There was much pontificating and speculation that 24 was a one-time deal, that the novelty of a mystery-adventure TV show taken in real time, one hour at a time, had worn out its welcome last year. I had concerns of my own because serial TV has a very hard time holding my attention – I couldn’t even get it together to follow my beloved Sopranos this year – but 24 has set aside those concerns with tough, even painful writing and plotting that is holding up even better than last year, which meandered a bit and lost focus toward the end.
Last night’s episode was perhaps the best yet this year, unspooling the drama one finely-calibrated ratchet at a time: puppy-eyed George, dying of radiation poisoning after the nuclear bomb shoot out, has turned out to be a terrific character, played with nuance and real backbone by Xander Berkeley (who is marrying Sarah Clarke – the dreaded traitor “Nina Myers” – in real life). His scene with his estranged son was hearbreaking and believable: two stubborn, emotionally distant men connecting in spite of themselves.
Jack’s wrenching polar opposite impulses to save a few million people from nuclear incineration vs his visceral need to avenge his wife’s murder by Nina yielded some great tension as they were forced to work together to thwart the nuclear attack: he, because it’s what he does; she, to secure a presidential pardon for her turncoat-bitch self. A beautiful undertone is the dissonance created between the perfect underling Nina who nurtured Jack through the entire first season, and the fact that she turned out to be an amoral murderous mercenary mole.
Equally fascinating is the palace drama taking place within President Palmer’s administration, with more uncertainty and ambiguity as to where the various players’ loyalties lie, including Palmer’s Machiavellian ex-wife Sherry who has inserted herself back into the inner circle.
More tension, drama and ambiguity attends another arm of the investigation centering on the Warner family: who has ties to terrorism, daughter Marie’s charming Middle Eastern-English-American fiancee Reza? Or her own father Bob? Neither? Both? Our relationship with the Reza character plays slyly upon our desire to both find and trust “good Muslims,” and the imperative to not ignore “the obvious.”
All this in a serial pot boiler. Zowie, it’s really good.