Written by Elizabeth M. Cosin
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: 3rd December, 2002
I always think of 24 cranking up the speedometer from season two onwards whenever I watch the first season with its more controlled pace, but rewatching the earlier batch of episodes from its second year and you get the sense that the writers were trying to pace the series out in as controlled a way as possible.
Pace would become a primary factor of the series, speeding through stories faster than its writers come up with sometimes, something they would be very honest about, and you can see that in some of the more flawed parts of the series in its lesser seasons.
Six episodes into season two, and the series is moving through events quickly, but you can sense that everyone here is trying hard to avoid the pitfall they fell into during season one. That, of course, came about because of how the series was commissioned; thirteen episodes followed by an order for more episodes in the back half of the season.
The season is clearly itching to get to Jack and Nina in the same room, but it brilliantly held off on that for at least a week, letting the tension simmer and boil as both characters were kept apart as Jack tried to work his way into the investigation and Nina was sequestered in an interrogation room.
The fireworks fly this hour (or bullets in this case since it involves Jack Bauer) as the episode not only reunites Jack with Nina, but also has Palmer having to come face to face with Sherry.
24 has always been brilliant at exploring the similarities between its two central male characters and they may have a bromance that is primarily one that takes place over phone calls more than actual face-to-face interaction, but the series has always taken great joy in pointing out certain thematic similarities between the two of them; estranged fathers, complex marriages, even more complex jobs where the security of the land is in their hands and as this season has shown, and will continue to do so, a determination to save lives by any means necessary even if it means not following the rules.
Elizabeth Cosin’s teleplay (one of the very few of the series to be written by a female writer) has a lot of fun in exploring Jack and Palmer dealing with having to come face-to-face with the women that have wronged them and what it means to have them back in their lives.
For Jack, Nina is a means to an end in saving lives; for Palmer, Sherry’s arrival might open the floodgates to the revelation of conspiracy and treachery within his ranks, the series now opening itself up to a storyline filled with all sorts of potential political paranoia and subterfuge.
The episode runs with both ideas superbly and portrays both characters’ manner of dealing with their situation in such magnificent ways that it simply reiterates just how much of the series belongs to Palmer at this stage as it does Jack, and how they are essentially two sides of the same coin, but with differing reactions to their stories in even more differing environments.
Jack is literally surrounded with debris and destruction, working out a compromised CTU which he only adds to by shooting holes in the wall above Nina’s head to get her to talk. Palmer might be surrounded by the slicker environment of the OC, surrounded by members of the higher political positions of the country were suits and military uniforms are on full display, but if anything, it’s looking to be an even more destructive world, where lies and subterfuge are the language of its world as opposed to bullets and explosions.
We get the sense of Palmer’s simmering anger, and it’s an anger that we saw explode in the season one finale when Sherry’s constant betrayals went too far, but he keeps his calm demeanour throughout the episode, while Jack fires bullets into the wall, strangles Nina and lays bare his methods with interrogations. We’re not quite into torture territory yet, but the show is slowly creeping its way there.
There’s a dark sense of humour running throughout the CTU scenes that is quite welcome and thankfully not too overt (this is 24, after all, and not a sitcom). The way in which Xander Berkley portrays George’s unmasked nervousness at letting Jack into the same room as Nina, Michelle’s look that pretty much conveys a ‘what the hell did I let myself in for here’ moment and Jack saying that he’s only pretending to want to kill Nina even though we the audience kind of suspect otherwise makes for wonderfully entertaining stuff, thanks in no small part to Jon Cassar’s witty direction and a final scene featuring an increasingly rare thing indeed this season; Jack Bauer smiling.
That he does so after drugging a CTU agent assigned to keep an eye on Nina and Jack and then cocking his gun in a threatening manner is perhaps a clear indication of just where Jack is this season and a none more 24 moment if there ever was one.