'24': Yes, Jack Bauer, it is your problem
Poor Jack Bauer. He's gone from saving the world to dozing off on a couch while his granddaughter watches cartoons. Still looking as though he's feeling some of the effects from his exposure to a bioweapon and the subsequent stem cell surgery, Bauer is hanging around New York with his daughter, Kim, and her milquetoast husband, who are getting ready to return to Los Angeles and want him to join them. Bauer seems to move a little slower and is unsuccessfully trying to convince himself that he's ready for life as a grandpa and, gasp, a desk jockey back in Los Angeles.
But we know he's fooling himself, if not us. While Bauer is napping, assassins are plotting to take out Kamistan President Omar Hassan, who is on the verge of sealing a groundbreaking peace treaty with President Allison Taylor at the United Nations. Her staff, aware of the potential hit, debates back and forth with her over how to proceed. Competing for the president's ear are her loyal aide Ethan Kanin, who seems to have developed a pill problem, and new Chief of Staff Rob Weiss.
Peace isn't the only thing on Hassan's mind. He's also trying to find time for his latest squeeze -- American journalist Meredith Reed in the Judith Miller role -- while trying to keep his wife and brother Farhad, who is his top aide, off his back. Farhad thinks Omar is bending over backward too much for the West.
Meanwhile, Victor, one of Bauer's former informants, is wounded trying to escape the would-be gunmen and manages to find Jack and pleads for help. Sounding like Dante from "Clerks" ("I'm not even supposed to be here today"), Bauer tries to turn his back on Victor but, of course, can't. In no time, Bauer's on the phone with Chloe O'Brian, who's now based in CTU's New York office and infecting them with all her charm while she struggles to adjust to the new computer systems they use. Bauer gets the green light to drop Victor off and the two set out on the mean streets of New York looking something like a modern-day Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo. Of course, we know Victor's not going to see the end of the episode. In fact, he barely makes it to the next commercial break.
As usual, bureaucrats and would-be do-gooders get in Bauer's way and in no time he and Victor are under attack by the assassins. Bauer may walk like Joe Namath, but he's still pretty good at improvising and manages to take out two of the killers. Just when Bauer and Victor appear on the verge of making their CTU connection, a young, hero-worshiping agent named Cole Ortiz, the helicopter they're about to board gets taken out by a rocket from the lethal assassin Davros. Victor is killed, but not before telling him that President Hassan's inner circle has been compromised.
By whom? This is where "24" begins its usual cycle of plot twists. Some are well-executed, some silly. CTU New York boss Brian Hastings quickly settles on Meredith Reed as part of the plot. Although Reed may not have the greatest ethics as a reporter, she looks more like a patsy than an Oswald, and Chloe is the only one who suspects this. "Does anyone think this happened a little too fast and a little too easily?" she asks as the rest of CTU's New York team high-fives one another over capturing Reed.
She may not be able to work the new computers, but Chloe knows how to follow a hunch and soon enough she's figured out that Reed is being set up. Of course, Hastings dismisses her theories, and though Bauer believes her, he just wants to get out of New York and back to Los Angeles. "It's not my problem" is his mantra in the first two hours. That and, "I hate this place."
Having screwed up the attempt to bring in Victor, Hastings is manipulated into letting Bauer pursue his leads and Ortiz, who wants in on the action, is itching to join him. Meanwhile, the White House is trying to decide just how much knowledge about all this it should share with Hassan, who is reeling from the idea that his lover was involved in a plot to kill him and is blind to who his real enemies may be.
As the first two hours close, it is once again Bauer not only against the terrorists, but also his former employer, the government, which is often more worried about covering its own behind then getting to the bottom of anything. It's a recurring theme for "24," which frankly grows a little tired. Hopefully Bauer won't keep tripping over internal politics because that's when "24" frustrates its viewers as much as it does its hero.
These last few seasons, it's best to watch "24" on an episode-by-episode basis rather than buy into the single day plot and that is likely going to be the case this season too. Each show stands as its own stand-alone roller-coaster ride and should be treated as such. We tune in to watch Bauer get his man. The subplots and turn of events are just something to gaze at while we wait for the story to refocus on Bauer and his particular style of vengeance.
Yes, after all these years, Jack, it is still your problem.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: "24's" Kiefer Sutherland and Freddie Prinze Jr. Credit: Richard Foreman / Fox