24 – 2×21 : ‘4:00am-5:00am’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Written by Robert Cochran & Howard Gordon
Directed by Ian Toynton
Original Air Date: April 29th, 2003

Given how intense the last few episodes have been, it might be easy to write this hour off as a disappointing one given that it slows the pace down a little to focus on political games with Palmer and his administration. However, that would be to write off a quietly pulsating political thriller that locks the majority of the cast this hour in two rooms and turns into something approaching a play.

It might be too far to describe this as a bottle episode, but there is a contained air to proceedings that gives it a feeling of the walls closing in fast on our President as he faces insurrection from within his ranks.

It’s a brilliant episode, showing that 24 can do drama that is contained in a smaller way, even when doing so amongst an ongoing plotline involving massive, global shaking stakes. President Palmer potentially losing his position is another indication of just how more expansive 24 has gotten this season.

The hotel rooms he wandered around in season one and where his own brand of personal conspiracy drama unfolded have since given way to the more elaborate production design of the OC, Division and The White House. The latter is one half of the setting for the ‘Trial of David Palmer’ sequence, the episode utilising its split-screen editing to superb effect as it allows both Palmer and a silently squirming Mike to share the screen with Vice President Prescott (Alan Dale) and the rest of the administration even though they are miles apart.

There is a superbly intense power play going on. Mike must contend with being in the room with a friend and President as he effectively betrays him, and while he tries to convince Palmer to give the word to launch the bombers so the trial will go away, a slip of the tongue from the Chief of Staff effectively leads Palmer to subtly tell him who really is in charge.

It’s all fantastically played drama, and the writing from Gordon and Cochran is magnificent.

The episode brings back past faces such as Ron Wieland who the President had sequestered earlier in the season (and which feels like so long ago at this stage) and Roger Stanton, all of whom are used by Prescott to destroy the President’s image in a way that will have devoted viewers of the series screaming at their television in joyfully suspenseful frustration.

Palmer is as Presidential as ever (and I adore Haysbert’s delivery of the ‘is my voice shaking?’ speech), but really Prescott and the administration are eager for war and will use the 25th Amendment to change it.

The moment when Palmer exclaims that he will not go to war based on false information is incredibly powerful. The pretext for war in Iraq which President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair waged was one very much made a case for by false information, and for any British viewers watching this now, Palmer’s declaration for not wanting to use false information (the Cypress Recording is a fake after all) feels all the more powerful given that the UK government ‘sexed up’ so-called evidence of Iraq’s WMD programmed to convince everyone of their case.

It gives the episode, and the whole Cyprus Recording plotline, a powerful jolt and which made watching the series back in 2003 a disconcerting experience; you’d watch our heroes in 24 try and stop a manipulated war while the news was outlining the US and UK governments effectively going to war using methods similar not to our heroes but the villains of the piece.

Just to make it all the more defeating, but powerful and more than enough to ensure that we’d be coming back for more with the following episode, Palmer loses his case and is taken away to be sequestered by Agent Pierce no less, an image all the more deflating given what the series will do in future seasons with Glenn Morshower’s character.

It sets things up for what should be an intriguing playing field for its final three episodes, made even more exciting by the return of Sherry Palmer right at the very end.  

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