This season of "24" has been something of a disappointment so far. Technically, it has all the usual pieces in place, and the show is running smoothly as ever. The deficiency is the writing. The writers simply haven't developed the new characters well enough to give the audience a reason to care about their successes, failures, and challenges.
Of course, this is nothing new; this has been the refrain ever since the season premiere. With the season rapidly approaching its midpoint, the challenge to the writers is to push the story in a new and more exciting direction, without resorting to shock tactics. The previous episode seemed to offer some promise of a more complex and intriguing direction, but little of that promise has filtered into this installment.
Much of the hope centered on giving an unusual spin on President Hassan's recent turn towards draconian counter-terrorist methods. Portraying those methods as immoral and overly harsh is nothing new, and very consistent with the values of the Taylor administration in the seventh season. Having those methods yield the only leads worth pursuing at this point in the story would have been an unexpected twist.
The net result would have been a choice for President Taylor: would she use the data obtained by brutal interrogation methods, or would she risk an attack on American soil to preserve her personal values? It would have been one way to bring Taylor back into the story in a compelling way. Instead, the writers completely skip the dramatic possibilities by having her demand the information, without much debate at all.
On Hassan's end, given his recent descent into paranoia, this should have been more of a problem for him. Especially when Taylor uncharacteristically threatened an attack on Hassan's country over the terrorists' actions. Instead, Hassan seemed to make an abrupt shift back to his more conciliatory approach. It's almost as if his previous actions had never happened. Watching Hassan try to get in touch with his daughter was not particularly interesting.
Perhaps it is a case of the writers being too obvious. Hassan's problems with his daughter force him to call on his wife, and now she will be rushing back to New York and into the firing line, thus generating more drama for Hassan. Similarly, it's clear that something is going to go wrong with the Renee situation. Either she is going to lose control of her psychological state again, or Taylor's chief of staff is going to take his little vendetta into his own hands.
And how convenient was it that Marcos, this episode's teenage suicide bomber, found a pressure chamber in which to seal himself? Not only does it prevent his immediate capture, but it gives Jack a rather convincing method of torturing Marcos, should it come right down to it. Of course, if that doesn't work, there's always Marcos' mother, who had to be introduced for a reason.
Even the hope that Dana's subplot would find a new direction has yet to bear fruit. Dana and Cole spent an hour figuring out what to do with the bodies. Sure, it left a less competent agent to work with Jack, making the scenes at the hospital a tad more interesting, but it felt unjustified. It was essentially the same as every other subplot, and the season as a whole: stuck in a rut.
Overall, this episode failed to live up to the promise of the previous installment, slipping back into the same habits as much of the season thus far. With the midpoint of the season on the horizon, the opportunities for substantial and lasting improvement are slipping away. If this trend does continue, this will emerge as the worst season of "24" to date.