SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains storyline and character spoilers.
Less than halfway through the premiere of "24: Live Another Day," an arrogant CIA agent named Erik Ritter is escorting a handcuffed Jack Bauer — who Ritter has just helped apprehend after years of J.B. being on the run — to the custody of a special group of interrogators. Ritter tells Jack, "Used to study your missions back in training. You were really something... back then."
Flash-forward less than a minute later, and a still handcuffed Jack has knocked Ritter unconscious, freed himself from the cuffs, and taken Ritter's gun.
The lesson: As a fellow agent, or a "24" viewer, don't underestimate Jack Bauer. His ability to take control of any situation — and to keep the attention of viewers who haven't seen him in action for a few years — remains intact. Jack is so back.
And the proof isn't just in the action. Early reports show "24: Live Another Day" as earning solid ratings, especially in the key 18-49 demographic.
Why, Hello There, Mr. Exposition
While Jack and a few other familiar faces have returned, "Live Another Day" is packed with newbies, too, and a briefing is in order before we delve into the plot. The major players in Jack's universe as he attempts to save the world in a new-and-improved 12-hour time frame:
Chloe O'Brian: Jack's former CTU tech support, Chloe is now a Gothed-out underground hacker, working with a WikiLeaks-like crew of hackers who operate out of an abandoned building in London. Chloe hints to Jack that she's been through tough times since they last worked together, and she's turned her back on the U.S. government.
Adrian Cross: If Chloe's the queen of the free-information group — and she is — he's their king.
President James Heller: The U.S. president is in London to help secure a lease for a U.S. drone base in the U.K. He's a respected figure, but the use of drones is not popular with the British people. Also against the POTUS: He has an Alzheimer's-like affliction which is causing the deterioration of his memory, and he's made a few slip-ups because of it.
Audrey Raines: Jack's former love, the one who slipped in a comatose state after being held and tortured by the Chinese government in Season 6. Daughter of the POTUS, Audrey is also now married to Mark Boudreau, her father's chief of staff. She and her husband are growing increasingly concerned about her father's illness, which he confides to her is progressing at a quicker pace than he had anticipated.
Mark Boudreau: He's got his hands full with the President's very important mission in London. When he learns that Jack has been apprehended in the city, he assumes Jack is in town to harm Heller. Boudreau issues orders that Jack be interrogated by the "special activities" team, and vowing that Audrey will never hear Jack's name again, keeps all Bauer-related intel secret from the POTUS and his daughter.
Steve Navarro: Head of CIA operations in London, and the guy responsible for capturing, and then losing, Jack. He seems to be sympathetic to Jack's situation, seems to be a reasonable man, and seems to respect those in charge above him. He also seems ambitious...
Kate Morgan: A CIA field op in London, Kate is being sent back to the U.S. because of her husband: Adam, a CIA agent who was caught selling secrets to the Chinese. Adam was also a close friend of Navarro's, and Navarro tells Kate he doesn't think it's fair that she's being punished for her husband's crimes. Before Kate goes, though, she proves herself to be a Jack-worthy agent, as the only one who figures out Jack was only captured because he wanted to be captured.
Erik Ritter: An ambitious, cocky CIA agent who wants Kate gone ASAP, because he's getting her job when she leaves.
Jordan Reed: A sharp CIA tech guy whose office allegiance lies with Kate (i.e., he's her Chloe).
Derrick Yates: A hacker and former cohort of Cross and Chloe's, who they kicked out of their group when they caught him trying to sell info to the highest bidders. Unfortunately, disassociating with him didn't stop him, because Yates has hacked and programmed a sophisticated takeover of the American military drone program that, ultimately, is designed to assassinate President Heller and spark World War III. And he's sold it to the highest bidder:
Margot: A mysterious figure who Yates communicates with via phone. Yates is frightened of her, both of angering her and disappointing her. She appears pleased with his drone program, and especially with the video he sends her of a group of U.S. and British military personnel being killed by a U.S. drone that Yates rigged to fly at them.
Chris Tanner: A U.S. military computer tech, Tanner is set up by Yates to look like the party responsible for sending the drone to kill his commander. When British leaders find out a U.S. military man has sent a U.S. drone to kill his own colleagues and two British military men, they are uninterested in continuing negotiations for the U.S. drone base in the U.K.
Simone: The girlfriend of Yates, Simone is impatient with Yates's computer tinkering and frantic phone calls with Margot. He shares with Simone that he has designed for Margot the plan that will launch a world war, and that Margot is going to pay him enough money to allow him and Simone to ride out the apocalypse in comfort. Little does he know...
The Following Takes Place Between 11:06 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Jack Bauer learns, via his still very active intel network, that there is a plot in the works to assassinate U.S. President James Heller, who’s in London to secure the lease for a U.S. military drone base. Jack has the name of a hacker involved with setting up the plot, but he needs to find the guy, a Derrick Yates. That leads Jack to...
