Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Go To Hell!" / "You First ...!" 24 Goes Hardcore! Plus: CHUCK ...!


- Let's face it, 24 had somewhat backed itself into a corner going into this week's third-to-last-ever episode. There was no one to root for, no real narrative momentum, and a core cast of characters that had become frustrating in their ever-shifting alliegances and motivations. So, how could 24 bring itself back from the brink of near-mediocrity? It seemed almost hopeless, so 24 did the one thing left to do ...

... last night, 24 went hardcore.

Last night, we got some vintage Jack Bauer, aka Jack at his most sadistic and brutal. And that was to be expected, I suppose, once Jack finally got ahold of the triggerman who ingloriously offed his special lady friend, Renee Walker. Jack went seriously medieval on the Russian soldier, holding him in an abandoned building as Michael Madsen looked on. Yeah - when Michael Madsen is your "good cop," you know you're in trouble. What followed was one of the most violent and intense scenes in 24 history, as Jack made use of pliars, lighter fluid, a blowtorch, and more in order to get Renee's assassin to talk. The guy didn't give anything away, which made Jack's futile torture clinic that much more disturbing. But, there was some crazy, gravitas-fueled dialogue going on, with the Russian literally and spitefully spitting in Jack's face, and figuratively and shockingly spitting on the freshly-dug grave of Agent Walker (not a smart move). It was fascinating to watch Jack's mixture of anger and frustration play out in the scene, and the moment where he finally got a little philosophical about the whole situation ("you guys are so stupid - we were out!") was brilliantly pulled off by Kiefer Sutherland. Finally, there was the capper - Jack regains his wits and realized he should check the Russian's cell-phone records - only to realize that the guy has swallowed his phone's SIMM card. So Jack gives up on torture and simply goes in for the kill, gutting his victim and reaching right into his insides to fish for the recently-digested digital device. Gross? Yes. Disturbing? Indeed. One hell of a badass and memorable Jack Bauer moment? You bet. Finally, to add just the right exclamation point to the whole messy affair, Jack dials the first saved number on the phone and reaches ... former President Logan's office?! No surprise to us, but to Jack - well, it's definitely news to him. And whoah boy, there's going to be hell to pay for everyone's favorite jowley jabroni, baby. Next week: Jack in a mask and SWAT suit going Iron Man on Team Logan? Sign me up, man - looks like business hath indeed picked up!

Seriously, though - this ep of 24 went a LONG way towards making sense of some of the nagging issues that have been keeping this season from kicking ass as it reaches its final run. For example, I'm thinking of a small but crucial scene with Cole and Chloe, in which Freddie Prinze Jr. takes an important step towards thinking rationally, cynically telling Chloe that neither Jack nor the US government is in the right here - in other words, "there are no good guys." This was an important statement for the show to make - before, the show seemed to be treating Jack like he was still the righteous hero, when clearly, he had crossed several moral lines. And that led to a severe disconnect in the storytelling. Now, there's no pretense that Jack is serving the greater good. He himself admitted in this episode, as Dana Walsh warned Cole last week, that this was about making those responsible for Renee's death pay. Again, now that there's no pretense of Jack acting out of some conviction that he's doing the right thing, it makes everything, especially Jack's violent and brutal mindset, much easier to understand, and much easier to swallow. Same goes for President Taylor - no more pretense that she's doing the right thing. In this episode, as things began to unravel around her, it was ultra-clear that she had indeed %#$&'ed up, bigtime. Even Chloe - thanks to Cole she herself doesn't seem certain about what's right anymore - and that makes sense at this point. Her taking a stand against either Jack or the President wouldn't really make much sense, so it was nice to see her working against the Prez, but more so to keep Jack from getting killed as opposed to any real political stance. 24 is still operating in that sort of nihilistic, morally-grey area where anything goes, where there are no real good guys, like Cole said. But at least, this week, the show finally seemed to admit what this final storyarc really is all about - not Jack trying to take down a corrupt government, not Jack being in the right and everyone else being in the wrong. No, this is Jack's violent and bloody quest for revenge, plain and simple. And when you put it in those terms, it raises the stakes and sets the stage for some badass final hours of 24.

Yes, there were still some stupid moments in this one. Having Logan's leggy CTU operative talk openly about getting rid of the evidence of the conspiracy, while standing a foot away from Milo, was fairly ridiculous. Apparently sound doesn't carry at CTU?

But ... kudos to Kiefer Sutherland for one mo' GRAVITAS-filled performance as Jack friggin' Bauer. Congrats to Gregory Itzin on a totally entertaining and scene-stealing performance as the slimiest asshole politician ever, Charles Logan. And here's to 24 for finally getting some of its mojo back, with not a moment to spare.

My Grade: A-

- Meanwhile, last night's CHUCK was a pretty mixed bag. I'm not sure why, but the show has come with an extra helping of cheese these last few weeks. I get that Chuck is a fun and often very funny show, but some of the twists and turns of late have been nothing if not groan-inducing. This ep trotted out the old cliche of a character doing one or two strange things and suddenly being considered full-on insane. I mean, seriously, Chuck has an experimental super-computer in his head, and you're telling me that the sane response to some apparent glitches is to cart him off to an insane asylum for cracked former spies? Complete with white robes and frothing-at-the-mouth crazies right out of every bad stereotype of asylum patients in the Hollywood playbook? It all seemed a bit much, you know? I just think the whole premise rang false - there's a ton of wiring in Chuck's head, so wouldn't he be better served by some sort of super-advanced neurosurgeon as opposed to a standard-issue shrink? Even worse was that special guest star Christopher Lloyd seemed pretty much wasted - he shared a few scenes with Chuck in which he played the CIA's version of Freud, but was so low key that he felt barely-there. Certainly, not a role that truly took advantage of the legendary Lloyd's knack for crazy characters or outlandish humor.

Meanwhile, we were subjected to another ultra-cliched plot-point, the old "one character says I love you, but the other doesn't say it back" routine. Seriously? You had to roll your eyes as Chuck anxiously awaited Sarah's noncomittal reply. I'd like to think that CHUCK is above such tired contrivances.

Luckily, the episode gained points thanks to the Morgan Grimes and his entertaining reunion with former flame Anna Wu. Anna's return served a pretty basic function - to show that Morgan was a more mature, more self-confident man than in the past, and that he wouldn't just go running right back into the arms of the first woman to come his way - especially one like Anna who had, previously, broken his heart. It was too bad that Anna's return was so one-note, but it was still the highlight of the episode - with some very funny moments from Morgan, along with Jeff and Lester, who were quick to make their plays for Anna's on-the-rebound affections. Also somewhat intriguing was the usually-useless Ellie being set up by a Ring agent posing as CIA. The duplicitious badguy convinced Ellie that John Casey was a villain after her gone-underground father (Scott Bakula, who returns next week), therefore manipulating Ellie into helping him track Casey and her father in one fell swoop. I admit, the whole thing was a little jarring, because for some reason I thought it was implied that Ellie and Awesome were kidnapped or something at the end of last week's ep. It was weird seeing them all of a sudden back from Africa and once again in Burbank. But at least, the storyline paves the way for some potentially fun drama involving Chuck's dad and Ellie inadvertantly working against her father and brother. In any case, let's hope things pick up next week, because, while sporadically entertaining (thank you Morgan, Jeffster, and of course, Adam Baldwin), this was certainly not CHUCK's finest hour.

My Grade: B-

- Okay, tonight is a HUGE episode of LOST. Stay tuned for the review!

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