What makes Jack Bauer a great character—and he is a great character, even when the show around him falters—is he never lacks for a sense of purpose. It’s his blessing and his curse, if you want to get clichéd about it: He fights to stop the bad guys (i.e. terrorists) from killing people, and that objective never wavers. As a character, that means he has a perpetual clarity. Any time a situation gets confused, any time we aren’t sure what’s going on—just cut back to Jack. He’s already moving towards his next goal. It’s why the Jack segments are nearly always the best part of any given season. His are the segments that matter; regardless of plot relevance; everything else is just killing time until the hero shows up again, shouting and running and shooting anyone who gets in his way. That simplicity, that directness, is fun to watch. And it also means that those few moments when the mission falters and we get to see the actual human being underneath are that much more powerful.
“2:00 PM—3:00 PM” spends most of its time on Jack’s assault on the embassy, where he knocks out an FBI agent, knocks out a soldier, and takes three hostages before finally allowing himself to be captured by Kate. It’s an hour full of largely frustrated ambitions, and not just for Jack.
The only subplot of the hour which doesn’t deal with Jack focuses on the Al-Harazi clan, and our first clear indication that Margot is a crazy, crazy lady. Well, that’s not fair—she’s clearly been crazy from the start. But having a henchman cut off one of her daughter’s fingers to convince her daughter’s husband to obey her will is a step above (although she currently ranks at about a 6, 24 villainy-wise). This storyline was the weakest part of last week’s hour, but at least here it resolves in an unexpected way, and with impressive speed; apparently Navid’s skills as a drone pilot make him too valuable to shoot in the head and bury in the garden. Maybe this will lead to further attempts at rebellion down the line, but for right now, the most interesting thing about Margot is that Michelle Fairley is playing her. Otherwise, eh.
But like I said—frustrated ambitions are usually one of the defining characteristics of a season of 24 at this point in the run. Navid had big plans, but those plans are shot down almost immediately. Jack manages to get to the flight key, but isn’t able to decrypt the information on it and send it to Chloe before the Marines bust down the door. Jack and President Heller talk on the phone, but relations are strained (I love how slightly confused Jack gets whenever he has even a momentary pause in momentum, like trying to remember he’s a human being gives him actual pain), and Heller doesn’t believe him.
I suppose that last might cause a few raised eyebrows, but then, no one ever seems to listen to Jack when they ought to. It’s become such an ingrained part of the series that Disbelief is practically its own character, running around whispering in important people’s ears between scenes. Maybe Heller’s still running off the high of successfully delivering his speech to Parliament. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with still more threats to his drone program. Maybe he’s just tired. On a purely practical level, the script needs him to turn his back on Jack in order to make the marines an ongoing threat. That allows Kate to make her own play, which means we end the episode with the only real positive Jack’s side needs: he’s got a new ally, and this time it’s someone who actually has more than just the resources of a sullen tech cult behind her.
A good episode of 24 is one that moves the plot forward just enough to make us feel like we’re getting somewhere; it also keeps the iffy personal drama to a minimum. (Good personal drama can stay as long as it wants.) This hour managed both tasks fairly well. Audrey knows about Jack and hasn’t had an immediate nervous breakdown, so that’s a relief. We got a few glimpses of Jack’s exhaustion (not really in the physical sense) and resentment about his situation. And we got a terrific opening set-piece that created a sense of motion that lasted throughout the hour. One of the greatest gifts a narrative can have is a perpetual irresistible force. It’s never hard to create incidents when your hero never flags, never questions himself, never stops running towards his goal; and when that hero finds himself trapped in a room with no place left to go, that’s when things get interesting.
- President Heller asks Jack how he can be sure he didn’t seriously injure anyone outside the embassy. Jack, with just the right amount of scorn: “Because I fired the bullets.”
- Tanner hasn’t had a lot to do on the show so far, and I’m not sure if that’ll change. But the scene between him and Jack was a nice one, and a reminder that, driven or not, Jack still at leasts tries to be kind of people when can. (Provided he doesn’t need to shoot those people for a diversion.)
- Thank god we didn’t have to listen to Heller’s speech in its entirety. I’m not sure I buy that Parliament suddenly decided to shut up because the words were so moving (what we heard sounded like standard boilerplate tragedy stuff, albeit well-delivered by Devane), but the moment’s passed, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Best part: Stephen Fry nodding like a cheery idiot in the background.
- Aw. Jordan has a crush on Kate. Maybe he’s the mole.