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I have no idea how hard it would be to lead a unit of trained soldiers against the White House, infiltrate the building, and take the President hostage. I've always assumed it would be a tricky thing to do, and sure, Juma and his men do put some effort in to make the whole thing happen. They buy a boat, some fancy computers, get a man working on the inside, as well as pick up a nice poster of the building to store with their maps and plans. It's not like they just wandered in off the street, y'know? There was planning here. But it still seems like the whole thing went a little too smoothly. Probably the best way to view tonight's double-header 24, covering the hours from six to eight pm, is as a low-budget '80's action movie, something that Canon might've put together with Chuck Norris in the lead. It's not that surprising, and the story falls apart if you think about it much at all, but the shooting, yelling, and teeth-gritted seriousness do have a certain charm.

While the second hour focused on Juma (yay, Tony Todd's back) and his men working to get to President Taylor, the first hour focused on the events leading up to the attack, as Jack struggles to find the target before it's too late. His solution is to go the White House and hunt down Ryan Burnett, Senator Mayer's chief of staff; Ryan was in on the planning, and knows where Juma is headed. He may not want to give up that information without a fight, though, so on the car ride over, Jack calls Chloe at the FBI. She's in the process of cleaning up the master list of corrupted government agents, and Jack asks her to take Burnett's name off the list. He needs free reign, and if Burnett gets arrested before Jack gets ahold of him, the game is lost. 

Chloe being Chloe, she does what Jack tells her, and everything seems okay; but the battle we've been waiting for the whole season comes to a head when Janis, in a bad mood and probably looking to prove herself, catches wind of the deletion. Chloe tries to put her off, but Janis isn't easily convinced, taping an encrypted call between Jack and Chloe, getting the call decoded, and bringing the recording to Moss. This is enough for them to figure out what's going on, and to give us the traditional 24 shot of a favorite character getting led away from their workstation by an armed guard. Jack still gets to Ryan—knocking Bill out in the process—and does his best to break the weasel in the five minutes before the door is blown open. He nearly succeeds; Ryan tells him that Juma and his presidential guard are in town, but Jack is taken into custody before he can find out what Juma is gunning for.

We're going to have to talk about torture again, aren't we? Whatever my philosophical reservations on the subject, my biggest objection to this season's continued insistence on Making A Point is that it gives us even crappier dialogue than usual, with characters spouting out flat commentary that would be hilarious if it wasn't so irritating. Senator Mayer does get some good lines in with Ethan and the President, but given that his accusations are aimed largely at Jack Bauer, and that Jack, had he been allowed to continue torturing Ryan, probably would've saved some lives, those lines ring hollow. The ends on 24 always justify the means, and no one address the fact that if you desert your principles the moment it gets difficult to maintain them, they're no longer your principles. We get the President saying something like, "Wow, we used to use torture to get false confessions, but now, we use it to get the truth" with zero sense of irony; and we get Ethan bemoaning the fact that now they have to offer Ryan a pardon, because "coercive techniques are off the table." This show has never been one for witty repartee, but that's some thuddingly literal crap right there. You want to make your point that torture is necessary? Fine. You're wrong, but whatever, I can live with it, seeing as how it's just a damn television program; but do me the favor of not insulting my intelligence quite this directly. Don't have Mayer badgering Bill during a goddamn hostage situation about Jack's actions. Don't pretend that the stream of goofy-ass, beyond-worst-case-scenarios you present have enough connection to the real world to enter into this kind of discourse.

The sad thing is, Keifer Sutherland's acting is still complex enough that you wish the writers weren't painting the situation with such a heavy-hand. Jack tells Tony he's "driving off a cliff," and he's not kidding. Jack's always been on the edge, but lately, any sense of perspective he might once have had is gone. He tasered a phone, for chrissake. Dude's nuts. If 24 wasn't going to such efforts to justify his actions, we could've actually had something interesting.

Okay, now that that's out of the way—while Jack's getting thrown in jail, Renee tracks down Juma and his men by following Dubaku's killer (bye, Dubaku), and since she's such an enterprising lil scamp, she tags along when Team Juma climbs on a boat and heads out onto the Potomac. In doing so, she manages to both lose her gun and wreck her cell phone, but at least she figures out what the target of the attack is, via the handy poster mentioned above. (What the hell is the point of that drawing? It's not blueprints, and since they're going in from underground, it serves no tactical purpose. Did Juma like to stare at it and dream?) There's some business with Dubaku's son trying to kill her, but it's really just time killing; eventually Renee gets back to Larry, and they show up at the White House just as all hell breaks loose.

A friend of mine who watched tonight's episode complained that it was "too predictable," and he has a point. Apart from the fact that the attack is happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., nothing here was much of a surprise. Jack got immediately into the action, despite the handicap of being under arrest when the assault begins, and wouldn't you know it, he and the President wind up together in the lockdown room while Juma gathers hostages outside. Senator Mayer and Bill both end up as hostages (in Bill's case, it's hilariously random; they catch him with Taylor's wrist locator trying to draw them away from their real target, and with bodies of a half a dozen Secret Service men cluttering the hall, Juma decides they'll keep him alive), and, ultimately, so does the Prez's daughter, Olivia. Larry and Renee push the Vice President for a strike on the building, to no avail, and Juma tries to break into the lockdown room using the codes he got from a man named Hodges. When Jack disables the security panel, Juma gives Hodges a call, and finally, finally we have what I expect will turn out to be Day Seven's main villain, Jon Voight. He and Juma made a deal—Hodges would give Juma what he needed to get to Taylor, and Juma would ship him… something. Whatever that something is, it's important enough that Juma can exert pressure on Hodges by threatening to destroy it if Hodges can't give him another way to get to the Prez. Which Hodges promptly does, by pointing out that Olivia is in the building. Juma gets Olivia in front of the lockdown room's camera, and offer's the President an ultimatum: either the doors open, or Olivia loses her eyes.

By the end of the hour, the President has come out of the lockdown room and Juma is in complete control. Very suspenseful and so forth, but I'm mostly just curious as to what's in the shipment Hodges is getting. I don't really have any investment in what happens to Taylor or anyone else in that building. As an end game, an attack on the White House is bold, but where's the labyrinthian plotting we come to expect from this show? Where are the double crosses on double crosses, the last minute reveals, the utterly implausible but still kind of neat long term bad-guy plans? This one was fun once the shooting started, but, much as I hate to say it, there's no center anymore. The characters keep threatening consequences, but you can't take them seriously because there's nothing real here at stake. It's weird; I used to get frustrated by 24's melodrama, but now that it's been streamlined to near non-existence, I realize how much the series needs it. Right now, it's all fireworks—distracting and bright, but once the explosion ends, there's nothing left to see.

Grade: B-

  • So Larry had to remind Renee that the President was their first priority in the White House? I don't think there was any danger of her forgetting this, whatever her feelings for Jack.
  • Why introduce Dubaku's son and kill him twenty minutes later?