I thought Kim was coming back last night so I had to rewatch the ep to get over that disappointment. As usual, 24 offers an impossible choice - only this time I found myself agreeing with Audrey and Jack - not Lynn and Bill. The ends might justify the means, but killing hundreds of people is where I personally say "enough".
Unfortunately, this is an ep I was spoiled for from set pictures and EW articles - so the suspense of whether or not the gas would be released was kinda ruined as well as whether Jack would just give them the code (which EW already said wasn't happening). However, it was still suspenseful to watch how it happened and how he managed to get out of this predicament. I do have the feeling there is a cut scene somewhere of a much longer beating though.
Once again, Jack finds himself in handcuffs. I think this is the third time in eight episodes. He also gets knocked out, by my count for about eight minutes. Poor guy must have so many concussions by now.
I'm not sure, but I think this is the worst day yet -- this morning Jack's lost two friends, has a third in a coma, had to say goodbye to another close friend, and then almost killed a mall full of men, women and children. This isn't counting the "being arrested by secret service" or "held hostage" parts of his fun first eight hours, either.
After reading Bridget's review, I've done some thinking and this is partly an answer but also partly an examination of Jack's character in season five.
This season, since Jack isn't technically in CTU and he has really nothing to lose, it's about what he can live with - the show, as usual asks what can you do and still be able to look at yourself in a mirror? Saving Derek was something he had to do and denying the terrorists the information was something he had to do, too.
Backing up a bit here and possibly not even about the episode itself - Jack killing Ryan marked a line in the sand - almost killing Jane got very close to going over that line. In that instant, he had to wonder, what have I become? If season four was about trying to change that part of himself (and ultimately failing because of getting Paul killed), then season five has to be about being your own man.
He's tied to no one, not the President, not the government, not CTU, not even Audrey. It's the one big difference - people might give him orders, but if he doesn't agree now, he won't follow them. I'm suddenly reminded of a line from last season when Jack let Paul die and he screamed "I have my orders, I'm doing my job." (or something along those lines). It was an excuse and he blames himself for Paul's death. He's no longer standing behind - or justifying actions with - orders or the mission or his job. What's happening now in the plot, every decision he makes, he has to live with - and they've already taken so much from him.
The character lived with Paul's death because he was not, in the final review, directly responsible. If he gave the terrorists the unlock code though, it would be the equiviliant of putting a gun to every man, woman, and child in the mall and pulling the trigger. That he could not live with, because he can't justify it to himself, and it would be mass murder.
In a way it's also the opposite of the dilemma Michelle faced in season three. There, she ran into a place she knew could be deadly because she thought she could stop what would happen - in the mall, Jack would be releasing the toxin, and working for the enemy. He's not really part of CTU, he doesn't respect the President, he's operating on his own.
He goes through the motions of asking permission and he'll listen to their advice, but he won't let himself be used by them again. I'm also remembering Saunders telling him that his country will abandon him (which, well, end of season four, they did). However, Jack reacted not by blaming the government, but rather by accepting what happened to him - resigned to his fate might be a good way to put it.
Oddly, he's gotten less rough and sharp as the season's gone on, starting off in the first few eps as almost cold - but he draws his gun faster, he trusts less people, his fear isn't entirely an act - he's out of practice in terms of fighting and has lost muscle mass and softness. There are signs that as the day's going on, he's becoming a little overwhelmed by events, things spinning out of control. He tried to leave because he saw the writing on the wall and he couldn't do it again - but he couldn't turn his back on saving people either.
The character now exists under his own autonomy - he does what he thinks is right, he'll be judge, jury and executioner - if he believes someone deserves to die, they're dead. When he believes strongly in something he has very few limits. But if he disagrees, no one can force him into it and he has no problem taking no responsibility for a decision (in the Rossler situation, he clearly puts the burden on Lynn, telling him that it's Division's call). But he couldn't sacrifice hundreds of people to save millions (again, going back to s3 and the hotel where about 1000 people died - saunders way of showing America he was serious). It's what sets Jack apart from the people he hunts.
I should also mention that CTU itself has become harsher under new management - the former leaders never forgot that there were *people* out there. Bill and Lynn are so "ends justify the means" that it explains why Bill was all "you did the right thing" when Paul died. When Lynn was yelling at Audrey in the episode, he told her he had to obey Logan's order and then he tried to tell Jack to give the information by saying it was a direct order from the President. It's a less human CTU, from the torture last season to the lack of caring about individuals. Bureaucracy isn't only annoying, it's cruel.
But, the new CTU doesn't have to torture to be inhumane, their priorities are wrong, their logic flawed, and they don't seem to care who they might hurt to get a job done.
Jack not following orders also marks an ideological shift -- in the last half of season three and most of season four, Jack was no longer the rebel, no longer a proactive hero, instead he had become representative of authority and the status quo. His role was to stop threats to the American way of life, but mostly by being "the man". Hell, if we needed further proof of that, he was working for the Secretary of Defense last season. He'd fallen up, in the world, but although he was a little rebellious at the beginning of the season to save Audrey, he quickly went back into the role of authority figure.
One reason why he's instantly more interesting this season is that he's distrustful, working with his own agenda, and more than that - openly rebellious. He's reacting to situations but by not just going along with what he's told - he's also proactive. He could always be counted on to save the masses, but this season, he's also saving individuals - seeing people as more than statistics and numbers.
His connection with Audrey last season and then being member of Diane's family at the beginning of this season, did more than just serve as love interest fodder - it made the character reconnect with humanity. He realized that he could feel those things again and once he did, he couldn't really return to the robot he was in season three or the authority figure in part of season four.
Symbolism time! In 5x08 he might have been wearing a mask, but it's one of the most open expressions of feelings he's ever shown on a mission - wacky writers.
It makes him a more likable tv hero because instead of rooting for him to save us all, the audience can root for him as a person, which is something they haven't been really allowed to do for a while.
It's possible that there's also some commentary about the way our government's run and the new policies in place - not Republican or Democrat but simply competent and incompetent. The story this season is more obviously complex, and unlike classic conspiracy tales I believe there will be a few narrative pivots.
A year or two ago I talked about audience disconnect with the main character and season three - I still felt that in season four, mostly because of the writing and the unplanned nature of things. Season five has a building story arc, characters that are actually interesting, and a protagonist that's realized the importance of saving one life over thousands.
I'm really interested how the rest of this plays out.