I'm having a hard time figuring out what to make of Monday (April 13) night's "24." I'm having a hard time even several hours after watching the episode, several hours after I'm normally able to get a recap up. On one hand, I'd blame the matzah, on the grounds that my brain requires leavening for all of my good ideas to rise. On the other hand, I'd blame the idea that rarely has "24" as totally straddled that line between awesome and awful as it did on Monday night and I still can't determine which side of that line the episode finally fell on.

Stick with me as I battle through a few of the episode's major sticking points in my mind.

Recap, with spoilers, after the break...

Let's start with Kim Bauer, shall we?

As I guessed last week (and as anybody with any sense might also have guessed, lest you think I'm claiming any actual prescience), Agent Walker did, indeed, go behind Jack Bauer's back to recruit the return of his prodigal daughter as a potential stem cell donor (or, at least, a shoulder to cry on). She didn't have to go far, though, since Kim was already in Washington, having flow in for the Senate Hearing.

Jack's reaction to news of Kim's arrival was as grateful as one might hope. 

He pulled Agent Walker into an empty room and bellowed, "Who the hell do you think you are?" three or four times before explaining that he'd already made peace with dying and that Kim's arrival was the only thing that could cause him to lose his resolve. God, Kim messes everything up, doesn't she?

For a moment, as Agent Walker led Jack to see the whelp of his loins, I wasn't sure that we were going to get the triumphant return of Elisha Cuthbert at all. We saw the back of a blonde head and I feared that Jack was going to have another seizure and have to be taken away without a heartfelt reunion. If I'd glanced at FOX's press site, I'd have seen the pictures from Cuthbert's return, but I didn't. So it was great to see her again and for a brief moment, I forgot why so many fans were so relieved at her absence, because the first impressions she gives off are "short," "beautiful" and "Canadian." What could be wrong with that?

"Daddy," she purred. "How're you feeling?"

And then it all came rushing back. For what felt like hours (but may have only been three or four minutes), "24" took a pause from several breathless hours of action to become a soap opera, complete with flat lighting, static compositions and lame dialogue that bore no resemblance to any previous interactions between Jack and Kim Bauer. For some fans, though, I don't doubt that the sequence was marvelously cathartic. Kim apologized for being more trouble than she was worth and for blaming her father for all of her problems. Jack told her he loved her. She told him she loved him. They hugged. They cried. Jack experienced psychosis or dementia. He demanded she leave and she did, or at least seemed to. Nobody really believes that we've seen the last of Kim Bauer for this day.

Let nothing ever take away from how good (slightly hammy, but good) Kiefer Sutherland was in this latest installment of his season-ending push for additional Emmy recognition. For the second straight episode, Jack didn't leave FBI headquarters, but what he lacked in butt-kicking, he made up for in emoting, as "24" slipped in the direction of becoming a Lifetime movie, "My Brain Is Melting: The Jack Bauer Story." Jack's having some trouble, but he's still so selfless that when President Taylor called him to thank him for all of his help, he only wanted to give credit to Tony Almeida for his one-man commando raid.

Yes, I'm going to talk more about Tony, but I guess I need to provide context, as this recap becomes non-linear and fragmented.

When we left Tony last week, he was stuck behind enemy lines at Starkwood, having used his Sprint phone to transmit pictures of the bioweapon, pictures that should have set up a bombing raid on Starkwood, a bombing raid that never happened because of Evil Jon Voight's blackmail demands. This week, he saw that Starkwood was fueling up for a missile attack and volunteered to blow up the fuel depot and take out Starkwood's launch capabilities.

Jack believed in him and, after telling President Taylor that he was pretty much dying, she gave this non-order "Then there's not that much I can threaten you with, is there? I expect you'll do what you think is right."

Tony, in turn, took out part of a platoon, set up the C4 and then came mighty close to pulling a Slim Pickens from "Dr. Strangelove," before blowing the joint sky-high.

