In the world of "24," there are only two ways to something: There's the Jack Bauer Way and the Wrong Way. 

Monday (March 23) night's episode offered an interesting wrinkle, though. It turns out that the Jack Bauer Way isn't always the way chosen by Jack Bauer and in those rare circumstances in which Jack Bauer deviates from the Jack Bauer Way, it's actually possible for Jack Bauer to be in the wrong. Or, put a different way, just because Jack Bauer does something doesn't mean it's automatically the Jack Bauer Way.

[Full recap of Monday's "24," which took place between the hours of 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., after the break...]

If "24" were the sort of show where episodes had titles, as opposed to hour markers, this Monday's installment would have been called "Carl."

Who is Carl? 

Carl's a Port Authority security chief. He has a very pretty wife who's pregnant with twins. They tried for three years to conceive, but it just wouldn't take. After fertility treatments, though, she was able to conceive. Unfortunately, the fertility treatments weren't covered under his insurance, so he had to pay out of pocket. On one hand, it was worth it, because all Carl ever wanted was to expand his family. On the other hand, it wasn't such a good idea and Carl was willing to take a cash payoff to sacrifice the Port's defenses to allow smugglers to remove a shipment of electronics from South Korea. Of course, the smugglers were actually mercenaries from Starkwood and the electronics were actually biological weapons from Sangala. But Carl couldn't have known that! He just wanted a family!

Because "24" is a show that humanizes its characters about as well as President Obama bowls, 98 percent of the show's viewers decided immediately that Carl was dead the second he got dialogue and the second we saw his wife. He was being positioned as a tragic, semi-sympathetic death, just like the general manager at the plant in Ohio who kicked the bucket pointlessly and heroically earlier this season and will never be mentioned ever again.

We figured Carl was dead when Jack Bauer sent him out to greet the incoming terrorists and even Jack's lame promise to have his back didn't necessarily sound sincere. Jack, after all, wasn't so enthusiastic when Agent Walker promised that woman we've forgotten about's sister we've forgotten about that they'd keep her safe. That didn't go so well.

We figured Carl was dead when Tony Almeida told Jack, "He was dead the minute he stepped out that door. You and I both know that."

And we figured Carl was dead when Evil Mercenary Henchman #1 told Evil Mercenary Henchman #2 to "go settle up" with Carl. And we were certain Carl was dead when Evil Mercenary Henchman #2 told Carl that his payment was over at his car and that he just had to follow him down the dark corridor. 

If we all figured Carl was dead, why was Jack Bauer such a sentimental simpleton? Was it because of the story about the wife and the twins and the fertility treatments and the insurance? Why is this stuff suddenly working on Jack? It was only a couple weeks ago that he willingly handed the President of the United States over to an African strongman just because she mentioned Kim Bauer. Because Jack sacrificed his principles in the name of sentimentality that time, Bill Buchanan (and a bunch of Africans) had to die. 

But there Jack was at the Port contemplating saving Carl. The plan was to follow the Evil Henchmen and the biological weapons out of the dock and back to Evil Jon Voight and the Starkwood Lair. Simple, right? Call in the authorities and everything is simple. But there was Jack aiming his weapon at Evil Henchman #2.

"Don't break your own rules," Tony begged him. "You may save one man, but what about the thousands who will die in a biological attack?"

This is, indeed, the argument that Jack has made all season long, to Agent Walker, to Agent Moss to Senator Mayer, to President Taylor, to the guy at the drive-through window at Burger King where he got his coffee and breakfast sandwich before facing the Senate subcommittee. Jack Bauer is all about the greater good, even if one or two individuals and their weak-ass rights have to suffer.

So he took out Evil Henchmen #2. Carl, grateful, skipped off never to be seen again. We won't deal with the ethical implications of whether you should really be letting a guy who willingly allowed any sort of illegal action to take place at our nation's ports, because he has a pregnant wife. We won't see Carl again.

What would have happened if Jack Bauer let Carl die? They follow the biological weapons, sic the feds on them and everything ends happily ever after. Nobody dies. Except Carl. Jack can send his widow and their twins flowers and a box of chocolates one a year.

What happened because Jack saved Carl? A firefight ensued. Carl lived, but Evil Henchmen # 3-6 were killed. In the chaos, Jack hijacked the truck with the biological weapon and headed out on the road, allowing the mercenaries to take Tony hostage. Also in the chaos, though, the side of the truck was breached and the chemical weapons were jarred loose. Something got out. Something that made a REALLY loud hissing sound. Has Washington D.C. been exposed to the biological agent? Jack certainly seems to have been. Plus, the mercenaries got the weapons back, because Jack was so busy trying to contain the hissing. 

And this, "24" producers want to make clear, is what happens when you let Carl live.

There's the Jack Bauer Way and the Wrong Way and this week, Jack Bauer did things the wrong way and the body count has already exceeded a single Carl.

That was the fun part of Monday's "24." And it was fun. Don't get me wrong.

Is there any way we can just ignore the half of the show that took place in the White House? Can we just forget about the six or seven minutes dedicated to Ethan very, very slowly resigning to President Taylor, who very, very slowly tried telling him he didn't need to resign even though we all know he did? Can we ignore the part where we weren't sure if Ethan was going to have a heart attack or blow his brains out, "Shawshank Redemption" style? And can we please ignore Evil First Daughter Olivia, who's so predictably evil that even those she assured us last week that she had nothing to do with leaking incriminating info to the press, 98 percent of the audience was pretty confident she'd leaked information to the press? We get it. She's evil.

And can we also ignore the latest in our Agent Moss thinks Jack's a rogue and punishes Agent Walker only to realize that Jack isn't so evil and therefore he may not want to punish Agent Walker at all? We've been there. Several times. In the past two weeks. WE GET IT.

Other thoughts from Monday's episode:

*** First Husband Taylor is out of surgery, healthy, talking and he even told President Taylor that he couldn't be happier that she and Evil First Daughter Olivia have reconciled. Oh really? You couldn't be happier if you weren't lying in bed after a surgery the doctor expected might kill you? I think you could be happier. Will we see Colm Feore again? Or is he free to go do theater and Canadian television?

*** Evil Jon Voight really got to unload this week, lecturing the Starkwood board on why today's events have taken place. Something about excessive government oversight and restrictions. With less oversight, the Starkwoods of the world would be able to carry on their nefarious actions on the other side of the world, but they wouldn't have to do it in America. Good to know.

*** Line of the episode: Evil Jon Voight to The Stoner From "Dazed & Confused" regarding his board colleagues, "They're six year olds, Greg, and they need to eat their carrots." This, by the way, is what the "24" producers think about the audience as well.

*** Carl had better be sure to name *both* of his kids "Jack" if they're boys and "Jackina" if they're girls.

What'd y'all think of this week's episode? Would you have let Carl die?

 

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