This is why Kim Bauer can't have nice things.

No show on television is more rigorously structured than "24," with its hour-by-hour cliffhangers, twists and reversals built into the framework by now. Part of how they make the show run like clockwork -- Because the whole show is on the clock? -- is by making the characters programatic as well. If all else fails, go to Jack interrogating somebody and yelling "Damnit!" If all else fails, cut to Chloe delivering technical instructions with an expression that implies she just scarfed down a lemon. If all else fails, cut to Tony sneering and and looking untrustworthy. If characters have default settings, they're easier to write and easier for viewers to understand.

Want to know why fans tired of Kim Bauer and why there wasn't exactly a wave of happy feelings when she returned? Because for several seasons, the writers' default setting when it came to Kim was, "Kidnapping." Kim Bauer could do no right, because no matter where she went or how far she tried to run, she'd inevitably find herself tied to some metaphorical railroad track by the Snidely Whiplash of the moment. Kim was constantly being held hostage and used as leverage to get Jack Bauer to do things. Even the mountain lion who once menaced Kim probably had an ulterior motive.

Oh, Kim.

[Recap, with spoilers for Monday (May 11) night's "24," after the break...]

Monday night's "24," set with dawn breaking between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., was certainly more action-packed than the weeks that preceded it. For maybe 45 minutes, it was a return-to-form episode, with Jack Bauer going torture crazy, beating on multiple suspects and, as a result, managing to save the lives of thousands of Washington rush hour commuters. 

Thanks, Jack!

But then the episode ended with a return to two of the show's most over-done narrative cliches and no real suggestion of a viable climax-to-come. With "24," you never rule out the possibility that the writers have something impressive up their sleeves, but I have concerns.

Really, writers? Kim Bauer being held hostage, again? Really? Could you not have avoided that, just this once? I mean, we knew that Kim hadn't been brought back just for an episode or two, that she hadn't flown all the way out to Washington just to say one last tearful good-bye to her dad before he twitched his way to an early grave.

The writers tried a little double-reverse. Kim, at the airport waiting out a flight delay, thought that the somewhat swarthy man staring at her was a bad guy. She's learned over the years that when guys stare at her for long enough, they're probably on the verge of kidnapping her and, like her father, she's learned the efficacy of racial profiling. So she went and made nice with two white people, because that's always safer in the "24" universe. Of course, I've learned a different kind of profiling from "24," the kind of profiling that says that if the show introduces random new characters with stilt dialogue and longer-than-necessary close-ups, they're either on the verge of a tragic death or they're about to kidnap Kim Bauer. In this case, the odds of a Kim Bauer kidnapping seemed far better. 

Technically, the boring couple from The Valley hasn't exactly kidnapped Kim, they're just keeping an eye on her and setting up that ever-popular standby...

Really, writers? Jack Bauer being forced to break the law in a way that will make it look like he's with the terrorists, even though we know he's doing it all for a good reason? Really? Could we not have avoided that hoary device this time?

Jack's put a lot of legwork into tracking down Tony Almeida and put a lot of elbow-grease into beating the snot out of Tony. But now, at the urging of Amy Price-Francis' Cara, he's going to have to take out an entire FBI team and free Tony just to keep Kim safe. Do we figure he's going to put Agent Walker in a sleeper hold? Because that's what Jack does when he has to take out his friends and make it look like he's working for the bad guys. That will inevitably lead to Jack going on the run with some faction of the FBI thinking he's a terrorist himself, because it seems that this exact same thing happens a minimum of four or five times each and every season, possibly more times this year. We've been down this exact same road so many times that I've moved from fatigue to contempt. Come up with something better. Or just come up with something different. 

With only two hours left in the season, each cliffhanger should be escalating as we get closer and closer to wrapping the day up, so how can the writers possibly think it's acceptable to be giving us Kim Bauer in Jeopardy and Jack Bauer Rogue Agent once again?

