Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr
April 15th, 2003
If the image of Jack Bauer being kicked and beaten by Andre Drazen last season proved upsetting, then season two’s nineteenth hour might be an even more trying experience for some fans given that the bulk of the duration of this episode is devoted to Jack being tortured.
There is a weird symmetry to the image given that we’ve watched Jack himself use torture to achieve his goals, but just to prove how dastardly the conspiracy is behind the day’s events, their method of torture goes beyond merely dispensing a beating or using psychological methods.
It’s a brutal hour of the series with no let-up in sight, and where hope is in short supply. Not only is Jack having to contend with his body being cut, electrocuted and sliced open (it’s the most graphic the series has ever gotten, and perhaps the most graphic any television series has treated its lead character), but everyone that the series wants us to cheer on are facing insurmountable odds.
There is conspiracy and metaphorical brick walls to be found at every corner. If it’s not Jack finally getting a chance to speak over the phone and interact directly with the group behind manipulating the US on to a war footing, then it’s Palmer having to contend with increasing insurrection within his own ranks and where even the stalwart support of Mike has twisted into treachery.
Even Michelle and Tony’s first kiss, something that’s been building between them all season, is offset by the prospect that Carrie is a thorn in their side that is set to make life difficult.
The reveal that Second Wave has been part of a larger plot put in play by representatives of high-end oil interests plays into something resembling a left-leaning criticism of George W. Bush and the decision to launch military action against Iraq in light of increasing criticism by the rest of the world.
High-end oil representatives conspiring to cause a third world war is more akin to a left-wing conspiracy theory, and it’s this idea that 24 runs with as it enters the final part of its second season story arc and reveals the true culprits behind the majority of the day’s events. It also indicates just how malleable the politics of 24 are. While its use of torture is somewhat regarded as a right-wing aesthetic, the anti-war feeling of this part of the plot, especially its criticism of war being used as a means to gain oil, feels like a pointed critique of the foreign policy that was driving so much of the decision making process of the Bush/Cheney administration.
We’re not given too much information about the conspiracy at this stage, but given that they are represented by Peter Kingsley (future Saw villain Tobin Bell) who we see in a helicopter flying through the skies of Downtown LA and can seemingly pay Jack bribery money to look away says a lot about how financially affluent this band of villains are.
If there is anything to really complain about with this season of the series, as entertaining as it has been, it really has opted to go more for a set of villains that have defined each section of the season more overtly than last year. The reveals of the Drazen family ended up making them the key architects of the events of Day 1, where Kingsley and the people he works for (there is another reveal just around the corner) feel like just another cog in the chain of where the writers are taking us.
That’s not to say this is a bad thing. If anything, it perhaps allowed the season to feel more cleanly structured than the first, but it also gives the sense that everything just comes down to arcs more than anything else. It’s a minor complaint because this is 24 on an incredibly intense and frightening footing.
By the end of the hour, there is an epic sense of unbeatable odds coming into play that is making this stage of the season even more stomach-churning than when Jack was searching for the nuclear weapon throughout the first fifteen episodes, and that’s really saying something.