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Man, what a great episode of 24. This show does a lot of things well, but nothing better than sticking Jack Bauer with a pressing deadline and an insurmountable crisis (which, of course, is always surmountable). And nothing says “insurmountable” like a canister of nerve gas going off in a crowded mall’s ventilation system. Yes, Jack’s bad day of gas continued as he faced the unenviable task of stopping terrorists and saving children — children with balloons, no less. Chances are if you or I were handcuffed to a desk next to a billowing cloud of toxic gas, we’d be dead meat. But Jack… well, he’s a mighty man.This week’s episode began with Lynn McGill tidying up from that little scuffle of his across the street. You know, the one where his sister’s boyfriend jumped him and stole his cash and Very Important CTU Thing That Has Yet To Be Called Upon. Anyway, despite the trickle of blood on his lip and the instant five o’clock shadow the ordeal seemed to have given him, Lynn managed to spiff up well enough that Bill Buchanan didn’t seem to even notice his hobbit’s disheveled state. Maybe that’s because Bill had more pressing things on his mind, like all the increased chatter about the nerve gas containers. I always enjoy when CTU talks about terrorist “chatter.” I imagine the terrorists all sitting around sipping tea, eating scones, and gossiping like some 19th century wags in a Jane Austen movie.
Anyway, the bad news of the day was that Erwich (that’s the bad guy) had been putting out feelers to various terrorist cells, seeing if they wanted to help deploy all the nerve gas. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Erwich now was planning to meet with and receive a microchip from this guy Rossler — a.k.a. the old guy who the teenage sex slave shot to death last week. Well, Erwich called up, and not knowing what else to do, Jack answered the phone, pretending to be Rossler. He didn’t do a very good impression, but it really didn’t matter. Basically, all Jack said was “Yeah” (I would have preferred him to say “Yyyyyello!”), and Erwich immediately poured out all the details for their rendez-vous. Now, granted, I’m not a terrorist; so I don’t always know the best way to conduct shady dealings, but well, shouldn’t Erwich have been a little more prudent with his phone call? I mean, what would have happened had he called the wrong number? He very well could have just given all that information to Domino’s. Or some old lady in Pasadena. It’s kind of like when people dial the wrong number and leave a message on my answering machine. Are they even paying attention? Can’t they tell that I’m not their tennis partner? Nor their doctor? Nor the damn front desk of the Grafton Hotel?? (I get that one a lot.)
Well, because Erwich was all talk and no listen (he needs to work on his communications skills), Jack lucked out. He decided he would pretend to be Rossler, which would work because Erwich was gonna send one of his henchmen to meet him, and the dumb henchman surely had never seen Rossler OR Jack. Seemed like a fun undercover sting, but back at CTU, Audrey was not happy with it. They’ll probably kill him, she feared, but alas, she wasn’t wearing her Smart Glasses, and therefore was routinely ignored by everyone.
So here was the plan: Jack was gonna pretend to be a scared woosy, Curtis would have his back, and Chloe and Edgar would be working on the chip’s schematics. Aw, the whole gang working together. Group hug, guys!
Meanwhile, over in Dysfunction Junction, a.k.a. the Presidential Compound, Walt Cummings’ suicide had sent the administration into a tailspin. Er, well, bigger tailspin. Good ol’ Mike wanted to take advantage of Walt’s death because after all, it kind of rendered all of his dirty dealings moot. Rather than sully the man’s name posthumously by revealing his role in the day’s events (and in turn implicate the White House in the scandal of the year), why not simply cover the whole thing up and say the guy committed suicide because of stress and despondency. And no, that won’t seem suspicious to the American people at all.
Well, if there’s anyone who hates a cover-up, it’s Martha, and she was at that very moment typing up a press statement about Walt and his role in the day’s chaos and whatnot. She was soon interrupted, however, by her faithful assistant Evelyn, who strayed away from her usual doormat demeanor. You see, Evelyn was confused and sad. She needed advice. She needed answers. Why had Walt Cummings killed himself? It just didn’t seem right! Maybe he didn’t commit suicide! Maybe there’s a killer loose!
Not wanting to deal with her assistant’s needy meltdown, Martha decided to simply level with the girl, confiding that Walt was a traitor and took his own life after he was exposed. Oh, and by the way, don’t tell a soul, Evelyn. (Countdown to Evelyn spilling the beans begins riiiight… now.)
Elsewhere, Jack arrived downtown for his meeting with Erwich’s man. “Showtime,” he said rather amusingly as he stepped out of his car. I would have preferred him to say, “Time for the old razzle dazzle!” or “Okay, Maria, show ‘em what you got!” (Don’t know who Maria is, but it seemed apt). Anyway, since this is 24, we knew things had to go wrong, and the slow descent into Ooopsville began when not one, but two men stepped out of the Shady Van of Terrorist Wrath. That wasn’t supposed to be! Uh oh. Jack was out-numbered. The wheels are already falling off the train (did I just mix metaphors? Please tell me).
