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Did anybody else get faked out by Jack's bloodwork reveal? Because I totally did. I'd already assumed he'd be fine, given that Sutherland is apparently getting prepped for Day 8; unless this series takes an incredibly radical turn in the next few weeks, I don't think a whole season of dead Jack is really in the cards. ("This week, the worms find him!") So when the CDC folks let Jack out of quarantine and showed him test results, I figured it was a done deal, just another subplot thrown out there only to be immediately resolved in the following week. Odds are there's some kind of cure people are missing (I wouldn't be surprised if Hodges had one kicking around, cagey bastard that he is), but I was surprised how, well, surprised I was when Jack told Renee, "I'm infected." I'm giving this episode the first full A of the season, which may seem odd; after all, there are no major character deaths, no huge action set-pieces, just some twists and a lot of backroom discussion. But "11:00pm - 12:00am" moved exactly like I want an ideal ep of 24 to move—things keep getting worse for everybody, and that goes double for Jack.

Let's save the Jack stuff for a sec. Everybody knows at this point that Starkwood is the Big Bad; they've got bio-weapons on US soil, courtesy of the now deceased General Juma, and if there's anybody worse to have that sort of bad news than Tony Todd, I believe his name is Jon Voight. Like always, Larry Moss is running by the book—just because they know something doesn't mean they know it, and he needs authorization from the President before he can proceed. The Prez herself is in similar hot water, as a discussion with her administration reveals that, as things currently stand, they've got no good way to move forward. Once again our heroes are faced with laws that hinder their forward momentum, and once again, they choose to uphold those laws. Or at least they do so long enough for an alternative to present itself.

See, Tony's been brought to the Starkwood compound for a little aggressive interrogation. Hodges tries to sweet talk him into betraying his country, but Tony ain't buying; and when Hodges' main man Greg saves Tony from certain death with an offer to turn over the intel that the government needs to make its move, it seems too good to be true. Tony gets ahold of Larry, Larry gets ahold of the president, the prez signs off on everything, and it's all gangbusters. It's such a familiar routine at this point that you wonder if the bad guys don't all have pre-written pardons on them, with blank bits to be filled in at the appropriate moment.

The Prez herself is still trying to deal with Ethan's resignation, talking with Olivia about possible replacements. Olivia seems to be as supportive and open as ever, but given that we know she basically forced Ethan out of his job, it's hard to trust anything she says; she wants Rick Berman for the job (I guess she never got around to watching Enterprise—just like everybody else), and you don't doubt she'll get him. But oddly enough, she also works at convincing Aaron to come out of retirement and head up her security detail. This doesn't seem like the sort of thing a completely evil person would do, so I'd bet that Olivia isn't a baddie so much as the kind of manipulative, power-hungry wench the show specializes in. Think Sherry Palmer, only dialed back a bit on the "ARRRGH!" scale.

Really, though, this hour belongs to Jack—which is funny, because he didn't actually do that much. We get the pretty exciting raid on Starkwood, the reveal that Greg was playing Tony (and everyone) and that it's all a stalling tactic for Hodges, and the final set-up for next week, with Hodges' men moving on Larry and the boys. Only thing is, Jack's not with them. He's back at FBI headquarters, left behind because his infection makes him a combat liability. I thought Renee's reaction here was a little over the top (she cries when she finds out Jack is sick. It's sad, sure, but did they really spend enough time together for her to care that much?), but it's nice that somebody cares. Her assurance that he did the right thing by saving the security guard is cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.

But what really sold me here is when Jack tries to convince Larry to let him come along, and Larry won't let him. It's a short-ish scene, but it's pretty key for the character; basically, all Jack really has going for him is that he doesn't stop. He's incredibly good at his job, no arguing that, but as a human being, as somebody who isn't just a government agent, the only way he's got left not to get buried under all he's lost is to keep moving. And here he is, at the heart of the crisis, he knows the stakes, he knows the bad guy—and he can't do anything about it. Worse, he knows he can't. When Larry says no, Jack argues a bit, but ultimately stands down. It was, in a weird way, heartbreaking. Yeah, of course Jack's going to get back into the thick of things next week no question, and we probably won't watch him die a painful, humiliating death, but as of right now, in this hour, he's a hero who's been handed a death sentence, with no way to fix it, and no chance to go down fighting.

That's some harsh shit. Can't wait to see how life sticks it to him next.

Grade: A

Stray Observations:

  • So I guess it is true: chicks dig scars. Or else are suitably horrified by them.
  • Nice that the issue of Jack's innocence gets settled so fast.
  • "We can't ignore the law here." It's 24. Like fun we can't.