It seems like 24 months since the show was last on, but the show has made a welcome return to FOX. The late start means FOX can show an episode a week all the way to the end, without any breaks. The wild ride will only be faster.
This day takes place 18 months after Day 3, which took place three years after Day 2, which took place 18 months after Day 1. So, we’re a ways down the road in terms of timeline. Jack Bauer now works for the Secretary of Defense, James Heller, and is seeing his daughter, Audrey Rains. Their day begins with the two of them in a hotel room, discussing their relationship, and looking forward to another routine day on the Secretary’s calendar. If only.
The episode began with fiery train crash. A commuter train runs into a vehicle parked on the tracks, which explodes on impact, derailing the train. Later, 32 people are said to have died. Before the crash, we see a couple of wary, armed agents of some sort protecting a McGuffin, er, a briefcase. After the derailment, a waiting figure on a motorcycle conveniently finds the person with the briefcase within seconds, dispatches him, and takes the briefcase.
The train was said to be a commuter train, and the day begins at 7 am. Yet, the train crash took place in the dark, and in a remote area. So where is this commuter train coming from, East Jackrabbit, Nevada? Heading for LA?
CTU, now headed by Erin Driscoll, monitors the crash, with the aid of the eternally sour, but crankily loveable, Chloe. Our favorite keyboard jockey has become even more sharp-tongued in the last 18 months, to the point of insubordination.
We didn’t get a half-hour into the show before we had our first mention of “protocols”, with several more mentions to follow. CTU loves their protocols, whatever they are. But if we ever hear CTU start running the Zion Protocols, we’ll be very afraid.
At some point, a hacker friend of Chloe’s is “downloading” software, when another window pops up on his computer, and we see a bunch of characters rapidly scroll. Being a software developer myself, and a longtime computer user, I immediately recognized this a sign that something ominous was happening. Erp. Yes, well, visual tricks to clue the viewer about something unusual aside, the hacker in mere seconds determines that a threat to the Internet has been launched. A coworker ominously says that the entire Internet could go down. Yes, Gentle Reader, this is how real computer work is done. We get our research and work done within seconds, and spend the rest of the day just shooting Nerf rockets at each other.
The meat of the story hinges around an apparently unhinged upper-middle class family involved in the plot to steal the briefcase. The Araz family is apparently Turkish, which is going to raise some eyebrows. Turks are not Arabs, do not speak Arabic, and generally in the ongoing Terror War have little to do with the bloodthirsty nihilists causing the problems in Iraq. So, it is a curious choice of nationality for the terrorists.
The family, headed by Navi, with his wife Dina, (hereafter known as Lady Macbeth), and their son Behrooz, are expecting the briefcase to be brought to their house, at which time Behrooz will bring it to another location. This is a plot contrivance of the first degree. The reason Behrooz has to be bring the briefcase is because Ma and Pa must “account for their whereabouts”. How they will do that when they’re just sitting in their kitchen is not immediately clear. Perhaps they will call a local TV station just to say yup, we’re in our kitchen today.
Also, the person bringing the briefcase to the Araz adobe cannot just bring it to the final recipients themselves, because, “Navi doesn’t want them to know where the people they work with are located.” Huh? It’s not possible to meet in a public place somewhere? Do the classic spy movie cliche of putting the briefcase down beside a table and have someone pick it up, or do a quick handoff?
No, we can’t do that because the plot requires Behrooz to be involved. Why? Because Behrooz has a thing going with an infidel girl, Debbie. His parents are aware of it, and want the relationship stopped. Here’s another plot hole that 24 routinely drives trucks through. This family has been planning this operation for some years now. It is of vital importance to them. If so, why is Pa still dealing with this ON THE DAY OF THE OPERATION? Why wasn’t this potential security breach handled long ago?
Well, because the plot requires that L’il Debbie follow Behrooz to where he drops off the briefcase, so we can have exciting drama in the next episode about how they will handle Debbie’s intrusion.
Back to the SecDef. Jack goes to CTU for a meeting with Driscoll, and we find that Driscoll fired Jack, as he was a junkie. (See last season for details.) The meeting is the excuse to get Jack back into CTU. Where, he proceeds to commit another act that in the real world would lead to a scandal of immense proportions. Think of the Abu Ghraib, and the way the media flogs that. Here, a suspect in the train bombing is brought in, and won’t crack under brutal, intense, questioning. Well, maybe not so brutal. The agent just asks him things. So, Jack disables a security card, gets into the interrogation room (showing us, the viewer, that CTU security is still as good as it ever was, since it follows the Star Trek Security Manual). Jack somehow (read, conveniently. There are lots of conveniences in 24) uses the keypads on the doors to disable the keypads and prevent anyone else from getting in. Jack then shoots the guy in the knee, who then is motivated to tell Jack that the SecDef is a target of a plot. Can you imagine the hubbub in the media if it came out that someone working for the SecDef attacked a CTU agent so he could get in to shoot a suspect in the knee?