Well, the bad guys had Jack (who they thought was Rossler) install this chip which would allow them to release the gas remotely. Chloe spoke to Jack through a headpiece, giving him instructions on how to perform the installation. I have to say, I never thought chip installation could be so exciting.
Anyway, the plan was for Jack to install the chip (which, by the way, would have a nifty tracker on it) and then everyone would part ways. But the terrorists had a different agenda — the sort of agenda where Jack gets sucker punched and thrown in the back of a van. The bad guys wanted to keep Jack around until they knew the chip would work, and as they zoomed off, Audrey insisted that they intercept them and save Jack. Unfortunately, Lynn simply would not allow it, which meant pained looks from everyone (especially Curtis, who was trailing Jack in his SUV).
Back at the White House West, Evelyn appeared by Martha’s side and presented her with the official press release about Walt’s death. You know, the one that said Walt was just really in a bad mood that day. “I’m confused,” Evelyn said. Aw, poor Evelyn. Maybe she just needs a cup of hot cocoa and her blankie. Well, Martha wasn’t confused. She was PISSED. She barged into her husband’s office, demanding to know what the hell was going on.
“I’ll wait outside,” Mike said quietly, but oh no. You’re not going anywhere, Mister. The happy couple bickered in their usual venomous way, with President Pussy ultimately declaring, “I made my decision. And I’m the president!”
“Which means it’s your job to tell the truth. Even if it’s ugly. And if you don’t, I will!” Martha retorted, dropping the old morality bomb on her husband. She then promised to tell Walt’s widow the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her, God. Sadly, this did not lead to the two of them saying “Fine. Be that way.” “I will.” “Good.” “Good.” “I hope you tell her everything.” “I will.” “Fine.” And so on and so forth.
Meanwhile, back in the terrorist van of glee, Jack learned some very bad news. Turns out there was a canister of the gas right there in the vehicle. The bad guys were going to do a little test run at the Sunrise Hills Mall. This caused all the eavesdroppers at CTU to share a shocked, surprised look. The Sunrise Hills Mall?? NOT THE SUNRISE HILLS MALL!!! But a Filene’s Basement is about to open there! And what about Hot Topic? Will the Piercing Pavillion be spared??
“Yes, the Sunrise Mall.”
“I had three candles on reserve at the Yankee Candle Company. Now what?”
“So much for my trip to the Men’s Wearhouse today.”
“I never even got to try the new Cinnabons.”
Well, bad news for shoppers: Lynn wanted to let the terrorists deploy the gas. Yes, he wanted to sacrifice innocent civilians in order to keep on the trail of all those other canisters. Audrey of course pleaded against this, but Lynn finally snapped as he yelled, “Bill’s not in charge here. I AM!” Wow. Somebody saves Frodo’s life one too many times and suddenly he thinks he’s the shit.
Anyway, Jack and his new comrades slipped into some workmen uniforms and entered the mall. And wouldn’t you know it? There were children everywhere. And not just any children. Children with BALLOONS. Oh, and did I mention that they were all about to get ice cream? Ice cream and balloons. Oh, the humanity!
As one balloon mournfully floated to the top of the mall’s atrium, Jack and his cronies headed to the mall back room where a lone security guard met them. Okay, this guy is so dead. The terrorists pretended like they were there to fix the air conditioning, causing the guard to ask, “You got paper work?” How about a gun? One second later, the guard was dead. Congratulations, random actor. You just lasted twenty seconds longer than most day-players.
As the terrorists then got to work cutting a giant hole in the mall’s ventilation conduit, CTU contacted President Logan for his permission to let the gas be deployed. I personally thought CTU should have captured the terrorists and done some good old fashioned lamp-wire torture, but that’s just me. Anyway, Logan was understandably and predictably torn, and Audrey did not hesitate to mention that of the estimated hundreds of casualties, “many of them are children!” CHILDREN WITH BALLOONS!!!
Lynn, on the other hand, assured the President that this would be a covert decision. Great. Another coverup. Exactly how many things can one administration cover up in one day? Well, President Pussy did not want to make the decision. He kept trying to defer to CTU and Mike, but everyone did the whole “Don’t ask me! I’m not the President!” thing (in so many words, at least). Ultimately, Logan agreed with Lynn and ordered the gas to be released. What? Palmer would never have done such a thing!
