"Day 4: 3PM - 4PM"
Written by Howard Gordon and Evan Katz
Directed by Brad Turner
In which Jack and Tony are placed on the trail of Dina and Behrooz, who are also being hunted down by Navi, while time runs out as one of the nuclear reactors goes into meltdown...
Status Report - Final Analysis
The previous episode left six nuclear reactors on the brink of nuclear meltdown, just as the one apparent lead on the technology needed to stop it was drilled by a sniper. Tough luck for Jack, but good luck for Tony, who actually managed to survive another hour! As it turns out, Powellís demise was not the elimination of all remaining options; in a nice twist, the pieces of the puzzle begin to move into place, thanks to a specific connection between Powell and one of the terrorists.
In an interesting opening scene that was probably a little too familiar for most corporate employees, Driscoll and Curtis decide to work out a way to cover their mutual assets regarding Marianneís contract at CTU. Curtis has plenty to lose, as a scapegoat if nothing else, but Driscoll understood the circumstances and should have made better decisions. A third of the way into the season, the writers are not making Driscoll any more sympathetic. For every good decision she makes, she makes about five terrible ones.
Thankfully, the nuclear meltdown scenario continues to build momentum as Heller explains to the president that one of the reactors, on San Gabriel Island, is going to meltdown within the hour. This is an interesting departure from the usual tactic of introducing a threat and having it derailed without major consequence. Perhaps the writers took their lessons from the latter half of the third season, when an inspired (if gruesome) plot twist unleashed death on hundreds of people. Itís something the real world has been forced to accept: sometimes, the terrorists overcome our defenses. And sometimes, like in this season, the terrorists are aided when the wrong people are in charge.
Thanks to Marianneís capture and Powellís cell phone, the pieces start to come together for the good guys. The scope of the operation is still not clear, but the enormity of the effect is more than enough to paint a picture. Since Powell appears to have been a central figure in the conspiracy, he also had a contact among the terrorists. Making that contact Dina Araz is a brilliant plot element, since itís the perfect way to get Jack and Dina together and generate some strong drama.
Of course, Navi is trying to stop Dina and/or Behrooz from getting in the way of the nuclear operation (which, in turn, could only be part of the plan). The writers never hid the fact that this conflict was going to become a major element of the plot arc, but they could have easily bungled it (similar to the mistakes made with Nina in the third season). Instead, the confrontation is built logically throughout the episode, which makes it seem a lot less contrived.
Case in point: Navi goes to the home of a family friend, under the impression that Dina might be hiding out there. The woman, Farrah, is incredibly gorgeous, and sheís also carrying on an affair with an American man. Navi, consistent with his previous characterization, is disgusted by Farrahís infidelity on many levels, but mostly because she has sullied herself by consorting with the enemy. Some might see that as stereotyping, but in fact, itís called characterization. This scene defines the depth of Naviís fanaticism, something quite apart from the attitude of most Muslim-Americans.
The writers also donít forget that Tony is only reluctantly working with Jack on this case. Tonyís reluctance is a minor detail, but itís an important one. It would have been very easy for the writers to simply have Tony tag along, without regard to how he got involved or how the agents currently in the field might react to his presence. Tonyís attitude also gives Carlos Bernard something to work with, which is always a good thing.
With Dina threatening to slip into shock, Behrooz is forced to get pain medication. As it happens, Dinaís brother Naseem works at a nearby hospital, which is rather convenient, but works for the story. Naseem also wasnít part of the terrorist plot, which continues to delineate the difference between the fanatical terrorists and the Muslim community at large. (It wonít appease those complaining, of course, but it is a calculated attempt to make the terrorists a very select case.)
The San Gabriel reactor goes into meltdown a bit early, which only adds to the tension. Itís something of a minor shock to consider that the evacuation, despite being underway, has no chance of succeeding. This is where the writers make the one major mistake in what is otherwise a strong episode: introducing Edgarís mother, who just happens to be in the meltdown zone and canít get herself out of it.
Itís obvious why the writers chose to do this. Like Michelle and the hotel plot thread in the third season, it helps to have a character present at a situation to provide a first-hand point of view. The difference is that the audience was already invested in the character of Michelle before she got caught in that situation. The audience has no reason to care about Edgarís mother, and so the dramatic element becomes an annoyance. The writers also try to develop another layer of storytelling within the episode through this plot device, but as will shortly be explained, it didnít work as well as it could have.
This does, however, give Audrey something to do, which is a good thing. In the third season, many characters were introduced that ultimately had nothing to do, sometimes falling off the radar completely. Since Audrey remains in the spotlight, and as something other than a victim, it gives the writers a chance to demonstrate why Jack finds her so alluring. (For that matter, it also suggests that Paul, her ex-husband, will factor into the plot at some point.)
As previously mentioned, the writers take the time for the field agents to give Jack a hard time about Tonyís presence. They have a very good point. From their perspective, it doesnít matter if Tony was once a CTU director with field experience. Heís also an apparent traitor who was stripped of his clearances and ratings as a result. More than that, it took Driscoll giving Jack a temporary reassignment for him to get his current level of authority. At the very least, Jack should have contacted Driscoll or Division to get authority for Tonyís inclusion on the current mission.
