Stephen L. Carter (c) 2014, Bloomberg News. It’s nice to know that Jack Bauer hasn’t changed much. True, the hero of Fox’s rebooted “24” franchise is a fugitive from justice now, and in the first two hours of his new day, he didn’t get to torture anybody (although he did threaten to shoot a computer hacker in the head). But he had little trouble outwitting his experienced Central Intelligence Agency captors who were, supposedly, expert interrogators, or out-fighting a roomful of mobsters with their guns pointing his way. In other words, his combination of luck and skill remains as absurd as ever.
There were all the classic “24” tropes. Naturally, there is a president under threat, and if the show’s history is any guide, he will wind up dead or in prison. Naturally, the president has a scheming chief of staff, who for unfathomable reasons speaks directly to a CIA station chief, a breach of protocol that would never be permitted in real life. Naturally, we encounter a sinister manipulator, sitting (literally) in shadow and whispering commands and threats, and who almost certainly, given the show’s conceits, will turn out not to be the “real” villain. (Still, nice to see that Catelyn Stark survived the Red Wedding after all.)
Naturally, a woman from Jack’s past is around — in this case, Audrey Raines, last seen in a coma during the show’s final season, but now general aide-de-camp to her father, the president. Naturally, there is no computer system into which Chloe O’Brian can’t hack, even though it has been only minutes (minutes!) since she was a prisoner being injected with all sorts of painful and disorienting drugs. (By the way, her interrogation took place in a supposed CIA black site that was located directly under the CIA’s London station. That isn’t the way the black sites worked. Or work, if you’re conspiratorially minded.)
There is also a story, of sorts. The president is in London to negotiate with the British prime minister (turns out that the egregious Gordon Deitrich also survived his apparent death in “V for Vendetta”) on a project vital to U.S. security: renewing the lease on a drone base located in Britain. The precise advantage of having drones based in Britain is never made clear, possibly because there are none. (The drones wouldn’t be able to make the round trips to their destinations. Maybe it’s a base for drone controllers, but then why all the urgency? British drone controllers and U.S. analysts are indeed based in Britain, but could easily be moved anywhere in the world.)
Anyway, the bad guys are threatening to take control remotely of this fleet of drone aircraft conveniently stationed right in Britain, to use their missiles to kill the president during his visit. Fair enough. There have been security breaches before — Iran was able to spoof the guidance system of an RQ-170 — and, as far as is known, the drones don’t have fail-safe remote-destruct devices. Nobody has been able to take control of a drone remotely, but it’s a reasonable fictional premise.
One really cool idea would be for Jack Bauer to tell somebody. But, no, he can’t, he says — they would never believe him because he’s a fugitive. Because, presumably, it is unheard of for a wanted man to buy his freedom with information. This is too bad. At first, to be sure, he only knows there is a plot — he doesn’t know it involves drones. Once he finds out, he could, say, pick up the phone. After all, even if the hacker can’t be stopped (and in Hollywood, the hacker can never be stopped until the very last minute), it would be pretty easy to just take the missiles off the drones, rendering them harmless.
Anyway, being unable to tell anybody, Jack instead decides to let himself be arrested by the CIA, then break out of the black site with Chloe, then shoot it out with drug dealers who are protecting a hacker, then shoot it out, sort of, with his CIA pursuers — all of this without a London cop in sight. (Evidently they’re all busy keeping anti-drone demonstrators away from the president.)
It’s all pretty ridiculous, in the sense that Robert Ludlum at his best was ridiculous: The story never quite hangs together, but you’re desperate to know what happens next. Or I am, anyway. What can I say? I’ll be watching next week.