24 – 2×18: ‘1:00am-2:00am’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: 8th April 2003

‘1:00am-2:00am’ picks up immediately from its predecessor and stays in a perpetual state of chaos and panic for the remainder of the hour with no promise of the series letting up on the suspense any time soon. Ricocheting gunfire that brought the previous episode to its cliffhanging end reverberate here, and it honestly doesn’t feel like the episode is going to let up for a second at this rate.

It goes without saying that Jack, Kate and Yusef’s adventures with Wallace are a driving force of so much of the plot. However, what could have amounted to a filler plotline involving Palmer dealing with civil unrest brought about by the nuclear bomb detonation sees the series firing on all cylinders away from the more action heavier component of the series.

Sadly, it’s an all too plausible plot development amongst the sea of high action and threats of a third World War that is driving so much of the narrative at this stage.

While the episode doesn’t deal with the potential insurrection that Palmer is facing by those around him (don’t get too comfortable, because it will be back in force with the next episode), it does place the character as someone having to face an all too real social threat and it’s here that once again audience members who pay close attention to 24 and politics might be asking themselves what side of the political aisle, if any, is 24 on?

The script this hour is credited to Joel Surnow and Michael Loceff, and while the former is known for holding conservative views, this is perhaps an episode of the series that feels more left-leaning than ever. In fact, if one wanted to make an argument for it, the series feels like it’s playing as something resembling a left-wing conspiracy thriller and will continue to do so for the remainder of the season.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, and I want to hold off on talking about the reveal of the plot behind everything when we get to it in the next episode, but not only is the series dealing with the threat of a war brought on by potentially falsified evidence in a manner that felt like a criticism over what was going on beyond the television screen at the time, but here it’s showing a President clamping down against what amounts to vehement right-wing hatred against a marginalised community.

Television series that deal with Islamic Terrorism in the manner that 24 does will invite criticism, and sometimes that criticism is understandable, especially when the only representation being offered is the one thing. 24 would face it more directly with seasons four and six (four especially) while Howard Gordon and future 24 contributor Alex Gansa would frequently face criticisms for their work on their own television creation Homeland in later years.

As noted in one of my previous reviews, there is perhaps more of a direct conversation going in in this season with these themes, and while the first fifteen episodes of the season offered up antagonists from the Middle East, it did so in a way that the series was conversing with, while also subverting some storytelling notions such as with Reza and Marie.

The death of Wallace (Gregg Henry) and the discovery of evidence proving the Cyprus Recording was forged will only bring a new set of problems for Jack going forward.

So many television series during the period were trying to grapple with the events of 9/11, some directly, some not so much. One of the strangest things about the New York-set Friends, for instance, was how the world of its iconic six characters appeared to be unaffected by the events of that day. The Twin Towers disappeared from its iconic credit sequence, but there was no mention whatsoever of the day’s horrifying events. The Sopranos also opted to remove images of the Twin Towers from its credit sequence, while Ally McBeal had its characters making passing references to how the world was in a post 9/11 era.

While 24 is very much set in a fictional universe with its own fictional political leaders, it’s also offering up a seeming alternative to what was going on in the real world while seemingly referring back to it. George W. Bush pushed on with talks of ‘Axis of Evil’ and dialogues that basically made it feel like he was portraying himself as a cowboy out to rid the world of ‘evil terrorists’ as if they were the bad guys in a Tom Clancy novel and he was the lead character.

On the other hand, 24 is presenting a President who wants to methodically react to events in the right way, and who is aware that things moving too fast might lead to an error in judgment. The series isn’t being critical of such a political leader, and even Jack, who has maintained a ‘shoot first, ask questions later mentality is also playing against the odds in trying to gain evidence that will stop such a conflict.

On the home front, Palmer is faced with deploying the National Guard to protect a Muslim community that is facing hatred and violence. The scenes are played from the President’s base of operations, and the most far-fetched part of the plot is how the information being relayed by Fox News is done in a way that isn’t trying to make the situation worse.

While the episode offers an abundance of action that is thrillingly staged by Jon Cassar throughout the episode, it’s Dennis Haysbert that is the heart and soul of the hour. His reaction upon hearing the news that a young boy from the community he has been trying to protect has died is one of the most powerful of the season.

For a series that would become more famous for its violent interrogation sequences and seeming endorsement of torture, its most powerful component at this stage is not only in offering an intelligent President that wants to do things the right way and protect those who are facing hatred for actions they have nothing to do with but also in wanting to avoid global conflict when none is needed.

It makes 24 a brilliantly more complex series than it perhaps is given credit for amongst the action and violence. For a series famous for the latter, it really says something that at this stage it’s centred on characters fighting to avoid it, albeit with copious amounts of gunfire admittedly.

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