24: Serving up a few Black Russians

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Zuvor auf vierundzwanzig:

Pardon me while I channel the spirit of Jack Bauer going undercover as a German arms dealer. (If you were wondering, that italicized phrase means, “Previously on 24” in German, or at least according to Google Translator. My usual German interpreter is busy at work on a Sprockets screenplay rewrite, so that was the best I could do on short notice.)

I must say that I did get into the zeitgeist of Monday's episode. While previously I haven’t hesitated to point out a few gaping holes in this year’s storyline, I had no problem getting caught up in the perils of Renee. Annie Wersching did a terrific job conveying the mix of emotions—revulsion, rage, despair—that Renee had to sublimate as she tried to maintain her cover and also protect herself both physically and spiritually from Vladimir. She’s doing what she has to do, but circular-saw-toting RoboRenee she’s not. Her humanity is reemerging.

And for some reason I loved Jack putting on his best Hanseatic drag when he went undercover as the arms dealer, Ernst Meier. Last night we confirmed an important fact: Not only can Jack speak German, but he can be sarcastic in it too. Forgive me for not memorizing every season of 24, but was this the first time we heard Jack speak a foreign language? He’s apparently fluent in Spanish, Russian (which could come in handy this year), Serbian, and by now possibly Na’vi. I have vague memories of him speaking Spanish in the Telenovela-like early episodes at the Mexican drug dealer’s compound in Season 3. Then again, a lot of bad guys have gone down since then.

24 is all about the details, and the Audi S6 sedan was a nice touch— stylish and creative break from a more predictable BMW or Mercedes, not to mention the Porsche Cayenne the Russians were driving. Pretty good for prepping your cover on the fly. I would, however, have expected better eyewear from a man of Meier’s high-stakes, globe-trotting background. Maybe something a bit more geometric, a la architect Daniel Liebskind, instead of rounded nouvelle nerd frames that brought to mind everyone from former senator Tom Daschle trying to be hip (didn’t work), to Tony Curtis playing millionaire yachtsman in Some Like It Hot back in 1959.

(In defense of Jack’s glasses, I did check out the Oliver Peoples website and, while not an exact match, they do bear a strong resemblance to the Riley style in the company’s Iconic collection. But I digress.)

I even managed to put aside an earlier skepticism centered on a few of the henchmen's Boris Badenov-quality Russian accents that were floating around the room in previous episodes like pierogies surfing waves of vodka in Boris Yeltsin’s stomach. Eastern Promises this wasn’t.

Last night, the key players, Vladimir and Bazhaev, transcended their somewhat cartoonish quality of the first few episodes and began to round into a form that brought new meaning to the notion of Black Russians. Mean as they are, they also have a bit of the delicate flower about them. They’re easily wounded. Consider that Bad Vlad told Renee, “You’re not the only one who has been suffering the past few years.” Bazhaev went all Mad Dad on his sons after they betrayed his orders, sealing his fatherly advice with a kiss and a quick apology of, “I’m sorry my son,” before blasting away poor weapons-grade, radioactive Oleg.

The world may not need more bad guys, but 24 thrives on them. And if we keep getting additional psychological insights into the Vlad/Dad dyad, that’s definitely going to help keep this season moving along. Evil is a universal language we can all understand.

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