I didn't get a chance to review last week's episode, but it was a really strong and streamlined example of the "24" concept at its most basic: a clear conflict to be resolved within an episode in the hostage crisis at the embassy, even as it's moving along various bigger plots for the season.
Tonight's episode was more sprawling, but extremely satisfying in its own way. It kept Jack silent and mostly off camera for the first half, yet was compelling because this has turned out to be one of the show's stronger ensembles in a while, whether returning figures like Heller or newbies like Kate(*) and Margot. There's genuine tension within the twisted Al-Harazi family, real pathos as Heller acknowledges the danger to London or as Mark admits he's been giving bad advice for a bad reason.
(*) In the last review, a few of you suggested "Live Another Day" may be heading towards Jack finally sacrificing his life, and the hero mantle being turned over to Kate. I don't really see that happening — it's clear by now that Jack/Kiefer is the franchise, and there'd be much less urgency to do it with anybody else — but Yvonne Strahovski's been awfully good so far, and Kate may be the best of the series' various proto-Jacks.
Most satisfyingly, we had that sequence where Cross identifies the proof that the drone was hijacked, and the message gets passed all the way up the chain to President Heller, and for once in a very rare while on "24," every character in authority recognizes what's actually happening and takes steps to prevent it. It may have just been relief, given how so much of the plot on the show can be driven by people being stupid and/or jealous, but I felt positively giddy as I realized Heller was going to ground the drones, even as I figured that it would be too late to entirely foil Margot's plans.
Then Jack finally came back into the picture, and things stayed interesting. Sutherland and William Devane have excellent chemistry, and I appreciated that Heller is old pro enough that he wouldn't simply send Jack back into the field. It'll happen eventually because the situation will get bad enough to require it, but the flip side of what I was talking about earlier is that sometimes people just go along with whatever insane thing Jack is proposing because the plot also requires that. This episode struck a good balance between the two.
It also gave us an excellent Jack/Audrey scene, and I say that as someone who consistently found Audrey one of the less interesting Jack love interests over the years. There was just such rawness between the two of them, in a way that people who had been through all the horrific, ridiculous things they had together, and apart, would be displaying in such a moment.
The shorter episode order has so far been working wonders with the plot, which has had a distinct lack of fat, and thus far hasn't required the abrupt reversals and diversions required from 24 episodes a season. (In a regular year, Margot would probably be replaced by a bigger villain midway through, but here I can see them carrying this story out for another seven weeks.) Yet there's also been room for character beats, whether Jack hugging Chloe a few weeks ago, or Adrian saying goodbye to Chloe here, or the Jack and Audrey scene.
There's always going to be a certain level of fatigue from a show that's already told so many of these stories, with so many variations of these characters. But the last three episodes have been really strong. As we know, "24" has great potential to go to hell at any given moment, but right now I'm really glad it's back and functioning at this level.