24- 1×17: 4:00pm-5:00pm

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Written by Michael Chernuchin
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Original Air Date: 26th March, 2002

You kind of get the impression the writers of 24 had wanted to leave Teri in a ditch for a couple of episodes until they could figure out a way to get her back involved in the central plot. While the character has infamously been given amnesia (being driven to safety by a pre-NCIS Pauley Perrette), once she arrives at a restaurant that triggers something in her memory, the writers pretty much keep here there until the final moments of the hour.

Sandwiched right in the middle of the weakest run of episodes in 24’s first season, it’s easy to forget that this episode actually has one massively entertaining sequence that indicated that the writers were just as capable of delivering suspense that didn’t solely rely on action.

Like a somewhat demented version of Gogglebox, the audience is effectively watching Jack and Nina watching television as Alexis Drazen keeps his date with Elizabeth (Kara Zediker), a member of Palmer’s campaign who has been unknowingly having a relationship with the potential political assassin.

The obvious thing to do would be stage an arrest, which is what everyone is effectively telling Jack to do, including George Mason and with it the welcome return of Xander Berkley who’s walked back into the series with that sardonic wit that made him fun to watch in the earlier run of episodes at the start of the season.

Of course, if they stage an arrest and grab Alexis on the spot then the series would have to retitled 17, or at the very least 18.

The sets are limited to two hotel rooms, one across from the other, and we’re effectively watching everything happening in one room through a video feed into another, and yet it’s still fun and suspenseful.

It once again plays in a pool of technology that was fast becoming a key part of many thrillers of the era and which has never gone away. Of course, surveillance thrillers have been around for as long as there have been the means for technology. While this isn’t necessarily anywhere near as good as Francis Ford Coppola’s intensely personal paranoia thriller The Conversation, the fact that 24 is delivering an episode involving two characters in one area eavesdropping on a conversation of another couple and there’s a potential political assassination involved at least evokes certain parts of Coppola’s plot.

Nowadays, we’re more prone to watching characters in rooms a hundred miles away using computers to infiltrate webcams and CCTV in order to keep an eye on people (only five years later would The Bourne Ultimatum deliver a sequence that would be as close to Orwellian as action cinema would get), but for this hour of 24 there’s something of a voyeruristic angle given that Jack and Nina are watching an unknowing Alexis with a complicit Elizabeth in the next room with four television screens that almost feels more like an expansive version of the 24 split screens themselves.

We know these two characters are sexually active (and we’ve witnessed George Mason’s uncomfortable and all too unsubtle attempt at ‘slutshaming’ Elizabeth in the previous episode that she rightly called him out for) and that there is very little else to their relationship other than the physical aspect. It adds to a weirdly uncomfortable sense of suspense as we watch Elizabeth try and navigate her and Alexis’ conversation away from anything sexual, and away from sex itself as she tries to plant a tracking device on him.

For all intents and purposes this is another placeholder episode, a chance to stall for another hour as the writers figure out what to do next (or at the very least kill time until the big guest star arrives for the final stretch of the season), but at least it’s entertaining and has a suspenseful drive that is very entertaining.

It’s all punctuated nicely by Hopkins’ characteristically stylish direction, the use of split screen and Sean Callery’s music which has a nicely quiet and paranoid edge.

It’s enough to make you think you’re watching a top-tier episode, and the majority of the episode is great, but then you’re reminded not only of the amnesia plot, but also Kim’s antics which we didn’t realise it at the time but was the type of placeholder insanity that was a foreshadowing of what would be more of a frequent occurrence in season two.

But that’s a story for another day. Literally.

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