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24 cranks itself to the breaking point with full-blown assault on White House

Jack Bauer's torturous logic vexes Pres. Allison Taylor. Fox photos

A death-spiraling economy can't be tortured or strong-armed into submission. Which means that Jack Bauer would be of little if any help to President Obama. That is unless the administration covertly commissioned him to put a choke-hold on CNBC ranter Rick Santelli.

Fox's 24 thinks it has a better idea, though. Monday's two-hour "event" -- covering the 6 to 8 p.m. hours of Season 7 -- finds terrorists breaking into the White House with what seems to be the greatest of ease. They're aided, for still mysterious reasons, by a wealth of conspirators infesting the FBI, hospitals, Congress, security forces and of course the administration of newly sworn in President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones).

It's enough to make her yearn for a nice, relaxing 20 percent unemployment rate. Instead, in a scene that's jolting even by 24's standards, President Taylor sustains a hard slap to the chops, leaving her with a bloody lip.

We won't divulge any more specifics, save to say that Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) just can't seem to torture anyone in peace anymore. In Monday night's never-dull two-parter (7 to 9 p.m. central), he again runs afoul of noxious Senator Blaine Mayer (Kurtwood Smith), who wants to lock him up for crimes against humanity.

"You're reprehensible, Bauer," Mayer informs him.

"And you, sir, are weak!" Jack barks back after again coming within seconds of saving the world before another government monkey wrench fouls him up.

24 may be hard-pressed to top Monday night's theatrics, fireworks and bombast. A full-blown invasion of the White House, including a heavy body count and hostage-taking, seems like a bar too high to jump in any subsequent seasons. What's left -- a game of Russian Roulette starring the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices?

Monday's second hour -- marking the halfway point of a season that started at 8 a.m. -- also re-introduces Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight) as the "malevolent mastermind" behind all this far-flung terrorism. He was last seen in November's place-setting 24: Redemption.

"Stress is the fertilizer of creativity," Hodges says rather ridiculously after advising brutal warlord General Juma (Tony Todd) on how best to achieve his dastardly White House mission.

Suffice it to say that Jack, President Taylor and her daughter, Olivia (Sprague Grayden), are among those in very deep fertilizer at the end of Monday's two hours. So much so that President Obama might want to kick back and enjoy the show. 24 is still the one place where a president's problems break the bank -- so to speak.