Peace Like A River

It was a wide river, mistakable for a lake or even an ocean unless you'd been wading and knew its current. Somehow I'd crossed it... Now I saw the stream regrouped below, flowing on through what might've been vineyards, pastures, orhards... It flowed between and alongside the rivers of people; from here it was no more than a silver wire winding toward the city. - Leif Enger, Peace Like A River

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

24 Day 4 4:00 AM - 5:00 AM

A Review

I remember all my life, raining down as cold as ice. Shadows of a man, a face through a window, crying in the night.... but enough about me. Let's get to this week's episode.

Ray is leaving the house with golf clubs, and Debra asks him where he's going. Ray kinda sheepishly says "Nowhere." Debra again asks him where he's going, in the exact same tone of voice. Ray puts down the golf clubs and says "Upstairs to fix the leaky faucet". Frank says "Holy crap, you're such a weenie."

Oh, wait. Wrong show. Sorry.

More graphic violence! Goody! It's like crack.

The Previously on LA Law recaps show us the missile sitting on its launcher, smoking like the kind of thing that would land on Gilligan's Island. When it took off, its lame little poof-poof rocket looked like something from bad Japanese science fiction shows. (Even though it is 6 AM in Iowa, the missile launched in complete darkness. I wonder what time of the year it is.)

As we begin, CTU doesn't have a lock on the missile, and they have no idea where it is or where it's going. That's frightening. All the NORAD radars and military air defense systems can't pick up this missile? If not, the Mummy is right, we are way vulnerable. The baddies are just picking low-hanging fruit.

There's an order to prep the holding room at Gestapo HQ for the Mummy. They're bringing him in. Hmm, he's Middle Eastern, so maybe this time we'll go with a cinnamon scent, with just a hint of jasmine. Oh, this is going to be such a fun torture!

CTU thinks the missile is an "S-series" missile. Michelle refers to it as "Stealth" technology. Well, that goes without saying, as no one can detect this thing screaming across the sky. But this missile is just a round tube of steel. What's stealthy about it? Stealth technology involves radar-absorbing surfaces made from high-tech materials, and oddly angled flight surfaces to bounce radar signals away from the source. Did we see any of that on this round tube of steel? Hmm, no.

CTU surmises the baddies brought the missile into the country in pieces and assembled it. In the mountains of Iowa. Clever boys. The missile apparently has a range of 1800 miles, which means we can use the remaining hours of the season milking this threat of where oh where will the missile land.

I keep thinking though, what is, or was, the original intended target. I mean, Marwan hoped to melt down 100 reactors. What was going to be left? Marwan was going to tell the people of Earth, I mean, America that one of their weapons had been used against them. But where? To take out Swampwater, Arkansas? After the chaos of 100 nuclear plant meltdowns, who's going to care that Swampwater, population 2 bachelor brothers and a mule, is a target? Or was Marwan just going to make the rubble bounce in some formerly large city?

Logan keeps calling this missile a "cruise" missile. Sigh. What we saw was not a cruise missile. A cruise missile has flight surfaces, and navigates with some kind of engine. This thing was a plain jane vanilla ballistic missile. You lob it into the air with a rocket and physics brings it back to earth in a nice parabola.

Logan also wants to evacuate most of the country, apparently. Just where are these people going to go, and how are they going to get there in two hours? Can you imagine the gridlock on the roads when everyone in NY, Philly, Boston, DC, etc... is trying to get out of town at the same time?

At the same time, Palmer wants to make sure a government is still in place and able to function, so bigwigs are going to be hustled to safe locations. Palmer is probably hoping that bunker he's in was built solidly by patriotic American union workers, and not Chinese contractors, cuz he's sitting right under a prime target.

Jack has a nice little sitdown chat with the Mummy. After all that, I'm still unclear on just what Marwan was after. If he thinks the US is going to stay out of whatever country he's from after trying to melt 100 reactors and dropping a nuclear warhead on some city, he's rather mistaken. His country is going to look like the Borg got after it.

Well, lookee here, Stoner called Marwan a week ago!! Nice going, CTU, you had him a few hours earlier and you let him go. In CTU's defense, they didn't realize Stoner was the perfect terrorist tool. He's immune to the effects of drugs, and there's no mind to affect with the Mind Defragmentizer, so CTU wasn't able to break him in interrogation. (Every time I write the word "interrogation", I can't help but remember the funny way General Burkhalter on Hogan's Heroes pronounced it.)

