Tuesday, April 6, 2010

24: Countdown to Oblivion / Return to Gravitas?

24!!! 2-Hour Jack Bauer Spectacular:

- Okay, now that's more like it. 24 has shown signs of recovery in the last couple of weeks, and yet, every flash of old-school awesomeness has seemingly been counterbalanced by a heaping does of sucktitude courtesy of Dana Walsh and her neverending crappy storylines. And it wasn't just that - even though this season has had its moments, there just hasn't been that overall feeling that the stakes were high and that time was running out. There hasn't been a great villain. There hasn't been a great character arc for Jack. There haven't been compelling supporting characters. There just hasn't been that old 24 feeling that anything can and will happen, that the next big "holy $%#%!" moment is just around the corner.

But, last night's two-hour episode went a long way towards recapturing the spirit of the old 24, the show that kicked ass and took names, the show that brought the pain each and every week. The show that was the JACK BAUER POWER HOUR, dammit all. Finally, we had a week of 24 in which the action was intense, the drama was high, the characters compelling, and the gravitas-factor off the charts. For one night (and hopefully-not-one-night-only), 24 was back, Jack.

Let me give a huge shout-out to Anil Kapoor, the man who gained fame here in the States by playing the sinister host of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. As President Hassan on 24, Kapoor has been decent, but he hasn't really had the chance to shine - he's mostly just been going through the same motions that all foreign dignitaries on the show seem to. With his generic family troubles, goofy hair, and very un-Arabic sounding accent, it's been easy to dismiss Hassan as a 24 also-ran. But all this time, we've known that Kapoor was one hell of an actor, and even though we got flashes of that throughout the season, it wasn't until last night that we finally saw him at the height of his powers. I mean, hot damn, President Hassan freaking owned in this episode. Finally, he was given a high-stakes storyline worthy of Kapoor's acting chops, as Hassan decides to sacrifice himself to prevent the nuclear rods from being detonated in Manhattan. The scenes between Hassan and his wife, Hassan and terrorist lackey Tarran, Hassan and Jack Bauer ("you can't trust them!") all kicked ass and contained gravitas aplenty. Alas, only in death did we truly see the awesomeness in President Hassan. He may have been only okay for several hours there, but by gum, in these two hours, he earned that silent clock.

I also enjoyed the overall breakneck pace at which this episode moved, working quickly to eliminate crappy plotlines left and right. Sick of the lame-o conspiracy within the White House? It was exposed and the guilty parties apprehended. Sick of Dana Walsh and all of her would-be-sinister mugging, her excessive cell phone calls, and her increasingly lame excuses to get out of her work? Finally, she was exposed, flagged, and put in a white room with Jack Bauer. ABOUT TIME. And oh yeah, sick of Cole being a wuss and not kicking the increasingly-shady Dana to the curb? Well, here he lays down the hurt bomb and holds her at gunpoint, personally apprehending here after she takes out a bunch of CTU redshirts. Again ... about friggin' time.

There was some really great action in this one too - vintage 24, if you will. Rooftop car-chases, CTU mayhem, terrorist compound raids, etc. The overall intensity was off the charts - I was fast-forwarding through those commercials as fast as humanly possible trying to get back to the action.

Finally, the groundwork was laid for some interesting twists down the line. The dark ending gave a bleak yet finality-filled sense of closure to the ongoing terrorist plotline, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here. My hope is that 24 shifts gears a bit and just goes balls-to-the-wall as it counts down to the big series finale. You sort of got that sense from this episode, that we're now at the point where we've gone off the beaten path, where anything can happen. Hassan meeting an untimely end was evidence of that, as was the involvement of the Russian consulate, the hints of Dana's financial backer, and the promise of former President Logan's return next week. This episode brought the goods in and of itself, but even more exciting was that it ushered in a new feeling of unpredictability that will hopefully be there for the remainder of the series.

All that said, I still have to dock points from this episode for taking a while to really get going. More specifically, we had to endure a number of eye-rolling Dana Walsh scenes before she was finally found-out and taken into CTU custody. Honestly, her entire plotline to this point has been handled so poorly that it was cathartic just to see Jack interrogate her, but not really for the right reasons. The episode seemed to right itself by Hour 2, but for a while there, we got more of the same old Dana Walsh shenanigans that have really hurt the season's enjoyability to date.

Overall though, this episode was a very positive step in the right direction. In and of itself, it was good, old-fashioned 24 action and intrigue. Sheer intensity, gobs of gravitas. Like I said, it's about time.

And by the way, nobody in the history of mankind has every hailed a taxi cab like Jack Bauer. "TAXI!"

My Grade: A-

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