[This is a review of 24: Live Another Day episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]

Right around the time of day most people are wishing they could take a nap, Jack Bauer is storming an embassy and helping deliver an incredibly well-executed episode of 24: Live Another Day that takes complete advantage of the show’s formula. But in addition to delivering a entertaining and compact episode, ‘2:00pm-3:00pm’ is the first episode to demonstrate how the switch to a shortened 12-episode season seems to have the show utilizing its time in such a way the pacing feels frenetic but more streamlined than ever before.

That means Jack’s mission inside the embassy to visit Tanner and get a hold of his flight data key is equal bits him actually doing that, and the vehicle through which the show brings the other major players to the table. Of course, that means that Audrey and President Heller are now made aware of Jack’s presence in London and the fact that he’s convinced a terrorist attack on the city is imminent. Meanwhile, the longer she listens to Jack and is privy to his undying determination, it seems as though Agent Morgan is starting to become a believer of the Jack Bauer Theory. So, in as much as the previous three episodes were table-setting, ‘2:00pm-3:00pm’ is making sure the guests all know where they’re seated.

At the opposite end of the table, then, is Margot al-Harazi and her Drone Strike Taskforce, and, seated somewhere in the middle (possibly at the kids table) is Adrian Cross and Open Cell crew who aren’t quite sure whether they want to help Jack or possibly expose him and the governments he’s trying to protect. And, in a way, that creates an interesting set of questions regarding the motivations of and manner in which the audience perceives the characters caught between the extremes of Jack and Margot.

On one hand, certain Open Cell members (like Chloe) owe Jack their life, so they’re willing to do whatever it takes to pay back that debt. But Cross isn’t so indebted to Jack, and is seemingly motivated only by his feelings for Chloe – which leads him to send some decryption software Jack’s way, in a nice but ultimately futile show of solidarity. One wonders, though, when the information of hijacked drones and a threat on London as well as President Heller is going to supercede Cross’ personal interests and influence his desire to disseminate such incendiary information to his followers.

The notion of secrets, or, more specifically, how long they are kept and when they are to be revealed (if ever) becomes a part of the underlying subtext of the narrative. At least it will be until President Heller’s degenerative condition is dealt with. Interestingly, this hour of 24 doesn’t really touch on Heller’s neurological condition; instead, it briefly plays up the history he and Audrey share with Jack. That history, and the fact that Mark kept the information of Jack’s resurfacing from his wife and the president puts a wedge between her and her husband, but it also adds some drama to what was beginning to become a somewhat inert game of Keep the President in the Dark.

But having the major players become a more integral part of the plot gives the series the ability to push forward into maybe even more compelling territory. So far, 24: Live Another Day has been getting by on the significance of Jack’s return and, partially, on displays of Margot’s extremism, which, apparently extend to compelling Navid to pilot the drones by having a henchman liberate some of Simone’s fingers from her hand.

Setting up a battle of the extremes is exactly what the series excels at, and with one third of the story already gone that battle will only get more intense. But the show has also inserted some interesting variables and characters to the 24 equation that just may keep things from going down in anything but the usual fashion.

24: Live Another Day continues next Monday with ‘3:00pm-4:00pm’ @9pm on FOX. Check out a preview below:

Photos: Daniel Smith/FOX