It's rare for anybody to praise a network's on-air promotions staff for restraint, but if ever there were an episode that could have been advertised as "The Episode of '24' That Changes Everything!" Monday (March 30) night's episode was it. 

This was big. This was even bigger than Tony Almeida eating a candlelight dinner by himself.

[It's so big I can only talk about it after the break... With spoilers...]

So Jack Bauer is dead, right?

Well, he isn't exactly dead, but after stripping down for the CDC and submitting to a forced cleansing, plus a blood, saliva and spinal fluid test, he learned that he had, indeed, been exposed to the biological toxin that the Sangalan Witch Doctors created for Starkwood. The toxin is not contagious -- that would have meant 10 hours/weeks of Jack Bauer sitting alone in a quarantine getting increasingly paralyzed and demented and eventually croaking -- but we were told that there's no cure.

[Put aside, for a moment, that Kiefer Sutherland has been on promotional tour for "Monsters vs. Aliens" telling reporters that the new season of "24," the show's already-ordered eighth season, will begin production in May. Is it possible that FOX's Emmy-winning "24" might be ready to move forward without its Emmy-winning star?

Of course not, silly. I'll believe that Jack Bauer's on the verge of death just as soon as I believe that House is dead next time he gets shot, crushed in a bus accident or intentionally electrocutes himself. I know 20th Century Fox TV has been trimming budgets across the board, but a season of "24" fronted by Carlos Bernard and Annie Wersching may be a tough sell to advertisers, doncha know. Keep in mind that Jack has been dead before and if "dead" can't kill him, "dying" sure can't.

So maybe Evil Jon Voight has a vial of antidote that he keeps around his neck that Jack will rip off in the season's 24th hour. Or maybe the doctor will eventually discover that due to Jack's other exposure to chemical and biological agents, including his brief period hooked on low-grade heroin, he's been rendered immune to just about everything. Or maybe the season will end with Jack in hand-to-hand combat with the Grim Reaper, closing on a cliffhanger, as if viewers would be left with any doubt.

But for now, let's play along, OK?] 

Oh no! Jack Bauer's infected and HE'S GONNA DIE!!!

Much credit to Kiefer Sutherland for the Mona Lisa smile as Jack read the diagnosis. We'd seen Jack's battle scars earlier in the episode and we got to see them again later. He's had it tough, Jack Bauer has. It's pretty easy to imagine that for Jack, a prognosis of death might feel like a relief. He's undertaken at least a half-dozen suicide missions already in his career and it hasn't stuck. Maybe, you could almost see him thinking, this time it'll work. He also may just have been amused that after all of the things that could have set his death in motion, choosing to save Carl the Future Father of Twins would be a pretty funny first domino. 

I believe that Jack Bauer is dying as much as I believe that he's really going to hang out at FBI headquarters for the rest of the season, serving as Patient Zero for a team of eager CDC researchers. The docs say the weapon can kill within a day or two, so Jack still has at least one good mission in him. 

Does anybody else see some place he might be needed?

Hmmm...

The episode ended with a highly trained FBI task force being held up at gunpoint by an even larger force of Starkwood mercenaries. Silly FBI. They were fooled by The Stoner from "Dazed and Confused," also known as Evil Jon Voight's Puffy-Faced Underling Greg, who became one of the most obvious red herrings ever when he appeared to set Tony free from his Starkwood interrogation and demanded a promise of Presidential immunity to give up the location of the biological weapon. Was anybody shocked when it turned out that he led the FBI on a wild goose chase? Anybody? [Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.]

So now the FBI is under siege on a private military installation and, for no reason I can figure, Agent Moss was leading the team. I guess that's what he meant when he told Jack he couldn't go because he wanted to have his best men on the job? Even though we all knew that even a Paralyzed and Demented Jack Bauer is better than your typical FBI agent, Jack just nodded and gave him another of those Mona Lisa smiles.

"I always knew eventually we'd agree on something," Jack told Agent Moss.

Two possibilities here:

1) Forget paralysis or dementia, the first sign of the weapon's impact is that those infected become spineless weenies.

2) Jack had done the math and already knew that it was too early in the day for the threat to be neutralized and that if he just hung around and played nice, he'd eventually get to go in commando.

I'm going with the second option. Jack didn't put up a fight because he was enjoying a surprisingly Zen hour. He got a shower, a full physical and to hang out with an old friend. [What, you didn't recognize Christina Chang's Dr. Macer from multiple episodes in Season Three?] I'll bet he even got to enjoy a bottle of water and a $5 footlong when we weren't looking. Everybody treated him kindly and forgot for a few minutes that he's been a fugitive from justice for most of the day. It wasn't quite a weekend in Cabo, but this is as close to chillaxin' as Jack Bauer gets.

Next week? He'll be ready to get back to work.

Other thoughts from Monday's episode:

*** Just went you thought that President Barlet appointing his press secretary as Chief of Staff was the stupidest and least plausible executive appointment in fictional White House history, there's President Taylor asking Evil First Daughter Olivia to be her interim Chief of Staff after Ethan's resignation last week. The only good part about this piece of idiocy was Evil First Daughter Olivia asking Agent Pierce to stick around as her protection, though given how Evil she is, she's probably going to poison him or something. And if you're Agent Pierce, long retired from the service, nursing a bullet wound, approaching midnight, wouldn't you much rather go home, drink a beer and pass out?

*** Who is this Rick Berman that Olivia wants to make Chief of Staff? Do we assume that he's as wicked as she is? Do we assume that he's evil just because several "24" staffers are "Star Trek" veterans and for a certain segment of the Trekker populace, writer-producer Rick Berman is the Anti-Christ.

*** Another week, another inept "24" product plug. Is it possible that this week's Cisco WebEx commercial was even worse than previous placements for Hyundai and Sprint? Come to think of it, it's amazing that Jack didn't enjoy his $5 footlong on-camera.

*** If you feel like researching Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease to find a cure for Jack, feel free. 

What'd you think of this week's episode? How do you figure Jack will cheat death? Or do you reckon he's a goner and the show will move on without him?

 

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