It’s been two solid weeks in a row for “24,” ladies and gentlemen. With a show such as this, it’s hard to have a series of episodes of wildly erratic quality: since it’s so plot-driven, the show’s about as good as its story. To date, the story of Season 8 has been wildly unfocused while feeling painfully familiar: we’ve gone from an assassination attempt to a coup to a nuclear attack while moving through four or five possible Big Bads. All this while employing the usual tricks and trades that the show employs in order to take a 5-6 hour story and turn it into 24 hours of prime-time entertainment. 

Roughly halfway into this season, has “24” finally found its narrative stride? The jury’s still out. Tonight did feature some tense scenes with Jack, some classic Chloe O’Brien, finally turned the season’s weakest link (the Dana subplot) into…well, you’ll see in the full recap, after the break...

Agents swarm into the newly dismantled CTU. Hastings has that “I’m getting too old for this #$%” look on his face. Chloe confirms all communications are down, and Arlo notes that his drones, while on auto-pilot, are currently useless. With CTU’s radiological detection down, the terrorists are all but free to run their nuclear rods down Park Avenue. Hastings tells Dana to call everyone together for a status report in ten minutes. When she notes that all computers are down, making reports impossible, he barks, “Tell them to use a pen and a damn legal pad!” Then, he tells her to get off his damn lawn. 

While escorting Kayla back out of CTU, Hastings alerts her to the EMP in car and that Tarin, still very much alive, set her up in order to dismantle their agency. He asks for her help in identifying IRK agents from the files provided by her father in order to ID the terrorists working with the man who is more likely than not now her ex-boyfriend. 

With CTU down, Jack phones up an old NSA buddy to help get some visual aid in finding Samir and Co. And he’ll need all the help he can get, as Samir’s lieutenant notes their adversaries are “blind, deaf, and dumb.” CTU, can you hear me? Can you feel me near you? Pinball Wizard Jack manages to drive right up to the dock where Samir’s men have loaded the rods into a Zodiac for transport across the East River. After jamming the SVU’s radio transmissions, Samir’s men open fire on the helpless vehicle, pinning it between two large storage crates. 

Samir recognizes Jack through his binoculars (probably from watching “CTU Agents Gone Wild!” DVDs), and realizes that things might get hairy if they stick around. He and Samir head into the Zodiac while the rest of their men pin Bauer’s Boys down. Cole manages to help pick off some snipers via infrared, which means he must play a lot of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” Jack soon spies a callbox, and decides to make an attempt to use its hard line to phone for help.  

After getting an update on the damage to CTU, Hastings learns that an NSA engineer is on-site to get them up and running. Turns out this engineer helped design this new-and-improved branch of CTU, and isn’t too happy with what they’ve done with the place. Ah, another in a long line of bureaucratic agents on “24” that get in the way of our always-right heroes. Insisting that only his own team work on the rebuild, the NSA agent ignores Chloe’s faster (albeit riskier) plan to get them online. Is she worried about the nuclear attack? Yes, but she’s also worried about Jack as well. Probably more so about the latter, truth by told.  

The NSA engineer shoots her plan down, and Arlo offers little in the way of aide, so to whom does Chloe turn? Renee! Hey, nice to see you again, Ms. Walker. And in Jack’s apartment, no less! Thanks for still being clothed. You had me worried there. Chloe downloads the 411 to her, which sends Renee running for her coat and towards the East River. As she leaves, she gives Chloe enough spine to attempt her own plan to get the building up and running again. What’s that plan involve? Pointing a gun at the NSA engineers and forcing them to leave the server room, naturally. She’s nervous about holding them at gunpoint, but manages to fire off this great Chloe-ism to help assuage his fear: “You’re probably an OK guy when you’re not at work.” Awesome. She then locks herself in to attempt her method to restore power. 

Down at the river, the firefight rages. Jack’s finally managed to reconfigure the doors of the SVU into armor-plates that can be carried so they can move in wedge-like formation without being hit. What follows is an incredibly tense minute-plus of the foursome inching, and I do mean inching, across the open pavement as bullets threaten to penetrate their thin defenses. The lead man (possibly wearing a red bulletproof vest) decides to break formation and make a run for it. He’s taken down almost immediately as Jack, Cole, and Owen flee for cover. 

The fourth man lays on the ground, bleeding but alive, breathing but unable to move. Owen desperately wants to help his fellow man, watching as the terrorists start shooting at non-essential body parts to goad the others out to help him. Jack insists that they all stay behind, but Owen can’t bear it. Now it’s my turn, not Jack’s, to say DAMNIT. Owen meets a hail of bullets as he drags his compatriot back. Jack can’t bear to tell the bloody, terrified, possibly mortally wounded Owen that his effort was in vain: the fourth member is dead. FANTASTIC five minutes there. Logical, tense, and with violence that actually had some emotional resonance behind it. More of this, please, and maybe I’ll start getting behind a Season 9 on NBC. 

As security arrives to open up the sealed server room doors, Hastings gently mocks the NSA agent for being scared of Chloe. Inside, she works as fast as she can, but Chloe’s unable to tap into the “trunk line” before everyone busts in on her. She tries to give her side of things to Hastings, but Dana backs up the NSA’s assessment of the danger.  “You’ve never been my biggest fan, why start now?” she snarls, before turning her attention back to Hastings. “I’ve been right more than once today,” she says, and wants the chance to prove that her out-of-the-box thinking is an asset. Between people in the field always doubting Jack and people in the office doubting Chloe, it’s a wonder that neither’s gone completely postal. Well, I guess Chloe came close tonight.  

After her allotted time, Chloe indeed gets CTU back up and running, enough to start a search for Jack. Speaking of Agent Bauer, he’s stopped trying to resuscitate Owen. (Sigh. Moment of silence.) He tells Cole to make a red for the callbox while he himself essentially makes a suicide run to draw fire. For once, every bullet in the world does not magically miss Jack, and he’s taken off his feet by a few of them. Just as an IRK agent has a headshot lined up, Renee comes in to save the day. As you might expect, the bullets that hit Jack only hit his vest, so he’s wounded but more or less OK. Moreover, Cole’s alerted CTU to their location and help is on the way. 

At CTU, Cole’s fiancée makes her way into the basement room where probation officer Bill Prady has been anxiously awaiting a confab with her boss. When she realizes that the erasing of the surveillance tapes won’t get him off her back, she pulls out a cord, chokes the life out of him, and stuffs him in a wall panel. That Dana, always trying to one-up Chloe.  

She gets on the phone, and calls…Samir. Your mole, ladies and gentlemen! While this helps explain both her past getting by CTU’s screening process and her general reticence to give up her identity in general, don’t even begin to try and square her actions this season as a whole with the new circular identity they’ve given her. Just sit back and wait for Chloe to come down hard on The Artist Formerly Known as Starbuck before too long. 

Did the twist have you shaking your head, or simply thankful that Dana might actually start becoming more than a liability? Whose heroics did you admire more tonight: Jack’s or Chloe’s? And when will the show remember that they have Cherry Jones on their payroll?