24 – 2×16: ’11:00pm-12:00am’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Howard Gordon & Evan Katz
Directed by Ian Toynton
Original Air Date: 25th March 2003

There is a transitional nature to this episode that puts one in mind of ‘1:00pm-2:00pm’ from the first season. Having brought a major story arc to an end, 24 finds itself moving on to something new. Unlike season one, however, where the writers were clearly struggling a little to find a new direction (of which they’ve been honest about in the past), you get the feeling that everyone knows exactly what they are doing and where they are going this time.

The nuclear bomb blast of the previous episode reverberates throughout this hour. There is no cause for celebration, no time to mourn George and to be relieved that the bomb went off without loss of life (although I sometimes wonder about any poor late-night hikers or campers who might have happened to be in the vulnerable parts of the desert).

The country is now on a war footing and it’s here that the second season becomes an even more epic beast and one that was weirdly set to run parallel with real-world events. For all the talk of 24 being a right-wing or conservative series, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the writers’ room of the series was somewhat more evenly split in terms of political lines, and while some might accuse the series of being supportive of torture, the last nine episodes of the season are going to be having its characters running against a plot that the Bush Administration was in favour of in real-life.

With events set in motion last week by the discovery of the Cyprus Recording and the reveal that three Middle Eastern countries conspired to place the bomb in Syed Ali’s hands, the audience is already on tenterhooks by how convenient such a discovery is. We get a return appearance from Syed Ali who is being shipped to Guantanamo, referred to in a line of dialogue that plays chillingly now given that at the time the dark revelations that came from that place had yet to be revealed.

The geopolitical nature that 24 has danced around comes more to the fore here in a way that it hadn’t previously. After spending several weeks with President Palmer at the OC, the character is situated on Air Force One meeting with the Joint Chiefs. It’s another reminder of the more epic nature of the series compared to last season when we watched Palmer in his hotel room dealing with a conspiracy that stemmed from his very own house. Now he must deal with a surrounding government baying for blood, where even Mike is telling him he needs to take divisive action, not necessarily for the right reasons, just because the country demands it.

We are treated to just how intelligent a President we have here. Yes, we’ve watched Palmer make decisions earlier in the season that might have compromised some of his ideals (and they will come back to bite him back in one of the best episodes of the season later on), but with the potential of a third World War in front of him, he wants to take the time to make the right choices instead of plunging straight into action just to satisfy any sense of bloodlust.

This stretch of the season’s story arc might only be beginning fully here, but it already feels stomach churningly intense. A nuclear bomb threat was already an upping of the ante compared to the first season, but this already shows a clear willingness of 24 to go even bigger. What makes it work is that none of it is preposterous. Ten years prior, it might have been, but it was playing in a story telling field that was not only being inspired by real events, but given that the Bush administration at the time was trying to make a case to go to war in Iraq, and was going to do so anyway without the blessing of the UN or its allies (apart from the UK who were led by a Prime Minister that would have said yes to anything), it played as a ‘ripping from the headlines’ narrative.

It’s a brilliant resetting of the season, and best of all, it cannot help but leave your stomach in suspenseful knots at the possibilities of where it might go next.

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