nothing else, that is his driving force and explains why he is still unrelentingly adamant about his pursuit of right against wrong.

Meanwhile at the White House Vice President Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels discovers that he has been cuckolded. It is not pretty when Tom (Twitchy) Lennox informs Jones that his paramour Lisa has been having an affair with Mark Bishop. Lisa, who goes home to get her unmentionables and has a quickie with Bishop before returning to Jones, has been duped by Bishop, who downloads info from her PDA faster than they serve French fries at McDonald's.

Lennox and Jones apparently have plans for Lisa, who when confronted briefly pretends there is nothing going on with Bishop. Jones sets her straight and explains that this is about more than them. Russian President Subaru has called to issue a threat to Jones: get the component back from Cheng or suffer the consequences (that being a Russian attack on an American base in Central Asia). Lisa seems more than overwhelmed by all this, but Lennox is prepared to put her into action in order to neutralize Bishop and exploit his connection with the Russians.

Back at CTU we get more nonsense between Morris and Chloe. Morris tells Chloe that it is over between them, and Chloe is finally realizing that her big mouth gets her in trouble (Chloe said something stupid to him about arming the nukes while he was Fayed's prisoner). Morris cannot take it and storms upstairs to Jack's old office to demand a transfer from Nadia (who took over on an interim basis for the fired Bill Buchanan). It's nice to see that, during a national emergency, Morris has his priorities in order.

Milo makes another brief appearance, but he chides Nadia for not just letting Jack talk to Audrey in the first place. He tells her that is what Bill would have done. Nadia is like, "Bill, Bill, Bill!" and knows it's tough to fill his shoes, but some poor schmuck has to until the shadowy Division sends someone to take his place. What is amazing is that only a few hours before Nadia was smooching with Milo in a corner, and now she is giving Doyle that come hither CTU look that Tony and Michelle perfected in seasons past. Hey, Nadia, you have some work to do to generate that kind of heat.

All of this comes back to Jack Bauer and his meeting with Nuts. As seen in last season's encounters, there is a dynamic of respect between these two somewhat similar men, but there is also the paternal element and Nuts has his fangs ready to defend his young. It isn't surprising that Nuts would feel this way about Jack's life being dangerous for Audrey, but he should recall that he himself got her kidnapped in Season 4 because of the work he does.

The last few seconds of the episode are devastating in that we get a close-up of Jack Bauer digesting all that Nuts has just said. It is a credit to Kiefer Sutherland that he can convey in a few seconds what ittakes hours for other actors to accomplish. In a blink of an eye and a twist of his head, we know that Jack agrees that what he touches ends up dead.

Is this moment the coup de grace for Jack? Or will he be able to rise above it once again to tackle Cheng and stop a war between Russia and the United States? My bet is that Jack is going to be grabbing a gun and kicking Cheng's butt from here to Beijing before it's all over.

Until next week, Klaatu barada nikto!

Why I Keep Watching "24"

Since I am fortunate enough to write a weekly review here about the television drama 24, I was contacted by Scott Collins of the LA Times and asked what my feelings were about this sixth season of the series. I thought about it for a while, and this was my response to him. One paragraph of my response did appear in his article.

Season 6 of 24 has been a roller coaster ride to be sure. The first four episodes were fast-paced and led to a mini-climax (in terms of the season story) with the explosion of the nuke in Valencia. After that we slipped into a soap opera like zone where Jack confronted his phantom family. While this worked for me, it was a bit of a stretch to discover that Graem (the seemingly evil mastermind behind last season's action) was Jack's brother. It was also equally difficult to deal with the new father, nephew, and sister-in-law that just happened to be Jack's old flame.

Still, there was the pressure of finding the rest of the nukes that kept the pulse racing more times than not. Jack is always under the gun because of the clock, and it seems never more so than this season. There were a few weird subplots, especially one involving the autistic man, but in general the action raced forward until Episode 17 when Jack killed Fayed and recovered the last two nuclear suitcases. Of course, this is when he learned that Audrey was alive and a prisoner of the evil Cheng Zhi, so now the rest of the season is about how this will be resolved.

As a fan of 24 since day one, I think the writers have recycled some plots this season that are glaringly obvious: a recording, an almost removed president, an assassination attempt on that president, an attack on a Middle Eastern country, an impending nuclear strike, a person close to Jack kidnapped, etc. Many of us who are longtime fans see this as inevitable, but those who have jumped on board recently either don't realize that the plot is recycled or don't care.

I think the bottom line is that we still care about Jack Bauer. Kiefer Sutherland has infused this role with grit and humanity. Despite all the horrific things Jack has had to do, there is a sense that he is on the right side, thus we are satisfied going along for the ride in order to see him survive and defeat evil and maybe find a path to some kind of happiness.

The entire arc of the series from Season 1, Episode 1, has taken Jack a long way from that chess game with his daughter Kim, and I think that is intentional. In those early episodes Jack was depicted as a lighter being, his hair and face bright with hope (even when facing dire circumstances). The death of his wife in the last episode of Season 1 set the tone for what has been a steep descent into, if not the maelstrom, certainly the darkest place a human being can go. There is no down for Jack Bauer. As he said earlier this season when facing his own death at the hands of Fayed, "Truthfully, it will be a relief."

Ultimately, I think season 6 has given us Jack Bauer fighting back from the brink. He surprises us sometimes (like when he was so compassionate with the autistic Brady), frightens us (when he was suffocating his brother), and pushes us along on his quest to either save the world from the bad guys or himself from a grisly end.

I believe that when the series ends (maybe the end of next season) that Jack Bauer has to make the climb out of the hole and back into the light of day. I have often mentioned this in correspondence with friends and fans, and I believe the best ending would find Jack in a better place, perhaps even playing chess with Kim as her baby sat on her lap. Most of us want to see Jack find some happiness, but getting there is not going to be easy. That is why I continue to watch 24 and will keep watching until Agent Jack Bauer stops having the worst days of his life.