Written by Gil Grant
Directed by Frederick K. Keller
Original Air Date: 4th February, 2003
Okay, let’s talk about Kim Bauer, shall we? I have barely mentioned her role in season two because, let’s face it, it’s not the best part of the season and we’re now about to hit perhaps one of the most notorious scenes of the entire series, something that perhaps ranks alongside Teri Bauer’s amnesia in season one as something of a low point for the series as a whole.
It’s easy to see the problems that many have with the character in season two. She has effectively become a sub-plot character of sorts, filler if you will. Kim’s ability to keep getting into the kind of trouble that she does in some respects feels like a weird form of gallows humour, a comedic sub-plot that keeps mounting itself on top of ‘what can possibly go wrong?’ scenarios, except it’s not meant to be funny.
24 is not a comedy series and while it will feature moments of levity either through a witty line of dialogue or, as we shall see from season three onwards, the inclusion of Mary Lynn Rajskub’s iconic Chloe O’ Brien, you get the impression that Kim’s frequent ability to either get kidnapped, arrested or thrown into some sort of nonsensical scrape, would be in any other show hilarious, but it’s really not meant to be, and then a cougar shows up for some reason.
It’s easy to knock the scene; it’s another piece of drama in a running plot line that cannot help but keep doubling down on the ridiculousness and stupidity. For the first third of the season, Kim’s plot just about kept its head above water, and having both herself and Megan on their way to CTU just as it was about to be attacked mounted some very impressive suspense.
Even when she got arrested with her kickboxing boyfriend Miguel (and the moment he goes all Jean Claude-Van Damme on Billy Matheson is perhaps the moment when you realise how far into the realm of silliness her role in the season was going to go), the series delivered a nicely calibrated piece of twist laden suspense by keeping her off screen for the majority of the following episode before revealing the grisly body of Carla in the trunk for its effective cliffhanger.
Those moments of brilliance have been few and far between, what with the kickboxing, getting arrested, setting fire to a police cruiser, and now being harassed by a cougar in the mountains all the while Sean Callery does his best John Williams-composing-Jaws impression to mount up the tension.
The scene is so random and goes nowhere. Basically, Kim has a staring contest with the animal before it wonders off to who knows where. It’s easy to see why it gets made fun off, but to put things into perspective it’s also not necessarily the stupidest thing the writers will do with the character. As we’ll see, she’s about to walk into two further contrived pieces of drama that will once again stretch credibility to breaking point and leave the eyes rolling at just how silly her role in the series is.
To clarify matters, this is not Elisha Cuthbert’s fault. Like Morgan Saylor in Howard Gordon’s 24 follow-up Homeland, Cuthbert seems to get the wrath of the fandom for the weaknesses of her storylines, but that comes down to the writing and less to do with the performance. Cuthbert is actually great in the role, acts the hell out of it and thankfully would get the chance to show off her comedic chops later on in the sadly cancelled before its time Happy Endings which actually gave her legitimate comedy to play off against an equally gifted ensemble.
Admittedly, there is a pay-off of sorts to the Kim story in the twenty-second episode of the season and with it one of the very best scenes of the series, a moment of genuinely nail-biting suspense portrayed to perfection by Cuthbert, Sutherland and Billy Burke and which at least makes some of her story worthwhile.
I guess in some respects it’s easy to use the appearance of the cougar as a way to point out the inherent weakness of this part of the season, but then again was this descent into increasing silliness and contrived twists really a surprise? This type of thing was set in stone during the latter stages of season one as Kim found herself wondering into a drug bust and then getting kidnapped for the second time in the span of a single twenty-four hours.
It gives the impression of a writers’ room that clearly likes a part of the show’s ensemble but doesn’t know what to do with her. If her plot was part of the surrounding tissue of the season that mightn’t have been a problem; I remember the first time I watched the season two premiere thinking that the gift that Carla was wrapping meant that there was going to be some sort of link to the Warner wedding but in the end that turned out to be a red herring.
Instead, Kim finding herself blundering into an increasing series of nightmarish scenarios where she is either arrested, menaced by a cougar or, as we’ll see, kidnapped by a pre-Entourage Kevin Dillion playing a bomb shelter building, coffee obsessed libertarian (just typing this is insane, I realise) plays weirdly against plotlines of considerable scale and suspense, where the fate of millions is hanging in the balance and elements of the US government look to be playing dirty.
There is perhaps a genuinely comedic version of this plotline that could be done, a nightmarish comedy right up there with the likes of Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild or Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, but instead it increasingly takes away from some legitimately brilliant writing, acting and directing when we’re dealing with Jack’s increasingly fraught hunt for the bomb, Marie Warner becoming a fully-fledged antagonist and Palmer’s increasing awareness of the conspiracy within his ranks.
It says a lot about how much 24 is perhaps maybe still figuring itself out at this stage that while it will still make some mistakes over its nine-season run, it won’t do so as broadly as this again.