Written by Andrea Newman
Directed by Bryan Spicer
Original Air Date: January 8th 2002
Although many of the storytelling tropes being used by 24 have been part and parcel of a lot of thrillers over the decades (abducted loved ones, political assassination, moles in the organisation), it’s still hard to fathom how the series could have worked before the proliferation of cell phones in our lives and in our filmed entertainment.
Younger audiences discovering the series today on streaming services might snigger at the sight of the Ericsson that Teri uses or Kevin’s Nokia, but already evident six episodes in is just how much the story wheels are turning because of how much technology was around us by 2001.
Flashforward to nearly twenty years since the series’ debut and things have become even more advanced, with phones pretty much functioning no longer as mere communication devices but pieces of tech that allow us to carry the whole world, as well as our lives, in our pockets.
While the phones might be bulky and the computers a little less slick than we’re accustomed to, 24 still remains tech savvy, but it also knows how to play into our fears of when our phones and the cameras that are meant to keep us safe can be used against us.
With Ira Gaines (and I always forget just how smarmy and fun Michael Massee is as the character) making his presence known in the last hour and taking Jack away from a now endangered Teri, 24 now subverts the dazzling array of computers and tech that we’ve watched the CTU work with into something more dangerous.
Gaines has every area around Jack under surveillance, and the series, which knew how to push the buttons of the audiences by turning fear of terrorism into the type of pulsating drama it would become famous for, starts to play on the disturbing notion that it would be so easy for us to be watched without our knowledge.
It’s possible that if 24 was to launch a new iteration today (ideas were mooted before the Disney/Fox merger, but they’ve now been put on the backburner) it might utilise a villain of the Mark Zuckerberg-variety, and while Ira Gaines might be a more standard type of Hollywood action thriller villain whose motivations are still to be revealed at this stage, Gaines’ ability to tap into every part of Jack’s life to keep him under his thumb plays like the type of nightmare about surveillance culture that has become a fabric of so many thrillers in the present day.
The henchmen following Jack have a camera pointed directly at him, while there are cameras in Jack’s car also keeping him under guard, and just when he thinks he might have found a way to alert Nina on the situation, it turns out that Gaines has CTU under surveillance too.
Not a surprise given that there’s a mole and that we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that Jamey was on our side. In retrospect it was probably too obvious, but the manner in which 24 delivers the information, making us think Teri is safe but who has just walked head first into danger by calling everyone’s most trusted ally, comes as a bitter sting and a continued escalation of 24’s ability to use suspense so effectively.
Then there’s the last fifteen minutes of the episode which pushes things to breaking point. At this stage on the series, if one was watching for the first time on the Fox Network, or on those Sunday night broadcasts on the BBC where the series was building up quite a cult fandom in the UK, it’s likely you didn’t quite buy the idea that Nina was killed at the end of this hour.
However, for one brief second it seemed possible. Even at this early stage of the series, 24 had grasped a nature that seemed totally unpredictable. Sure, the Jamey reveal wasn’t the biggest surprise, but the Alan York twist and killing of Richard Walsh in the second episode was evidence that the writers here weren’t going to shy away from delivering the unexpected.
For just the briefest of moments, there is a possibility that Nina has been killed. Kiefer Sutherland sells the reaction superbly of someone who has killed a colleague and a friend, and the escalation of revelation and terror that builds to the gun shots going off are as heart churning as any television of the period.
The manner in which Sean Callery’s score (and the music composition for this series is amongst some of the best scoring for any television series) comes in as we watch Jack and Gaines’ henchmen follow him away from the oil refinery is numbing and unforgettable, while also reminding us of just how pivotal the Californian locations were to the atmosphere of this first season.
Of course, Nina isn’t dead, and the reveal of the flak jacket allows the show and the character off the hook, but it’s still effective, all the while you’re reminded that this is only the seventh episode of a twenty four episode run. It was clear that the series was something special at this stage and the question we were all asking ourselves was how in the hell was it going to sustain this for another seventeen hours?