Written by Maurice Hurley
Directed by Frederick K. Keller
Original Air Date: 2nd April, 2002
I always think of this as the first season’s weakest episode. By any other yard stick, it isn’t the worst hour of television ever made, but it genuinely is the first episode of 24 that honestly feels like it’s doing nothing but treading water.
If you’re watching the series for the first time and are starting to waver at this point, then I implore you to keep going. There is some great stuff coming, but it gets at the heart of an issue with serialised television, particularly when it was being done on an American network.
Suffice to say I don’t want to write too much about stuff that we haven’t gotten to yet on 24, but there was something very refreshing about interviews the writers on the series gave as it continued beyond the first season and became a massive ratings hit for the Fox Network from season two onwards.
Speaking about the writing process of the show, the likes of Howard Gordon and co-creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran were always upfront about how the show operated. 24 was never a series that approached every season with a grand master plan for where the story was going to go. In fact the pace of the series, particularly when it got into a groove and formula from season two onwards, meant that it chewed up so much story so quickly that any plan the writers had at the start of the season would be pretty much done and dusted by the seventh or eighth episode.
It was refreshing to see showrunners take such an honest approach to how they talked about how they wrote their show, particularly one that was as big as this series was at its peak.
Right in the middle of a golden era of serialised television on the American networks, 24 was right there alongside Alias and eventually Lost and Heroes as the pinnacle of cinematic television that felt like watching either a prolonged movie or a novel for television (although, they were strictly television shows and for the record I’m not a big fan of television writers or actors whenever they try to sell their series as anything other than a television series. The whole ‘it’s an eight-hour movie’ argument rubs me up the wrong way).
However, these series were, like so much television, being written, produced and filmed within the same period of time. Sometimes, as was the case with Lost when it came to is final three seasons, they were given enough time to know how far they needed to go before they reached the final chapter; in the case of that show, debate still rages as to how much they actually had planned. Unlike 24, Lost showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse kept talking about their plan for the series, words that many doubted when the final episode eventually made its eagerly awaited broadcast.
The point is, the writers of 24 maintained that they were usually flying by the seat of their pants to write the series and if you hadn’t figured it out during the first half of Day One, then you definitely knew by the time ‘5:00pm-6:00pm’ rolled around.
Those first thirteen episodes did feel tightly constructed and if they were winging it then they did it very well, but it was clear that not knowing if they had a full twenty four episodes to run with when they started the series had now gotten them into trouble. Sure, they had the Drazen card to play, but as we’ll see when we get to the last five episodes (as entertaining as they are), the writers didn’t really know what their contingency plan was, if they even had any.
By the time we get to near the end, we’ll see that Andre and Alexis had a whole other set of concerns going on that weren’t really hinted at until we got to this part of the show where at the very least you can see the cogs getting to a point where the series can head to on its way to the finale.
As it is, this just feels like a trading water episode, where characters once again deliver ‘the plot so far’ type of dialogue and go around in circles before trouble starts to rear its head again.
It is, by far, the weakest episode of the season, but as we now head back towards night time, the dark night of the soul that made those earlier episodes so entertaining and enriching will return to the series and with it 24 getting back into the groove that made that first half so damn good.