The penultimate episode of any 24 season is usually a bumpy ride, but since this is a 12-episode version of the usually 24-episode model, we kick into warp speed from the first seconds and proceed without little time to take a breath.
All of the old tropes are back in full vigor: a president and his cabinet watching blips on a screen of an impending attack, crossed wires causing havoc among world leaders, an evil ultimate villain with a game changing trick up his sleeve, and someone close to Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) in dire peril which will shape the way things happen in the finale.
Once Jack and Kate (Yvonne Strahovski) dispatch of the Russians (with a little help from a back-up team), they proceed into the decimated One Cell lair where they find the remains of Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott) and his team, as well as the tracking unit for the override device. Jack quickly surmises that Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) has been taken, and this is confirmed when Kate finds a phone with a recording that jars Jack’s circuits (the look on his face when he hears Cheng Zhi’s voice is Emmy worthy).
Of course, Cheng (Tzi Ma) tortured Jack for over a year, kidnapped Jack’s lover Audrey (Kim Raver), and did despicable things to her as well. While Cheng was supposed to be dead (in 24 “death” is always something as reliable as the New York City subway), President James Heller (William Devane) quickly believes Jack’s theory that Cheng is the mastermind behind the day’s events, that he has been working with the Russian spies (who probably are also rogue as Cheng), and that they have tried to start a war between America and China.
Jack does have a “tender” moment with Audrey; of course, being this is 24, it is done split-screen with the characters on the phone. Jack says that he is worried that Audrey would hate him; she says that she could never hate him. They really need to be alone somehwere, but that’s not happening anytime soon. Jack, you big lug, why don’t you just say, “I love you” and get it over with?
When Jack finds something linking Mark (Scurvy Spider) Boudreau (Tate Donovan) to the Russians, he speeds to the American consulate to confront him and make Heller aware. Heller immediately wants to arrest Mark and charge him with treason, but Jack has a better idea. Why not use Mark to get to the Russian in a way to locate Cheng?
Our gal Chloe is not going down without a fight. Trapped on a truck with Cheng and his nefarious associates, Chloe takes the opportunity to make an escape when she finds a convenient lead pipe and goes ballistic on the unsuspecting Chinese tech guys. Soon she is jumping from the truck and running over the river and through the woods to escape the big bad wolf. Cheng and crew try to pursue, but British soldiers roll by and shake him up, forcing him to abandon the search. Chloe runs and hits her head and lays unconscious and out of harm’s way for now.
As Jack, Kate, and Mark rush to the Russian compound, Audrey comes up with an idea to speak to a Chinese diplomatic connection as a way to ease tensions between the two countries. Now, at this point, after Audrey was dragged off to China and tortured, you would think Heller would tell her “No way, dear.” Instead, since he is dropping his pills and shaky as a teenage boy on his first date, Heller (with whom the fate of the world rests) sanctions the meeting and sends his little girl out into the dark London night. Anyone who didn’t feel this was a bad idea must be sniffing something stronger than airplane glue.
Jack’s mission into the Russian lair is a disaster. He and Kate kill all the bad guys, and Mark wrestles with the Russian bear bad guy until he gets glass stuck in his neck. Bleeding out, he warns Jack that Russia will never give up on getting him. That’s reminiscent of Cheng’s “China has a long memory” from seasons back. All this does nothing for the current crisis but tells us that, if we have another season of 24, Jack will still be dodging bullets and finding a way to survive.
More pressing problems await now as Heller declares a “Defcon 3” situation, which considering his now fragile mental state is like asking a five year old to put the car into drive. Nevertheless, the free world (and everyone else caught in between) may be bracing itself for nuclear war based on Cheng’s little ploy of using the override to sink a Chinese aircraft carrier. No one ever taught this Cheng guy how to play nice, did they?
The final sequence involves Audrey in the park (this girl always puts herself in a vulnerable position with Jack too far away) meeting with her Chinese connection, but that goes as well as Brazil’s hopes in the World Cup. Soon her Secret Service detail and the Chinese woman are dead, and Audrey’s phone rings. No, it’s not Publishers Clearing House telling her she has won a big prize – it’s the despicable Cheng telling her that she is the sniper’s next target if she doesn’t sit on the bench nicely. He tells her that maybe he will let her live. Gee, Cheng, you just don’t know how to talk to women.
So now we are set up for a classic 24 finale, with Jack obviously being put into almost like a Sophie’s Choice scenario. Does he save the world or save Audrey? Just as in previous seasons, Jack will have to find a way, but usually anything he accomplishes comes with an enormous price tag. That is Jack’s fate, and the idea of him ending this season “happy” and dancing to Pharrell Williams’s tune just doesn’t seem in the cards.
We have to look for a slam-bang finale. My feeling is Jack will stop himself from killing Cheng in order to bring him in to face the music, but judging from the preview of next week’s episode, at least one character dies and Heller seems on the verge of collapse. My inner desire to see Cheng beaten to a pulp may not be satisfied, but he may discover that Jack Bauer has a long memory too, and there is a need for 24 to end this season in a very big way. Let’s hope that involves an ending we all can accept and live with after the clock stops ticking.
Until next week, Klaatu Barada Nikto!
Photo credits: tv.com
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