That said, Tony did exactly the right thing once the squad took custody of Dina Araz. Castle is way over the top, regardless of the circumstances, forgetting the context of the situation and the fact that a soft touch is needed to get Dina to work with them. Even before getting the information about Behrooz, everyone should have recognized Dinaís suicide attempt as a sign that she has vital information.
The tension really mounts once Naseem innocently contacts Navi about Behrooz. Navi does exactly the right thing to trick Naseem into keeping Behrooz within sight, and it instantly sets the stage for the confrontation in the final act. From that point forward, the audience knows exactly what is likely to happen, and it pays off all the time spent developing a strange sympathy for Dina and Behrooz in the first place.
After a scene where Edgar wastes Audreyís (and everyone elseís) time regarding his mother, who is obviously going to die, Jack and Tony get more information on Dina, thanks to a cell phone recording that just happened to be in someoneís database. (Why this wouldnít have been flagged by Homeland Security is hard to reconcile.) In an amazing scene, Jack strikes a rapport with Dina, using concern for loved ones as the connective thread.
Whatís great about this scene is how dedicated Dina remains to her cause. It would have been easy to have Dina repudiate her allegiance, declaring that she was wrong and that America is really, really perfect now. Thankfully the writers stick to their previous convictions by keeping Dina true to her cause, yet more dedicated to the life of her son. Itís complicated characterization, and it makes Dina one of the most compelling characters of the season. (Also very good: Jack doesnít try to argue against her cause, but rather, appeals to her love for her son. Jack shows very good judgment there.)
Once again taking a page from the consistent characterization book, when Jack calls Keeler for the immunity letter for Behrooz, Keeler acts decisively, but also makes sure his hands arenít tied. Looking back at the third season, this is exactly the kind of thing Keeler would be expected to do. More than that, it also underscores the differences between Palmer and Keeler, already clearly defined in Keelerís quick but questionable decision-making in the previous episode. Keelerís certainly not perfect, and he doesnít have the conscience that Palmer had, but heís also not being written two-dimensionally.
In a scene that feels like it will never end, Edgarís mother resolutely decides to kill herself rather than go through the agony of radiation poisoning. Edgar decides, with no other options, to leave CTU and try to rescue her on his own. This is where the writers donít quite manage to pull the symmetry of the episode together. The idea is clearly to show that while Dina is willing to save millions against her conscience to save her sonís life, Edgar is willing to sacrifice million against his conscience to save his motherís life. The writers have been nicely blurring the lines all season long, but this time, it doesnít quite gel.
Given everything thatís happened to him in less than a day, itís not surprising that Behrooz would question his motherís honesty about her situation and his immunity. He also shows dedication to her, which under the circumstances, is somewhat bittersweet. Of course, he agrees, necessary to get Jack and Tony to bring Dina and the agents to the hospital for the showdown with Navi. And moments later, Naseem does exactly what Navi had hoped he would do, keeping Behrooz for getting to safety.
The writers took little time to set Navi up as a ruthless villain, and it all pays off in this episode. Where Dina is softened by her human devotion to her son, Navi is defined by his complete lack of it. Dina may be willing to die for her cause, but Navi lives and breathes for it, to every possible extreme. Behrooz may pretend not to fear his father anymore, but the look in his eye betrays the truth. From Naviís perspective, everything is unraveling, and his only option is to escalate the situation long enough to keep Jack and his agents from getting their hands on the override device.
The final moments are outstanding. Seeing Jack get creamed by Naviís car is a stunning moment, even if Jack should never be able to walk away from that kind of punishment. It also gives Jack an excuse not to take a shot at Naviís exposed head, because his aim wouldnít be so certain under the circumstances, and Dinaís cooperation is vital to preventing another meltdown. With the rest of the reactors scheduled to meltdown within two hours, Navi trapped in the basement with Behrooz, and the fallout from San Gabriel predicted to blow right over the evacuation routes, Dina gives Jack some chilling perspective: if Behrooz dies, sheíll happily watch millions die.
At the beginning of the season, with the writers quickly falling way behind in the schedule, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. Subplots like Edgarís mother could have easily become a symptom of their utter failure. Amazingly, the rest of the episode is almost perfectly constructed, building on strong characterization to generate tension and conflict in logical ways. Beyond the CTU personnel, the characters are quite complex, evolving beyond the stereotypes that could have easily been used. The terrorists actually have distinct personalities at this point, which gives hope that this will continue to be the case as the season progresses.
The San Gabriel meltdown is the major event that was anticipated at this juncture in the season arc, and as the middle third of the season evolves, it will be interesting to see how the terrorist plot advances following the nuclear incidents. Of course, this could be the only incident that they had in mind, and the real point of these next 8 episodes will be exposing the true scope of the conspiracy. Just as the Salazars werenít the true villains of the third season, there must be someone using the Middle Eastern terrorists to achieve some larger goal.
This is not a perfect episode, of course, and there are inevitably details that could have been handled better or more realistically. But the fact is that many of the best elements of this season are paying off in a major way. While there are still several plot elements that could kill the momentum, especially related to the CTU personnel, right now the series is living up to its reputation.
Overall, this episode continued to deliver the goods, pulling together plot threads into a nice confrontational package in the final act. The Edgar subplot was unnecessary and poorly conceived, even though the writers tied to make it relevant from a philosophical point of view. Itís no longer a question of whether or not the series can regain its momentum and entertainment value, but rather, how long the writers will be able to sustain it with no prep time.
Final Rating: 8/10
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