(The name above Stoner's on Edgar's list was Keith Fett. Hmm, Boba must be undercover on Earth, chasing a bounty. Hey, maybe he's after Marwan and that's why he called Marwan's cell phone!)

More product placement. Audrey is seen working on a Dell computer.

Stoner is thought to be at his house in Van Nuys. (As we've seen before, Van Nuys is in the northern part of the vast LA megalopolis.)

Chloe checks the IP phone, and what luck, field teams are in the area. (What did the IP phone have to do with anything? She could just as easily have checked the waffle maker. Sounds like they just wanted to mention some cool tech.) Maybe the field teams are still looking for that mysterious sniper that killed Powell. Powell was getting on a helicopter in Van Nuys when he was conveniently removed from the plot.

Bill from Division (or was it Tony?) asks if Audrey knows Stoner is involved. Chloe, in her loveable way, says that is a management conversation. Heh.

Back at one of Marwan's many real estate holdings, they are preparing to transport Marwan to CTU, when.... a small army attacks! Oh, goodness. The Mummy escapes for a *fifth* time in the last 12 hours. This guy is the Col. Flagg of terrorists! He's the wind! CTU can't contain him!

(After Marwan was spirited away, why did the small army suddenly melt away? Why didn't they continue to attack the infidels that remained?)

Now what is CTU going to do? They're going to have to hope another terrorist has a naggy girlfriend who will call into the Chloe Hotline and rat out her boyfriend so they can go weed through the boyfriend's laptop to find emails from another Chinese guy, so they can go raid the Chinese Consulate one more time (which will be harder to do now that everyone is awake at the Consulate) and interrogate the guy to find out Marwan has yet another factory stashed away. Whew. That's a lot to hope for. Marwan might be gone for good this time.

With no Mummy to kick around, Jack opts for the next best thing, he'll go back to CTU and kick Stoner around. Jack says Stoner is in first position. Any violin player knows that means Stoner is sitting there with his index finger on the string a whole step above the open note. Apparently Jack is going to give Stoner some Suzuki lessons.

Logan addresses the assembled crowd of bigwigs. (Which included a female in an Air Force uniform, and a male Marine. They looked like they were about 23 years old. These "important" people are who, exactly? The casting director's college buddies?) Logan has thought a lot about not alerting the public. Hmm, I suppose less than 20 minutes constitutes a lot when things are moving this fast.

Tony and Michelle have a heart to heart while the This Is Beyond Belief Love Theme swells on the synths. Tony says "Look, it's nearly 5 am. Morning is just another day, happy people pass my way, and looking in their eyes, I see a memory and I never realized how happy you made me." This makes Michelle tear up. (as in "tier up", not that Michelle starts ripping up sheets of paper, or Tony's old love letters.)

Michelle says she's been doing this CTU thing for 12 years, the only thing she's ever done. Hmm? How old is she? If she finished college at, say, age 22, Michelle has got to be older than 34. I'd think they are in their 40s.

Stoner is here from Van Nuys already. Must have used the transporter beam. When Audrey hears Jack is going to conduct the interrogation (get out of my head, Burkhalter!) Audrey says "What?" in a most determined way. She wants to play the role of Inquisitor. Jack gives her 5 minutes.

Back in the Bunker on Level 5, the Speaker of the House wonders why Logan hasn't consulted the Cabinet for advice. Well, maybe because the Secretary of Agriculture is not the guy to turn to for anti-terrorism advice, Mr. Speaker. Now, can you go back to your Legislative branch, and let the Executive branch do its job?

Mike tells the Speaker RunLoganRun is in complete control, and then walks into the room just as Logan is cleaning up his own sick. Ok, I made up that last part.

Palmer, ever the pugilist, wants to show the Speaker who is in charger. (um, David? That would be Logan. I hope you're straight on this point.)

Hey, the SecDef slips into CTU! Sure wasn't much fanfare. Perhaps he was just embarrassed at having left the show for half the season without so much as a goodbye.

Audrey is just going to begin her five minutes now?? It's been a lot longer than five minutes since Jack gave her the ok to crank up her racks and iron maidens. I think her time is up already. But she goes in anyway, and tries the you can rely on your dear sister routine.

