While I was sorry to see Dana exit so abruptly last week, there was something exciting in the way she went out, a potential for character development in Jack Bauer that I wasn't sure would pan out this week. 24 has never been afraid to push its hero to the edge, but Jack's cold-blooded execution style murder of a woman who, as far as we know, was not directly involved with Renee's murder was something darker than usual. Thankfully, "12:00pm - 1:00pm" followed through. Last week, when Dana told Cole that she believed Jack was only looking for evidence of the Russian conspiracy so he could find each person responsible and personally hand them their lungs, it could've been a play to work on Cole's sympathies. She sounded sincere, though, and given what we saw tonight, sincere or not, she was telling the truth. Jack doesn't give a damn about due process. His only goal is to execute everyone he thinks is guilty of killing a woman he loved.
That's really the only way the last four hours of the season could've turned interesting. There's no chance of us discovering some new Big Bad to threaten the masses, no desperate stand-off against a nuclear weapon of biological threat. We've seen all the bad guys: the fairly generic Russians, the ever-sweating Charles Logan, and President Taylor. (Taylor could arguably redeem herself at any point here, but for right now, she's working with Logan, and therefore a bad 'un.) None of them are all that impressive. So the only real possibility for dramatic tension is to make Jack the main threat. Not in the sense that we're rooting against him, or that he's even turned evil, but that he's the one in control, he's the active character, and he's the one who provides the suspense. Partly, the concern is whether or not he'll survive his vendetta, and if he'll manage to find out the culprits and take them down, but there's also the wild card factor. The Jack at the end of tonight's hour was not a healthy man, and it's tough to know what he'll do next; that's more than enough reason to keep watching.
What's really interesting here is that Jack actually finds Renee's immediate killer right away. The recording he took off Dana is a meeting between her and Pavel talking about terms, and it isn't that tricky for him to trap Pavel, with the help of the willing Michael Madsen and the unwilling reporter from way back at the start of the season, Meredith Reed. Admittedly, there's no way Jack would know that Pavel would be sent to take him down, but it's not an unreasonable hope, and even if someone else had shown up, Jack would've found his way to Pavel. He intentionally got the attention of the CTU monitoring team when he called Reed, and then took down the task force assigned to grab him at the meet. It's narrative short-hand to have his target fall into his hands that quickly, but I didn't find it objectionable.
This ep did have some problems, but overall, it felt like a big improvement. Jack coming unhinged is the most obvious selling point, but I like the moral quandry Chloe is in, and Cole's disillusionment is a reasonable character development. (We'd have to know more about Cole, and Freddie Prinze Jr would have to be a better actor, for this development to be at all resonant, but it's something.) Having Chloe constantly flip-flopping is a little silly, but it seems like she's working her way towards making a clear choice that doesn't necessarily agree with what Jack tells her, and I'm looking forward to how that pans out. Jack has always been Chloe's moral compass on the show, so there's dramatic potential in having her strike out on her own. And hey, Logan's decision to push for Presidential recognition coming at the worst possible time was good for some laughs. (Although really, why wouldn't he just wait till after he knew Jack was out of the picture? Cobra Commander had a better sense of timing.)
The big scene, though, was Jack's absolutely brutal assault on Pavel during the episode's climax. 24 has long had a troubling relationship with torture, but this season it looks to be coming down more firmly in the "against" camp, as both Dana and Pavel's "enhanced interrogations" yielded no useful information to their captors. The work Jack does here, while much of it is more suggested than shown, is still surprisingly nasty for a network show. There's cutting and tasing and blow-torch, and through it all, Pavel refuses to rat out his superiors. The only way Jack finally gets the information he needs is through the SIM card in Pavel's cell phone—a card that Pavel had swallowed, forcing Jack to cut it out of his stomach. (Those things much be incredibly durable, by the way.) It's a shocking, powerful sequence, and the kicker, Jack learning that his old friend Charles Logan is involved, had me on the edge of my seat. This is the kind of crazy viciousness the show needs. Who knows where it'll take us?
- I usually don't mind semi-revealing previews, but the "next on 24" tag tonight gave away more than I wanted to know.