Written by Virgil Williams
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Original Air Date: 22nd January 2002
As entertaining and drenched in suspense as 24 is, it’s sometimes hard, and would be increasingly so from Day 2 onwards, to ignore its nasty streak. Certainly, the first of Jack Bauer’s many bad days doesn’t have the show’s infamous use of ‘enhanced interrogation’ scenes, but the treatment of his wife and daughter does threaten to tip the series into the realm of nihilism during ‘8:00am-9:00am’.
This being network television, nothing graphic is shown, but given that they had guns placed at their heads and were on the cusp of being shot in front of two open graves at the end of the last episode, did the series really need to up the ante and have the threat of sexual assault thrown in?
Rape is something that is hovering around the series; the entire Palmer strand has its origins in his daughter being assaulted prior to the events of this season, and now Jack’s wife and daughter are having to fight off the advances of one of the season’s most vile characters.
The scene itself is powerful, there is no denying that. The character of Eli (Silas Weir Mitchell) who has been keeping an eye on them under guard has the whiff of someone you wouldn’t want anywhere near you, and the moment he makes his attentions towards Kim Bauer clear, you cannot help but recoil. Teri stepping in and telling Eli she won’t fight him is a moment many parent watching the show may feel strongly about and agree with; the ones who are meant to look after us and raise us frequently would be more than eager to step into danger for their child and Teri is no different.
As said before, the scene is powerfully played, and the horror of the assault is played off-camera with Kim’s horrified reaction magnificently portrayed by Elisha Cuthbert and very much speaking for the audience during the scene, but it feels like an increasingly lazy trope to have your lead female character, or characters, threatened with sexual assault in order to heighten the drama.
The writing on 24 is superb, there’s no denying it; even this early in the series’ run, it’s ability to craft itself into an engaging thriller was undeniable. Even if the ratings weren’t as high here as they would come to be in later seasons, you can see why it was ensnaring a cult fanbase and the attention of critics at the time. While the series does have one prominent female writer amongst it ranks (Andrea Newman), female writers would be few and far between throughout its run.
By the time we get to seasons four and five, the period when the series would hit a creative and commercial peak, many of the executive producers, directors and main writers would all be male. As always, a few female writers would show up from time to time (Anne Coffell and Nicole Ranadive being the most prominent), but this would always be a male driven show behind the scenes in many regards, and that also came down to the voices who would function as authors of the storytelling and with that it means that certain tropes are utilised that only male writers would be prone to doing, and case in point, we have rape rearing its ugly head twice in the space of two of its major plotlines.
Leslie Hope and Elisha Cuthbert are tremendously engaging throughout, but they are two female leads in a long form narrative where they are stuck in a barn because they have been kidnapped. That’s not to take anything away from the rest of the female cast doing great work here because Sarah Clarke is more than capable of rising to the challenge as the series’ most prominent (and I hate to use the term but you know it was what the writers were most likely thinking when writing her) ‘strong female character’, while they have also hit a homerun in increasingly making Sherry Palmer a Lady MacBeth style anti-hero clearly questing her way to the White House and be damned with manipulations and murder cover-ups, complete with a superb performance from Penny Johnson Jerald.
The series would fall into increasingly controversial tropes regarding its rogue agent character and his fallback for torturing subjects and asking questions only after killing a room full of bad guys, but even this early the series is still playing in a male fantasy of action heroics.
Once again, this might all read as criticism, but I assure you, the series is still entertaining and its combination of pace, thrills, action, and escalation of suspense makes resistance futile. There is a brilliant escape from the Secret Service that the episode effectively does twice, and the majority of Jack’s runtime in the episode partners up him up with a civilian unwillingly caught up in his story.
While the moments with his wife and daughter are as dark as the series has gotten, Jack Bauer’s interaction with Lauren (Katherine Wilhoite) a waitress he takes hostage until he can allude the authorities and get back on the road, alleviates some (if not all) of the tension with some genuinely funny dialogue and exchanges between the pair and a brilliant mis-matched chemistry between Sutherland and Wilhoite that makes for some welcome lighter moments in the episode.
It really ought to slow down the hour, or make it less than many of the other episodes around it, but if anything it makes it one of the most enjoyable sequences on the show so far, and even allows its lead character a luxury it seldom affords him; a chance to catch some sleep.