As the final season of 24 scrambles for the finish line, it's turning into a sort of compilation of the show's greatest hits. We've got Nina stand-in Dana, the former CTU employee who was working with the bad guy's all along, a sociopath willing to sell to the highest bidder and kill at a moment's notice. (Provided she isn't being asked to kill her redneck ex-boyfriend, I guess.) We've got Charles Logan, the rogue president, back to get his fingers in the pudding of an entirely new administration. In the space of two episodes, he's apparently already corrupted the till-now saintly President Taylor, putting Jack on the run from his own government. And, of course, we have poor, dead Renee, shot by a Russian sniper mere moments after achieving what is, presumably, the greatest happiness any woman in the 24-verse can hope to achieve: sweaty, wounded, less-than-ten-hours-after-her-own-sexual-assault intercourse with a fifty year old.
Jack's always had problems keeping a steady relationship, but more than anything, Renee's o'er hasty departure calls back the death of Jack's wife Teri at the end of season one. It's not a call-back that does the show any favors, unfortunately. While Teri's death was a brutal, unexpected shock delivered after every other conflict had been resolved, taking the viewer off guard and providing us with chilling proof that, no matter how much he tried, Jack couldn't be every where at once, Renee's murder is a cheap shot, an attempt to inject pathos into a series that had abandoned any real emotional legitimacy ages ago. Hassan's death was more affecting, and would've served as enough reason for Jack to go rogue as he does here. Killing Renee means eliminating the only bad-ass heroine the show had left (Chloe, much as I love her, doesn't count), and there's something absurd about our hero losing yet another love interest to his job. It makes it difficult to really give a damn about anything that happens to him anymore, because there's nothing left for him to lose. (I suppose they could bring back Kim and her daughter.)
Still, Sutherland does great with probably the heaviest lifting he's done all season, and the way the lost, despairing expression on his face slowly turns to range in the opening five minutes of "9:00am - 10:00am" was thrilling enough to put aside serious criticism for now. It's funny; while I hated the way Renee was dispatched, part of me wanted to see her killed just to see Jack Bauer go on the warpath, and I doubt I'm alone in this. Dramatically, it's a clumsy, ham-fisted move, but on a more visceral level, it gives us back the one thing the series has going for it: Jack the bad-ass, Jack the killing machine, Jack the super-hero. The show's lost the sense of danger it once had. I remember earlier seasons when characters would inadvertently get caught up in the terrorist plots, and for a few hours, there'd be a real investment in whether or not those strangers would get themselves killed. There's been precious little of that this season, or last, but if we're in cartoon land, then I want Jack as awesome as possible. If I can't have suspense, I'll settle for gun shots and explosions.
By the end of the hour, the stage has been set for the show's end-game, and it's a promising one. Logan manages to get the Russians back to the negotiation table by threatening to reveal proof of their connection to the day's crimes, and when Taylor finds out, she's furious--at first. Here's where all that empty talk about the peace treaty finally pays off, because... Well, actually, it still doesn't pay off, because Taylor once again reveals herself to be ineffectual and painfully easy to lead. Cherry Jones does a decent job in giving the character some dignity, but writing-wise, the Taylor's an embarrassment. She folds at Logan's insistence that the peace treaty must be finished at all costs (and what a valuable treaty it will be, considering how the Russians were willing to aid terrorist forces in an attack on Manhattan in order to avoid signing the damn thing), so she tells Jack to stand down. Dana has information that will reveal the extent of the Russians' betrayal, and Dalia would probably like to know who killed her husband, but Taylor's going ahead anyway. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, Jack could manage to steal a helicopter. This is all ridiculous, no question, but it's also a hell of a lot better than the final part of the season could've been. Finally, we've got a sense of driving purpose. I don't care if anybody dies anymore, but I'm excited what happens next, just because, hey, it's Jack Bauer against the whole world. Somehow, he's going to win, and while I don't give a damn about the stakes--don't even, if I'm honest, give a rat's ass about Renee's killer being brought to justice--I want to see how it plays out. I mean, he can't shoot everybody in the face, right?
- A nurse brings Jack clothes to change into after he leaves Renee's body. I understand story reason, since you can't have Jack walking around in a shirt covered in Renee's blood (although I would've rolled with that), but the moment just struck me as a nice, quiet exchange. I dunno, you don't get many of those on this show.
- So now Ethan is all "We don't have to sign the treaty today!" I thought it was the end of the world if they didn't sign it? Gah, I don't even remember what the treaty even covers--is it just Fakistan?
- You know, as a character, President Taylor is basically just an excuse.