Written by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Original Air Date: 13th November 2001
When it comes to first seasons of television shows, it’s the second episode, which in some cases has been filmed several months after the pilot episode has been completed, that says a lot more about what type of show the audience might be in for.
The second hour of 24 was shot in July of 2001, five months after filming was completed on a pilot episode that would win its creators an Emmy award for their writing and earning its director a nomination also. 24 being the show that it is, it’s funny to think that this hour of television, picking up literally where the previous episode left off, was put together months later.
There are, of course, little pieces that give it away. The CTU set is substantially larger than it was in the first hour, with production designer Carlos Barbosa giving way to Joseph Hodges, but everyone’s appearances are staying literally the same to maintain a façade of continuity and that this is indeed one day.
A much more pacier episode than the ‘Pilot’ which did a lot of laying down of the groundwork for the series to come, the script here from Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff brings in some of the action elements that the first episode avoided in favour of character and world building.
The episode’s most impressive sequence is without a doubt the central set-piece involving Richard Walsh (Michael O’ Neill) being ambushed at Dunlop Plaza and both himself and Jack getting into the middle of a gunfight. 24 would become famous for its bombastic tone in later years, with gunfights and explosions making for some very impressive set-pieces over its initial eight-year run, and subsequent revival seasons. This is very much an early example of that, but like so much in this first season, there’s a subtlety here that makes it a joy to watch.
The first thing to note is that the feature film quality of the first episode is something the series has grasped with both hands. While Director of Photography Peter Levy opted not to return, Stephen Hopkins chose to stick around, and he gives proceedings here a uniquely cinematic style.
The Dunlop Plaza gunfight is soaking in tension, backed by Sean Callery’s pulsating score (whose music would be a character in its own right), lit to perfection by Rodney Charters, and edited to precision.
Television throughout the 90s had truly begun to move towards something more in tune with cinema, a move spearheaded by David Lynch when he delivered Twin Peaks to ABC in the early part of the decade and enhanced further by Chris Carter when The X-Files and Millennium made their debuts.
Television’s evolution took a next step forward when HBO entered the fray and while network shows of that era are never discussed as highly, one can look at a show like 24, and even Alias (both espionage flavoured series funnily enough), and see how they helped open the floodgates towards television series’ with a cinematic flourish when it came to action sequences and a sense of scale equal to the silver screen.
24’s first shoot-out has a more quiet intensity to it compared to what the series would become famous for over the next run batch of seasons, but don’t be thinking it’s any less effective, because it is. It amounts to nothing more than a bunch of dudes in an office hiding, shooting silenced guns, crouching back down and sneaking around, but damn is it not an early indication of just how this show was going to utilise suspense and tension in its writing and direction.
The use of split screens is devastatingly effective, and that ticking clock is loud and yet equally brilliant, ratcheting up the tension as the episode works its way towards the end credits.
Michael O’ Neill being a recognisable face from The West Wing, and many guest starring appearances on other shows, makes the audience think that he might be okay come the end credits, but his sudden death just when we think Walsh and Jack are safe is an early indication of 24‘s commitment to having characters die in the service of the story.
The first episode left you going ‘this is good, I can’t wait to see the next episode’ but already the show is grasping the darkly magic wonders of what it can do with a great cliff-hanger.
The ‘mole in the organisation’ plot is one that many espionage flavoured stories have returned to again and again. As will 24, again and again and again (it’s almost a running joke with the audience about what type of hiring practices they must have in the CTU, as it keeps happening so much). From Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, to the first Mission: Impossible movie (and the third, come to think of it), moles and double agents are part and parcel of many spy related stories and 24 takes it to the realm of something approaching a whodunnit.
Those split screens throw in characters acting shifty, while others are proclaimed to be trustworthy, and yet everyone is a suspect here. Two episodes in, a potential prime suspect has been named, but Nina is too obvious, and we know the show isn’t going to throw a potential goldmine of storytelling away this soon.
What it does do is leave the audience gasping for breath and eagerly awaiting the next episode. Sure, modern audiences discovering the series for the first time on streaming services or on DVD can just go straight to the next episode, but back in 2001/2002, that week long wait between episodes was hard enough, but 24 was going to ensure that we’d all be coming back to that ticking clock.