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Third night of the third season of Fox's 24 - so how we doin' so far?

Tickin’ Away

Third night of the third season of Fox’s 24 – so how we doin’ so far?
Pretty cagey of the writers to set this ‘un three years after last year’s mock-Middle Eastern terrorist threat since it gives our cast time to recuperate from last season’s day-long chase. Too many consecutive days of this Perils of Pauline stuff, and Jack & Kim Bauer would probably keel over dead from exhaustion.
Still, you’ve gotta wonder why the fact that Season Two ended with a seemingly successful assassination attempt on Dennis Haysbert’s President Palmer barely gets mentioned. Turns out Palmer’s survived that attempt, though not without an occasional ominous tremor or two, but whatever happened to the slimy moneyed miscreants behind that appalling plot? And what about that oily v-p who attempted a palace coup in the midst of all the chaos?
In other words, that three-year gap gives 24‘s scripters leeway to skip over plenty of tricky unresolved questions from the past two seasons. What about the imperiled little girl who lost both mother and sleazebag abusive father last year? And now that they’ve introduced Sunnydale’s former high school principal as the Prez’s adviser/brother, where’s the rest of Palmer’s troubled family? And how about the duplicitous Nina? I know 24‘s writers are hoping you’ll ignore such questions in favor of a brand-fresh slam-bang terrorist threat, but I can’t quite do it.

This year’s baddies are a pair of Mexican drug-runner brothers named Hector & Ramon Salazar who’ve initiated a biological threat on the city of Los Angeles. The duo hope to blackmail the president into releasing Ramon, who’s been imprisoned thanks to the efforts of an undercover Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland). As a souvenir of his narc-work, Bauer now has a monkey on his back: he sweats almost as much as last season’s irradiated CTU chief George.
As for Bauer’s daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), she’s now gotten a job at CTU, the better for her junky dad to keep tabs on her – which makes sense, considering the gal’s propensity for plunging her idiot self into perilous situations. For the first three eps, at least, the moronic post-adolescent moves get made by Kyle Singer, a Cali kid who’s been suckered into transporting what he thinks is cocaine for the Salazar brothers. Poor dumb-ass Kyle is apparently carrying more than drugs: to the hawk-eyed agents of CTU, it appears as if he’s Typhoid Mary for an ultra-deadly and fast-acting viral weapon. Lovers and longtime CTUers Tony & Michelle Almeida (Carlos Bernard & Reiko Aylesworth) attempt to rally the troops, but – uh-oh! – looks like there’s at least one mole in the unit. (How well do they screen these folks, anyway? Not too tightly, I guess, since they hired Kim and put her in a position of some responsibility.)
There’s more to the show, of course: as with previous seasons, the writers have packed the opening eps with a cornucopia of subplots in the hopes that some of ’em will bear entertaining tangents. So Kim gets a new boyfriend, this time a fellow CTUer named Chase (James Badge Dale), and they both have to deal with the fact that daddy Jack is none too thrilled by this development. And President Palmer is facing a re-election debate (held in Los Angeles, natch) with a smarmy opponent who may try to embarrass the stalwart Chief Executive by bringing up his present girlfriend’s shaky financial history. (As usual, there’s an under-discussed racial dimension to this plotline since Palmer’s girlfriend is white.) And Tony and Michelle may be experiencing a bi-coastal relationship crisis as one of them has been offered a job in D.C.
That last subplot may be pretty damn slight, but part of the fun with this show lies in attempting to second-guess which thread will pay off best. Because a season is supposed to represent just one day, the writers can ignore some storylines for weeks at a time, then bring ’em back to startle us without anyone yelling foul! Take last year’s bad daddy plotline: it started out strong, only to peter out mid-season, then got revived in the last weeks of the season. That it by then had veered so far from the season’s primary story arc as to seem superfluous was beside the point.

What matters are those moments when our seemingly overwhelmed good guy/gals finally get to face the sons-of-bitches who’ve been tormenting them the past twenty-something hours. How satisfying you’ll find those scenes probably depends upon your tolerance for haphazard plotting and characters whose goal is plot advancement above all else. (One what-the-hell? moment from last night’s Howard Gordon-scribed episode: when a crew of government agents busts into an apartment to retrieve what they think is a bag of biologically tainted drugs and nobody gets in quick enough to stop Kyle Singer’s middle-aged ma from flushing the dope down the toilet).

Me, I’m mainly watching this season just to see how far they’re gonna pull the preternaturally durable agent Bauer, the Stretch Armstrong of counter terrorist agents. He survived a heart attack last season, but how’s he gonna do goin’ cold turkey? I’m guessing we’ve got a few more weeks before the strain really starts to show. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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