The SecDef has stopped off that house of his loser son, who is going to make some leftwing nut speech that will impress his father, and the President. There were a couple of lines in these scenes that rather surprised me. The SecDef referred to the loser son’s “sixth grade Michael Moore philosophy”. Other comments poked fun at the son’s political beliefs. Usually it is right-wing, conservative characters on TV that are portrayed as idiots. The reversal here is welcome, and stunning.
The SecDef is kimnapped at the end of the first hour. The very end. Meaning, we get another of the tricks 24 uses to shoehorn things into these hour-an-episode constraints placed on it. The SecDef is taken as the clock ticks to 8 am. The next hour begins with cops walking through the scene. The cops got there within a minute? Not bad. The media is also doing reports from there within minutes. Not bad.
William Devane is not bad as the SecDef. I usually have a little rule, that anything with Devane in it is not going to be all that good. Here, he has some presence, and the scenes with Audrey as they are held prisoner are strong, with the glaring exception of the drippy “say we’re going to be rescued” scene.
The bad guys use Magic, that much is clear. How else could they find where Chloe’s hacker friend works so fast, and how they can they listen in on his cell converastions so fast? Well, without it, we wouldn’t see the baddies chase this guy to a train station. Where, Jack is heading as a newly reinstated agent to meet the hacker. Why Jack? Because he won’t tell where the hacker is. Again, imagine the hubbub if someone withheld this kind of information.
So, the namby-pamby agent who has Jack’s old job ends up on the ground with slugs in his chest, and Jack goes chasing off after the baddies who kimnapped the hacker? Why do they want him? Because they want to know who he told about discovering the evil, but visually very arresting, thing that is happening to the Internet. Never mind that in listening in to his calls, they know that he already told CTU.
Despite the usual silliness with 24 plots, it’s a crazy thrill ride that rarely slows down, and we’ll be all a-twitter waiting to see what happens next.
(now, having nothing to do with the grand tradition of Count Pointercount, here are some comments from guest critic, Paul Foth)
Protocol protocols are launched. Several sockets to follow.
The sun was coming up just after the train attack, around 7:05, so this
season’s taking place in either February/March or October. I’ll have to
check my WeatherGuide calendar to be sure.
People are going to be confused when they see Dennis Haysbert in those
Allstate commercials during the show. “He was the President! What’s he
doing insurance commercials for?”
The New Faces
Does CTU cycle through a whole new set of recruits every couple of
years? Lessee, we’ve got Curtis the Model, who seems to be a bit lower
on the totem pole than Tony was. He may have Tony’s old title, but just
hasn’t worked his way up to the same level of experience yet. When he
does, he’ll have married Sarah Michelle Gavin and be all ready to
commit treason. Sarah Michelle hasn’t really distinguished herself yet–other
than as an object of Chloe’s scorn, which just makes her a member of
the human race–but she does look just a bit like Clowdia from last season,
who, after being shot, was resurrected with a Brooklyn accent and is
now fighting crime with Gery Senise and Milena
Kanakanackarackanackarackaredes. Then there’s Edgar Eidetic Memory
Stiles, whose lack of need for a laptop (because he “memorized
everything”) will surely come into play during crisis moment six
thousand seven. I’ve seen that actor before, but since the web site
doesn’t see fit to post a cast list (because it would spoil the fun to
stop pretending that it’s just a television show?), and since I’m too
lazy to check just now, I don’t know his name. I like him, though. He
seems like a regular Joe.
Then there’s Erin Driscoll. Or maybe that should be Aaron Driscoll. My
bet is that before the season is out, we’re going to find out she was a
man until about five years ago. (Okay, maybe not. That may be going a
bit far for this show. But watch for FOX’s new reality show, “Who’s
Your Daddy, Er, Mommy?”) It sure didn’t take long for her and Jack to get
off on the wrong foot, did it? How is it that CTU gets ~anything~ done when
its managers get along well with virtually no one?
Oh, and the new Jack, Ronnie Dead Meat Lobell. The only surprise there
was that they waited until the second hour to kill him. I guess he and
Jack had to have an argument first. I bet he was wearing red boxer
shorts. (By the way, whenever Dave Letterman gives an audience member a
box of meat, it’s from Lobell’s Butcher. Lobell’s Dead Meat. HA!)
Andrew Paige is being played by Lukas Haas, who was the little boy in
“Witness.” I’m enjoying seeing him be in essentially the same situation
several years later, except that now they’ve killed his mom, too. Does
this mean Harrison Ford is going to be heading CTU once Driscoll gets
promoted to DIVISION? I was sorry to see his buddy Melanie get killed.
She was a cutie and a half.
