After the previous episode, a number of fans and critics alike were floored to discover that Renee Walker's death was a pre-planned plot point. Apparently Howard Gordon defended this plot twist as a great move, and praised the notion of sending Jack into a tailspin at the end of the season/series. And apparently Keifer Sutherland was on board with the idea, which just goes to show that some producers should stay the hell out of the writers' room.
Frankly, this is exactly the kind of thinking that has plagued "24" for years. It has also been a hallmark of Howard Gordon's writing style. To be fair, this is not something that falls on Gordon's shoulders alone; there is an entire writing staff that shares the blame for carrying forward a vision for the eighth season that undermines Jack's heroic journey and therefore the entire point of the series. But longtime readers, going back to the "X-Files" days, know that Gordon's plot and character choices have always been a subject of criticism.
Despite the grievous error of the previous episode, this installment manages to bring matters into focus. Jack's personal response to Renee's death gets some well-deserved attention, but there is also a welcome depth to President Taylor's plot thread.
Jack manages to keep himself reined in for the most part, but something has definitely come undone behind those eyes. The difference is simply his self-control. Earlier in the series, Jack would have gone on a massive rampage from the beginning. While Jack doesn't quite hold back with Dana Walsh, he does manage to keep his wits about him.
Yet during his confrontation with Bazhaev, there's no doubt that Jack is primed and ready for violence. And his moral compass is spinning completely out of control. There's no doubt that he would kill anybody who got in the way of putting those responsible for the atrocities of the day where they belong.
And that's what makes President Taylor's decision to let the Russians get away with Hassan's assassination, the terrorist threat against New York, and so many other things such a punch to Jack's gut. He is completely floored by the notion that President Taylor is choosing political expediency over such a clear-cut moral imperative. This isn't a debate over counter-terrorist tactics; this is real politik at its ugliest.
Of course, it all comes back to the symbol of all things ridiculous on "24". No, not Kim Bauer; she was just poorly written and stuck in inane plot threads. Charles Logan, on the other hand, was the terrorist President of the United States. The concept itself boggles the mind. As does the notion of ever trusting someone like Logan when he comes calling with a solution to a problem that didn't exist just a few hours earlier.
That's the one thing that hobbles this episode. It's pretty damn clear that Logan knew about the Russian collusion with the IRK dissidents because he was knee-deep in everything that happened. He's all but caught red-handed halfway through the episode, and yet, President Taylor just lets the matter go in favor of listening to the former Terrorist-in-Chief's advice.
While the advice does have a certain "ends justify the means" logic to it, it is predicated on two erroneous assumptions. First, that Charles Logan would ever give someone such strident advice on something that wasn't of deep and abiding value to his own self-interest. And second, that any peace accord for the Middle East, particularly one forged with a progressive Islamic regime, would truly end the conflicts in the region.
The problem is that Taylor is falling into the same trap that so many other politicians and leaders encounter: the Legacy Hunt. It's not enough to be a strong and competent leader. There has to be something monumental that history will always remember in their section of the textbook. When presidents go tilting at the legacy windmills, they almost always leave ethics and morality behind.
In a sense, this fits the overall theme of the season, which is not a bad thing. Taylor is failing to learn from the mistakes of the past, and she will find herself on the wrong end of Jack Bauer's resolve as a result. Of course, this is also quite unfortunate, because the series should have ended on a better note. President Taylor had grown to be the first president since David Palmer to trust Jack's judgment. Jack's restoration, and that of CTU, was bringing the series full circle. It's hard to imagine that happening now.
Overall, this episode managed to make the best of a bad situation, even if some of the logic was twisted to make certain characters make uncharacteristic choices. It was good to see a lot more of President Taylor; the writers haven't given her nearly enough to do. Though it's hard to see how the writers are going to end this season/series well, this isn't a bad start.