Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr
Original Air Date: 12th November, 2002
There’s a genuine sense just three episodes into 24’s second season that the writers are not playing around. If Teri’s death at the end of the first season seemed to represent a warning shot to everyone that here was a television drama that was not going to be easy going and that death was going to be a constant presence, then the third hour of season two is a confirmation of that philosophy.
It’s one thing to blow up CTU only three episodes into a twenty four episode season, but quite another to turn around not long after that and establish that one of the series’ regulars has now only been given a day to live, basically setting up that character’s end point within the season itself.
Xander Berkley very much became a quiet MVP on the series during the first season, particularly when he was brought back in the second half and became a regular presence. His laid-back wit and Berkley’s ability to deliver droll one-liners, along with his complex relationship with Bauer, made the character one that stood out.
That Berkley and Carlos Bernard were made regulars for the second season wasn’t really a surprise, but just to re-emphasise just how dark and unforgiving 24 is, the season has now gone and given the character of George Mason a massive dose of radiation poisoning, the series famous ticking clock now one that is counting down George’s last hours.
It’s a sobering moment that comes at the end of an increasingly fraught episode that on a suspense level feels like a brilliant companion piece to the first season finale in its ability to combine audience breaking levels of terror with a darkly chilling epilogue that is haunted by the spectre of death. The grim reaper that visits 24 is one that has full time employment it seems.
It also gives the season its first genuine classic episode, a brilliantly fraught Howard Gordon teleplay that once again reminds us just how much of a star writer he is on the series and just how much of an event an episode bearing the words ‘written by Howard Gordon’ are.
What’s even more remarkable is the quiet subversion going on here. The season has thrown itself into a season long story arc centred around fears and themes that were very much at the forefront of the political landscape post-9/11 and yet the first stop on this story has not been a Middle Eastern terrorist cell (although we have had glimpses here and there) but a white male-led right-wing extremist group that go into their plan to blow up CTU with murderous gusto, all the while declaring themselves patriots with claims of ‘taking back our country’.
Of course, characters like Eddie Grant and the members of Joseph Wald’s organisation are delivering the type of rhetoric that we would come to hear often from the previous US president and his own followers when interviewed on the news, and it wouldn’t have been too surprising seeing someone like Grant amongst the many who stormed the capital building in Washington D.C in January just prior to the Inauguration.
Jack’s ‘we’re patriots’ line is delivered with quiet venom and sarcasm and says a lot about how he views characters like Wald and Grant, and indicates how this entire section of the season is going in a more complex direction that just aiming for characters who are Muslim with their declarations of hatred for the US.
There is a delicious irony that the plan involves so-called ‘patriots’ whose idea of taking back control of their country (words that are actually used in the episode and which were part and parcel of the political vernacular from 2016 to 2020) is to bomb and kill other Americans whose job it is to protect citizens from an even larger threat.
It gives what is one of the series’ most propulsive and suspenseful episodes a genuinely charged air, one that has only grown in recent years strangely enough.
On a superficial level, it’s also one of the very best episodes of the series, with an abundance of stomach-churning levels of suspense from every plot stand that the series is dealing with this season. Even Kim and Megan’s story, which is by far the weakest part of the season (and unfortunately Kim’s story gets even worse as the day goes on) manages to deliver the goods, eventually building up to a brilliant slice of darkly funny suspense as Kim and Megan arrive at CTU thinking they’re safe, until a split screen has them side by side with a ticking time bomb.
It’s not just enough that we’re on the edge of our seat waiting for Jack to get word to CTU, but we also have to deal with rogue elements working for the President trying to keep the information from him as well. Michelle Forbes and Timothy Carhart are brilliant in their increasing antagonisms as Lynne Kresge finds herself at the mercy of Eric’s machinations, with the absence of President Palmer for the majority of the episode only adding to the stomach churning levels of terror that the episode is revelling in and Kresge’s increasing isolation and inability to get the word out of the immediate danger.
Sure enough, CTU is bombed by the end of the episode and the slick interiors that became synonymous with the series’ use of technology is blown to spectacular and bloody smithereens with screens exploding all over the place and the employees there being blown away by a cacophony of chaos and damage. It’s a reaffirmation of the show’s central philosophy now; nobody is safe.