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For the first time in the current season of Fox’s “24,” the show finally became interesting again (at least for me) because it returned to the kind of ethical and moral drama that had made it great for its first five seasons.

Through most of this season the main plot device has been the attempt to find and stop a terrorist group in possession of nuclear bombs on American soil. To be honest, it felt largely like an elongated miniseries, with Jack playing a one-dimensional savior character willing to ask, gently urge, strongly persuade, and forcefully threaten even his friends to accomplish his mission his way.

But just one week after the season’s major plot device was concluded (the bombs were recovered and the terrorists caught or killed), several of this year’s main characters found themselves wound up into the kind of mind-numbing and heart-wrenching choices that brought power to the first several seasons. I believe this brought “24” back to its most poignant and authentic dramatic core–where the choices of many characters are challenged by the beliefs and convictions they’ve been trained in versus the awful choices they must make in situations they never could have imagined.

In this one episode:

  • A CTU operative is asked to violate protocols and national policy to help save an agent in peril.
  • An alcoholic, whose secret has been protected by a friend, borders on betraying that same friend when she wants to keep a secret from the boss.
  • The chief-of-staff is asked to reveal damaging information about the vice president, information that he has sought to conceal from the president for his own good.
  • The president makes a bold move in asking his subversive vice president to resign (after his coup attempt failed) “for the good of the country.” Only through the threat of exposure was the veep willing to resign.
  • Moments from handing in his resignation letter, the vice president sees the president having a stroke and must choose between following through with his resignation or seizing another opportunity to claim power.
  • Taking temporary authority, the vice president must decide whether to allow covert actions to continue or recall Jack Bauer per the veep’s own (and different) preferred course.
  • Jack Bauer calls in every favor to negotiate for the right to betray Russia and give its secret technology to the Chinese, and now he threatens to shoot his second partner of the day unless his orders are followed.
  • Even in this dramatic context these events are fantastic and over-the-top, but they help remind each of us that what we’ve been trained in (and what we think we believe) can always be challenged by unforeseen circumstances. This leaves us at that risky crossing between the convictions and ethics that got us this far and the situation we’re facing at the time. To that degree, ’24’ regained some of its inspiring quality this week, and I’m genuinely interested to see the consequences that come from the choices these characters are making.

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