At 8:00 last evening, I settled down to watch a new episode of “24.’’
Wait, I just want to smile at that sentence one more time. It’s like having a long-lost best friend suddenly move back home and get an apartment right next to you. “24’’ is back in our lives, and just about everything is perfect.
The new incarnation of “24,’’ like the last one, seems to be a reflection of the time in which it exists. While the first seasons reflected the unsteady terrorist paranoia of the Bush era, this one touches on the shadowy international chaos seen in Obama’s administration. An American government (headed by a mentally-shaky President James Heller, the old favorite from the previous show, played by the always-reliable William Devane) is under fire for its drone attack policies. One of the CIA agents in its London station, the on-the-way-out Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) has a husband busted for working for the Chinese. A goth’d-out Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) was part of an Edward Snowden-like information network before being caught and tortured by American special services. Clearly, everyone on the writing staff has been keeping up on their MSNBC.
We’re a few years away from the last Jack Bauer sighting; he’s fled into the ether, on the run after his vengeful campaign against the Russians four years prior. When he pops up on the grid again, it’s in London, just as Heller is in town to visit – accompanied by his old paramour, Audrey Raines, now married to her father’s slimy chief of staff, Mark Boudreau (Tate Donovan, far, far, far from the O.C.).
Bauer lets himself get captured by the London CIA unit (headed by Steve Navarro, played by another TV vet in Benjamin Bratt), getting a few practice ass-kickings in before the men in black overwhelm him. He’s trying to get to old friend Chloe, suffering under some “enhanced interrogation’’ by a “Special Activities’’ unit in London. Not quite the torture scenes from Zero Dark Thirty, but they’re close. Oh, and while we’re on the topic of movies, can showrunners stop the whole “let the bad/good guy get captured’’ plotline? “Dark Knight’’ and “Skyfall’’ have already perfected it.
Of course, it takes Jack all of thirty seconds to disarm his captors, free Chloe (there’s a great “Pulp Fiction’’ adrenaline-to-the-heart shot to revive his geeky friend, and the first “Damn it!’’ of the series at 43 minutes in) and set off a good-sized explosion in London’s CIA headquarters. They get free and flee into the London afternoon, splitting up to a few mysterious destinations. As the first episode ends up, we see the Agent Morgan (a new variation on the previous series’ Renee Walker?) angling to get back in good to hunt Jack down – all while another shadowy figure hijacks the drone of American soldier Tanner (played by the future “Star Wars’’ star John Boyega) and blows up a convoy in Afghanistan, killing a few British and American soldiers.
Whew. That’s just the first hour; honestly, though there have been crazier premiere episodes in “24’s’’ history. So, on to hour number deux. As it turns out, Jack freed Chloe so he could bust into her gang of international hackers, headed by Adrian Cross (played by one of those perpetual big-screen bad guys, Michael Wincott, so you know there’s more evil to be done with him). One of their former number, Yates, is plotting out an assassination attempt on Heller – and, it appears, was also behind that drone strike, with the assistance of one of those “24’’ technological McGuffins. Wait, though! There’s someone behind Yates and the attempt. OHMIGOD. It’s Catelyn Stark! SHE’S ALIVE! Well, it’s Michelle Fairley, star of “Game of Thrones,’’ playing a shadowy character named Margot Al-Hanzi, but still – holy geek crossover!
Speaking of other welcome actors, the great Stephen Fry is in the show, playing the British Prime Minister. Anything that allows me to link to A Bit of Fry and Laurie is welcome. It appears that the Brits will be right tossed at the Americans for the false drone attack – enough, almost, to chop off support for more of them. Heller has the bright idea to defend the program in Parliament, which is sabotaged by his yet-to-be-revealed mental condition. Poor guy. There’s a remarkably high rate of turnover for “24’s’’ presidents; odds are we’ll see another one by the end of this day.
We get a good old-fashioned Bauer solo assault, as he goes full … well, full Jack Bauer on a floor full of Yates’s compadres before Morgan and the rest of the CIA team interrupts his flow. He takes a bullet in the shoulder (no big deal) and heads out to chase down Yates with Chloe, tossing in one more “Damn it!’’ to put a capper on all those drinking games around America.
There’s always the hammer to these big 24 premieres, and this one’s a doozy. In the last scene of the show, Yates and his Russian girlfriend are hanging in a pub, drinking presumably awful British beer and making plans to betray Catelyn Stark / Margot Al-Hanzi by selling the drone device to a different buyer. That doesn’t end well. The “girlfriend’’ stabs Yates to death whilst he’s in the loo, tossing away her blond wig and her Russian accent and making off with the loot. A last phone call reveals that she’s – GASP – Al-Hanzi’s offspring, as her mother ends the call with a chilling “Mommy’s waiting.’’ Whoa. I guess Michelle Fairley just can’t help but have stabby daughters.
Overall, it’s a pleasant, welcomed return to form from “24,’’ with plenty of the requisite twists and turns, all of the Bauer / Chloe traits we’ve come to know and love and what looks like to be a superbly evil turn from Fairley. The best news? We’ve got two and-a-half more months of this. Jack is back, and the world is all the better (and safer) for it.
Other thoughts, as I struggle with my disappointment over the lack of wild jungle animals in this episode:
– Nice to see thumb drives back in the national consciousness.
– Wow, what a great slate of commercials during the show. That new HBO “Leftovers’’ show looks fantastic, and Fox’s “Gotham’’ has some promise (and features another “The O.C.’’ alum!) And “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’’? What a showcase.
– Just curious – how would everyone rank the original seasons? This has been a giant debate amongst my friends for years. In my opinion, it goes 5-1-4-3-2-8-7-6. Not going to count that TV movie set in Africa.
– Need a recap of the prior seasons? Read Grantland’s.
– I tried to mentally count up all the presidents “24’’ has had and lost track after the fifth or sixth one. This is a helpful chart.
– Mary Lynn Rajskub is consistently one of the best late-night guests out there, as her appearance on “The Tonight Show’’ proves.
– Speaking of late-night TV shows, Jack and Chloe’s cameo on SNL this weekend was the episode’s highlight.
– Next week: we only get one hour, chronicling 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.. The episode is directed by Adam Kane, who is married to Leslie Hope – otherwise known as Jack Bauer’s tragically killed-off spouse. Oh, God. It got dusty in here all of a sudden.