All right, so we finally have our one subplot that doesn’t seem to connect to the main storyline: Steve Navarro, CIA Mole. While the true guilt/not guilt of Kate’s husband matters on a character level, it has nothing to do with Margot’s villainous plans, and the time spent on it means getting away from the action that really matters. That’s not unusual for 24; typically, the show would have half a dozen or so subplots it could dive into for a few scenes each episode, to fill out the running time and keep the “real-time” gimmick alive. Some of those subplots were better than others, and at their best, this allowed the show to define characters outside of Jack and whoever was in Jack’s immediate circle. At worst, it was just a lot of repetitious, uninteresting distractions, as characters proceeded to have the same tired arguments over and over again. Usually family was involved. We are super lucky that, so far at least, no one in the CIA has a junkie sibling looking to exploit them for cash.
This week finds Steve briefly struggling with his conscience before sending Jordan away to get killed—Steve’s contact is aware of Jordan’s continued unofficial investigations, and he insists that Steve take care of the problem. The big reveal of the episode is that Steve’s voice-modulated contact, the guy who’s served as the go-between Steve and the Chinese, is none other than Adrian Cross, Chloe’s former Open Cell buddy. This heel turn isn’t a huge surprise. I wouldn’t say I was expecting Cross to be the other man on the phone, but Michael Wincott is the kind of guy you want to keep around if you can manage it, and Adrian had already demonstrated he was less than pure good when he betrayed Jack earlier in the season. That betrayal was semi-defensible; this one reveals Adrian to be a bottom-feeding opportunist. So that’s fun. It still doesn’t mean that any of this has anything to do with Margot and her magic death planes, but at least now we know that Chloe will most likely get dragged back into all of this sooner or later.
I’m burying the lede here though: “5:00 PM—6:00 PM” isn’t really about Steve’s doomed attempts to keep his secret hidden, or the amusing ineptitude of the man sent to kill Jordan, or even the reveal of Adrian’s duplicity. It’s actually about Simone getting sent to the hospital, and Jack doing his best (including a wee bit of torture) to turn her; and, best of all, it’s about Margot deciding she needs to take her daughter out, and hey, when the hired help doesn’t work, fuck it, just use a drone to blow up the hospital. And if that doesn’t work, send the drone after Jack and Kate and Simone as they flee the scene in several different cars. I mean, that won’t work either (Jack’s a crafty son of a bitch), but it least it has a certain novelty value.
I don’t know enough about drones and their targeting capabilities to know if this is ridiculous or not—I suspect it’s actually a lot more possible than any of us would be comfortable accepting, but that’s not really the point. The point is that it’s absurd in a really thrilling and sort of delightful way, and it makes for another fun episode climax, as Jack barrels down London streets, bashing through traffic, and stealing not one but two different cars in his efforts to make their escape. (The best car theft is when he straight up knocks a guy out without any apology, warning, or explanation. It’s not the most noble or law-abiding approach, but the raw practicality of it is Bauer to the core.) Earlier seasons might have done more with the threat to the hospital, underlining the horrors of Margot’s villainous decisions, but that doesn’t really happen here; Simone gets glimpse of the destruction after the missile strikes, which will most likely drive her further towards turning on her mom, and there’s a scene or two of people evacuating the building in terror, but the real focus of the sequence is on Jack, Simone, and Kate. There isn’t time for wallowing in misery. There’s just running from one explosion to the next.
While that means the show has lost some of the sprawling consequence of its best years. This season feels smaller, in part because the main threat hasn’t ever really changed; we met Margot early on, we knew about her plan relatively quickly, and so far, that plan has stayed pretty much on target, so to speak. It doesn’t feel like we’re going to learn of some other, secret villain lurking behind the scenes. That could happen, but there really isn’t time to do the kind of spiraling, loopy plotting that used to define the series. Which isn’t really a bad thing, considering how absurd and exhausting that plotting could get, but in streamlining the narrative, a certain rawness has been lost. 24: Live Another Day has been well-constructed and entertaining so far, but for all the violence and shocks, the real-time intensity isn’t really there anymore. That makes it easier to watch, but easier to forget as well.
Still, that’s a minor complaint, because we are talking about an episode that has a car chase with multiple drone strikes. It also features the return of Jack Bauer, Torturin’ Man; in his desperation to turn Simone, he squeezes on the stump of the finger her mother had removed, while Kate watches on. But again, we see this season’s ambiguous relationship with one of its most regularly used devices. Kate doesn’t object to the torture, but she’s clearly disturbed by it. So disturbed, in fact, that after she leaves the room, Jack goes after her and apologizes. It’s an unexpected moment of honesty from him: “I just hate these people,” he tells Kate, which isn’t so much a justification as it a confession that torture isn’t just a tool you use to break a criminal. It’s also an act that has emotional resonance for the person doing the torturing. I don’t want to read that much into this, but the scene doesn’t appear to support or condone Jack’s behavior, simply observe it. The pain doesn’t convince Simone to change her mind, and it doesn’t seem to give Jack any satisfaction. It’s just something ugly that happens, and that’s unexpected.
Sadly, the entire hour can’t just focus on Jack and Kate on the run. There’s more stuff at the White House, as Heller confronts the Prime Minister on mucking up Jack’s operation; the PM responds with his information about Heller’s medical condition, and things end with some apologies that neither party really seems to believe. It’s all made to justify the big twist of the hour: Heller’s apparent decision to turn himself over to Margot. This is a stunningly bone-headed move on his part—while there may be some flexibility in the “Don’t negotiate with terrorists” rule, I’d say “handing over the President” is a definite no-no. It sends the wrong kind of message, and while it’s somewhat justified by Heller’s increased feelings of uselessness, and by Jack all but confirming that everyone was doomed (how weird was that? When does Jack ever say, “Yeah, sorry, we’re basically fucked here”? the only reason the line exists is to give Heller another reason to turn himself over), but it’s still a bad play. Fingers crossed that next week we’ll find out he’s trying for some kind of double-cross.
- Also, Mark met with the Russian ambassador, who revealed that he knows Mark faked the president’s signature, which I’m sure isn’t news Mark wanted to hear.
- Oh, and Chloe had to move around a bit because the police showed up. It wasn’t a big week for Chloe.