24- 1×03: ‘2:00am-3:00am’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Written by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Original Air Date: 20th November 2001

To begin a season of television that is set over a twenty-four time frame and filmed in real time, the choice of Midnight is an obvious one, but it was something that would prove to be a source of difficulty for 24’s production schedule.

The series would begin shooting night-time episodes in the summer when there is substantially more daylight. When the series would move into the daytime hours, the filming of those episodes would occur in the autumn and winter, when there was considerably less daylight hours. It might have proven something of a problem for 24’s production, but it has to be said there is something brilliant about how the series approaches the darkest hours of the day.

Part of the thrill of the real time element is seeing a twenty four hour time frame play out on screen, giving things like the sun coming up and then going back down a feeling of something eventful within the confines of the show. What is most remarkable here is just how downright scary 24 makes the night.

The third of hour Day 1 takes Jack back to CTU and a confrontation with Nina over the possibility that she might be the mole, but it’s the Kim and Janet story strand that gives us that adrenalin rush this hour.

As 24 would continue over the years, Kim Bauer would prove to be somewhat of a controversial character due to how the writers would utilise her in storylines, but since this is only the third episode of the first season, let’s save any conversation about cougars until we get there.

Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff’s teleplay throws Kim and Janet (Jacqui Maxwell) into a sprint for their lives, right into the seedy underbelly of LA’s darkest corners. For a city famous for its glamour and Hollywood history, this is about as far from the sunny depiction of the place as network television has ever gotten. Every corner is dank and dark, the only possible source of rescue comes from a male prostitute who would rather mug them than save their lives and the only mobile phone is from a pimp who clearly has less noble intentions in mind.

On paper it makes for a grim hour of television, but everything about 24 at this stage feels risky and filled with danger, and the series is fully embracing it here.

One of the most intense moments of the episode, that has you asking how it got past Fox’s Standards and Practices, is Rick (Daniel Bess) injecting a syringe of heroin into Janet to help ease the pain of her broken arm, the latter caused by Dan (Mathew Carey) in the previous hour.

There is no sanitizing of how Rick’s is preparing the syringe, and the imagery borders more on something you would have seen in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. The use of ‘Bury the Evidence’ by Tricky (one of many songs played loudly over the soundtrack anytime these characters are on screen) only makes it more disturbing.

There’s a considerably dark and angry heart at the centre of this entire storyline from the way it relies on rock music every time we see them, to scenes of physical abuse doled out to both the female characters. It’s an attitude that in some ways the series would never lose but would instead point it towards different geo-political subject matter from season two onwards.

The approach to everything in this episode is something that borders on noir, which makes sense since LA is the home of that particular genre, but there is no sense of stylised fantasy here; Kim and Janet are in something more approaching of a horror movie this hour, with nowhere to turn and with Rick and Dan potentially in every corner ready to take them again.

There are even less light bulbs to be found at the compound that villain Ira Gaines (Michael Masse) is operating from, while even the good guys at CTU seem to have asked their decorator for a moodily lit style, all the while Senator Palmer ventures out for a clandestine meeting with Carl (Zach Grenier from The Good Wife) in a pretty grim underground parking lot with its own threat from young thugs.

It’s a sustained slice of suspense that builds magnificently and just when you think Kim and Janet are nearly out of danger, a car comes and hits Janet. The final scene right before the final clock shows us that she is still alive, but it’s a massive shock that indicates that 24’s brand of thriller and terror is never going to be as easy going as you’d think.

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