24 – 2×20: ‘3:00am-4:00am’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Written by Neil Cohen
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr
Original Air Date: April 22nd, 2003

Since his debut on the series six episodes into season one, Jude Ciccolella’s performance as Mike Novick has been one of 24’s more low-key highlights.

His dependable nature, candour and ability to talk to President Palmer in a way that the character needs, not to mention the moral support that he gives him, has been one of the subtle joys of the series. The world of 24, however, is one that is truly unforgiving, and by the end of this hour, Mike has twisted the knife into the back of his President and friend in a way that the look that Ciccolella portrays in the episode’s final scene says a million things and yet also proves to be somewhat unreadable also.

What is going on behind those eyes? Is it regret? Relief? Horror? It’s a big reason why in the days when you’d have to wait a week for new episodes of TV shows that you’d find yourself rushing to the television whenever a new 24 was on the air.

It’s only for a split second, but it’s a moment that comes at the end of an incredibly fraught and violent hour. At this rate, fans and viewers might have become numb to the onslaught of terror and loss that at this point was a famous stock in trade for how 24 sustained itself, and yet this is still a distressingly dark and brilliant hour of television.

If it isn’t Palmer trying to contend with a conspiracy that he can sense but not see, then we have to watch Lynne Kresge be taken away to hospital after sustaining what appears to be life-threatening injuries in trying to escape from the clutches of a secret service agent keeping her under arrest, under Mike’s orders no less, and then see Jack not only have to violently escape torture but also contend with watching Yusef die in front of him.

That’s a distressing enough notion, made even more so by watching the lovable Nick Offerman, the future Ron Swanson, play the type of racist thug that feels disturbingly prescient considering recent events in the US. It once again reiterates how all too plausible the way the series is dealing with the fallout of a nuclear attack.

While 24 is and, would become even more famous, for its heightened brand of storytelling, with this and President Palmer having to contend with defending a community of immigrants only two episodes ago from a racist mob, the writers of the series can still hit story beats that aren’t so farfetched.

For a character that came into the narrative quite late on and was only around for six episodes, Donnie Kershawarz made for a surprisingly effective addition to the series in a short space of time. Partnering up with Jack, one could have been easily worried that he was going to be another Islamic villain on the series, but instead was painted as a sympathetic presence, wanting to help Jack while having to contend with a brand of racism because nobody wanted, or felt the need, to trust him.

Yes, one could easily complain about the 24 writers killing him off to further Jack’s story, but then this is 24 we’re talking about and if you’re leaving the series for good then chances are you’re doing so feet first in a body bag. Or in this case, lying dead in a phone booth with a mournful Jack Bauer pleading for forgiveness. Interestingly and poignantly, Jack’s apologies cannot help but recall his distressing words to Teri at the end of season one.

It’s a breathtakingly grim hour of television if there ever was one, but breathtaking in a suspenseful way. There are four episodes left at this stage and one wonders where in the hell this is going to go next.

Well, slowing down the pace for a well-honed bottle episode of sorts that functions as a Shakespearean political thriller is the way and, amazingly, it’s brilliant.

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