As 24: Live Another Day has reached episode 8 (which means we will enter the last third of the shortened season 8 next week), the tension seriously reached new levels as Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and President James Heller (in an Emmy-worthy performance by William Devane) butt heads as they try to come to an understanding as to how to stop terrorist Margot Al-Harizi (Michelle Fairley) from unleashing more drone attacks on London. We also follow techie Jordan (Giles Matthey) who has been shot by a thug sent by his boss Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) and is trying to escape, while Margot’s daughter Simone (Emily Berrington) lies near death in hospital.
All of these scenarios are part of the 24 canon; of course, this year being a shortened season means that the excrement hits the fan a good deal faster than in previous seasons. Character arcs that would have dragged out much longer (think the painful Behrooz episodes or Kim and the cougar) are necessarily shorter here. Simone’s close to checking out in the CIA hospital wing, so Agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) needs to push her against her instincts to preserve life (Jack tells her to basically get what she needs out of the “bitch” no matter what). Of course, since Simone has been linked to terrorist attacks that already have killed thousands in London, we can’t shed too many tears for her.
Meanwhile, CIA Chief Navarro has his secret, scrambled decoder ring (no, actually a cell phone) that connects him to the shadowy Adrian Cross (Michael Wincott in a slimy portrayal of a supposedly anti-government tech wiz) who reminds him that he has been paid well, and that Jordan should be pushing up daisies or some form of Thames debris, but Jordan takes a licking and keeps on ticking for the moment (though after a second encounter with the thug he is in pretty bad shape).
Back to Heller and Jack, it’s not like it’s the first time they have clashed. All the history between them comes to a head in two powerful performances by Devane and Sutherland. You can see all the respect Jack has for Heller, and you can tell that Heller has grudging affection for Jack (reminding him that he’s the only one who has done anything right that day). Heller’s plan is brilliant in its simplicity – he is calling Margot’s bluff by offering himself up to her in exchange for destroying the remaining drones.
Margot never expected this turn of events, and now she has to either comply or come off to the world as a “bad” terrorist (as incongruous as that seems). The point here is that originally Margot thinks she can rely on Heller’s noncompliance (not turning himself over to her) to continue to justify unrelenting drone attacks on London. Now that he has complied, she faces keeping her end of the bargain that she expected not to keep (got that?).
Jack agrees to Heller’s plan once the president reveals that he has Alzheimers disease and it is advancing. Jack needs help getting Heller past the Secret Service, so to whom does Heller turn for assistance but Chief of State Mark (I hate Jack Bauer) Boudreaux (Tate Donovan), who just happens to be married to Jack’s ex-flame Audrey (Kim Raver), Heller’s daughter. Despite the soap opera-like dynamics, the actors all rise to nuanced performances, especially Raver as she says “goodbye” to her father (without realizing it) and talks of a fishing trip with her late mother (a sure sign Heller is toast).
Jack and Mark find a way to work together, but we know Mark has already promised Jack to the Russians when this is over, but as he watches Jack load a pistol, we get to thinking Mark is going to get his butt kicked by Jack sooner or later. Mark arranges for a meeting and moves Secret Service around to allow for Jack and Heller to exit, but one agent gets in Jack’s way, and he has to knock that guy out (seriously, Jack has to up the ante in the last four episodes because he has not beaten up or killed enough bad guys this season).
Calling on his many skills, Jack pilots a helicopter to take Heller to Wembley Stadium, where Heller is too stand in the middle of the field and offer himself up as a sacrifice. There is notable silence between Jack and Heller, though the heft of all that has gone before is there. Heller knows Jack has been screwed for basically sacrificing any chance for a normal life for his country, and Jack knows that Heller is giving the ultimate sacrifice to save countless lives. It is a poignant moment in the history of 24. With all the incompetent or corrupt presidents since the magnificent President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), here is finally a Commander and Chief Jack can respect, and the man is now going to die. In these final moments Heller confirms that he is as worthy as Palmer was of Jack’s loyalty and service, proving without a doubt his presidential timber for the whole world.
Once inside the stadium Jack makes one final attempt to make sure Heller wants to go through with this, and Heller confirms that he does. He also tells Jack he has given him a full presidential pardon (for four years ago and this day as well). Finally, someone has the good sense to give Jack the thing that he has needed, and Heller tells him that he can now go back to his family. It’s a bittersweet moment, but confirms for all 24 fans that Heller does love Jack like a son and it’s an amazing final act by this man Jack had always admired.
Heller takes his place in the center of the stadium, and Margot cannot believe her eyes when the drone computer’s facial recognition confirms that it is James Heller. In a sort of macabre Macbeth kind of moment (“is this a dagger that I see before me”), Margot mans the controls, her finger hovering over the trigger. In seconds she pulls it and obliterates the leader of the free world in a stunning explosion.
For 24 purists Heller didn’t get the silent clock (as did Terri, Edgar, Tony, and many others before him when they died) after dying, but instead we get a final image of Margot’s satisfied face. That may get some people thinking Heller isn’t dead (yes, it’s happened before) but there seems there is no way that Heller could have escaped that missile unless he suddenly became Superman or The Flash.
Episode 8 of season 9 was thrilling and unexpected. Heller’s death will no doubt shape the way the rest of the season plays out, especially with Jack now not only needing to save innocent people but also no doubt wanting to avenge Heller’s murder. Can’t help thinking that Jack has a bullet with Margot’s name on it, but we also have to see what Adrian and Navarro have to do with the whole plan.
Will the powers that be now allow Jack to continue his mission with Heller gone? What will Audrey do when she finds out that Jack took her father to meet his end? And how will the Russians react when they learn that Jack has been pardoned? It doesn’t seem likely that they’ll invite him over for some caviar and Stolichnaya anytime soon.
This episode is simply the best of this season, and one of the most memorable in 24 history (and that is quite an accomplishment). The series seems reinvigorated now, and it could no doubt be brought back again next year; however, if the big shots at FOX don’t know it yet, they have a shining star in Strahovski. If she doesn’t get her own show, it will be a most serious mistake. Here’s my vote for 24: Agent Kate Morgan to debut next season because Strahovski not only deserves it but we fans do too!
Photo credits: FOX, 24spoilers.com[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0044E9JU0]