Stoner says he didn't make any phone calls last week. No phone calls? At all? Audrey says there is a guy, Jack, who will come in and he'll get the information! Audrey doesn't need to remind Stoner about how hideous the Mind Defragmentizer is.

Now, Dad steps in and tries to sort out this unseemly family squabble. He says CTU will use every piece of equipment they have to get Stoner to talk. Even the fax machine, and if necessary, the staplers! SecDef says "I mean it!" Yeek, now it sounds like a family on a long trip with unruly kids in the back seat.

Stoner says "go to hell". Oh, Stoner, that's the wrong response to give to a guy who has the authority to have you tortured.

And now the truth comes out. Stoner likes boys! The look on the SecDef's face when he hears this is just priceless. Bill, it was worth having you in the cast this season just for that moment.

Apparently a man and a woman made nice with Stoner, and while Stoner and the guy, um, well, yeah, the woman made a call on Stoner's cell. Edgar tells us this call activated a listen-in, and Marwan could then hear Stoner's calls. Curtis all but turns to the camera to tell us, the idiot audience, that this was how Marwan knew Heller would be visiting Stoner off the books.

Hmm. I would like to stop at this point and wonder just how Marwan intended his little plot to work. He had already been planning to kidnap the SecDef, or at least someone let's assume, for several years. Pa and Ma Araz had been working for 4 years, they said. Pa had that little import/export warehouse set up for the glorious broadcast of the trial from the Terrorist World Court of Justice. This trial was to cover up the attack with the Flux Capacitor. So, how did Marwan think he was going to get close to the SecDef to kimnap him? He couldn't have planned years earlier that SecDef Heller was going to go visit Stoner. So when did this plot to use Stoner get hatched?

In record time, even for CTU, they found the cab driver who drove this mystery man and woman away from Stoner's pad. He had dropped them off in Panorama City, which is pretty close to Van Nuys, actually.

So, it's a mystery why they needed a chopper to fly there, when the field teams got to CTU with Stoner within minutes.

Back in the bunker, Palmer plays Ashton. The Speaker is mollified simply by having a few planes fly laps around NY and DC. Well, that was easy.

Tony and Michelle have another heart to heart, this time while the Be Careful Love Theme swells on the synths. This is making me suspicious. Why two weepy talks in the same episode? Michelle tells Tony she is ready to leave it all behind, that she can't spend another day without him. She says "I'm standing on the edge of time, I walked away when love was mine. I'm caught up in a world of uphill climbing, the tears are in my mind and nothing is rhyming, oh Tony." Tony doesn't know what to say.

CTU is going to let Stoner go again! They just don't learn from past mistakes, do they? But first, Stoner is going to help identify the man the cabdriver dropped off in Panorama City. Stoner worked with a sketch artist to draw up a likeness of the man.

Eek, the guy looks like an alien! What is that? He also looks a lot like Stoner. Well, Stoner isn't very bright. He could've misunderstood and just described himself to the sketch artist.

(And this sketch never really gets used. What was the point? Stoner was going to identify the dead guy from the video feed anyway.)

Now, it's Jack and Audrey's turn to have a heart to heart, while the I Would've Been Happy To Skip Today Love Theme slowly tinkles on a piano.

Audrey is lost. Jack says "Yesterday is a dream, I face the morning. I'm crying on a breeze, and the pain is calling, oh Audrey". It's a wonder Audrey can hear Jack, since he's in a chopper, and those things tend to be rather loud. (Jack: I SAID, PLEASE PROMISE ME WE'LL TALK WHEN THIS IS OVER! Audrey: WHAT?)

Now, we cut to Panorama City, and we see the mysterious man and woman. And..... it's Mandy!!!!! AAAAAAAH! (I'm doing that crazy teenage girl dance thing where they jump up and down and shake their hands really fast and half cry half scream and say "ohmygawd! ohmygawd! really fast)

Mandy is by far my second most favorite female character that has ever been on this show, a close second behind Nina. (Sadly, Nina won't be in any more seasons, unless they do a holodeck episode.)

Mandy was a villainess extraordinaire at the beginning of the first season. She schtumped that German guy in the bathroom on a 747 to get his ID card, then jumped from the plane with a parachute and blew up the 747. Then, we also found out that Mandy likes girls. So, it's a little odd that she's here getting all slickery with this guy. But anything for the job, I suppose.

