Written by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: 25th February 2003
‘It could go off at any second’ Jack is told upon the eventual discovery of the nuclear bomb at the end of this episode. It gives proceedings an intense charge going into the next episode, which will amount to one of the very best episodes of 24’s run. Until then, we’re treated to a lot of moving parts this hour; some of it characteristically intense, others proving surprisingly emotional.
The latter comes from watching George leave CTU for the last time, a moment brilliantly played by Xander Berkley, Carlos Bernard and Reiko Aylesworth and which is beautifully directed by Jon Cassar who stages George and Tony’s final conversation in a similar manner to earlier in the season when George left CTU for his moment of destiny on the way to Bakersfield.
It’s a lovely reminder of just how much of an emotional journey that Mason has been on this season, and while his exit from CTU is marked by a silent clock, there is still one chapter in his journey to come. For all the intensity going on around it, the scene is a lovely moment where the series slows down just a little and lets a tremendous amount of heart into the story. It’s been hinted at all season, from his life advice to Michelle, as well as his final conversation with his son, but here we get not only a lovely slice of foreshadowing at what to expect from the emotional epic we’re about to get with the next episode, it also functions as a passing of the CTU baton from George to Tony.
After giving Jack a hard time in the earlier stages of season one, there’s something nicely ironic that Tony is now the one in charge of CTU. It also indicates just how much 24, for all its bombast, suspense and ticking time bomb scenarios, is a series unafraid of character growth. Compare Tony and George to where they were at the very beginning of 24’s run and we’re being treated to characters who are clearly three dimensional and being crafted by writers unafraid of change and character development.
Away from CTU, the bulk of this hour is devoted to Jack once again in interrogation mode, this time finally catching up to Marie Warner in her attempts to set the bomb off.
Where Jack’s interrogation of Syed Ali was a full-on brutal assault on the senses, there is something more subtle going on when he finally catches up to Marie.
The entire episode is bristling with characteristic suspense, a feeling that the season is reaching a form of a crescendo before moving on to further chaos. The hunt for the bomb has been a driving part of the season, and by the end of the episode Jack has finally caught up to a device that has threatened so much in the way of life.
After playing games with the audience and the characters over the story going on in the Warner household at the start of the season, it seems just right that the hunt for the bomb narrative comes to a head in a psychologically intense conversation between Jack, Marie, and Kate.
For all Jack’s seeming bluster two episodes ago and the view that 24 was a series famous for its intense interrogation sequences, it’s easy to forget that Jack Bauer knows how to use psychology just as potently. Psychological torture is every bit as unethical as physical coercion, and the mind games that he used against Syed Ali during ‘7:00pm-8:00pm’ was meant to tie one up in knots. His approach to Marie involves applying pressure to a bullet wound in her arm, but equally so, the use of a pain killer and having Kate swap places with him during moments when Marie is pain-free makes for quietly enthralling viewing.
It’s a gentle reveal that while Jack knows how to inflict pain, he also knows how to be darkly artful when it comes to interrogating suspects. Just as Marie’s pain killer wears off, he removes Kate from the conversation and places himself back into Marie’s line of sight, speaking gently in that manner that Sutherland does so well, but which is facilitating a conversation about nuclear devices that will cause massive amounts of damage and loss of life.
For all the conversations about a Middle Eastern terrorist threat all season, the final stretch of the bomb hunt comes down to a threat that is squarely situated in the middle of upper-class white America. Guns have been pointed dramatically all season, bodies have been torn apart and things have blown up spectacularly, and yet when it comes down to the crunch, the final revelation is doled out by a blonde-haired woman in a dark wig who has taken a hatred against her own country.
In many ways, it’s a foreshadowing of the next step of the season’s story arc ladder. The deadliest threat of all this season is not coming from outside the borders of the US, but within it, and while there are external forces of sorts causing the chaos, the biggest danger may very well be from within the infrastructure of the US itself.
Before we get to that, however, we have one of 24’s greatest ever episodes on the way, one that will swap bloodshed and gunfire for heart and emotion. There will be tears.