"Day 4: 1PM - 2PM"
Written by Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff
Directed by Ken Girotti
In which the race is on to prevent the mass meltdown of the nation’s nuclear power facilities, while Jack and Audrey must face down terrorists with help from an old friend...
Status Report - Final Analysis
The previous episode gave the season a much-needed jump-start. It’s not that the season had been terrible before that (the third season will always take the honors for the worst beginning stretch), but it wasn’t quite as exciting or surprising as the network seemed to think it would be, especially after Heller’s abduction. The writers felt like they were going “by the numbers”, simply covering the pre-determined plot points and moving on.
This episode is no exception, but the difference is that the writers are making it a little more interesting to go from point A to point B. There are some surprises along the way (especially near the end, for those unspoiled), but for the most part, the quality of the episode is based more on how the writers take the simple outline and build something fun around it.
With more than 100 nuclear power plants on a short trip to meltdown, the clock is definitely ticking. As such, Jack wants to waste no time. He wants to take Audrey to Felsted Security, where video archives could help her identify the man she recognized in the terrorists’ compound earlier in the day. Heller’s not pleased with the idea, and he gives Jack a stern warning. Anyone with any sense of narrative foreshadowing should have gotten worried as soon as Heller opened his mouth.
Perhaps aware that the CTU personnel are gaining ground in the personality department, the writers turn to the rather obvious subplot involving Paul, Audrey’s husband, and his disgust with Jack. For Jack’s part, he leaves it mostly to Audrey to work out. He’s probably recalling how he let the situation with Chase and Kim distract him last season, and trying to avoid repeating the same mistake in his own office romance.
Marianne, the latest CTU-related employee to be a terrorist mole (they really need to learn how to vet employees at this place!), finds out about Jack’s destination and decides to do something about it. This sets up one of the main plot elements of the episode in rather obvious fashion. In a plot point that actually follows up on a common criticism of the series (why so many people can make cell phone calls to dastardly villains in the middle of the CTU operations center), Sarah notices Marianne calling a man named Powell, who orders Marianne to pin suspicion on someone else. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see where this is going.
When Paul pulls Heller aside to whine about Audrey, it has way too much negative potential. Thankfully, Heller has no patience for fools, and he cuts to the chase rather quickly before moving on to the massive national security threat. More and more, Heller is becoming an older, wiser version of Jack, and if this is the direction they want to take with Jack in future seasons, it would probably work out very well. (Sure, it’s all very Tom Clancy, but what about this series isn’t?)
The writers quickly turn back to the most surprising plot thread of the season: the intrigues of the Araz family. Dina is not at all happy about Behrooz, and she’s even less pleased when her son callsv and frantically explains that Navi was the one who ordered the hit. Dina shows some serious courage when she strikes Navi several times, and even when he finally lets his anger show, she doesn’t really back down. It’s a great, tense scene.
While it’s not nearly as exciting, it’s nice to see Jack letting his emotions show, something he hasn’t done in a positive way since the first season. His relationship with Kim was always laced with a certain amount of disapproval, and while there were some nice scenes with Kate, they were usually rushed, thanks to the circumstances. Jack and Audrey get a quiet moment here, and even if it’s just a slight smile and a caress of a finger, it speaks volumes from a man usually forced to bury such feelings.
It doesn’t take long for Sarah to figure out that Marianne is lying through her teeth, and that alone should be enough to inform Driscoll of a major problem with their consultant. Sarah, however, seems too vapid to realize how serious the breach of protocol was, so she lets Marianne get away with it. This scene is also notable for bringing up the fact that Edgar is working on a way to shut down some or all of the overloading nuclear reactors. In a twist obviously designed to ramp up the tension, Edgar’s solution will either shut down the reactors or speed up the meltdown process.
Meanwhile, Navi is ready to have a meltdown of his own. In essence, all of his fears are coming to pass, but he doesn’t seem to realize that it’s all happening because of his own decisions. He’s the one who ordered Debbie killed in the first place, even when it wasn’t absolutely necessary, since Debbie wasn’t at all likely to run to the authorities before the operation began. Navi then went even further by ordering Behrooz killed, feeding whatever doubts his son might have already had. Now even Dina is questioning the plan, and it’s all because Navi (and by extension, Marwan) couldn’t leave well enough alone. (In other words: evil defeats itself…naturally.)
Despite his intense nervous fear, Edgar presents his solution to Driscoll and Heller. Driscoll seems to have other things on her mind, while Heller calmly tries to get Edgar to honestly present his ability to correctly modify the system kernels and defuse the nuclear threat. Shortly thereafter, Driscoll ignores the national security threat to attend to her daughter. It’s not unlike some of the conflicts of interest in seasons past, but as weak as Driscoll has been as a character, the annoyance factor is heightened.
