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TELEVISION & RADIO | SHOW TRACKER

On `24,' never fear: Jack Bauer's here

Terrorists, murder, torture and more. Just name it -- and our hero will take care of it.

February 14, 2007|Patrick Day | Times Staff Writer

Halfway through Monday's back-to-back episodes of "24," Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) stormed an apartment full of terrorists without a helmet, got into a deadly shootout and defused an armed suitcase nuke.

But close-up shots revealed skin that was both nicely tanned and completely dry. Not bad for a guy who got released from a Chinese prison just hours ago.

One of "24's" greatest assets has been its ability to simultaneously keep viewers off-balance with completely unexpected and outlandish plot twists (like detonating a nuclear bomb in Valencia), while at the same time perpetuating the comforting belief that, no matter what, Jack will make things right. The series' creators have been so adept at creating this he-man fantasy that the single implausible moment in last night's episodes came when Jack's sister-in-law Marilyn (Rena Sofer) failed to confide to Jack that his father was threatening to kill her son if she didn't direct Jack away from the terrorist hide-out and toward a bomb-trapped house. Obviously, despite having a some sort of romantic attachment to him far in their past, she doesn't know the real Jack Bauer.

But does anyone really know anyone else on this show? Double-dealing and surprise betrayals have been "24" standards since its first season, but this year the switch-ups seem to have been kicked up a notch. Last week, Jack's dad (James Cromwell) revealed himself to be a bad guy when he killed Jack's shady brother Graem. Now it appears Jack's dad is also the mastermind behind a conspiracy to detonate suitcase nukes within the United States and to assassinate President Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside). At this point, the only person who seems not to have a secret agenda is CTU's computer expert Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), whose relationship with fellow CTU computer whiz Morris O'Brian (Carlo Rota) appears to be disintegrating after he was tortured by Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis) into helping him arm the remaining four nuclear bombs.

But this season's most surprising character revelation may come from "24's" creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran. An L.A. Times story on Tuesday detailed how human rights groups have requested that "24's" on-screen depictions of torture become more realistic, and this week's New Yorker examined Surnow's conservative political views and friendly relationship with members of the Bush administration.

So it may come across as shocking that while on the show the real-life president's worst fears are coming true, they have depicted a White House where the president who wants to make nice with a former terrorist and defend Americans' civil liberties is portrayed as someone who needs protection, while the men who share Bush's get-tough attitudes are reduced to scheming in the White House boiler room.

This isn't the first time "24" has subverted its conservative leanings in favor of a juicy plot twist, and with 15 hours left in the day, there's still plenty of juice left. But for now, when the fictional president works to draft an outreach to the Muslim American community, it appears the show really wants to believe that more violence is not the answer. Then again, only Jack Bauer can make things right.

patrick.day@latimes.com

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Show Tracker is a new column that follows television series through their highs and lows.

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