Written by Virgil Williams & Duppy Demetrius
Directed by Ian Toynton
Original Air Date: May 6th, 2003
Just as 24 is hitting the peak of one of its biggest storylines yet (you don’t get any bigger than World War III), it boils the drama down to its characters being in confined spaces with characteristically unbeatable odds against them.
David Palmer is effectively under house arrest, Tony and Michelle are having to contend with bureaucratic brick walls in the shape of Chapelle and Carrie back in CTU, while Jack is stuck with Sherry Palmer and Alex Hewitt, the hacker who created the Cyprus Audio.
There are some nicely played dramatic beats going on here, but what is most miraculous about everything is that after a season in which her storyline has been constantly criticised, Kim Bauer finally goes and does something interesting.
Never have the words “I’m picking up my stuff from the Matheson’s” felt so loaded with potential threat and sure enough, after not having been seen since earlier in the season, Gary is back and Kim has to put a bullet in him. And then another just for good measure.
It’s not something one might have expected to say just as the season is three episodes from the end, but the best moment of the hour belongs to Cuthbert. As always, there is fun to be had in watching Sherry be her manipulative best and watching Agent Pierce be placed under arrest by a vindictive Mike who still believes he is doing the right thing are all great dramatic beats for sure.
If anything, this is an hour that really finds the time to take advantage of its cast and zero in on smaller human moments that are played to perfection even if the series is in the middle of a story arc with considerable stakes. Palmer’s apology to Pierce for his arrest is a heartbreaker, made even more so by Pierce’s stoic belief he was doing the right thing. You can see why Glenn Morshower’s role in the series will increase as time goes on.
But it’s the final moments that deliver the most powerful scenes of the episode. It’s inevitable that after sitting out the last few episodes (the writers obviously realising the Kim story wasn’t the best and opted not to try and force things like they inevitably had to with Teri last season) Kim would return and sure enough, she is in danger yet again.
Yet, in contrast to that heartbreaker of a conversation back in episode 15, Kim is on the receiving end of some deadly advice from her father that may in fact bring out differing reactions from viewers as to whether or not both these characters are making the right call.
Gary is a villain and this being a thriller justice will be meted out, but in a season that has seen Jack make increasingly tough and controversial decisions (both within the series and with viewers outside watching it from the comfort of their homes), watching him tell his daughter to shoot Gary is another key example of how 24 gets so much power and drama from thorny ethical questions.
After knocking him out, Kim could very easily outrun him, but he is a danger and could pose a level of threat somewhere down the line. Knowing what he might do himself in that situation, Jack tells Kim to shoot him and it’s one of the absolute best scenes of the series even if the audience might be left in knots as to whether that advice is the best he could give.
What isn’t going to bring out debate is just how amazing Cuthbert and Sutherland are in the moment. Back in season one, Jack talked about he built a wall around himself and his work and how it was crashing down when Kim was kidnapped by Gaines. Once again, this time with the fate of the world boiling down to him, Sherry Palmer and a computer hacker in a darkly lit apartment, Jack is contending not only with large scale stakes, but also in having to protect his daughter while trying to navigate around the machinations of Sherry.
It’s another fantastic moment where the large scale machinations of the plot are distilled to smaller character beats; we can sense Jack’s rising panic at what’s happening with Kim, but also in trying not to divert too much attention away from Sherry, and with it Penny Johnson Jerald who is clearly having a ball at having her character placed front and centre of the main plot.
Jack doesn’t think twice about telling Kim to shoot Gary, but you can see a pained look on his face when he tells her do it again, while Cuthbert sells the anguished reaction of someone who has just had enough of today wants to go home.
It might have been unthinkable a number of episodes back when the cougar showed up for one of the most notorious moments of the series, but here 24 delivers one of the best moments of the entire season within one of its weakest storylines.