Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by Rodney Charters
Original Air Date: 7th January 2003
Now this is a tremendously exciting episode. Like so much about Day Two, things have gotten a lot bigger in scope and while a few episodes ago we were treated to a somewhat impressive set-piece when Jack apprehended Faheen, the series goes all out with something approaching a Hollywood blockbuster with a crashing airplane, followed by a brilliantly mounted firefight amongst the Californian countryside and shrubbery.
The series has always utilised California and LA in a brilliant way, sometimes not following the trend set by every other show set there by zeroing in on its so-called glossier atmosphere. If anything, there were times the series had more in common with Raymond Chandler, what with is emphasis on darkened alleyways and more foreboding sense of atmosphere in those earlier episodes, while at other times it’s opted to put more emphasis on the dusty, water deprived surrounding desert and countryside.
That’s the location for this episode’s massive firefight where, after several weeks of threat and hatred hanging around every scene they have shared, Jack and Nina must do the buddy cop thing of putting aside their differences if they want to survive.
Of course, it’s not a humorous buddy cop thing. In fact, this is perhaps the most suspenseful the season has been since it decided to blow up CTU in the third episode, so it’s no surprise then that this episode shares the writer of that instalment, the great Howard Gordon who was clearly a major contributor to the show at this stage and was becoming just as important to making the series tick as creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran were, not to mention directors such as Stephen Hopkins and Jon Cassar.
There is considerable pace and incident here and it sees the series firing on all cylinders, but it’s also an episode that features a stomach-churning torture sequence that reiterates just how much the series has become increasingly unafraid to pile on the darkness.
The previous episode ended with a flurry of cliff-hangers involving Jack and Nina in a crashing airplane, Palmer being confronted with treachery within his ranks and Kate Warner and her private detective friend being abducted. While Kim’s antics have become sillier (and I realise I haven’t talked about her enough but let’s wait until we get to the most notorious moment of the season), the storyline involving the Warner clan initially felt like filler but has become an increasingly entertaining one given that it’s playing a game of ‘who’s the terrorist’ that Kate inadvertently began and who is now having to watch her private detective friend pay the grisly price for.
24 has frequently shown itself to be unafraid of violence; this is after all an action thriller with a considerable body count, but beginning the second season with a torture sequence was a statement of intent that this was not going to play easy when it came to plunging its narrative into the world of geo-politics and terrorism.
So far, torture has been doled out by either proxies used by the US military (they were sitting in the next room while letting South Korea do it, which I don’t know what that says about American/ South Korean relations) and here it’s the villains themselves doling it out. We got a hint last season that Jack was unafraid to use it himself, or at least use the threat of it when trying to gain information, but we’ll have to wait a few more weeks before we see this side of Jack laid bare in darkly horrifying circumstances.
The 2000s was a decade where torture seemingly became less of a taboo, with horror films such as Saw and Hostel basically inventing the genre of ‘torture porn’ and various other movies and television shows unafraid to show it in more graphic detail than previously seen. That the US government itself got caught up in controversy regarding what was going on in Guantanamo Bay (which will be namechecked in a few weeks as well) says a lot about how much the subject came more to forefront of our concerns, and as shocking as Paul Koplin’s death is, it reiterates that the series isn’t afraid to shy away from the subject, or even the horrors that can be inflicted on the human body.
That it’s Syed Ali and his colleague doling out the torture in a graphic sequence involving a naked Koplin and a sanding drill doing all sorts of horrible things to him is as distressing a moment the series has given the audience so far, made even more so by Sarah Wynter’s powerfully unhinged performance as someone confronted with incredible levels of violence, her character being dragged into a world a million miles away from the comfy, privileged one she is used to.
It’s an unforgettable moment in an episode filled with much anger and resentment, culminating with Jack being held hostage by Nina who wants a pre-emptive pardon for killing him. It’s another superb cliff-hanger in a season that has been throwing them around with brilliant abandon, but it comes just as the series is about to embrace an ‘ends justifying the means’ attitude and bake it very much into the show’s concept and with it the beginning of 24’s status as not only one of television’s biggest shows, but also one of the most controversial dramas of its era.