These things are getting us no closer to finding out who's actually at the top of the pyramid behind the day's attacks. They're getting us no closer to getting Jack Bauer his inevitable cure. We should be able to see those dual destinations, but they're nowhere in site. We're also going into the last two hours without any sort of escalating threat. If it weren't for Jack's sentimental attachment to his daughter, the season could actually end right now. Jack could shrug his shoulders and turn off his cell phone. He could leave Kim to her own devices. Tony's in custody. The biological agent is exhausted. The organization behind the whole thing, whoever they might be, is at best in tatters and possibly crushed entirely. 

Did the bad guys even have a Plan B? The entire day was an elaborate production aimed to getting the weapon and setting up a terrorist attack on US soil. They jumped the gun, accelerated the plan, set the pieces in motion and Jack Bauer stopped them. What's left of the biological agent is now being neutralized in a secure HAZMAT facility. The bad guys don't have any juice except for whatever they can squeeze out of poor Kim Bauer. 

Jack was in top form on Monday, even getting Agent Walker's blessing to poke and prod at the captured enemy operative and, as always happens with Jack, the torture got him exactly what he wanted. Beating Tony up later didn't get Jack any new information, but I'm sure it was cathartic.

We got a little bit of extra tension from Al-Zarian and the weapons canister and the use of the ticking clock.

We also picked up some amusement from the ongoing snark-fest between Chloe and Janis, including a fierce battle over DMA nodes or something, a conflict that left Janis nearly defeated.

"It's obvious that I'll never be able to do things as well as you did at CTU," Janis pouted. "All I ask is that you not make me feel like an idiot while you're pointing that out."

But then later, Janis out-Chloed Chloe, proving her nerdy superiority with data recovery. But would Chloe thank Janis or congratulate her? Even after some not-so-subtle hinting? Heck no.

"Oh you don't know me, but if you did, you were understand that this is the last place you should look for any time of validation," Chloe said, in what was probably the episode's finest moment.

Meanwhile, there's a bunch of other stuff going on at the White House, with Evil First Daughter Olivia finally making the payment to the hitman, who followed through on killing Evil Jon Voight because Martin told the hitman to do the deed on spec, which made no sense, but it's better not to dwell. Agent Pierce is even calling in Ethan to bring Olivia down. I'd like to think he's getting revenge on Olivia for ruining his retirement and for calling him "Aaron" instead of "Agent Pierce." Show some respect, Olivia. This side of Jack, Agent Pierce is the most noble man in the "24"-verse and unlike Jack, he's kept his hands mostly clean, The least you could do is call him by his title. Or send him home with some painkillers. 

 

Other thoughts on this week's episode:

*** Why did Jack post a man to watch Kim and make sure she got on the plane safely? Was he afraid she might be kidnapped, or was he afraid she might come back?

*** The two best moments in the episode were just looks. I loved Agent Walker's nod of approval when Jack asked to jab his thumb in the wound of the enemy operative. It's been a long day for her as well. Even better, though, was Jack's almost-inperceptable-smile at Agent Walker after the weapon went off and everything seemed to be clear. Jack should know better than to be relieved.

*** I'm really not buying any of the stuff with Olivia and Martin and the unseen hitman. Martin told Olivia, "The time to worry about your conscience was before you put this in motion." That's not true. The time to worry about her conscience was before she transferred the money. She did. Who made you the final arbiter?

*** One last time: Does anybody still think there's a righteous application for Tony's behavior? That's he's going to turn out to have been doing everything for the right reasons? I didn't think so. And if he still has one last character reversal, it isn't going to be plausible.

*** So Jack's going to go rogue and rescue Tony so that the bad guys can kill Tony? And then what? We haven't even had any minor hints at who the Big Bad is, so it's going to be arbitrary and rushed. Sigh.

*** The Kim thing works in one way and one way only: Next week she figures out that her new friends are evil and she whips out some newly developed kung-fu skills, kills them both, rips off their heads and yells, "Enough is enough! Nobody kidnaps Kim Bauer!"

Are you excited to see Kim kidnapped again? And do you think that Jack going rogue this time will be different?

 

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