It shouldn't have been surprising that Monday (Feb. 16) night's "24" spent only a little bit of time on suspense, a few satisfying moments bringing back long-absent favorite characters, a few minutes on red herrings, a few seconds on not-so-shocking revelations and a whole lot of time resetting the pieces on the chess board.

Last week's episode delivered the action and the badassery and, if the teaser for next week's episode is to be believed, there's a lot more to come, but Monday's episode was a little lax.

[More after the bump, complete with spoilers...]

It's time for "24" to reraise the stakes, but this wasn't the episode to do it. 

Everything has, at this moment in Day Seven, become personal, rather than global. Ike Dubaku is no longer a threat to the United States and the situation is Sangala is, unless I miss my guess, totally irrelevant now. American forces will do their thing and Sangala will be restored to Prime Minister Motobu's hands, with the awareness that US-approved semi-democratic African regimes have a tendency to go haywire every bit as frequently as military juntas.

The people at risk are sad and tangential characters. 

Two episodes ago, Dubaku's innocent girlfriend Martika was just hoping to have her friendly mate over for a lasagna dinner with her disapproving sister. I'm a bit disappointed we missed out on the lasagna scene, but instead we got to watch Jack Baur and Agent Walker give Martika a slideshow and Power Point presentation proving that the man she loved was really the Butcher of Sangala. It was like the most heart-breaking vacation slideshow ("Here's Dubaku at his camp surrounded by his child soldiers... And here's Dubaku making funny faces and desecrating a pile of corpses") ever. Thanks to the Mole (we'll get there in a moment), Martika is now in serious jeopardy, but who's really going to be sad if something happens to her? Agent Walker, that's who. 

Agent Walker is a volcano waiting to erupt in red-faced outrage. I would know that even if I hadn't seen scenes from next week's show. She's settled into her role: She knows everything Jack Bauer does is right, but she feels really bad about it and doesn't understand how Jack doesn't. Feeling bad is acceptable only if you accept Jack's always right. So far, Agent Moss has yet to be convinced. He'd better hurry and see the light, or he may need to die.

But back to the uninteresting jeopardy, not only will nobody care if First Gentleman Taylor dies, but they told us his surgery may take five hours, which means we don't need to worry about the character again for another five weeks.

You just can't get me to fidget in my seat over what's going to happen to The President's Husband or The Dictator's Girlfriend.

Instead of dramatic stakes, at least we revealed our various moles during Monday's episode. This is generally the point in the season when we learn that the minorities -- Chinese, Middle Easterners, Latinos -- we thought were behind the season's plots were really just stooges for The Vast White Male Conspiracy and, indeed, that's the path we're going down. We already know that Jo n Voight will eventually be the Big Bad, whenever he's able to return, but tonight we met the preppy white guy liaising between Jon Voight and Dubaku and we learned that the mole in the FBI is...

Billy Walsh!

Darn you, Walsh! First you ruin Vincent Chase's career with "Medellin" and then this?

So yes, Rhys Coiro's Sean Hillinger turned out to be the Mole, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. Granted that a third of the audience, the third that doesn't understand diversionary tactics, announced loudly that Janis was the Mole just minutes earlier, but everybody was just behaving according to character. So far this season, just about all we've learned about Sean is that he's willing to violate FBI and FAA protocol to get his wife's plane down safely and that as much as he seems to love said wife, he's also sleeping around. Nothing else. He's a bit icky and sleazy, so the knowledge that he's also committing treason probably isn't going to change anybody's perception of him. His episode-closing treachery calling in an FBI arrest warrant on Jack and Agent Walker and then helping tip Dubaku off that Martika was in cahoots with the FBI is bad, but it could probably be worse.

As for Janis? She's socially awkward and insecure and we haven't learned much else about her. So when Chloe arrived in the FBI offices, her suspicion was completely within character. Thus far we've only seen Chloe and Janis exchange furrowed brows, but I look forward to a snark-off at some point in the episodes to come. In any case, I never thought Janis was doing anything other than what she said she was doing when she hacked into Chloe's system. Social discomfort is relatable and it's part of why viewers have always liked Chloe and it's part of why Janis could be fun if they give her anything to do.

Speaking of Chloe, who drove her to the FBI offices, but Morris, looking mighty displeased to be playing Mr. Mom. Then again, just about everything displeased Morris, so that isn't surprising. It was a good scene and I hope that's not the last we see of him. 

But Morris' appearance was FAR from the least exciting unannounced cameo in the hour. President Palmer's worried about her husband and asks Bill to find somebody to pick up her estranged daughter and Bill says he has somebody he trusts. I'm ashamed to say that I wasn't able to guess that just minutes after we met Olive Taylor, the man who came to pick her up was...

Agent Pierce!

Simply put, if you didn't cheer when Glenn Morshower walked on the screen, you are not a "24" fan. OK, fine. Maybe you are. "24" fans come in all flavors. But you aren't my kind of "24" fan. I cheered. Since I can't imagine First Daughter Olive has any purpose, I hope this is just a ruse to get Pierce back involved with the action.

Other thoughts on the episode:

***Morris and Agent Piece got on-camera appearances, but we also heard name-checks for several long-deceased "24" characters. When was the last time anybody referenced Paul Schultze's Ryan Chappelle or Roger Cross' Curtis Manning? Agent Moss may be a tool, but at least he has respect for the dead.

***You know who I like? Bob Gunton's Ethan Kanin. Nobody's really listening to him, but he's kind of a voice of reason. I really hope he isn't evil.

***You know who I don't like? Martika's sister Rosa. Can we never see her again, please?

***This was the first episode shot post-writers strike and so it also would have been the first episode shot after the writers had a clue what happened with Jack in Africa before he was called before the Senate, so it was good to have Jack tell Dubaku's girlfriend, "I was in Africa a few months ago. He was responsible for murdering a friend of mine."

***The product plug for the Hyundai Genesis in the scene between Chloe and Morris -- first with the dashboard navigation and then with the camera showcasing the car's front and rear -- was as inept as any piece of product integration I've ever seen.

What'd you think of the episode?

 

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