(In a strange twist, the actress who plays Mandy, Mia Kirshner, plays Jenny on The L Word.)

Mandy says there is still time to get to Marwan. I can't help but wonder though how Mandy hooked up with Marwan. At the end of Season 2, Mandy was the one who smeared Goo de Plague on Palmer. Mandy was working with a mysterious guy named Max on a boat, and we never did find out what that was all about.

Are all of these things related? Is there some S.P.E.C.T.R.E like organization out there committing all these terrorist acts? If Marwan phones a faceless guy who is stroking a white cat, I'll have a conniption.

Mandy hears the approaching chopper (subtle, CTU, subtle) and knows they're in danger. She says to the guy someone has to stay behind so it'll look like someone is there in the apt. Mandy points her gun at the guy, and he sputters "But, but, you kissed me and stopped from shaking, and I need you today! No, no, Mandy!"

She then shoots the guy, in typical cold Mandy fashion. It's not clear how a dead guy will make CTU think someone is still in the apt.

Jack says "we're a go". Well, I'm a stop! Stop and go are opposites! Can you show me four fingers? Good! Now, which of these colors is blue? (and etc... etc... I've seen too many preschool videos.)

Some gate is opened, and Jack says "I'm in", apparently forgetting that line is only to be used when hacking into computers.

There's yet another new CTU guy, Agent Macallan. Well, they call him Macallan, but I think he is Agent Baker's brother. Macallan whispers a "Go! Go!" just like dear brother Agent Baker did on his exciting missions to capture Saunders last season.

Tony and Agent Castle are stationed on the roof. At this point, I'm wondering if CTU remembered to surround the building. They have a little trouble with that whole surrounding thing.

Jack finds the dead guy in the apt, who is watching a tv tuned to Fox News. I wonder if dead guys are counted in the Nielsens.

On the roof, Castle is walking around and.... Mandy wings him! Oh, cold. When Tony doesn't move fast enough, she shoots Castle in the leg. I'm telling ya, Mandy is a dangerous one. She tells Castle to cuff Tony, and does a pretty good job of it considering he's been shot twice. For his trouble, Mandy then finishes off Castle. Cold cold cold. Mandy says "Agent Castle, you came and you gave without taking, but I blew you away, cuz I'm Mandy." Farewell, Agent Castle. All those exciting missions today, and you get your butt kicked by a girl.

The episode ends with Mandy taking Tony hostage. Well, now Michelle will have a chance to screw the country and rescue Tony and go to jail for him.

Strangely, the whole diplunacy thread with the Chinese was not mentioned. At all. Guess it's not that much of a threat.

Next week, in the two hour finale, this whole crazy exhilarating loveable mess of a season comes to its earthshaking conclusion. I mean literally earthshaking. The Chinese are back, and they dig clean through to, well, China, and release all that molten pressure in the center of the Earth, and the US is flooded with lava.

(and now, once again here's guest critic Paul Foth. When we last saw him, he blew up a 747, then parachuted out of it, and realized too late that was the wrong order. He landed a charred lump, and has taken him a couple of years to recover)


We like Chloe; we really do. She was a breath of acerbic but fresh air when she first appeared, a truly unique mix of the stereotypical computer nerd with a sad lack of social skills, and someone who very much knows who she and what her talents are, and who doesn't suffer idiots (or anyone else) gladly. Her personality really stood out, no doubt because of the combination of the writers having fun with her, the talents of Mary Lynn Rajskub (who gave a keen interview in The Believer several issues back), and a lack of quirks in the rest of the supporting characters.

But to explain what I think has gone wrong with Chloe, I have to point to a TV character who was more abrasive-in-a-funny-way than she is: Albert, the medical examiner from Twin Peaks. (And there's a 24 connection: Kiefer gave a great performance as another odd medical examiner, Sam Stanley, in the theatrical release Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.). Albert arrived like the Tunguska comet, flaying people alive with his acid tongue, not the least apprehensive to let anyone know what he thought of the law enforcement and forensic (lack of) talent in what he saw as nothing more than a hick logging town (e.g., "I've got a lot of cutting and pasting to do, gentlemen, so why don't you please return to your porch rockers and resume whittling."). He crackled with a cynical energy that made him stand out in a show already populated with very strong characters.

