In all the rush to get the season started, I’ve been trying to remember what I do know and don’t know about these characters. When we last saw Jack, he was on the run—that much I know. But what about Chloe? What’s with the Lisbeth Salander cosplay shtick? Turning into a punk anarchist bent on sharing the world’s secrets doesn’t really seem like Chloe from before, and while the character is malleable enough for this not to be completely impossible, there ought to be some reason behind it.
It turns out there is, and we learn the truth in “1:00 PM—2:00 PM,” in typical 24 fashion. In their desperate attempt to first track down Derek Yates, and then track down his killer, Jack and Chloe follow Simone (she of the former blonde wig and current possessor of the drone stealing program) into the London Underground, ending up at a station where Simone is able to escape Jack via a self-inflicted leg wound and some quick thinking. Chloe, sitting outside watching the exits, should’ve been in a perfect position to spot the now red-headed assassin as she fled the scene. Unfortunately, she was distracted by what looked like a father and son, who reminded her of her former husband and son, both of whom, it turns out, are dead.
The whole thing manages to encapsulate what is great and what is hilariously irritating about 24. Chloe missing Simone because of a coincidence is contrived to the nth degree—it happens, at least on a plotting level, because Jack can’t catch Simone yet, because if he did, the story would be over. (Other, smarter shows would use that against the audience; imagine a situation if Jack had somehow managed to get ahold of the drone program this early in the game, only to find he’s somehow made things worse.) The fact that Morris and Prescott were killed in a car accident off-screen, presumably because Chloe was being targeted for knowing about Jack’s whereabouts (which, okay?), fits in with the show’s utterly ruthless approach all of its secondary characters. If you know Jack, you’ll be punished for it. Most of the time, that punishment means you end up dead.
Yet that has a certain amount of value, and having Chloe’s facility as a field operative be undermined by her humanity and her past fits in with the show’s idea of the cumulative cost of intelligence work. It’s not subtle, but it doesn’t need to be, and the scene in which Chloe breaks down and explains what happened to her family is well acted and surprisingly powerful. 24 is, generally speaking, a blunt instrument. Usually that bluntness comes in the form of action set-pieces or brutal twists (how about Jack shooting some random protesters in the legs, eh?), but every so often, the show will go for the heart. Watching Chloe sob and Jack hold her was a nice pause in the action that helped reinforce their relationship, and made them both more than just delivery devices for gunfire and shouting. These moments are handed out sparingly, which makes them more valuable; there’s a reason Jack and Chloe are the show’s best characters.
Most of this hour focuses on Jack’s efforts to get that damn briefcase, with Kate and Tactless Erik (“You’re so good at your job, how did you not know your husband was a spy?” is a thing he basically asks her) nipping at their heels. That’s good; forward momentum is always a good thing on this show, and so far, nobody’s been aggressively stupid. Even Adrian’s attempt to get Jack caught late in the hour makes strong character sense—much as we may like Jack, he’s not really a people person, and the head of a vaguely cultish free-information sect is probably not going to trust any new alpha male who busts in on the scene. The problems that come up for our heroes over the course of the episode develop comparatively organically and with gratifying speed. Even Heller’s woes are moving faster than I would’ve expected. The episode ends with him trying to speak to Parliament, and it is not going well.
Still, it wouldn’t be 24 without at least one dud plot, and the sore spot on this week’s apple comes from the apparent villain of the season, Margot Al-Hirazi. Well, that’s not fair—Margot’s fine so far, and it’s fun to see Michelle Fairley’s sternness calcify into hatred and madness. The problem comes from Simone’s husband. The only Arab we see in the small cluster of British psychos, Hubby (who I think is named Naveed) acts uncomfortable around Simone, which both Simone and Margot initially interpret as disdain; Simone had to fuck Yates to earn his trust, which Naveed might object to, maybe on religious grounds or else just general awkwardness. But it turns out Naveed’s real problem is that he’s been thinking over the big plan, and he’s having second thoughts.
This isn’t the worst idea, exactly. It’s just, unless the show throws a curveball in the next few weeks, it’s painfully obvious how the whole thing will play out. We even get a glimpse of Margot watching Naveed and Simone’s private conversation (and the sexy times that follow), so she knows that someone in the house isn’t completely committed to the cause. I’d be willing to bet poor Naveed is going to get his throat cut sometime shortly (or else he’ll be shot by his wife, or Margot will poison him, or whatever); the fact that it didn’t happen this episode is the only real surprise. Storylines like this can twist, but right now, we’re stuck waiting for characters to catch up to what we already expect, so our expectations can either be confirmed or subverted. Given how often this arc has played out in the past, and nearly always the same way, it’s hard to get excited about it.
Thankfully, the rest of the hour holds up well enough that a brief detour into eh-ness doesn’t really derail it. Unsurprisingly, the two highlights are all about Jack and Chloe, but Kate does well for herself, and as mentioned, the Heller storyline is moving faster than I expected, which makes it easier to care about the President’s mental problems. And while it’s not surprising to see an episode end on a cliffhanger, the scene of Jack starting a riot to force his way past security (via the aforementioned leg shots) has me already eager for the next hour to get here.
- Kate continues to show a willingness to think outside of the box, taking Basher with her and Erik after Steve orders them down (having the CIA nervous about American operations on British soil after the drone attack was a nice touch), and convincing him to spill his guts by threatening to leave him with his worst enemies. She and Jack should be teaming up soon, no?
- Steve has to be a mole, right? Nobody could be this supportive and friendly and not be a mole. Erik definitely isn’t the mole, because he’s too obviously an asshole. My money is on Steve. Unless there is no mole, in which case… I’m scared, you guys. Really scared.
- I could be completely off-base on this, but it seems like we haven’t had a lot of torture so far. There was Chloe getting injected in the first hour, but seeing heroes tortured (or threatened with torture, as Jack does) is different from seeing it happen to the baddies. There’s still plenty of time for Jack to stab someone and scream in their face, but I’m enjoying the calm.
- Another reason to like Adrian’s attempt to screw Jack over: It happens fast, and it doesn’t stop Jack so much as it does force him to take a different route. The best obstacles on this show serve not to dam the story but to divert it in unexpected directions. I definitely did not see the whole “shooting people in the leg” thing coming. (On the other hand, I feel like Jack’s face would be on every watch-list in the world at this point, but since he wasn’t planning on staying very long, maybe he hoped to get in and out before anyone recognized him?)