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24: "8:00 pm - 9:00 pm"

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No question, a big part of 24's appeal is getting to see Jack Bauer (and the people Jack works with) kicking ass. After all the hours of double-talk and soap opera antics, there's just something necessary about a good old fashioned firefight, as though all that verbal sparring is just about building to the point where words end and gunplay begins. But as excellent as that gunplay can be, it's not everything; and I'd say the other reason the series has lasted this long is that it's never lost sight of the loss that inevitably arises from all those flying bullets. In battle, Jack is basically undefeatable; he may experience a set-back or two, but sooner or later, he always gets the bad guys. But the cost—the cost is so goddamn steep, and the show is at its best when it doesn't let us forget that.

In "8:00 pm - 9:00 pm," we get another dead soldier when Bill sacrifices himself to save the President. Whatever your feelings on Buchanan (and he's been competent but sort of personality-free this season), it's sad to see him go; but it allows for some really excellent self-torture from Jack. I had problems with last week's White House invasion, and my biggest problem was that we seemed to be losing any sort of anchoring to the real world. The assault was kind of silly, and the set-up riddled with cliches; here, we don't have the same level of action, but we're back on solid ground, with Jack losing a friend, a new threat making waves, and lots of promise for the season's end game. By the end of the hour, I was actually giving a damn.

Juma managed to get President Talyor out of lockdown by threatening her daughter, and now that he has the President, he's going to do what any self-respecting tyrant with a video camera and a wireless set-up would do: make her read a prepared statement before killing her, all broadcast live to the World Wide Web. It's an idea that should be at least a little familiar to anyone who saw Season 4. (I love the freak-out from the VP here. "We have to stop the Internet!") Before the webcast gets very far, though, Jack tells Bill his plan: he's opened some CH-4 cannisters in the lockdown room, and by shooting into the room, he can cause an explosion that would give them the edge to take out Juma's men. Bill tells Jack about Juma's call to an outside line before causing the explosion himself. It was a suicide mission, and both men knew it, but Bill, realizing that Jack is both the main character and the only person capable of doing what needs to be done, takes himself out of the equation. In the shooting that follows, Jack takes down Juma, and the President is saved. But the threat isn't over. If Juma made a call for intel to someone outside the White House, that means there's still at least one bad guy left to hunt down.

Anyone aching for more Aaron action got a decent slice here; there was even a nice resolution scene between him and Olivia, where we learn that Aaron's leaving the service had something to do with his relationship with Martha Logan. (Agent Pierce also tells Olivia to call him "Aaron." Awww.)We finally figure out why Olivia and her mother were estranged (although that's all better now)—while working on her mother's campaign for President, Olivia leaked damaging personal information about their opponent to the press. But bygones being bygones, the Prez has decided it's time to move on. She wants Olivia back as a special advisor, and what's more, she has Ethan do the hiring, as a kind of "bury the hatchet in your own back" gesture. Ethan isn't too happy about it, but he goes along, his boss being the President and all; but while Olivia is being nice with Mom, she's pissed at what she sees as Ethan's incompetence, allowing the current administration to become rife with corruption without so much as blinking. Expect this to become more important as the day winds on.

Ethan's got other troubles as well; after Larry Moss refuses to go along with Jack's demands for another interrogation of Ryan, Renee goes behind his back and talks with Ethan. He forces Larry to give in, and Larry responds by following the order, and suspending Renee "indefinitely." One quick helicopter ride later, and Jack's in the room with Burnett, doing his best to be as scary as possible without actually physically touching the suspect. Too bad that Quinn, the man sent by Big Bad Hodges and his team to bump off Ryan, isn't under the same restrictions. Quinn hits Jack with a nerve gas before cutting Ryan's throat and making his exit. The idea is to frame Jack (who explains later that they didn't kill him because they wanted him as a "distraction"; these bad guys really need to compare notes some time, as no distraction is worth leaving Bauer alive) with Ryan's death, but he manages to get moving and get out of the building before Larry brings the hammer down.

See, this is what I'm talking about. This is classic 24. You've got interpersonal conflict, double-crosses, and a hero on the run from both good guys and bad. Oh, and we've got Hodges making some vague "Let's hope it doesn't come to that" threats on a bunch of targets; the shipment from Juma was "weapons" of some sort, so looking forward to see how that plays out. Adios, Buchanan; for the guy who we first met while he was hooking up with Tony's ex-wife, you came a long way. Enjoy death! Knowing Jack, you'll have plenty of friends to keep you company soon.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations:

  • "Pierce, get to the president!" Because even wounded and four years off duty, Aaron is the man.
  • Larry: "You sure Buchanan heard this right?" Well, considering he gave his life because of it, I'm thinking yes.
  • Way to tell Hodges is a bad guy—he calls the President "bitch." (Sure, he's being sort of complimentary, but still.)
  • I like that Larry shows some spine, but his decision to suspend Renee was a surprise. Not that she didn't deserve it at that point, but he'd been awfully forgiving till then.

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