Written by Michael Chernuchin
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: March 12th, 2002
The first hour of 24 that is perhaps less than stellar, this is an episode of television that manages the rare feat of moving its plot forward, but also not doing an awful lot at the same time.
The backbone of so much of this episode are the scenes between David Palmer and Jack Bauer. After briefly locking eyes on each other during ‘7:00am-8:00am’, the two figures at the heart of so much of 24’s story have not even shared dialogue. That changes from this episode onwards.
The performances of Dennis Haysbert and Kiefer Sutherland crackle with an angry energy at first, but it soon gives way to something more respectful and even friendlier as the two develop a friendship that will become the beating heart of 24 from this moment onwards.
Like the previous hour, so much of this episode takes place in rooms with people talking to each other, throwing up exposition and the writers’ trying to reconfigure the next direction of the show. The cornerstone of so much of the action here is Palmer and Bauer playing detective and trying to figure out why it is they’ve been targeted, although in truth it takes them a whole hour to figure out what the audience will have guessed some time before they do.
Those moments between the Drazen brothers talking about a lost sister and the fact that they’re clearly looking for vengeance since we first met Andre a few episodes ago means that we’re primed for an ‘eye for an eye’ revelation that the episode oh so subtly has Jack deliver as dialogue. That we know that Jack’s target was their father and that they talk sadly about their sister means that we’ve figured out what the deal is before Palmer and Jack have their ‘oh God’ revelation towards the end of the episode.
When I first watched this episode when it premiered, I couldn’t figure out why it was I didn’t respond to it as strongly as I had done to the fourteen episodes leading up to it. It is by far the weakest entry of the show up to this point, and it’s clear that’s because the episode has positioned itself as building up to information that we already know. For the first time the audience is in a position of being in front of the characters, which mightn’t even be a problem if it was positioning us with the Drazen’s for most the hour, but it isn’t.
We’ve figured everything out ahead of Jack and Palmer and the episode is essentially having us watch them catch up to the information that we already know or have a strong sense of. Sure, there is fun to be had in watching more dots come together in that we’re getting a sense of Palmer’s life and career before he ran for President, and how it is that he and Bauer have become entangled in the scheme of the series’ antagonists, but it means that for the first time since the 24 clock started ticking, we’re in the middle of an episode that somewhat feels like filler.
It’s no surprise really given that this is being written by a largely male writers’ room (Andrea Newman had left the series by this point after contributing two episodes) that so much of this is coming down to being centred on a story of fathers and their children. It’s a theme that is distilled to an exchange of dialogue between Palmer and Bauer when they bond over the fact that being a parent or a child is never easy.
As dialogue goes, it’s very on the nose and is very much telling the audience that this is ‘the theme of the season’, but it’s delivered with aplomb by Haysbert and Sutherland whose bromance chemistry works wonders.
The writing maybe gets them from shouty potential enemies to friends too quickly (especially as Sutherland and Haysbert yell at each other for what feels like a good two minutes), but with hindsight being a wonderful thing there is a poignancy to watching these two find common ground, not to mention seeing them in the same room together.
The nature of 24 means that while the two will share plenty of telephone calls over the next few seasons of the show, they will seldom ever be in the same set or shot beyond a split screen edit after this season reaches its conclusion.
It’s far from a spectacular episode of the show, and perhaps its weakest hour yet, but once again it’s a transformative episode of the season as we see the cogs starting to turn as the writers figure out where the next chapter of the series will go.
Unfortunately, those wheels are about to come off even more so for a while starting with the next episode.