For a moment tonight, I hated the writers of 24. Not because of the Dana sub-plot, or President Taylor's blandness, or the turgid nature of so much of the current season--I've had some time to get used to all of those things. No, what pissed me off tonight is that we had Jack start into one of his trademarked bad-ass sequences, and then, after an annoyingly timed commercial break, instead of staying with the one character on the show who's always worth watching, we were forced to endure a scene of Hassan and his daughter arguing. I can understand cutting away at a suspenseful moment in order to keep the episode's tension level high, but instead of tightening the screws, this cut was a pointless detour, killing the rhythm of what was building into a really excellent set-piece before it had a chance to get started.
Thankfully, when we cut back to Jack, we got to follow him for the duration, and it was so very, very choice. We still had our share of lousy stories and annoying character tonight, but finally, we also got a hefty chunk of murder, mayhem, and precision violence. It's as if Jack's crazy move with the knife last week was a promise: "Look, we're sorry the plotting is stuck in first gear, we're sorry about the lack of urgency, we're sorry about Dana and Kevin. Really sorry. But we can still have our hero pull a knife from his stomach and kill a guy with it, and if you'll be patient, we're going to try and get back to our roots."
One of the stronger aspects of 24's central conceit is the need for enough narrative to fill the whole day (give or take about three hours). While that means a lot of crap like Kim in Cougar Town, and side-stories designed to feed the beeping clock, it also means the main storyline is never exactly what you think it is in the first few hours. People have complained that the super plots in 24 don't always make sense if you try and unravel them after the final hour, and that's a fair criticism, but for me, that's never really been the point of the show. So long as Jack knows what's he's doing, and who to yell at, I'm comfortable enough, and I love the running sense that, even going into the final stretch, I still may not know everything that's going on. That feeling nearly always ends in disappointment, but I enjoy it anyway.
Tonight looked to be an escalation episode. We've got the pieces in play, so now it's time to defeat the most obvious threat, so that threat number 2 (which is, of course, far deadlier and more effective) can move into place. Jack gets taken to Jurgen Prochnow's lair, awesome-ness ensues, and Prochnow gets moved over to the neutral section of the board. Dana makes the astonishing discovery that asshole ex-boyfriends and their dickhead buddies don't always keep their promises about only blackmailing you a little bit. Arlo bugs her, she nearly tells Cole, and then she decides she needs to take care of the problem herself, so it's time for some pre-murder glaring. Hassan is getting more paranoid, and is probably past the point of no return.
Nothing exactly resolved here, of course. Prochnow tried to turn over the rods in exchange for full immunity for him and his son ("full immunity" has to be a standard in the 24 drinking game, along with "perimeter," and Jack yelling), but Josef was one step ahead. Apparently, he was really, really upset that Dad killed Oleg, and stole the rods for himself, killing two guards in the process. Interestingly enough, while we looked to be moving to the next step, we didn't meet any new threats tonight. Josef's betrayal made sense, but Farhad is an underwhelming villain, and as twists go, it was too inevitable to be exciting. I wanted something shocking to happen when Cole and his team opened the van, not "Right, because we've still got 16 episodes left."
Hastings continues to be an asshole. Funny how the blame is already shifting over to Renee, an agent who'd been out of the field for years, forced to delicate work in a psychologically compromising situation. He blames her for not "telling" him she couldn't do the job, and that she had a death wish, but that's the weakest kind of blame shifting. That's why you're the boss, dude. You have to look at the people you use and think, "Hmm, is there a chance she could stab the guy who assaulted her in the face if things go bad?" (I'm not sure he knew about the assault, but really, that's what CTU is built on: providing people with the information they need, unless it is convenient for plot purposes to withhold it.)
"11:00pm - 12:00am" was all about Jack taking out the Russians. It's ridiculous that he could be this hardcore after a stomach wound and some light torture, but I don't care. I don't watch this show for sanity. The ending was a let-down, and I'm still struggling to keep awake anytime Jack, Chloe, and/or Renee aren't on screen, but at least I was engaged for more than half of this hour. And hell, looks like Dana is going to start shooting people next week! Fingers crossed.
- I like how Arlo went from "stalker creep" to "reasonable, if slightly overbearing, friend." I want Chloe to snark him to death.
- Jack and Prochnow had a nice exchange after Prochnow's arrest. It's a goofy set-up, but there was believable pain in Prochnow's voice when he said, "I murdered my own son. For nothing."
- Credit where it's due: as ridiculously easy as it is to procure full immunity on this show, I did like that once we established it was going to happen, we didn't have to actually watch the assurances.