From Zap2It:

LOS ANGELES ( On Monday, Jan. 31, in hour seven of this season of FOX's "24" (in which each episode is an hour in real time), things looked pretty bleak for former CTU operative Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and his girlfriend (Kim Raver), daughter of the Secretary of Defense (William Devane). Terrorists had them pinned down, and Jack was forced to call on an old friend for help. Scant moments later, in charged Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), guns blazing.Since Bernard was uncredited in the episode, it's likely that at least a few fans those who don't haunt the Internet for spoilers let out squeals of surprise and joy. "That squeal thing seems to be a general sort of response," says Bernard. "Everybody was squealing. I always knew I was going to come back. We had it planned that way, how he'd have to come in after five or six episodes, because of the way it ended last year. So I was happy about that. And you couldn't have a better entrance written for you."

At the end of last season, Tony, then the head of CTU, wound up being carted off to jail for breaking the law to save his wife, CTU agent Michelle Dressler (Reiko Aylesworth), from a deadly virus.In the years between seasons three and four, Tony spent six months in jail, was pardoned, got divorced, became a drunk and acquired a skanky girlfriend.

"I was a misunderstood drunk," Bernard says. "Let's put it that way. It was a great setup. I didn't know specifically how it was going to happen, but I was really happy about it.

"We talked about the fact that we'd probably pick him up where he was down and out. He was unemployed and divorced and not in good shape. I liked that a lot."

Bernard doesn't appear to suffer from an excess of thespian vanity, since Tony was looking pretty rough around the edges when he first appeared -- which was the actor's choice.

"I felt like he's probably a little soft looking," Bernard says. "He's probably not going to be in the best of shape. I concentrated more on the insides of what was going on with him, but as far as the outsides of him, I thought, cut off his hair, shed some past, and he just wasn't in the best, tip-top shape."

While Jack Bauer has absorbed a lot of body blows and managed to stay somewhat consistent in his behavior (except for his brief, scruffy, mountain-man period at the beginning of season two), Tony has gone through huge changes that have affected every aspect of his life.

"The thing that happened with Tony," Bernard says, "is there have been a lot of emotional blows. Jack's gone through a lot of physical blows. Obviously, he lost his wife in the first season, and that's a huge emotional blow. But Tony's just been through the ringer."

And then there was prison. "And prison, right. Although it was only six months of prison, still it's prison. That kind of stuff changes people. That's why I still enjoy doing the show, because it allows this evolution of characters.

"We have this year-and-a-half to three-year gap between the seasons. Things that happened in the day that was on television and in the show affect the characters. Then there's this time that passes by, in which characters are going to change.

"I love daydreaming about what they do between seasons, how that affected them, and how do they pick up again?"

One thing that hasn't changed for the actors is that they spend most of their 10 months of filming time wearing the same clothes.

"You know what," Bernard says, "I keep thinking, 'This is the year that I'm going to pick something that I can live with for 10 months.' And you just can't do it. You just get sick and tired of something after the first month.

"Jack changes. He's the star of the show. The star gets to change clothes. We don't. I think I get two changes this year, so I can't complain about that."

Bernard also had to cope with a new working environment. Over the hiatus, the show shifted from its original San Fernando Valley sets in Canoga Park, Calif., to a new location further north in Chatsworth.

"I felt like I'd been off on some foreign exchange program," Bernard says, "then we started at a new high school, and I was the last one to show up. I was literally getting lost everywhere."

Now that Tony is reinstated in his job at CTU morphing from embittered drunk to competent professional in the space of hours the question arises of what's next for the beleaguered agent. There are even hints he may reconcile with Michelle, who's currently running CTU.

"I still have to go through negotiations for next year," Bernard says, "so we'll see how that works out. We started to talk about next year, possibilities, depending on how this year ends. That's the thing about it. It's really loose talk because they don't know what's going to happen at the end.

"And really, when you get toward the end of the season, somebody's got to go down. I have lasted this long, but what are the odds of lasting another one?"

Fans will find out how it all ends in the season finale on Monday, May 23. Although he doesn't know specifics, Bernard has heard rumors.

"I think you'll be surprised how they end it this year. I hear it's pretty cool. It's pretty surprising for television. You're not getting any more out of me. That's all I'm saying."