Written by Virgil Williams
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr
Original Air Date: 10th December, 2002
You can really get a sense of how much more ambitious 24 has gotten this season just from certain elements of this episode. Where the first season was an entertainingly intense thriller dealing an assassination threat with some kidnapping thrown in for good measure, the nuclear bomb threat and Palmer’s move to being the President of the United States means there is more considerably expansive stories going on compared to where the series was only a season ago.
With Jack and Nina having to make the trek to Visalia, the episode spends a bulk of time in a private jet giving the series a sweep that it didn’t have last season. Couple that with a shoot-out involving myriad extras in SWAT gear and Palmer’s plot line drenching itself further and further into the realm of political conspiracy, the scale of the season feels legitimately bigger.
There is a danger here that the series might lose the sense of personal scales that made the first season so good, but it hasn’t done so yet. Having Jack and Palmer’s story thread dictated to by their exes, so to speak, keeps a personal spark to proceedings even if the story itself is on a larger scale than season one.
Right from the very first episode of season one, the series had cinematic style to spare, a lot of it no doubt stemming from how director Stephen Hopkins viewed the project and whose visual prowess is still a vital part of the language of the series, but it now has the means to really go to town with writing and a production budget that can expand itself to something even grander.
After spending the last two episodes firmly indoors with Jack interrogating Nina and Tony interrogating Reza, the series is now travelling outdoors, where the sunny climate of LA once again hides the darker underpinnings of the series.
While season one began and ended at night and used those earlier episodes to invoke an atmosphere that almost felt more like noir than anything else what with all those darkened alleyways and parts of LA that you wouldn’t want be stuck in during the dead of night, there is a pleasing sense of irony that while it’s hanging a dire apocalyptic threat over the Los Angeles, it’s doing so under the sunny skies and a palpable sense of high temperatures, the supposed safety of the daytime actually hiding the deadliest threat of all.
It’s all very entertaining stuff and thankfully the series hasn’t forgotten that what makes the series is sing is its filtering of themes and stories through character. Sure, enough the shootout involving Mahmood Faheen’s store is all very entertaining with bodies flying all over the place, copious amounts of scenery being shot at or destroyed and the soundtrack filled with 24’s customary louder-than-any-other-television-series gunfire and a bunch of extras running around giving it a real sense of drama and tension, but none of it would matter if we didn’t care for these characters, if we didn’t care for the fact that George is now dying and having to say goodbye to his son, or at having to watch Jack deal with making compromises with the person that he trusted the most once upon a time and was responsible for the death of his wife.
There is a dark hearted irony that the series is having great fun at having the previously sympathetic Nina at the heart of it all, only this time as an antagonist whose motives we can’t trust anymore.
Just to reiterate how much darker the series is and how much this writers are unafraid to turn away from darker moments, the episode presents their ‘relationship’ (for lack of a better term) in increasingly complex ways. Jack ordering her to change her clothes in front of him plays in disturbing fashion, and it’s hard to know what to make of him asking her to do it. Sure enough it gives the audience a chance to see that prison is clearly not a haven for Nina, but it gives their scenes a charge that is very complex.
That doesn’t even cover Jack contemplating killing her when he gets the chance. For all Jack’s reassurances to George last week, it’s clear that killing her is not off the cards for him and it once again reminds the audience of just how much the series is plunging itself further and further into morally complex territory than it was at this stage last season.
The spectre of 9/11 and an American foreign policy that was taking the US into controversial territory is, of course, haunting every fibre of the season, and while the series’ political stance is one that is still debated to this day amongst many, it’s hard to escape the sense that the writers were unafraid to use the series to explore the increasingly dark knight of the soul that America’s government and military were about to plunge into.
24 being what it is, it’s unafraid to be simultaneously upfront about its attitudes about how the ends justify the means, but at the same time it’s also showing an ability to throw itself ever more into complex themes and ideas that will no doubt invoke a lot of debate from critics, academics, and the audiences over the actions of the characters and the work they are doing.
Even the President himself is being confronted by endarkened political realities that are going to test his resolve and the difference between right and wrong, and it says a lot about 24 that it’s not going to take sides either way and keep asking of its audience whether the characters are doing the right thing or not.