24: Live Another Day has been a slow starter, but in the fourth hour - if you're keeping count, that's one-third of the way through this ninth cycle - it finally picks up some steam. Getting back to the kinds of things we've come to expect from this show, like tense speeches and the random removal of body parts, this finally feels like the 24 that had us addicted years ago, although it still has room to improve before it gets to truly engrossing levels.
Picking up exactly where last week left off, Jack strong-arms (literally) his way into the U.S. Embassy in London with the CIA behind him. Chloe finally finds out her boyfriend Cross was the one who botched Jack's fake ID and started all this nonsense, and tells him to "Get out of my sight," but still sort of gives him a pass while she tries to keep her old friend from being caught or killed.
Jack makes his way to Chris Tanner, and tells him who he is and that "If you want your name cleared, I'm your only shot." It's hard to argue with that, so Tanner tells Jack where to find the flight key that he needs. With the device in hand and Chloe in his ear, our hero ducks out just moments before Kate, Erik and a handful of Marines show up. One of them orders a lockdown, which keeps Jack from exiting the building.
Back at Terrorist House, Margot is impatient with how things are going, even though she's assured that they'll have control of the drones in less than an hour. And then there's more interpersonal drama between Simone and her husband that we still don't care about, even as her husband suggests they both leave, which she calls "impossible." As soon as he starts rattling off an escape plan, you can pretty much write this guy off as dead. He's the perfect canon fodder for one of 24's dramatic death scenes.
Kate briefs Navarro again (is Benjamin Bratt going to get to do anything but supervise people?), while Jack takes hostages in the Embassy's communications room. He begins to upload the data from Tanner's flight key, but the transmission is promptly terminated. According to Cross, it's because the data is encrypted, and he sends over a program that's supposed to do the trick...very, very slowly. Forced to stall for more time, Jack shoots a few of the approaching Marines.
Simone squeals on her husband to her mother, yet claims that she loves him. Figure that one out. Needless to say, Margot is displeased, since she was counting on the husband to pilot the hijacked drones. Speaking of dysfunctional families, while President Heller continues his ill-advised speech to Parliament, Mark throws a fit when Navarro tells him what's going on at the Embassy. He apparently only has one emotional setting.
In an attempt to do something other than stand around looking shocked, Kate and Erik pay a visit to Chris Tanner and try to question him. Tanner tells them about his brief conversation with Jack, which prompts them to stand there looking confused. The whole scene lasts maybe two minutes. Kate leaves the room determined to talk to Jack, even though the last time they spoke, that didn't go well for her at all.
Mark tells President Heller and Audrey that Jack has taken hostages at the U.S. Embassy. They are both surprised to hear Jack's name and skeptical of Mark's interpretation of events, and President Heller tells Mark that he, too, would like a word with Jack. People are going to have to start taking numbers.
While Margot punishes Simone's husband by having Simone's hand chopped off - yes, she's willing to mutilate her own daughter to further her agenda - Kate calls Navarro and finds out about the President's request. While she, Erik, Audrey and Mark are all listening in, Heller and Jack have a really awkward conversation. Jack tells Heller everything he knows about the drone-hijacking device and the terrorist plot, and asks for the remaining time he needs to upload the rest of the data from the flight key.
Audrey supports Jack, while Mark continues to insist that he's up to no good, pointing to Jack's rescue of Chloe as an example. "We know Jack Bauer," Heller tells his son-in-law. "You don't." But despite this statement, he seems to believe Mark's single-minded tirade, and tells General Coburn to have the Marines go in after Jack when they're ready. And with Cross still disagreeing with Chloe, everything seems to be going south.
Enter Kate, who has another one of her ideas, this time to sneak her way into the room through a vent, even as Erik points out that sneaking up on Jack Bauer is a bad idea. He's right on that count, but one must give him props for sort of trying to come to her defense when the Marines figure out what she's trying to do. Kate drops into the room Sarah Walker-style, and offers to help him by finishing the upload herself. As the Marines blow the door off, she claims that Jack is in CIA custody, and we're left to look at Simone's mangled arm and Margot's plotting, now that she's gotten Simone's husband to play ball. We still wouldn't expect him to live through the day. Then again, most of these people won't...
The opening episodes of this season (the first act, if you will) exposed a number of flaws in 24: Live Another Day, and it's not as if those have gone away entirely. Mark, for example, is so painfully one-dimensional he may as well wear a sign that says as much, and we're starting to think Benjamin Bratt's entire role on this show is to order other people around. But what's changed is that things are finally starting to go to that next level where the disparate characters and storylines are beginning to pull together, and as such the audience can see the totality of the arc. It's all starting to make sense now, and as such, it's easier to follow and more interesting to watch.
There are, of course, so many things here that longtime viewers will have come to expect from 24. There's Jack being fundamentally good guy Jack, willing to take hostages but also more concerned with protecting them than himself when it looks like everyone's about to get shot. There's the random but pretty much expected acts of violence; this isn't even the first time a limb has been chopped off in this series (that honor goes to Chase Edmunds for missing an arm, or if you consider the head, then there's also that guy Jack needed a hacksaw for). And now that things are getting dicey, there's all the tense speeches between the people who don't believe our hero and the ones that do, with them all going the former way because of course, if everyone believed Jack right now, the show would probably be called 5, 6 at the most.
But that's 24. It's not going to be as groundbreaking as it once was - back when this show started, there was nothing else like it, and now that's no longer the case, not to mention that TV as a whole has gotten smarter over the last decade. Yet this show knows what it's good at. It's good at blowing things up, at creating villains that we like to hate because we know they're not going to make it out alive anyway, and it's still got the single most badass hero who's ever been on the small screen. Now that we've dispensed with the backstory and seem to be pulling threads together and giving the other characters more to handle than just milling around Jack, the series is on course to regain some of its old form. Let's hope that it just keeps getting better next week.
24: Live Another Day continues next Monday at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX.