Written by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: 5th November, 2002
There is no doubt that 24 can be best described as a fast-paced series. Right from its first season, it showed itself to be a series that can chew up a lot of story very quickly. The first of Jack Bauer’s many bad days looked as if it was meant to build up to the assassination of David Palmer, but instead managed to reach that point within eight episodes, and the way in which that season somewhat went off the rails in the second half obviously meant that the writers had to take a look at how to approach the storytelling when it came to season two so as not to make the same mistake again.
As we’ll see, there is an organic structure to Day Two. The first half will segue into the second in a much more fluid and natural way, but I have to be honest, on first viewing I was worried this second season wasn’t going to be as on fire as the first and lot of that came down to my reaction to this episode.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it was perhaps wise of the writers that they didn’t throw in another sequence similar to the Dunlop Plaza one from the equivalent point from in the previous season, which was a main reason why eighteen-year-old me didn’t enjoy this hour as much as the last one. (Eighteen-year-old me could be an idiot sometimes, let’s be fair.)
It’s not slow, in fact it still runs at a fair pace, but you get the sense the writers are learning to be more in control of the pace and not let the story get away from them. At least that’s the feeling you get. Reading back on interviews that Surnow, Cochran and Gordon gave when the series was still on the air, you get the feeling that frequently this was a series that the writers were always trying to catch up with as they wrote it.
What’s also becoming clear is just how much of a darker beast this season is going to be. The upping of the threat, the more expansive geo-political nature of it all and Jack Bauer’s more embittered and darker character means that the writing is showing itself as being unafraid to go into meaner places than we might have expected.
The last episode featured Jack Bauer killing a protected witness because at times like these ‘you have to get your hands dirty’. In order to gain the trust of the white supremacist group that will no doubt suspect Jack of turning against them the last time he was undercover with them, he offers them the gift of the witness’s head in a bowling bag.
Such things shouldn’t really be a surprise. After all we watched Jack cut off a finger to procure an identity last season, but that guy was dead, and Jack had to murder Wald cold bloodedly in order to get his decapitated head here. It’s a weird form of extremist story telling in a way, more akin to something from a high octane Hollywood action movie than the suspense thriller that season one was, but in some respects this is 24 embracing that type of action thriller more, and one fuelled by a lead character who was shown to break the rules last season to save his family but who has now been reconstituted to one who does it anyway because the ends justifies the means.
I don’t want to get ahead myself here, but this version of Jack is the one that will became an iconic character, but he also will become linked with the controversies and debates that would consume a lot of the conversation about the series.
The whole idea of ‘the ends justifying the means’ isn’t just one applying to Jack. It’s also applying to David Palmer. The liberal leaning honourable President wants to control the panic by restricting the flow of information, but when the possibility of a well-informed journalist leaking the story ahead of time, and possibly leading to mass panic is presented itself, the President has the reporter detained.
Protecting the public doesn’t just come from cutting off heads; apparently it comes with controlling the press and foregoing the constitution.
It gives the impression of the second season of 24 being a much more complex beast, and a beast it is because the scope and scale of this is as far away from the revenge drama of season one as you can get, and we’re only into episode two here.
Palmer and Jack have always been presented as the symbolic representation of the show’s core values, but here those values are being skewered in a much darker direction. It’s all very entertaining as always, but the problem is it’s hard to know where the series is coming down on this. Depiction doesn’t always means endorsement, and there is an argument to be made that this is a season of 24 that will engage more with themes like these as opposed to later seasons where a conversation about the merits of torture and breaking laws came down to being something that the more right-wing leaning creators of the show clearly agreed with.
For an episode of television that features a decapitated head in a bowling bag and Jack Bauer breaking someone’s ankle (complete with sickening cracking sound effect), it’s the image of the American President ordering the arrest of a journalist that is perhaps the darkest moment of all. Make no mistakes; it’s meant to be, or at least I think it is based on how ominous Sean Callery scores the scene, but it sums up in a darkly beautiful nutshell just how much more ideologically complex 24 is about to become.