24 -2×17: ’12:00am-1:00am’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Evan Katz & Gil Grant
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: 1st April 2003

The seventeenth hour of the season begins in a rush and has no interest in slowing down. Like the previous episode, there is still a transitionary feeling going on here, but unlike season one when it was moving from the Ira Gaines episodes to a revenge story dominated by the motives of the Drazen family, there is a more natural feel to season two switching gears. Better yet, the scale and scope of the story is becoming increasingly grander.

If the potential destruction of Los Angeles was an upscale in scope compared to the revenge thriller of season one, then the second season itself has gone and broadened its horizons again as it enters the last third of its run. The air of suspense and potential devastation is tangible, even if at this stage of the story so much of it is boiling down to characters in rooms arguing about the events as much as anything.

Thankfully, the writing is proving so engaging that it would be churlish to complain.  Where the equivalent change over from one story arc to another in the first season felt a little awkward, and subsequently took the first day took a few episodes to get back to its groove, there is a pleasing feeling here that the writers have a clear grasp on what they are doing, even if they themselves would say that they were still flying by the seats of their pants when it came to crafting the story.

What’s most pleasing here is the sense of structure to the season. Fifteen episodes centred around a massive hunt through California for a nuclear weapon, itself already a story with scope and scale, is now turning into something that, in the words of Jack, is turning into something that could affect the whole world.

The cliffhanger at the end of this one hints at bigger action to come, and the next episode is perhaps the most sustained action sequence-filled episode of the season, lurching from gunfight to gunfight in an entertaining manner. What is especially potent here, and will remain so throughout this stage of the season, is the political aspects that the series is grappling with.

24 and politics go hand in hand, and sometimes controversially so given that many critics and commentators have always tried to discern what side of the political aisle the series sits on (the answer is more complex than most hardened critics of the series might care to admit). After spending time with Palmer pretty much in a hotel suite for nearly all of last season, there is a quietly gleeful joy that we’re now spending time with the character in slick operations such as the OC, Air Force One (the same standing set as used on The West Wing) and now Division, intermingling with the highest office in the land.

Once again, the character is finding himself navigating tricksy ethical waters, this time not from a conspiracy that begins at home but one that is going to have global repercussions. You can already feel the walls closing in, and since this is 24, they are walls revolving around not only Palmer but Jack as well who finds himself potentially sacrificing Kate Warner for the greater good.

We’ve witnessed all season a Jack Bauer who is willing to do anything it takes to ensure the safety of lives, and while we’ve watched Jack become friends with Kate over the last batch of episodes, there is something powerfully cold in watching him take only a few seconds to decide to make the sacrifice move here. The look of quiet horror on Kate’s face may very well speak for everyone watching as she realises that her life is worth nothing for Jack if it means doing the right thing in the long run.

On top of moving away from the character-driven thriller stylings of season one into a grander political epic with Air Force One scenes and conversations with the Joint Chiefs, the series is also turning into one with moral and ethical conundrums that are not only giving the characters pause for thought but will evoke many a conversation with the audience. It’s something that 24 will run with for every season after this, and your opinion may vary on what those answers might be.

Even if it is Jack Bauer making the call with some of these decisions, the show isn’t fully taking a side one way or another in choosing what is right or wrong for the audience. One may feel very upset at watching Jack giving up the life of someone he has become friends with over the season to save lives, but then that’s becoming the other powerful thing at the heart of 24; there is nothing but bad decisions to be made here. He and Yusef may have planted a tracker on Kate to ensure her potential survival, but that stone-cold look on Jack’s face before all hell breaks loose suggests that he knows that he may very well be sending Kate to her death.

Palmer, on the other hand, is facing the early stages of insurrection from his own administration, not only from his Vice President (and hello to the legendary Alan Dale from iconic Australian soap opera Neighbours) but an early hint that the trusted friendship between himself and his Chief of Staff Mike might on the cusp of being affected by the President’s more caustic approach to taking the country to war.

It’s tremendously exciting stuff, leaving your stomach in knots at the increasingly suspenseful stakes here, but also leaving you unable to look away from the high stakes everyone is finding themselves in the centre of.

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