Well, it was go time. The terrorists and Jack put on their gas masks. All they needed now was an activation code. How was Jack going to stop this tragedy? How?? Cut to me literally on the edge of my seat, my heart beating. Anyway, Chloe read Jack the code, but… but… he then gave the terrorist the wrong code! Deliberately! Lynn immediately began freaking out (he’s clearly never worked with Jack before), and when the canister didn’t open up, the terrorist became quite testy as well. Jack explained that the device must have gotten damaged, but whatever. The terrorists smacked him upside the head and handcuffed him to a heavy desk. This could not be good.
Actually, it was pretty terrible, and it was about to get worse. The bad guys called Erwich and told them that the device wasn’t working, but not to fear. Erwich’s little sidekick had just figured out a way to circumvent that pesky computer chip. All the guys needed to do was pull a few wires and whatnot. Uh oh. This would not be good for Jack. A) he was handcuffed to a desk, and B) he was without a mask. This was just too intense. Somebody set a hard perimeter. Anywhere. Just DO IT! I need comfort.
Apparently this was too intense for Audrey too, who was still going nuts about the damn children. “Look at them! Look at the monitors!!” she yelled to Bill and Lynn, trying to force their eyes on the innocence of youth and ice cream. But who cares about the children anymore? We only care about Jack now. The terrorists put on their masks, and as one guy began working on the gas canister, the other headed into the little office where Jack was and — bang! No, he didn’t shoot Jack. Jack instead gave the guy a swift kick in the legs, and in the commotion that followed, that terrorist died, but the other one opened the canister and then ran out of the mall.
With gas flowing into the ventilation system, Jack managed to get hold of the security guard’s keys, unlock his handcuffs, and slip a gas mask on just in the nick of time. He then tore at all the canister’s wires, causing the thing to quietly close up and stop the flow of gas. Phew! Just at that moment, a security guy walked in, and after some perfunctory Bauer barking (“I’m a federal agent, evacuate the mall, blah blah blah”), Bill Buchanan told his field teams to move in and clear out the mall, causing Curtis to grunt, “About time.” He don’t like to wait, that Curtis.
Anyway, with the PA system telling shoppers to evacuate the mall, Jack then stepped out into the food court wearing a gas mask and wielding his gun. Yeah, because that’ll cause an orderly evacuation. If I saw Kiefer Sutherland running around my mall dressed like that, I’d be freaked the hell out. Well, pandemonium ensued, and while most of the shoppers escaped without harm, soon the housewives began falling all over the place, hacking up their lungs in the process. And oh no! A little girl was sick against the wall! And she didn’t even have a balloon. Maybe it was the father in him or just his great big heart, but Jack took off his gas mask, placed it on the girl, and raced her outside to fresh air. But was it too late? The little girl was… slowly… dying… (Look away, Audrey. Look away.)
But wait! She’s alive! Little girl survived! Jack’s a hero! No time to wave the American flag though. There was still a terrorist loose in the great Sunrise Hills Mall region. Where was he? Well, he had just broken into a car and was headed back to Erwich (who was still at that metal shop where he had killed Jaime’s Pressley’s boyfriend from Can’t Hardly Wait). Erwich asked his henchman if he was being followed, and the guy said no (too bad he didn’t know about that bug Jack had placed on him. Oops!). Whatever. This guy is so dead by the end of the episode.
Meanwhile, when President Logan found out that Jack had disobeyed his orders, he promptly yelled at Lynn McGill, saying that he wasn’t doing the job he was assigned to do (a.k.a. keep CTU in order). Man, tough day for Lynn. And wait until he needs that Very Important Thing that his sister’s boyfriend stole from him.
Elsewhere in the Presidential compound, Walt’s widow Suzanne (a.k.a. fake Julianne Moore) arrived, and guess who was there to receive her? Our favorite grand dame of dementia, Martha. The two cried with each other, with Suzanne commenting that she just couldn’t understand how this happened. Martha said that Walt loved his country, but even she could not bring herself to tell the truth about what happened. So she simply kept it at that. The two rocked back and forth a bit, and eventually Martha walked away, passing her husband in the hallway and giving him a “You f*ckin’ bastard” glare.
Back in the field, the terrorist finally arrived at the metal shop, and that’s when we heard those magical words we yearn to hear. “Set up a perimeter,” Lynn said. It’s official. A perimeter is up. Which means Erwich is getting away. Sure enough, our master terrorist spotted the CTU cars filing in, and as he drove away, he told his henchman that he had in fact been followed. Sorry, buddy. Gotta shoot yourself in the head. And that’s exactly what happened. Jack and the gang barged into the shop just as the lowly terrorist blew his brains out, thus ruining yet another lead. No gas, no terrorist — could this day get any worse? I hope so.
Pretty intense episode. What did you think? Should CTU have listened to Audrey?