Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Original Air Date: 19th February, 2002
Sean Callery’s music plays ominously over the soundtrack, the camera zooms in on Jack’s car on an LA freeway, and the mood is almost eerily quiet as the halfway episode of 24’s first season begins.
It’s the complete opposite to the final act of the episode which will erupt into a hail of gunfire and explosions, where twelve weeks of tension and suspense finally allows 24 to explode, literally if you happen to be anywhere near one of Ira Gaines’ many red vans. (I’m guessing there was a discount on at the Villainous Van Rental Store that day.)
In fact, there is fire and brimstone everywhere in this episode, even if it isn’t always in our face.
As Jack Bauer races to finally reunite with Teri and Kim who have been locked away in that barn for several episodes now, Senator Palmer finds himself plunged even further into a conspiracy that has now claimed the life of his son’s therapist, the one who leaked the story of the cover-up to the press, in what appears to be a case of arson.
One of the most remarkable things about 24 so far is how its two male leads have yet to share any screen time by the halfway mark of its first season, a relationship (or even bromance) that would come to define a massive part of the show.
Both characters are throwing themselves into their plotlines, Palmer doing so against the wishes of his Chief of Staff, while Jack is in guns blazing mode all the while being gently caring with those he loves. Both characters are at the receiving ends of conversations from their closest confidants about not going in as strongly to their predicament as they are (Palmer from Mike, Jack from Nina) and yet both end up doing so against their wishes. Even if they haven’t shared screen time yet, the writing here is very quick to point out that these two individuals, who will become deeply prominent in the protection of the public, have remarkably similar characteristics, some that will become more complex as the series continues.
It says a lot about Sutherland’s performance and why be became so popular with audiences and the series’ rabid fanbase that he can switch from sneaking around with a gun and blowing stuff up to being considerate and loving to his family so effortlessly.
The most famous images of the series might be those promotional shots of Jack Bauer pointing his gun at some villain just outside the image, but what made the character so popular, and which was instrumental in cementing Sutherland’s comeback during the 2000s, was that loving family man element. Here was a character prone to violence against those who threaten those he loves or the well being of the public, but as we’ll see, there is an inherent ability to care for those he loves, whether they are his daughter, his wife or his friends.
The character will become more complex in the coming seasons, but we can see the writers have a great ability to combine those elements into something more interesting than the type of action heroes that were a dime a dozen in Hollywood action films.
Even if some of the writing of later seasons might feel as if they are falling into the realm of Hollywood action cinema, it’s the character of Bauer and Sutherland’s performance that would frequently stop it from falling into the pits reserved for those of characters played by the likes of Steven Seagal or within the latter stages of Bruce Willis’ career, but it also helps when you have writers such as Howard Gordon involved in crafting the character into being.
Gordon’s best episodes of his four-year stint on The X-Files were the ones that drew us into complex characters and here we see him juggling the two elements that would come to define Jack Bauer brilliantly. We get Bauer running around in action mode to entertaining effect, but what has made the journey here so engaging has been the fact that he isn’t just an empty meat headed action hero who’s going around shooting and exploding things. He can go from throttling Rick one minute out of anger, to joking with his daughter about their chess game they didn’t complete in the first episode in a way that feels natural. It’s no surprise that Gordon would become of the most important voices on the show going forward.
The escalation of tension in Gordon’s teleplay and Stephen Hopkins’ direction is wonderful and you can kind of feel the series really breathe out as it finally releases a lot of the pent up tension and threat of violence that has been going on these last few weeks.
While 24 would go on to become most famous for being very much an action show, the first season had its foot more in being an intense thriller that puts as much focus on character and smaller scale threats. This is the first time we get a sense of the more expansive style of thriller the series will become in later seasons, with action sequences like the one that closes this episode being more of a regular occurrence than it has been throughout its first day.
Here it carries considerable weight and comes just as the episode keeps building itself towards an onslaught of incident and violence that cannot help but have you chewing those nails off until there is nothing left.