… allow London CIA agents to capture him and take him to their headquarters, where his old CTU friend Chloe is being interrogated. Jack needs Chloe to help him find Yates, who was last known to be hooked up with her hacker group. Chloe thinks her old pal Jack is just rescuing her, but after he frees her and follows her to her group's underground hangout, she realizes he's just using her for info so he can save Heller and get back into Heller and Audrey's good graces.
Jack denies it, saying he owes the Hellers, and telling Chloe she doesn't really believe in the free-information philosophy of her hacker brethren. She tells him he is her friend, and if he wanted her help, he could have just asked. When Cross coughs up Yates's location, Jack goes off to find him, and Chloe volunteers to go with him to run communication support.
Also looking for redemption: Kate, who convinces Navarro to reinstate her as a field op, so she can find Jack. With help from Boy Chloe, er, Jordan, she has discovered the connection between Jack and Chloe, and tracking info from the cell phone taken from Chloe when she was in CIA custody, Kate figures out Jack and Chloe are probably heading to a building where, it turns out, Jack and Chloe are heading.
Yates is indeed working out of a London project which serves as the drug den of a dangerous heroin dealer. Yates is paying the resident drug lord for protection and a workspace, as he puts the finishing touches on his World War III drone project for Margot. Jack, with only Chloe for tech backup, makes his way into the building and confronts a whole room full of armed drug dealers — successfully, of course — but Yates and Simone sneak out a window while Jack's going all Jack Bauer on the drug dudes.
Jack chases Yates and Simone, and has them in his sight, just as Kate, Ritter, and the CIA agents arrive. In short and confusing order, Yates tells Kate Jack is at the building, which allows Yates to run away as Kate and her crew chase Jack, who tells Kate she needs to chase Yates. She doesn’t, and... suffice it to say, Kate and her crew, just moments later, are left without Jack or Yates in custody, as Jack outsmarts the whole CIA bunch and is picked up in a stolen car by Chloe.
Oh, but Yates: He and Simone land in a pub, where he mistakenly believes Jack to be a henchman sent by Margot to get his drone plans without having to pay him. He tells Simone he's going to sell his wares elsewhere and heads off to the bathroom, where Simone slinks in and stabs him in the ear (it's as harsh as it sounds, a "Walking Dead"-level gross kill).
Simone then picks up Yates’s briefcase with the drone plans and makes a call to Margot, who tells her, "Come home as soon as you can. Mommy's waiting."
* Jack Bauer's number one badass moment of the premiere is uttering this to drug dealer Bashir and his room full of gun-toting thugs as he faced them with his one gun: "Look, I can tell you consider yourself a pretty intimidating group. You probably think I'm at a disadvantage. I promise you I'm not."
* It took until the last few minutes of the premiere, but we got it: Jack's first "Dammit!" uttered after he and Chloe learned Yates had programmed the evidence he left behind to self-destruct. Trivia: The first "Dammit!" of "24: LAD" was said by Steve Navarro, when Kate locked herself in the interrogation room with Jack.
* In addition to her new Goth makeup and punk threads, Chloe has acquired some new skills since she and J.B. last worked together. She can steal and hotwire a car, which visibly impresses a not-easy-to-impress Jack. "Good job," he mutters as they make their getaway in the very auto she pilfered.
* The CIA bio feedback guy, reading the monitors on Jack's body: "His readings are so steady, it's unnatural." Add that to the list of Jack Bauer Facts.
* When Navarro is trying to rattle Jack in the interrogation room, he tells him Kim has had another baby, a son. Jack Bauer as a boy's grandpa — it does not get cooler than that.
* Excuse our indulgence in a bit of old-school celebrity gossip, but when the camera switched back and forth between close-ups of Navarro and J.B. in the interrogation room, we couldn't help but recall they're both on the romance résumé of Julia Roberts.
* "24" gadgetry was always pretty cool, but we were really loving that rolling videocam the CIA tossed into the factory to track Jack. It sorta looked like one of those Clocky alarms.
Now share your feelings with the group: What's Margot's damage? What has caused her to stoop to a level of villainy that involves killing a world leader and starting an international war? Does Jack really think stopping a plot to assassinate Heller will redeem him in the eyes of his country? Or is he more motivated by a personal need to redeem himself, feeling guilty about Audrey's torture at the hands of the Chinese?
Steve Navarro: good guy or not? Mark Boudreau: Does he really love Audrey and have her best interests at heart, or as the chief of staff, is his own political future his main motivation for being on Team Heller? Kate Morgan: She's the female Jack, right?
And which sound comeback made you happier: the "24" countdown clock, Jack Bauer's "The following takes place …" intro, or Jack's first "Dammit!" of "Live Another Day"?
"24: Live Another Day" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.