I’m also enjoying the relationship between Rumsfeld Heller and Audrey.
Audrey has some real presence to her, so it’s hard to tell whether
they’ll kill her by the end of the season.
The Old Face
Chloe’s actually looking kinda hot. I don’t know if it’s because of the
way she’s dressing, but it looks like she’s slimmed down. She’s colored
her hair a bit and is wearing a little makeup. The changes aren’t huge,
but they’re enough to indicate that she’s probably got more of a life
outside of CTU than she had last season, and that’s good. I’m also glad
to hear her acid wit is still in place. She stands up to everyone,
Driscoll included, and even though she knows the computer systems there
better than anyone else, she knows she’s not perfect. She’s probably
the most human character in the show.
My guess is that the kidnapping of Rummy and Audrey is a decoy, or at
least will be foiled quickly. There’s the business reason that they
wouldn’t have hired Devane for the part if all he was going to do is
play victim the whole time. There’s also story reason for it.
Whatever’s in the briefcase is what’s really important. I want Robert DeNiro to
show up and say over and over, “What’s in the case?” a la “Ronin.”
There’s also the “Pulp Fiction” precedent, where we ~never~ found out
what was in the briefcase (beyond that it glowed yellow), but I don’t
expect they’ll go that route. The episode guide says the case is made
of titanium, so it must fold out into a fighter jet.
Another guess is that Dina is not sympathetic to whatever Mild Mannered
Navi is up to. Again, business reason: the woman who’s playing her is
too well known (she was, I think, nominated for an Oscar for her
performance in “The House of Sand and Fog”) to be just a thug, or a
thug’s wife. She’s either an agent for the good guys, or is part of
some other faction that also wants whatever is in the case. Story reason:
the look she was giving the case wasn’t “at last, our plans are coming to
fruition;” it was “I’ve got to figure out how to steal it.”
Does Little Debbie have snack cakes in her car? Let’s see, what’s going
to happen there? Behrooz will call her to his house, Navi will use his
subtle charm to figure out whether she saw anything, Behrooz will get
upset and klonk his dad on the head, and Behrooz and Debbie will run
away. Thereafter we will be able to refer to them as Rick and Kim. Why
This season reestablishes right away that this isn’t a technothriller
series; it’s a technomagic one:
Exhibit the first: Andrew’s Power of Innocence (despite the fact that
he was stealing software–kids will be kids) drawing forth the NOK
List–er, Node List–of Evil, and giving him the insight to realize
that it was a harbinger of doom for the entire Internet. All of it.
(Incidentally, I’m thinking there might be more to this major piece of
dark magic than simply putting that video of Heller on every screen in
the world. Andrew said it was going to cripple the Net, and so far all
it’s done is turn it into one honkin’ big Al Jazeera affiliate.)
Exhibit the second: There is a Dark Pall of Evil hanging over CTU that
no one has recognized for years. I speak of the complete inability of
any security officer to keep the building secure. These people could
probably guard the President like he was a gold bar in Fort Knox, but
as soon as they punch in at CTU central, they become gibbering lunkheads.
Exhibit the Third: Jack’s ability to get through an electronic lock by
using a code that evidently hasn’t been changed in a year and half and
then making that same lock impenetrable to the nation’s elite
Exhibit the Fourth: Jack shooting Vin Diesel in the knee and then
clouding the mind of his former boss so that she lets him go.
Exhibit the Fifth: Kalil’s Briefcase of Cell Phone Detection. This is
apparently built from a variation on the incantation Stephen Saunders
used to create his SkyVision RealTime Agent Detector last season.
Exhibit the Sixth: Andrew’s Power of Innocence again. From the episode
guide: “8:10: Kalil calls Navi Araz with news about the person who
compromised their server [and remember, Andrew's Wild Magic did
this without Andrew even realizing it was happening]. Navi instructs
Kalil to kill that person.” And yet, at the train station, after Kalil finds
Andrew, binds him, throws him in the back seat of a car and tells him
to lay down (Kalil: the grammatically incorrect terrorist), then kills a
gate guard and Dead Meat Lobell in broad daylight, Andrew is STILL ALIVE.
Exhibit the Seventh: Polygraph tests. In the real world, they’re
notoriously unreliable, rarely used, and inadmissable as evidence in
trials. Here, they’re as common as dysfunctional relationships.
Exhibit the Eighth: Computers. They’re omniscient. Until, that is–and
this is their True Chaotic Magic–the moment of maximum crisis, at
which point they make it worse by crashing. This hasn’t happened yet this
season, but look for it to figure in Eidetic Memory Stiles’s Moment of Glory.
Where the show is most successful in the portrayal of its magical world
is the way in which its characters don’t recognize the magic as magic.
To them, it’s nothing special, in much the same way that our own
technology-driven world would appear mysterious and eldritch to the
folks at CTU.