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'24': Is Jack finally losing it?

April 17, 2007 |  2:14 am

24 It took awhile, about 18 hours to be exact, but on Monday night’s episode (“11 p.m.-12 a.m.”) Jack Bauer finally started to manifest the side effects of two years of torture in a Chinese prison.

How else to explain his cockamamie scheme to free his girlfriend Audrey Raines (Kim Raver) from the clutches of evil Chinese agent Cheng Zhi (Tzi Ma)? His idea, which he insisted on explaining to no one less than President Palmer (D.B. Woodside) himself, involved blowing up a vital piece of circuitry the Chinese were demanding in exchange for Audrey’s freedom, killing himself and any Chinese agent standing too close.

Why he couldn’t use a decoy circuit board or find some other, less suicidal way to save Audrey’s life was never discussed. As usual, Jack Bauer had decided on the only path to take and there was no time for rational discussion. When even Palmer balked at Bauer’s half-baked scheme, Bauer invoked the only thing that seems to carry more weight on this show than a platoon of counter-terrorism soldiers: his word.

In a scene just previous, while Palmer was asking for the resignation of his vice president, he blithely brushed aside matters of executive branch protocol, stating: “This isn’t about what the Constitution says. It’s about what’s best for this country in a time of crisis.” (Strangely, after playing so important a role in last week’s episode, the Constitution seems to have been reduced, in just an hour of show time, to a nice set of guidelines, while Jack’s word has somehow become elevated to something that will always merit due consideration in the Oval Office.)

Even earlier in the episode, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) attempted to explain to her former husband Morris why she’d betrayed his trust and hacked into his computer to extract top secret launch code algorithms. “Jack gave me his word,” she said, as if that was all the explanation needed.

But maybe Jack Bauer’s infallible sheen is starting to chip away.

Was it just me or did Chloe roll her eyes ever so slightly when Jack called to explain that Audrey was still alive?

Everyone seems to be winding down, CTU Chief Buchanan (James Morrison) is back to boring the troops with long-winded briefings, the president has time to conduct a couple private meetings and hold a press conference, but adrenaline junkie Jack can’t seem to let the action train go.

He’s become the star quarterback, reliving the big game long after his teammates have moved on.

It all still seems superfluous; the plot threads of this season’s third act are not fully meshed with what came before.

But there’s hope that somehow things will tighten up for a thrilling conclusion to match the gut-punch of Santa Clarita getting nuked at the beginning of the season. Is it possible that Audrey’s miraculous return is simply the feverish longing of a sleep-deprived and unstable Jack, working out his feelings of grief through heroic fantasies? Has there been any confirmation Audrey’s alive outside of some voices on Jack’s cell phone telling him what to do?

Turning the redoubtable Jack Bauer into a hallucinating mess seems like a cruel twist, one that would alienate as many fans as it would inspire. It’s unlikely they would do it, but then again, shows like “24” live for their shocking twists.

In fact, they’re the only things we can count on. Besides Jack Bauer’s word, of course.

(Photo courtesy Fox)