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'24': Never fear, Jack Bauer's here

March 16, 2007 |  5:50 pm

Halfway through Monday's back-to-back episodes of "24," Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) stormed an apartment full of terrorists without a helmet, got into a deadly shootout and defused an armed suitcase nuke.

But close-up shots revealed skin that was both nicely tanned and completely dry. Not bad for a guy who got released from a Chinese prison just hours ago.

One of "24's" greatest assets has been its ability to simultaneously keep viewers off-balance with completely unexpected and outlandish plot twists (like detonating a nuclear bomb in Valencia), while at the same time perpetuating the comforting belief that, no matter what, Jack will make things right. The series' creators have been so adept at creating this he-man fantasy that the single implausible moment in last night's episodes came when Jack's sister-in-law Marilyn (Rena Sofer) failed to confide to Jack that his father was threatening to kill her son if she didn't direct Jack away from the terrorist hide-out and toward a bomb-trapped house. Obviously, despite having a some sort of romantic attachment to him far in their past, she doesn't know the real Jack Bauer

But does anyone really know anyone else on this show? Double-dealing and surprise betrayals have been "24" standards since its first season, but this year the switch-ups seem to have been kicked up a notch. Last week, Jack's dad (James Cromwell) revealed himself to be a bad guy when he killed Jack's shady brother Graem. Now it appears Jack's dad is also the mastermind behind a conspiracy to detonate suitcase nukes within the United States and to assassinate President Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside). At this point, the only person who seems not to have a secret agenda is CTU's computer expert Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), whose relationship with fellow CTU computer whiz Morris O'Brian (Carlo Rota) appears to be disintegrating after he was tortured by Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis) into helping him arm the remaining four nuclear bombs.

But this season's most surprising character revelation may come from "24's" creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran. An L.A. Times story on Tuesday detailed how human rights groups have requested that "24's" on-screen depictions of torture become more realistic, and this week's New Yorker examined Surnow's conservative political views and friendly relationship with members of the Bush administration.

So it may come across as shocking that while on the show the real-life president's worst fears are coming true, they have depicted a White House where the president who wants to make nice with a former terrorist and defend Americans' civil liberties is portrayed as someone who needs protection, while the men who share Bush's get-tough attitudes are reduced to scheming in the White House boiler room.

This isn't the first time "24" has subverted its conservative leanings in favor of a juicy plot twist, and with 15 hours left in the day, there's still plenty of juice left. But for now, when the fictional president works to draft an outreach to the Muslim American community, it appears the show really wants to believe that more violence is not the answer. Then again, only Jack Bauer can make things right.

--Patrick Day

Introducing the Bauer Clan
Tuesday, Jan. 30

As the cloud of radioactive dust dissipated over the Santa Clarita Valley, and Season 6 of "24" headed into the lunch hour on Monday night's episode, one wondered why a nuclear bomb had gone off in a major U.S. city and everyone wasn't acting a little more freaked out. But logic aside, the potential of this season instantly became clear with the appearance of a single guest star: James Cromwell as Jack's dad.

FOR THE RECORD: In Wednesday's Show Tracker story on "24," the location of the nuclear blast was given as the Simi Valley. The bomb went off in Valencia, in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Although the introduction of previously unseen family members usually smacks of desperation, and it's a disappointment that the role isn't being played by Kiefer Sutherland's real-life father, Donald, Cromwell as Père Bauer could bring a nice bit of levity to a series that too often wallows in its clenched-jaw sense of determination. How many episodes will go by before he gives Jack a real scolding? With the sibling rivalry between Jack and Graem (Paul McCrane) flying thick in the few moments of screen time the family had together, any self-respecting parent would feel compelled to weigh in on the issue. Though Cromwell's presence was muted in his first episode, the fact that he's a senior citizen and still has the temerity to assemble a security team to stake out the traitorous Darren McCarthy's office hints that the Bauer siblings' intensity doesn't come from their mother's side.

As for Graem, who spent last season all but twirling his figurative mustache, the surprise of last week's episode was not that he is back as an evildoer but that he is Jack's brother. Now that Jack has yanked him out of the bad-guy closet, Graem will have to work extra hard to distinguish himself from the lethal menace of Fayed the terrorist (Adoni Maropis) and the snaky charm of the new President Palmer's civil liberties shredding advisor (Peter MacNicol).

Meanwhile, another previously unseen family member, Sandra Palmer (President Palmer's sister), continued to drag the show down with her tedious storyline in which she fights against the government's unfair treatment of Muslims, while her co-worker Walid stands around a detention center trying to look nonchalant while asking very nosy questions of his fellow prisoners. Having been sniffed out as a plant by the end of the episode, Walid was no longer standing, since he was beaten to a pulp. But why must each season have a bum plot?

Best line of the episode went to the nuclear weapon dealing Darren McCarthy (David Hunt), who turned to his grousing girlfriend after getting off the phone with a murderous terrorist and said, "Your negativity is not what I need right now."

--Patrick Day

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