[Again, this recap and recaps of its ilk will soon be moving into HitFix's upcoming Monkeys As Critics blog.]

Ah, it's good to have my favorite "24" character back.

No, silly. I'm not talking about Tony Almeida, though Carlos Bernard has grown from Season One Annoyance to Facial Hair Curiousity to Genuinely Interesting Character, a transition I'd never had guessed possible.

And no, silly, I'm not talking about Bill Buchanan, though it's funny to see that since losing his government job, Bill has stopped shaving regularly, learning the Renegade Look from Tony and Jack.

And I'm not even talking about Chloe, though Mary Lynn Rajskub is always welcome on my TV.

The character I'm glad to have back on "24" is clearly Mr. Jack Bauer, or rather The Real Jack Bauer. Sunday night's "24" premiere featured some preachy, snotty guy who preferred talking about the efficacy of all of his bad-ass deeds than taking part in any true bad-assery of his own.

Monday (Jan. 12) night's "24" episodes still probably featured a bit too much jabbering, but it also included so much vintage Jack that I'm not going to complain. At least not too much.

Recap after the bump, complete with spoilers, since this is a recap...

Because really, any time you have an episode of "24" in which Jack Bauer bulges his eyes, engorges the veins in his neck, shreds his vocal chords and bellows, "TELL ME WHERE THE DEVICE IS!" that's some good stuff.

The Tony-Jack interrogation room showdown was good enough for me to forgive what was a really dull first two hours on Sunday. The thing that interested me most was the idea that Tony could somehow be Jack's equal, which is something that was never given any consideration during all of their time at CTU. But not only was Tony suddenly cagey enough to out-maneuver the FBI interrogators, but he really outmaneuvered Jack.

Jack? He was being all sentimental, growling sweet nothings like "I watched you die in my arms. You want to explain to me how you're still alive? Didn't think so." He wanted to push Tony's buttons, but Tony had his number.

"The government poisons everything in its path. You know that better than me, Jack," Tony growled. "Here you are working for the same people who want to put you in prison. The same people who killed everything you love and left you with nothing. Your daughter wants nothing to do with you. Teri's dead. Audrey Raines...

Wow. References to Teri and Kim. Also to Audrey. The latter reference strongly implies that either Tony watched the last season of "24," or else he's been staying up-to-date on Jack's comings and goings over the years. I like to think the latter, because it's sort of bromantic.

"You need to hear this," Tony continued. "You need to start living in the real world, because every second you help the government, you're spitting on Teri's grave."

By that point, Jack was so frustrated he even resorted to "You will stay dead this time!"

As much as we love Jack demanding information about devices, there's something I like even more: When Jack takes out the good guys. It's one thing for Jack Bauer to go all Terminator and wipe out an entire nest of villains, but I'm always more entertained when he knocks Curtis out and steals his car or when he shoots Chappelle. Jack's pursuit of truth and justice is so single-minded that forget thinking twice about cold-cocking a friend, he doesn't think once. The essence of being Jack Bauer is that you can nearly kill a friend one scene and be forgiven the next because everybody knows that's just Bauer Being Bauer.

It inevitably happens each "24" season that Jack Bauer is forced to do something where it will appear, to any outside observer, that he's doing something illegal and treasonous. Police officers or government agents become collateral damage because whatever their mandate is, it's superceded by his Jack Bauer-ness. He also knows that whatever he does, he'll be forgiven because the facts always back him up. 

So it's OK that Jack put Agent Walker in a sleeper-hold and bashed Agent Moss in the face. They were just doing their jobs in trying to stop him, but he was just doing his job, too (and he even sweetly whispered "Don't fight it" to Walker). After all, he knew Tony was working with Bill and Chloe to help bring down a terror cell. Sure, he could have told Walker and Moss, or at least left them a note, but Jack doesn't work that way. They'll understand. Everybody does. 

Take this exchange, with Jack and Tony back to being Butch-n-Sundance after their interrogation room misunderstanding:

Jack: "I'm just glad I didn't break your neck."

Tony: "Well, you came close."

Jack: "Yeah, sorry about that."

See? He apologized. What more could you want? And now Tony won't hold a grudge.

Not like the grudge Tony seemingly held against his country. 

"I was angry. I hated the federal government for what it took from me," Tony said after admitting that he was a terrorist when it was about the little things and he only jumped ship on this big deal.

That's not good, is it?

According to my understanding of dramatic structure, it means Tony has to die this season, for real. He'll die in a heroic way, but you can't go down that terrorist road and come back unscathed. That's not a spoiler, because I don't have any inside information other than a solid background in Hollywood morality since the Production Code. Tony was a terrorist. He may be a good guy now, but that doesn't erase the past.

[Similarly, Rhys Coiro's Sean is about to get in a lot of trouble for rerouting planes to help his wife. He's going to have to do something major to atone for that.]

Let's be clear: There are different levels of going too far. Jack Bauer can never go too far. Even if he's getting hooked on heroine or killing his boss or beheading a guy as an interrogation technique. He's good, at least in the mind of the "24" producers (and audiences). Similarly, I doubt we're going to see Annie Wersching punished for going all WWJD (What Would Jack Do) on an ailing witness in the hospital at the end of the second episode. She's just learned The Way of the Bauer and that will make her quick to accept Jack's wisdom when he chooses to open her eyes.

Jack will have plenty of eye-opening to do, since the episode ended with Jack, Tony and the newly infiltrated terrorist gang storming the Sangalese embassy and going after the prime minister in order to bring him to Colonel Dubaku, "The Butcher of Sangala." Yes, Jack has previously stormed the Russian and Chinese embassies, but he's never stormed the embassy to a fictional country before.

Other thoughts on the episode:

*** Jack and Tony's exit from the FBI headquarters was vintage 24, especially Jack launching himself out of a parking garage in reverse. That move was so death-defying it caused Jack to move with a limp for several minutes, which means it would have killed an ordinary man twice.

*** First Gentleman Taylor continues to be backing his way into information that the audience has known since "24: Redemption." First Son Roger was killed because he had information about connections between an American business interest and the genocidal government of Sangala. It's taking him too long to catch up with us.

*** I also continue not to be connecting with President Taylor. Since Cherry Jones is one of our greatest actresses, I have to blame the writing for a character who's leaving me cold.

*** It makes no sense to me that Emmerson's group hadn't recruited Jack years ago. If anybody has a right to a grudge against the government, it's Jack, but he still had to prove himself.

With Sundance next week, I may take a week off, but I'll be back and there'll be plenty to recap, I assume....