Thrillers are full of impossible choices. Turn over the secret code, or your daughter will be killed. Bring me the money, or your wife dies. Steal the bomb, or we do unpleasant things to your mom. (Weird how often it’s women, huh?) But most of the time, these thrillers feature heroes who face the impossible choices and figure out a way to save themselves and their loved ones without having to accede to the bad guy’s demands. That’s part of the fantasy. Sure, the villain may seem to have the upper hand, but there’s always a way out, always some loophole or hidden weakness that they’d overlooked. It’s become such a predictable pattern that it’s a little boring to see it play out, at least in a sub-par film or show. Raising a potential danger when it’s so obviously never going to have actual consequences means giving your audience a chance to jump a few steps ahead of the narrative, and that’s never a good thing. As a storyteller, you don’t ever want to hit a big twist and find a bunch of bored, angry people already waiting for you.
In theory, Margot’s offer to shut down the drones if President Heller turned himself over to her should’ve fallen under this category. It sounds like a place-setting sort of threat, something to establish what her objectives are, but not something that has any hope in hell of actually happening. As such things go, it wasn’t even a bad kind of meaningless threat: Heller was so far removed from the action that it seemed impossible that he’d get sucked into it, and once Jack was given autonomy to get the job done, the thought that Heller might actually be forced to turn himself over seemed so laughably improbable that it wasn’t even worth considering.
Unless, that is, you’ve watched a few seasons of 24 before, you remember what happened to Ryan Chappelle, and you know that this show has a history of taking the impossible and going through with it, just to see what happens next. I wasn’t sure what would happen when Margot first made her offer, but I had my suspicions. Having the president (well, ex-president technically?) hand himself over to a terrorist was such a shocking, unexpected move that it almost had to happen. It’s the sort of bleak, what-the-fuck style moment that has long been the series’ stock in trade. I wouldn’t say Heller’s exit was as painful as the Red Wedding, or as shocking as a half a dozen other similar “gotcha!” moments that have aired on TV in the past year or two. The rest of television has caught up to this show’s willingness to blow up the ground beneath its feet. But there’s an admirable integrity to the whole thing nonetheless.
At the very least, it re-contextualizes Heller’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis as more than just a way to drum up personal drama. Previous episodes have done a good job of pushing Heller to a point where a decision like this is at least possible to understand, if not entirely probable; ideally, the show could’ve given us more of a sense of how Heller feels personally connected to Margot’s crimes, or else impressed on us just how unsettled and upset he is over losing control of his faculties. As is, both of these ideas are raised, and both serve to motivate his actions, but his decision doesn’t play quite as grandly tragic as it might have.
Thankfully, the fall-out of that decision is handled very well, with Jack first strenuously objecting to Heller’s decision, but then caving when he learns about the president’s mental state. If anything, the escape from the building and flight to Wembley Stadium happens almost too easily, with Jack only forced to knock out a single guard on the way. But then, maybe that’s fitting. Heller has decided to sacrifice himself, and in making that decision, has done something unprecedented in American history (at least as far as I know). It’s not like anyone around is really expecting the president to run off and get himself blown up by a drone strike.
As for where that final shot (ka-BOOM) leaves the rest of the season, we’ll have to wait until next week to find out. I have a theory, which I’ll get into in Stray Observations, but I do think Margot will be as good as her word, whatever her son Ian’s objections. She may be a murderous monster willing to kill her own daughter in order to protect her interests, but she’s a woman of her word. I mean, narratively speaking, she kind of has to be; if Heller gave himself up, only for the gesture to have no impact on whatever happens next, it would be a crummy piece of writing. As for now, all we can say with absolutely certainty is that Margot claims she wants to shut down the drones, and Audrey is once more going through hell. It’s almost a running gag at this point—Jack enters her life, everything turns to shit.
While the focus of the hour was on getting Heller to his appointment with destiny (see aforementioned ka-BOOM), there were a few other subplots to consider. Simone is in poor condition, but Jack demanded Kate push her doctor, and Kate obeys. Jack’s seems even more aggressive than usual. His “So wake the bitch up” re: Simone was unexpected—not the fact that he wanted Kate to risk the young woman’s life, but the harshness of the command. Admittedly, he’s under some pressure, but I’m curious if this is going somewhere. (It could very easily not be.) Kate gets Margot’s address from Simone, and she also learns about Navid’s disk; a team searches the house, finds the disk, and Kate gets the info to Chloe. Unfortunately, Chloe isn’t able to get the program operational before Heller gives himself up, but hey, good hustle everyone.
The only other event of note is the adventures of Jordan, a nearly clever person who still manages to fall for one of the oldest tricks in the Tricks To Fool A Stupid Person With Book. To be fair, it’s not like his opponent is such great shakes either. Jordan briefly manages to get the upper hand, before the cleaner mentions the gun safety, which is all the window Jordan needs to be really really dumb again. I’m not sure if he’s dead yet, but he looked pretty dead by the end, so… maybe. Regardless, Kate knows he’s missing, and I’m sure Steve will find his bacon cooked at some point in the near future.
Ultimately, this hour was all about Heller giving himself up for the greater good. From yelling at Jack to saying goodbye to Audrey to making that final stoic walk across the stadium field, William Devane got a chance to remind us what he can do, and he made the most of it. It’s not the most shocking loss the show has ever delivered, but it stung nonetheless, and it proves once again that 24 rarely bluffs its audience.
- Crazy theory time! While it’s entirely possible that Margot will either go back on her word, or her son will decide to take things into his own hands, I suspect that good old Adrian Cross is going to get back into the action. He calls Chloe in this episode asking her to come back “home,” and while Chloe refuses, it’s entirely possible that refusal won’t last forever; and if she does go back, maybe she brings Navid’s drone program with her. She wouldn’t give the program to Adrian intentionally, but the guy’s proven himself to be a dick of the highest magnitude, and a program like that would be worth a fortune. Whether it’s from Chloe or someone else (Steve, maybe?), I wouldn’t be surprised if Adrian is the one who gets this whole mess going again.
- That hitman should just be so damn embarrassed.
- With Heller gone, does this leave Mark in charge? Until the vice president takes over, anyway.
- Why are all the lights in Wembley Stadium on, even though no one appears to be around? Is that standard?
- Heller doesn’t get a silent clock. Dammit.