Since the two-hour premiere (and earlier for those who heard in advance which characters were returning for this season), we’ve been waiting for the drama this episode delivers. Jack finally reunites with both Audrey and her dad, President Heller. Unfolding in the midst of the storm surrounding the Al-Harazi’s hijacking of six drones, these powerful scenes hinge on discussions of political mistakes and the apologies certain characters make to each other.
The first apology is Chief-of-Staff Mark Boudreau’s and occurs after President Heller’s efforts to ground all drones (upon learning Jack was right, from Kate’s, Chloe’s, and (even) Adrian Cross’ efforts to locate the override code in Tanner’s drone’s flight key) ultimately fail, six escaping and going rogue. Learning from General Coburn the drone’s stealth technology is too advanced for U. S. fighter pilots to shoot them down before they reach British air space, Heller decides he needs to talk to Jack in hopes of gaining a lead on stopping the attack. At this moment Mark starts to apologize to President Heller, who quickly pushes it aside, observing they were all reasoning from the same limited set of facts.
Mark’s apology does not stop there; it continues to his wife Audrey in the hallway outside. She acknowledges he has been trying to protect her, but emphasizes she doesn’t need him boxing her in. Audrey recognizes Mark’s doubts and tells him not to blame himself, but to get back into the game because her father needs him. These apologies add some depth to Mark’s character. In 24 fashion, he may turn on us later, but now viewers are called to temper their earlier suspicion of him (when he was working on his own power to corner Jack).
It is ironic that as soon as Mark gets back into the room with the President they receive Margot Al-Harazi’s video, demanding justice of President Heller for the drone missile attack that killed not only her husband, but 22 others, including 6 innocent children. If President Heller will not hand himself over to her within three hours, then she will launch attacks on London. This video sparks a quick investigation, the General pulling up video footage of the bombing. When Heller spots a doll in the wreckage, he upbraids Mark, demanding to know why he was not informed there were civilian casualties. Mark seeks to defend, claiming he was protecting the President from the “collateral damages” that came in their quest to get drones, the program with the least civilian casualties, into the air.
The sequence is also quintessentially 24. We think all the way back to President Palmer’s stands for virtue in a world of political compromise. Except for the notable exception of President Logan, most of the Commanders-in-Chief have faced the dark sides that come with making such political choices. Do they focus on doing the good (a rule-based perspective) or do they calculate the largest good for the largest number of people (a goal-based utilitarian perspective)? Mark is obviously the utilitarian here, but President Heller seems to be on the other side, when he argues his cabinet’s actions have given Margot Al-Harazi “a moral victory.” Although Margot’s actions will take many more innocent lives, President Heller believes half the world will only be focusing on the six children killed in the U. S. drone attack.
Jack Bauer’s apologies are of a different stripe. The first comes in his meeting with a desperate President Heller, who now is trying to get information out of Jack. After Heller updates Jack on the crisis, Jack responds, “So I was right.” Ignoring the comment, Heller moves on to asking Jack for a lead. When he reveals he does know someone who is connected to Margot, and he could work his way in, Heller refuses to listen and asks only for the name. At this moment, Jack says he is sorry, but he will not let Heller ruin the only lead because of his worries about a potential crisis with the Russians (over Jack). While they are still at an impasse, Heller leaves to speak with Prime Minister Davies, but we all know he’ll be back at Jack’s door soon.
Jack’s second apology is to Audrey. The episode finally portrays their emotional reunion, one many viewers have been waiting for since the end of Season 6. When she enters the room, she stumbles over her words and gives the excuse she is there to tell Jack the CIA have a lead on locating Al-Harazi, but then she says, “I don’t even know where to begin.” Jack asks if she is happy and whether her husband is treating her well. She ignores the questions, confessing she feels she should have defended him more, moving in close, where they lean into each other, foreheads touching. In response, Jack tells her what she’s heard about him is true, and then apologizes. Before anything else happens, he tells her she should go. Jack originally abandoned her, listening to her father’s logic (that death follows Jack and those he loves), out of a concern for her safety. Despite his emotions, Jack reinforces that decision.
Steve Navarro also offers something close to an apology to Kate. When she comes back into the CIA base, Steve tells her he’s going to have to pull her again, since Captain Cordero issued a formal complaint about her behavior (sneaking around to get to Bauer) in the embassy. Steve tells her she had proved what she needed (that she is still a good agent despite her inability to see her ex-husband’s treason), that she should feel good about what she’s accomplished. But then he has no problem stepping into point on the raid on the Al-Harazi estate, as Jordan observes later, gaining credit for Kate’s work. Again, no one listens to Kate, as no one listens to Jack, but we viewers know this slight will allow Kate the freedom to move where she needs to be in future episodes.
The hour ends with another typical 24 move: those who don’t listen to Jack, and now Kate too, try to solve the problem on their own, only to meet with miserable failure. President Heller okays a CIA raid of the Al-Harazi estate, sending his men into a trap. Although Naveed tried to warn the British and American authorities by embedding an IP address in Margot’s video, Margot’s son Ian discovered it and replaced it with another, setting up the agents as the first victims of the drone attacks in England.
The action leads Margot then to murder Naveed (fulfilling what many critics early in the season predicted), while Simone watches stone-faced. Earlier Margot had “apologized” to her daughter, claiming the “blame” for not seeing Naveed’s “betrayal” earlier, when such extreme measures (as hurting Simone) would not have been “necessary.”
We know next week President Heller will be in an even more desperate situation; more mistakes have been made. Will he go to Jack to apologize? Surely, but only the ticking clock will tell.