Written by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Directed by Frederick K. Keller
Original Air Date: 9th April, 2002
You can sense 24 starting to break away from the weaker aspects that have been at play over the last few hours, inching its way back to something resembling the first half of its run again.
Although we still have an entire hour devoted to it, the episode ends with Teri finally breaking out of her amnesia and getting her memory back, which comes as something of a blessed relief.
It’s the heaviest episode in terms of dealing with Teri’s memory loss, admittedly, but it also comes to an end with one of the most entertainingly suspenseful moments of the season so far that finally affords Tony (Carlos Bernard who was clearly becoming something of a fan favourite by this stage) a chance to get out of the office for a bit.
It’s a strange episode in a way because it manages to be both something of another placeholder while at the same time having at least some semblance of an effort at moving the plot along.
After several weeks of constant back and forward and circling around the same conversations, Palmer finally has that press conference where he delivers the news about his son’s involvement in Lyle Gibson’s death, and with it you can feel the series breaking free from having to run around in the same space with that story as it has been.
It’s a great moment for sure and gets at the heart of what has made Palmer and Sherry such great characters even if the writers have had no choice but to give them variations of the same conversations over the last three to four hours.
While the family had a cheery quality to them when they were first introduced, it’s clear that the allegations against Keith have exposed the unhappier nerve at the centre of the family, not least Keith and Nicole’s resentment with their father for having put his career front and centre over being the type of father who was there for them.
That isn’t to say that Palmer is a bad father. We’ve witnessed how loving and caring he is even if he has opted to put his political ambitions front and centre in a way that has made him somewhat neglectful of being the type of dad who really ought to have been there more.
In fact, fatherhood is something that has become a major theme of the season. The story of the series has boiled down to two fathers killing another father, with the show taking the stance that Jack and Palmer were doing it for international security because Victor Drazen was a war criminal who posed a considerable threat.
That said, even war criminals have families, and we’ve not only witnessed that Jack and Palmer’s action have had consequences, but we’ve also seen that even trying to do the right thing can lay down a trail of collateral damage that can have repercussions further down the line.
Palmer and Jack are doing everything to protect their offspring, while the Drazen’s are offspring trying to avenge their own father, the push and pull of families with differing motivations have become a recurring story theme over the second half of the day.
In trying to do the right thing and pave his way to the Presidency, Palmer has sacrificed just a little part of being a good father in order to ascend to the highest office in the land. Even Sherry has made sacrifices, although it’s very much implied that she been more willing to sacrifice her soul in order to get the power she craves.
The difference between the two is that right in the final hurdle of the campaign, David is willing to toss it all away for his children, to do the right thing for both his daughter and his son. That may involve Keith going to jail, but all three want the truth to be revealed, which goes against Sherry’s belief in simply letting it all go.
Come the end of the press conference, Palmer is embraced by his kids, but all Sherry does is walk away, feeling that their chance of being the President and First Lady is over. It’s a wonderfully subtle moment and a lovely reminder of just how great these two are in the roles and have been all season.
There is an enjoyable, embittered near Shakespearean dynamic to their interactions. Palmer sees himself as the next great leader of the country, and we can see that he has a genuine nobility to him that makes that belief justified, but even though he may want to be noble and honourable, he has unknowingly had Lady MacBeth as his spouse, power hungry and willing to do anything, even break the law if it means being the First Lady.
That the series took Penny Johnson Jerald’s sweet character from the first few episodes and turned her into something darker and even malicious has been one of the most wickedly entertaining arcs of the season, and her chemistry with Haysbert has been fascinating to see develop from one that was all sweetness and light (“grumpy bear”) in the earlier episodes to something intense and prickly over the latter stage of the season.
As night falls over LA, there is perhaps a chance that a curtain is falling over their marriage too, and David’s presidential hopes, but then what does it matter if you don’t do right by your family too.