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SHOW TRACKER

Without Jack, the day drags until ...

`24' is at its best when its hero is on the screen. But even the action has to stop occasionally for the subplots to advance.

February 28, 2007|Patrick Day | Times Staff Writer

In retrospect, it was inevitable: Monday night on "24," conspirators working within the White House got close to President Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside) and blew him up real good.

Whether Palmer is still alive is something to be discovered next week, but savvy viewers might have wondered about Palmer's continued good health weeks ago when it was revealed that his vice president was being played by a bigger-name actor (Powers Boothe).

Like every other episode of "24," the would-be assassination came as an edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger ending, but subplots occupied much of the show Monday night, among them the unbelievably lame (CTU computer whiz Morris' struggles with alcoholism on the job) and the mildly diverting (Russian terrorist Gredenko's continued scheming). The best of the lot was, of course, the machinations leading up to the explosion, courtesy of the deputy chief of staff and White House traitor, played by Chad Lowe. Despite making good use of that old thriller standby -- the ticking bomb -- these scenes also introduced a clever way to get an explosive past security (look for airport security to start confiscating highlighters soon), but it once again revealed one of "24's" greatest weakness: When Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is scarce, an hour can seem like an eternity.

While the rest of the supporting cast advanced their story lines, Jack spent his limited screen time in the company of former President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), the man responsible for the death of Bauer's good friend, President David Palmer. Newly bearded and very Nixonian, Logan seemed willing to help Jack track down the missing suitcase nukes, and amazingly Jack believed him.

Sometimes it seems like the world of "24" resembles Major League Baseball. You have two sides: the good guys and the bad guys. Often they switch sides or get traded, everyone takes a moment to remember the score and continues playing the game. Last season Logan was a bad guy, Jack's enemy. This season he appears to be on the side of the angels, literally. Under house arrest, Logan has found God, making him perhaps the world's first politician to get religion after he was on the campaign trail.

Considering Logan and Jack's past, it would be reasonable to assume Jack would be more than a little suspicious of Logan's motives. Even Logan thought so when he said, "This isn't easy for you, Jack. The possibility that I may not be the same person you've hated for so long."

Well, no, actually it appeared fairly easy for Jack. After just a few words with the former president, Jack seemed willing to go wherever the man wanted. It seems Jack more than anyone knows how the game is played. So far this season, his father has gone from good guy to bad guy back to good guy again. The terrorist leader Assad (Alexander Siddig) has gone to the good guys, and Wayne Palmer's chief of staff Tom Lennox (Peter MacNicol) flirted with switching sides, before staying with the good guys. And that's just since January.

Good guys, bad guys, allies and enemies -- perhaps what "24" is saying is that such concepts have become complete abstractions. You can hate a man one episode for arming nuclear weapons, then pity him the next for chugging whiskey in an alley. It's all just people being people, regardless of ideology.

OK, just don't forget Jack Bauer. If we wanted to see normal people, we'd go outside.

patrick.day@latimes.com

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Show Tracker follows television series through their highs and lows.

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