While Driscoll sees to her daughter’s health, the rest of the character’s take time to work out relationship problems. After the writers make a slight continuity error (claiming that Richard was tortured for hours on Heller’s order, even though Heller didn’t get to CTU until the previous episode), there’s the ongoing commentary on the possible cost of the Patriot Act. This could have been taken further, but apparently the writers couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Oh, and Audrey starts having second thoughts when Paul uses fancy weasel words to make her feel guilty for moving on. (As if Jack doesn’t have enough reason for angst this season!)
Dina is forced into making a decision: accept that the “mission” requires sacrifice and be the one to drag her son to the wolves, or become a fugitive herself. It doesn’t help that she’s torn between the love for her son and her love of the cause. It’s not as though she’s seeing the error of her ways; she’s simply not agreeing with the presumed cost of their victory. All things being equal, she’d still be helping with the terrorist plot, even after taking a bullet from her own husband.
Marwan is not at all pleased with Navi over the whole mess, because Navi should have been able to handle that aspect of his deep cover. Marwan eventually accepts that resources must be devoted to keeping Dina and Behrooz from becoming a threat to the cause, but Navi isn’t getting a free pass, either. One gets the feeling that Navi will be dead once he deals with his family, and that could factor into the overall failure of the terrorist plot.
Of course, family issues are also getting in the way of the CTU response. It’s bad enough that Paul is running around, crying to the Secretary of Defense about his marriage issues, but Driscoll finds herself dealing with her daughter’s near-fatal response to Haldol. Once again, the writers pull off an interesting parallel: personal issues get in the way of the “greater goal” on both sides of the equation. In short, both sides of the conflict are ultimately human and therefore flawed.
At the same time, Driscoll’s response is troubling on several levels. For one thing, why wouldn’t Driscoll make damn sure that the doctors know that her daughter is allergic to the most used anti-schizophrenic drug available? And while it’s easy to sympathize with her when she’s watching her daughter fight for her life, she’s taken on a higher responsibility. When it came down to his daughter or the country, Jack always knew which one had to take priority. Driscoll goes so far as to dismiss the fact that the president needs a briefing from her, which is just stunning to consider.
Lest the personal issues overwhelm the episode, the situation at Felsted Security flares into an extended firefight, with Jack forced to school Audrey in basic technique along the way. With Heller’s warning firmly in the center of his mind, Jack does everything possible to give Audrey the best chance at survival. (It’s not his fault if he doesn’t have time to teach her how to aim the gun someplace other than the floor!) It helps bring back some of the tension stolen away after Dina’s last-second decision to defy Navi.
This is good, because now the nuclear threat is more contained, but 17 of the reactors still need to be “fixed” with Edgar’s hacking skill. These are the ones likely to go into meltdown, so the pressure is on Driscoll to make sure it works. Heller seems to recognize Driscoll’s mental disarray, since he also finds it hard to place the nation over the survival of his own progeny, and there’s a nice scene between them that is thankfully very short.
Things at Felsted Security go badly rather quickly, especially once Jack and Audrey run out of ammunition. What follows is probably going to win Badass Re-introduction of the Year (previous winners include Giles on the sixth season of “Buffy” and Faith in the fourth season of “Angel”). The return of Tony Almeida is quite the welcome turn of events, and though it had been rumored for quite some time, the reality of it helps to give the season even more momentum.
As Jack and Audrey rush off to analyze the camera footage, CTU and Heller discover that Edgar’s solution only takes care of part of the problem. Out of more than 100 nuclear reactors, an hour’s worth of scrambled work has narrowed the threat down to 6. Of course, that more than enough to kill millions and disrupt the environment for decades, which is quite the downside. As Heller plainly puts it, the country is looking at a nuclear holocaust.
This episode is no less transitional than the ones that followed the internet broadcast about Heller, but the stakes are now higher, so the effect is less sedating. Edgar’s little hacking job is a bit too conveniently timed, meant mostly to advance the plot thread by a measured degree over the course of the hour. Similarly, the intrigues of the Araz family were meant to only go so far. What made these elements work were the strong character moments that went with them (more so in Dina’s case).
Tony’s return brings another wild card into play, as was no doubt intended, and it’s perfectly timed to coincide with the beginning of February sweeps. (It now rather clear why so many episodes were crammed into the first week.) The meltdown of those six reactors is also supposed to take place within a few hours, making this next phase of the story a nice package for the ratings period. It’s rather obvious that the series is primed for a strong showing, and the audience is really the one with the most benefit.
This is the point at which the writers admit the schedule went out of control. The episodes to come were essentially being written as they were being filmed. In essence, the writers provided themselves with a good starting point, and now it remains to be seen if they can gather their talents and avoid the common pitfalls that come with a truncated writing period.
Overall, this episode does a capable job of covering the response to the nuclear threat, while focusing on key relationship issues in the process. Some of those relationships are not as interesting as the writers seem to think, but others present another level of symmetry between the terrorists and CTU. And of course, the final moments are a welcome development.
Final Rating: 8/10
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