Albert very easily could have devolved into what Chloe has become: an odd sort of comic relief, someone who occasionally drives the plot, but whose main function is to drop sarcastic one-liners and make other characters feel uneasy, embarrassed, or angry. He didn't do that, though, because about halfway through the run of Twin Peaks he told us the source of his vitriol, and it shone a completely new, completely unexpected light on him, and revitalized him in a way that demonstrated not for the first time that the writing on Twin Peaks was often nothing short of brilliant.

The writing. That's what I'm talking about. The acting on 24 is, I think, pretty good, and, as Jeff has pointed out several times, the actors often inject their scenes with some poignant emotion. But just think how much truer the emotion would be if it were motivated by a story that was 1) more attentive to being internally consistent, and 2) populated by characters who showed more recognizably human behavior.

The plotholes we bring up again and again aren't necessarily meant to
demonstrate that the stories 24 tells couldn't take place in the real world (and it most certainly couldn't; read the excellent Salon article,, in which Spencer Ackerman interviews experts on the sorts of things 24 snows over); the thriller genre has conventions that make it bigger, badder, and louder than reality. But, at the very least, the 24-verse should be consistent with itself. Remember the encrypted document Paul and Jack printed out at the MF building? Someone at CTU pulled a name out of the printout within seconds of receiving it (check Jeff's commentary on the 8:00 - 9:00 PM episode). Remember when Chloe went to Girlfriend's house after the "I think my boyfriend is a terrorist" phone call? She took one look at the extensions on some filenames and knew they'd been encrypted with the Blowfish Algorithm (check our commentary on the 1:00 - 2:00 AM episode). That's two examples of CTU being able to get a handle on encrypted information almost instantly. And yet, think back to the 3:00 - 4:00 AM episode. Jack and Co. are outside the abandoned factory where Marwan is holed up, but they don't yet know for sure he's there. There's a microwave dish on the wall or roof, but Chloe can't make sense of the information it's sending because "it's encrypted." She makes no attempt to break the encryption, when it's already been established that doing so is as simple as using your decoder ring to get the "Drink Ovaltine" message. Encryption has gone from being nothing more than a speedbump to being as impregnable as Fort Knox with absolutely no motivation from within the story. So are we dealing with a thriller anymore? The laws of reality in the 24-verse change from one episode to the next, so we have to posit that no, we're not dealing with a thriller. What we've got here is some kind of technomagical, metaphysical subgenre of fantasy (and look throughout our past commentaries for more evidence). Either that or writers who aren't paying attention.

One of the necessary conditions for a decent genre story is that its characters be recognizably human (leaving aside science fiction tales with nary a human to be seen), that they behave in ways, given the bending of reality necessary to incorporate the genre's tropes, we can understand and, in some cases, identify with. Does 24 do that? Given the monumental seriousness of the crisis CTU is dealing with, does it make sense that Tony and Michelle would put it on hold to talk about their relationship? Given that Sarah loves her country enough to go back to work after being tortured by her boss, does it make sense that she'd take the time to play office politics before returning to her station? Given that Maya was quite obviously a danger to herself and others, does it make sense that she was allowed (albeit passively) to get hold of a razor blade or scalpel or some other sharp object, and kill herself? Given that Marianne was a temp, does it make sense that she was granted a top level security clearance and invited to sit in on meetings with the top brass? Given that he wanted to save Li Jong's life (for at least as long as it'll take to find out where Marwan might be), does it make sense for Jack to hold a gun to the surgeon's head? Given that CTU is an elite organization in the nation's fight against terrorism, does it make sense that it comes off looking more like a dysfunctional family of hillbillies? (And all of this completely ignores the high jinks going on in Deep 13 with the Shakes and Palmer Show.) The physics of the 24-verse are technomagical; I guess we now have to admit that the cause and effect of human interaction also runs differently there. What someone does now isn't governed by what happened then and motivation is a mystery. Either everyone in the 24-verse has ADHD or the writers aren't paying attention.

