Written by Robert Cochran & Howard Gordon
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Original Air Date: 16th April, 2002
There’s something that feels genuinely different about this episode that we haven’t had in a while. It’s still the same show, don’t get me wrong, but the sun setting (a little too quickly given it only started to fall at the end of the previous episode, but no matter) means that we’re back to night time and with it that dark night of the soul quality that gave the first batch of episodes considerable atmosphere.
There’s also the influx of guest stars. Lou Diamond Phillips, Kiefer Sutherland’s three-time co-star from both Young Guns movies and Renegades, shows up and then there’s an uncredited (for this episode at least) debut for Dennis Hopper as a not-very-dead Victor Drazen.
It’s a wonderful moment when Jack realises that Drazen has not been dead this whole time. Watching him on a video monitor, when Drazen turns around and Jack recognises him, so does the audience. It really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Drazen Sr is still alive. There’s a clear theme about parenthood and fatherhood running throughout every pore of the series so it stands to reason that the paternal figure whose death was the catalyst for so much of the drama should have some involvement in proceedings.
The different feeling might also be that this is the most genuinely excellent episode that we’ve had for a while. The writers have clearly figured out what to do now for the final stretch of the season and with it that darkly gleeful confidence that made the first half such brilliant television is creeping back into proceedings.
The appearance of Victor Drazen and the reveal of a secret underground prison in a field in the middle of a nowhere somewhere in the California country gives this a unique flavour that once again plays nicely into how potent California itself is as a character on the series.
Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but later seasons of the series would be somewhat criticised for relying on LA as a setting for the increasingly more intense and epic threats that Jack Bauer would face, that LA would become some sort of weird capital of the world for terrorist threats who never seemed to go anywhere else, and yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that Los Angeles and the surrounding state of California gave the series a feeling that made it somewhat unique, or at least uniquely utilised compared to so many other shows set there.
I’m not sure if it was the writing or Stephen Hopkins’ direction (and one cannot overestimate how important Hopkins as director was to this first season), but there was something about this first season that really captured a unique Californian flavour, particularly in its use of location.
This wasn’t an LA-set series that threw in an abundance of sweeping camera shots of the skyline with the US Bank Tower in the centre, but which utilised the oil fields, surrounding deserts and forestry in a way that very few shows set there had ever done.
Bauer spends time this hour in the literal field, finding a deeply hidden government secret that even Palmer doesn’t know about. The idea of a top secret prison facility has the feel of something that Fox Mulder would have a lot to say about, and plays in a narrative world that puts 24 into the territory of something more resembling a paranoid thriller away from the technology of phones and laptops.
The series will not have the time to explore any conspiracy theories given that it has other things to run with, but there’s a hint at a darker power within the US government given that Drazen wasn’t dead and has since been giving the government information while being incarcerated. It plays into a sense of criticism of how US foreign policy operates, ironic given the trouble the series would get into from season four onwards over its handling of other themes and stories.
The only thing that mars proceedings this hour is Kim’s storyline as she finds herself in prison after being caught up in a drug raid during the previous episode. I realise I haven’t said too much about that story over the last few reviews, but then everything else going on feels more important than that.
At the very least Teri is on her way to CTU and seemingly out of trouble and into a safer environment, and with Jack now in danger himself, in a viper’s nest that involves not only Victor but Andre and his own personal army on their way to liberate Victor, for the first time since Jack saved his family, 24 is genuinely edge of your seat exciting again.