Things have certainly become complicated for Jack Bauer, as this unusual day marches on and the underlying theme of the season takes an interesting new direction. At the beginning of the episode, there was reason to suspect that the philosophical aspects of the season would give way to mindless action, but the two continue to work hand in hand.
It was good to see Jack and Senator Meyer revisit their meeting earlier in the day, and Jack's response regarding regret. Jack's clarification was precisely what one would expect, given his characterization over the years, and it was one of the highlights of the episode. Of course Jack would have regrets, but he is too pragmatic and loyal to his cause to allow massive loss of life to prove "we're better than that".
The writers are simplifying the moral arguments somewhat, but it does come down to the notion of acceptable losses. For Jack, there are no acceptable losses. There are just the victims to be regretted and mourned. Jack has accepted the need to do terrible things for the greater good, to minimize the loss of life. He does what he does because others cannot or will not. If it takes torture to prevent that loss of life, then he'll accept that stain on his soul.
Senator Meyer, on the other hand, believes that torture is simply unjustifiable, given the moral foundations of the American way of life. From his point of view, he'd rather have thousands of innocent martyrs than violate the core principles of law and ethics. Ultimately, this is exactly what his philosophy would incur, so even if it is a simplified expression of the argument, it's accurate. And of course, Jack is horrified by the notion that it's better to allow massive loss of life.
Pointedly, Jonas Hodges represents a third perspective, and one that sheds light on the moral implications under consideration. He sees the preservation of power and influence as justification for the necessary evil of "collateral damage". In other words, he sees any impending loss of life to be the price for protecting a way of life. It's very similar to Senator Meyer's point of view, yet Meyer rightly opposes such thinking.
This serves to inform Jack's character, before things go predictably wrong. Jack doesn't want to hear the argument that it's a good idea to let thousands die to be morally superior to an enemy, but once Meyer is on his side in wanting to stop Starkwood from continuing their illegal activity, Jack is willing to entertain legal options. This conversion is a bit quick on both sides, serving the plot more than the characters, but it does ring true.
Starkwood is clearly meant to be a fictional version of Blackwater, the private contracting group that has been implicated in questionable activities over the past several years. More generally, Starkwood represents countless such organizations, which have been a staple of defense contracting for time immemorial, with varying levels of ethical practice. Starkwood raises the question: what would happen if such an organization, effectively a mercenary army, were to make a bid for political control? (There are some who believe Blackwater and other such organizations are already too influential.)
But what makes this interesting is that Starkwood is precisely what Senator Meyer and so many others presume Jack to be. Starkwood is Jack Bauer without his principles and honor. In a sense, this episode redeems Senator Meyer, because his perspective is explained. Unfortunately, he had to die to keep Jack on the run. Thankfully, Quinn kept the Starkwood Super-Secret Location right on the screen of his cell phone, so Jack has his lead to keep the story moving forward.
Back at the White House, Olivia and Ethan are busy trying to outwit each other. Ethan is doing a rather bad job of it. Considering that Ethan was in the running from the very beginning as a potential mole, given how often he played right into the conspiracy's hands, Olivia has a p