I don't know how much of this season was planned before shooting on the first episode began, but the sudden departures of Maya, Erin, and Sarah, as well as the endless string of escapes Marwan manages to effect (which long ago became tedious rather than edge-of-the-seat frustrating), smack more of being made up as the story goes along than they do conscious forethought. It seems to me that if the show is going to build up legitimate suspense (by which I mean suspense that isn't short-circuited by the myriad gaffes, blunders, and unintended comedy Jeff and I (mostly Jeff, because he's made of stronger stuff than I and has managed to get through all of the episodes) have tried to bring to light in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way), the writers should do the kind of research Mr. Ackerman did for the Salon article I cited earlier. I for one would find a story about a terrorist plot that's based more on the physics of reality and the workings of the real American antiterrorist effort far more compelling, frightening, and suspenseful than the manipulative pabulum that constitutes much of the 24-verse. Published comments from the producers on past seasons imply that they don't know at the beginning of a season how it will end, that they wait until an arc of several episodes is in the can before nailing down the next arc in more than a general way. I don't know if that's the way this season is being done, but it sure seems that way--i.e., it doesn't feel like a story that's unfolding, but rather like it's being written as we watch it. We should feel like the CHARACTERS don't know what's going to happen next, not like the WRITERS don't.

All television writers should be forced to watch the entire run of Babylon 5, to see what a television show can be when its creator knows the story from beginning to end before the first frame is shot. B5 was a five-season televised novel that remained coherent and self-consistent despite switching broadcast networks (twice, if memory serves) and surviving the uncertainty over whether its final season would even air. Team 24 should aspire to doing the same thing for their one-season tales.

Despite all of the visual flash and loud noises, what we're looking for on 24 is a good story (as opposed to the marketers, who are looking for something to keep people watching between the commercials), and a good story starts with good writing. It's very difficult for good acting and explosions to cover for weak words, and I think that's the point Jeff and I have been trying to make all along without saying so. Or saying so in many different ways.



The Mummwan escapes again, and we're supposed to be surprised? Hasn't it already been established that when two nameless CTYoopers do anything without one of the major good-guy stars within five feet of them that they're going to die? As soon as that yet another Dead Meat Team started escorting the Mummwan across the pavement, it was obviously only a matter of seconds before they shuffled off the mortal coil.

Commercial. When we come back--two minutes later--the Mummwan and his henchmen have gotten to the highway, changed vehicles, slipped through yet another of CTU's patented sieve perimeters, and disappeared into the night. Aside from the manipulation of time that once again jarringly pulls us out of the story, how can we be expected to take Jack seriously when he says of Mandy, "She couldn't have gotten past the perimeter teams."? What evidence does Jack have of this?! The baddies have been slipping through perimeters all day long! Hannibal with his army of elephants could slip through a CTU perimeter. If this is America's elite antiterrorism force, we're in a lot of trouble.

Oh, Mandy
Well you came with your glove and a handshake
But Palmer survived it, oh, Mandy

It's fun to see Mandy back in action, though it's amazing how well connected she is, with everyone from the Drazens to the Mummwan.

So what lesson are we to learn from the SecDef Jr. incident that led to Mandy, "Kids, if it's a choice between revealing to your dad that you're gay and a nuclear detonation, start singing those show tunes."? Still, it was really nice to see that for once the show didn't resort to torture to drag some information out of someone (see Mr. Ackerman's article for confirmation of what I've been saying all along about the reliability of information gleaned through torture), and I think there was some good, tense interaction between the three Hellers.

I don't know what to make of the fact that the guy Richard was in bed with when Mandy made the call looked like Richard himself. I'll leave it for those better versed in sexual politics to parse that one out.

Commercial. When we come back--two minutes later--CTU has tracked down not only the cab company that Mandy and Richard II used when they left Richard I's place, but also the cab driver! Huuuhhhhh?! How many cab companies are in Los Angeles? How many cab drivers are there in Los Angeles? I'm just...just...speechless. How is this good drama?

The Worst Dialog of the Episode Award has to go to Michelle and Tony for this little exchange about Jack and Diane--I mean, Audrey:

M: Every move he's made has been the right one.
T: Not if he wanted to be with her.

As Bill the Cat would say, "PPFFFFFPPPFFHHHTTT!" Nuclear power plants threatened with meltdown, Air Farce One shot down, the nuclear football stolen, the President in a coma, a nuclear missile stolen and launched, and Tony thinks Jack should've played it differently so he could keep his girlfriend?!!?! That thing about being speechless a few paragraphs back? Ditto.

Next week: the two-hour season finale, when the real question won't be whether America survives, but whether the viewers do.

Approximate Body Count: 146 (plus "many dead" near the nuclear plant, plus the Warhead Nonprotection team, plus whoever else was on Air Farce One)

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