Written by Andrea Newman
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Original Air Date: February 26th, 2002
In an alternate universe, this might very well be the last ever episode of 24. It’s strange to think that there might be somewhere that 24 didn’t last an initial eight seasons, gained a revival season four years later and then a spin-off a few years after that, but if there is such a place then the image of the Bauer family reunited is where 24 concluded for good, a dazzling little experiment and a wonderful one-and-done season of television.
Such was the nature of US network television at the time, when Fox opted to produce 24 and decided to take it to series after the ‘Pilot’ episode, it did so for thirteen episodes. It’s part and parcel why this episode of the series feels like it could have been a full stop for the whole endeavour.
It has the feeling of the home stretch of a final act of a movie, building itself around scenes that could be seen as final confrontations for many of the characters, most pivotally Jack and Gaines finally meeting face to face after only communicating with each over over telephones and ear pieces.
Sure, there are certain elements that might have been left unresolved; who is Andre Drazen and why did he want to make it so personal? What will happen to Palmer now that he’s decided to put aside his quest for the truth and run for President as per the demands of the people backing him? What’s next for Jack now that he’s on his way back to CTU?
Thankfully, the series did get picked up, in what was shaping up to be a not so good year for the Fox Network who clearly didn’t want to lose what was a very distinctive newcomer to their schedules. Its ratings were not stellar, but the reviews are overwhelmingly positive in some quarters.
The 2001-2002 season of television saw Fox about to lose long time heavy hitters such as The X-Files and Ally McBeal, while James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee’s Dark Angel, which looked as if was going to be a big hit for the network having debuted the year before to high ratings, lost massive traction in its second season, eventually being cancelled.
Even if 24 was still going to be a ‘one and done’ by the end of that complete first season, it was still going to get a chance to keep telling more of its story, and so those questions that were left dangling would get their moment in the sun, a sun that would now set again before the end of the season.
The episode spends a lot of time with the Jack, Teri, Kim, and Rick running around the woods trying to dodge Gaines before hero and villain have one last final moment, but the main draw here is Palmer’s story.
As the hours have gone on, David Palmer has found himself embroiled in layers of conspiracy and paranoia, but he’s also finding himself at the mercy of control that feels very disturbing, albeit in a manner that the show is trying to address.
Zach Grenier, who would go on to be a frequently entertaining presence in The Good Wife and The Good Fight, has a face that is well suited to antagonistic figures. Initially starting off as a Palmer’s ally, a figure seemingly willing to do the dirty work that Palmer didn’t want to do, Carl has turned into something of a servant not so much of Palmer’s, but to the people backing his campaign. Perhaps the most disturbing moment of the entire episode is when Carl tells the Senator and Presidential Candidate that he too is working for his backers and that he always has been.
Just a few weeks ago we got a brief glimpse of Palmer’s money men; a room full of older white men in suits sitting in what appeared to be a study, with leather chairs and perhaps a bottle of brandy or scotch in the background. In other words, the stereotypical language of ‘we’re powerful white men, we are’.
24 has been unafraid to keep reminding its characters and its audience that David Palmer is the first African American with a real shot at the White House. How could it not? In 2001-2002 when the series was first airing, that was a powerful image, and one that in real life was still six years away from becoming reality.
The series is in the process of subverting our expectations when it comes to the assassination threat. Sure, we were told that a ‘domestic hate group’ might be involved during the first episode, but it’s becoming more and more clear with the presence of Andre Drazen and Gaines’ proclamation that ‘they wanted to make it personal’ that Palmer’s skin colour has nothing to do with why Drazen wants him dead.
What is charged with racial undercurrents is the situation that Palmer has now found himself in. Nobody ever comes and says anything directly, but when Carl gives Palmer his speech about the machine that he and Palmer are a part of and that both men work for ‘them’ (reminding one of how much 24 is drenched in conspiratorial paranoia over pronouns such as ‘them’ and ‘they’), Palmer and the audience realise that he is pretty much at the mercy of powerful white men, and they aren’t just merely supporting his campaign, but pretty much using him as a proxy to potentially do their bidding if and when he makes it to the White House.
That is as disturbing a notion as the series has thrown the audience yet, and it’s a deliberate one for sure. Just imagine if this had been the end of 24. It would have been one of the most disturbing ideas with which to end Palmer’s story; an African American man working his way through the higher echelons of American politics, only to find that he’s only in the highest office in the land to do the work of rich, elite white men.
Alas, it wasn’t to be the end, and come the final scene, another assassin has arrived in LA, which begs the question as to why a pre-Supernatural Misha Collins was on a plane this whole time whenever Gaines was in the middle of his own operation.
Well, as we’ll see, while 24 was tightly constructed up to this point, with a clear destination in place (Jack being reunited with his family), the writers’ are going to have to improvise a little to keep up and get to the eventual 24th hour, and with it, for a short time at least, the wheels will come off the show just a little.