If the scenes from *next* Monday night's episode of "24" are any indication, *this* Monday (May 4) night's episode was the last dead-weight filler episode before the three-episode charge to the end of the season.

With the exception of one explosive surprise (not all that surprising, mighty explosive), there was almost no purpose to anything that happened in Monday's episode other than making several characters feel really bad about themselves. If guilt and misery turn out to be a key motivation for the remainder of the season, then this will have been time well-spent. If not? Well, it was just another way to kill time with the Yankees-Red Sox on in the background.

Recap of what events there were, after the break...

No seriously. Everything that happened this week was what the characters involved told us was going to happen last week. The bad guys, led by Currently Evil Tony, were just a week ahead. So they told us last week that they were setting up Jibraan Al-Zarian as the patsy for their bio-weapon attack. They even discussed how they were going to do it. So this week's episode was all about the villains doing exactly what they'd planned and the FBI/CTU team piecing together the elements of the plot that viewers had already been warned about. And Jack and Chloe, at the end of last week and the beginning of this week, narrated how they were going to track down the perpetrators and then, over the course of an hour, that's exactly what they did. There's no reason why anything had to take a full hour to occur, but now Jack's team is just about even with Tony's team, leading to an inevitable confrontation.

It's not very good drama. It's more like a cooking show, where Rachael Ray tells you what she's going to do to accomplish a 30-minute meal and everything that follows is a realization of that prediction, because if Rachael Ray tells you she can make a meal in 30 minutes, you can pretty much assume that after 30 minutes, a delicious and nutritious meal will have been prepared, all with a chipper smile and a dose of spunk.

Like Lou Grant, "24" doesn't like spunk. So if Tony Almedia says at the beginning of an episode that he's got a prepared statement for Al-Zarian, over 20 or 30 gloomy minutes, Al-Zarian is going to read that statement. If Tony tells Al-Zarian that he's going to tell his brother that he's a terrorist, that will take another 10 minutes. Monday's episode was almost call-and-response.

And if Jack Bauer tells Chloe to expand the search parameters of the CTU server to every single Muslim in Washington, you know that her search parameters will, within very few gloomy minutes, yield a Muslim who fits their profile so totally that they're willing to abandon all further searching to zero in on their first plausible suspect.

"Excuse me, as anyone hear of racial profiling?" said Janis, because that's what "24" producers think a whiny liberal would say under these circumstances.

"I don't know a better way of doing this, so if you do, please tell me now," said Jack, being both condescending and, apparently, unimpeachable in his logic, because Janis looked chagrinned and just shook her head no. That was the first character to be put in her place and end up feeling dreadful about herself. In your face, Janis. Not only did you not have a better way of doing things, but racial profiling WORKED. If Jack hadn't targeted every Muslim in Washington, they never would have found Al-Zarian. Of course, if Tony and his team hadn't jumped the gun on setting up their patsy, he never would have set off the red flags.

It also didn't matter that Jack made Janis feel bad, because he would get a taste of his own medicine. The racial profiling led them to Al-Zarian's mosque, where Jack yelled and screamed at the poor Imam (played by Ravi Kapoor of "Crossing Jordan"). It was an interesting moment, because the Imam played the Janis role of the put-upon liberal, protesting about civil liberties and other nonsense. On one hand, we knew that Jack's a bit crazy at this point, so he was taking things too far. But we also knew that just because Jack went a little overboard doesn't mean that he was wrong.

Maybe that's why when Chloe provided the information that Al-Zarian was just being set up, Jack didn't apologize to the Imam, who they arrested and cuffed. He just nodded and took off the cuff.

Imam: "Please know that I forgive you."

Jack: "I'm not asking for your forgiveness."

Imam: "I hope that you can at least forgive yourself."

Jack: "I gave up on that a long time ago."

Imam: "It's never too late to turn toward God, Mr. Bauer."

Jack actually appeared to give this wisdom serious consideration, which is why next season will take place in the aftermath of Jack's conversation experience and his pilgrimage to Mecca. Did Jack Bauer actually feel guilty? Probably not. But it was as close as he gets. Well played, wise Imam. Well played.

The last person to experience guilt, the most deserved by far, was Evil First Daughter Olivia, but then again, she had Evil Jon Voight killed. OK, she didn't actually had him killed, but she got Shady Political Operative Martin (Leland Orser) to give her the name of a hit-man and, in no time flat, she was able to arrange a hit, but she stopped just short of clicking "Accept" on the wire transfer that would have given the hitman the go-ahead.

Evil Jon Voight, meanwhile, was in the process of one of the speediest transitions ever from near-death to Witness Protection, even getting his new name, Robert Tippett. 

That allows me to link to this classic moment from the "Cape Feare" episode of "The Simpsons," which is still hilarious even in this shoddy version.

Anyway, Evil Robert Tippett was about to depart to his new life, when he pulled out a purloined snapshot of his wife and daughter when... BOOM! Bye-bye Big Bad.

First of all, I would like to believe that the picture had been rigged to explode, because that makes me giggle.

Second of all, if I know anything about expensive hitmen -- and I don't -- it's that they don't perform $250,000 hits before the the money has hit their account, so either the bomb wasn't set by Olivia's hitman -- in which case her guilt is both pointless and poorly acted -- or else it was done by somebody who knew that having the President's daughter in his debt was worth more than $250,000. I'm not sure which yet. 

What else? Oh yeah, Al-Zarian's brother nearly killed the only guy from Tony's team who could have helped Jack learn the target. Ooops. And Tony and Al-Zarian are about to target the Washington Subway, which is a surprisingly clean and smooth subway system, even if "State of Play" taught me that its security has several blind spots.

Other thoughts on this week's episode:

*** Worst line of dialogue of the season? Al-Zarian's disappointed brother, "You said today was a bad day to be a Muslim. Well, it's an even worse day to be your brother."  That's just some bad writing.

*** Dumbest line of dialogue: Jack to Chloe, regarding his seizure injections, "It's been working so far." You mean other than when your dose didn't last more than 30 minutes and you had a seizure that prevented you from capturing Tony? Oh yeah. It's been working *other* than that lapse.

*** One minute Janis is a fairly high-level FBI computer tech and the next minute she's delivering a wheelchair to Evil Jon Voight? That will learn you for questioning the efficacy of racial profiling, Janis!

*** The First Husband's recovery from major surgery they thought he wouldn't survive has been remarkable. It takes a lot to harm Colm Feore. Plus, his speedy recover was what guilted Olivia into not going through with the wire transfer to the hitman. Fat lot of good that did.

***No word on Jack's cure this week. Also no progression on the identity of the actual Big Bad. It has to go higher than Will Patton, doesn't it?

*** The scenes from next week really do look good. Time for "24" to bring the action back!

What'd you think of this week's filler?