So Jack was telling the truth when he lobbied Tony's cause to President Taylor. Tony Almedia was a freakin' hero, so darned intrepid that even Agent Moss acknowledged his bravery and service on this day. 

Ooops.

It looks like Tony isn't so heroic after all.

This week's episode appeared to end with Tony suffocating Agent Moss and heading off to join forces with a Starkwood soldier holding a single canister of the bioweapon, a small enough device to fit in a backpack, but enough of the stuff to take out a small city. 

So Tony is evil?

It was unquestionably a shocking, whiplash moment.

Does it work? I don't know.

If it works, it works for this reason: Tony was an annoying character when we first met him in Season One and everybody suspected he was a mole, that he was going to eventually turn out to be bad, he just had the look in his eye. Once they threw Tony in as a red herring five or six times and he kept being good, Tony had proven himself as one of the most honest and helpful men in Jack Bauer's sphere, which made it even sadder when he died. And that, in turn, made it even more shocking when he came back to life at the start of this season and appeared to be a terrorist. So when it seemed like Tony had been working with CT-New to bring down the terrorist organization, even though he admitted that he'd done some unsavory things in the time he wasn't really dead, we were once again reassured and everything Tony did subsequently was about reaffirming that Tony was who we thought he was. Over seven seasons, we've spent so much time convincing ourselves about Tony's good intentions, that the idea that we were, again, being fooled is the sort of betrayal that stings.

Does it make sense? Who knows. If the writers sell it, it makes sense. Tony going this evil doesn't seem to coincide with what we know about Tony, but much of that is based on what Tony has said in "our" presence. If it's all just been a lie, or if everything he's done in Day Seven has been a lie, at least, then that's what it is. He's zigged and zagged so many times that consistency ceases to have any meaning.

And what if Tony didn't really kill Agent Moss and his involvement with the Starkwood soldier is just part of his ongoing effort to infiltrate this dark side of the military industry complex? Well, it'll just be another double-reverse. It wouldn't shock me and, in fact, it would probably disappoint me. There's a "Damages" Effect, where too many switcheroos create diminishing returns.

It wasn't Tony's potential for darkness that was surprising this week anyway, it was the casual way it was handled, with the Starkwood soldier shooting Moss and Tony running to his aid. It was Moss trying to warn Tony that the soldier was coming up behind him and Tony ignoring him and learning that Tony was ignoring him because he knew he wasn't a risk. It was a well-handled scene.

Agent Moss didn't get a silent clock at the episode's end. Does that mean he isn't really dead or that he just wasn't a character with enough stature to earn that kind of respect? There was a lot of finality to his scenes this episode and I know I was anticipating something bad happening to him. Maybe it was when he tried having a personal moment with Agent Walker on the phone after Tony blew Starkwood up. Maybe it was him showing respect for Tony's renegade behavior after all of his rantings about Jack's renegade behavior. Who knows? 

See what I said about not being sure how to take certain parts of tonight's episode? I'm still bouncing them around in my mind.

If tonight was Sutherland's Emmy episode, maybe it was also Jon Voight's. His scene with Cherry Jones was pretty great acting of its type, from his cocky swagger in demanding that Starkwood be given a place at the table for all military decisions, domestic and international, to his rage at being taken into custody after Tony's bombing left him without any leverage. As always happens with "24," just because it seemed like we ended the season's main plot, that we'd cut off the head of the serpent, Evil Jon Voight insisted, ""My only crime is that I tried to protect my country. You think this ends with me? I'm just a small cog in a very big machine." 

Evil Jon Voight a small cog? Since we know Tony isn't the biggest cog in any machine, who does that leave to be revealed in upcoming episodes? President Logan? President Daniels? The Vice President? I really hope it isn't the Vice President, because it's going to be intolerable for this season's mastermind to have previously hosted "Pirate Master."

What do you think, dear readers?

 

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