Teleplay by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Story by Robert Cochran & Howard Gordon
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: May 20th 2003
One of the best elements to emerge from the last few episodes of 24’s second season was undoubtedly the decision to put Jack Bauer into a tense alliance of sorts with Sherry Palmer. Only sharing a brief moment in the penultimate episode of season one in which Sherry showed herself as being more than willing to sacrifice Kim Bauer for the sake of her husband’s political career (and I wonder if Jack ever discovered she was the leak behind that piece of information to the press), there is a brilliantly entertaining alchemy of sorts that the last three episodes of this season have contained in putting the two characters together for large chunks of screen time.
There is nervy suspenseful chemistry to Sutherland and Jerald’s scenes, an odd couple pairing from two completely different environments but who now find the fate of the world in their hands. The difference is that we know Jack is willing to go all the way to ensure that order is restored. Sherry on the other hand is a different story, but in the end, any potential differences are put aside quickly as the two make their way to their eventual destiny at the LA Coliseum.
All throughout its second season, 24 expanded the remit of what it could do. The first season sometimes feels as if it gets forgotten about but it’s honestly one of the greatest seasons of television ever made. The second however is the one that laid the groundwork for so much of what it would be going forward, from Sutherland’s intense and driven performance as Jack Bauer, to the moral and ethical conundrums that would become part and parcel of the series along with its trademark use of action and suspense.
The intermingling of political and action thriller was given their purest workout over the last third of the season, and while the first season, as great as it was, ran into some issues in the second half in order to keep the story going, the second has mostly been a more cleanly structured one that has led beautifully to this.
There is admittedly no big shock here in the manner of the season one finale. Hell, if we’re honest this isn’t perhaps as truly great an episode as the finale from the first year that was more akin to the final descent of a rollercoaster that never stopped. Surnow, Loceff, Cochran and Gordon perhaps know they can’t top that finale, and to do so would be to go completely off the rails given that the previous twenty-three episodes leading up to this have seen the series grow and expand. This is the last stretch of the story, so inevitably guns are fired, blood is shed and to top it all off we get a fantastic fight sequence that adds to the show’s growing arsenal of action beats to build upon going forward.
There is, surprisingly, more hope and optimism here than in the season one finale. Death stalked every corner there, but here we get Jack saving the day, reuniting with Kim, Sherry making the right decisions, Palmer getting the Presidency back and the possibility of a new beginning for Tony and Michelle. Last season ended with heartbreak for Tony, whereas this season ends with hope and love. Contrast that look of hurt when we last saw him in season one to his gentle smile when he tells Michelle he’ll see her tomorrow, and how great of an addition to the season was Reiko Aylesworth who will thankfully come back for season three.
Then there is the impressively staged LA Coliseum shoot-out; filmed to perfection by Cassar, energetically scored by Sean Callery (the piece he put together here is one of the highlights of the first volume of the soundtrack album) and the morning sunshine being a great counterpart to the first season’s dark night of the soul 11pm setting, not even the plot hole over how Kingsley didn’t spot that helicopter coming can spoil it.
If there is anything to nit-pick it is perhaps the decision to section the season with its villains meaning that the second day has the feeling of not having a main villain of sorts. Sure, there is Max played by Thomas Kretschmann, but he feels like just another cog in the machine and not the end goal. That might not have been a problem if this was genuinely setting something up for stories down the road, but I’ll discuss that more when we get to the season premiere of Day Three and 24: The Game.
Kingsley himself is fine and Tobin Bell is fantastic, but I just wish he’d been around more to have the impact necessary, but the most nefarious villains of the season have been closer to home; Marie Warner, who comes back here for a chilling final warning that encapsulates the philosophy of the series (and which is a lovely reminder of how brilliant Laura Harris was in the first fourteen episodes of the season), and the inner working of Washington who appeared to have it in for Palmer have perhaps been the more recurrent menaces of the season’s story arc than anyone or anything else.
The episode gains a touch of West Wing-style optimism when the President opts not to remove those who turned against him, but the same cannot be said of Mike. Jude Ciccolella is wonderful as the Chief of Staff, but Palmer almost speaks for the audience when he decides that this is a betrayal that cannot be overlooked given that it came from someone who hurt him the most. Haysbert and Ciccoella are wonderful in the moment-Haysbert conveying in dignified terms how much he feels disappointed, Ciccollela allowing a lone tear to escape his eye. It’s a lovely scene, a quiet piece of drama amongst the huge scale of threatening war, characteristically nervy tension and perhaps the best deployment of split-screen in the series to date when Jack and Sherry try and get Kingsley to confess.
All appears to be wine and roses, but this is 24 and it is, as we’ve seen before, a very unforgiving world. Just when we think all is right and safe, a face from the past appears again and Palmer is left at death’s door. It’s a fantastic cliffhanger, in a series full of them and the final shot, a breaking of the series’ usual rule on not having crane shots and keeping everything on eye level is perhaps an eye-level shot if one reads into it in a more spiritual way. What is that final shot of the season if not Palmer looking down at himself on death’s door?
The final clock of the season is played over Palmer’s breathing and potential final heartbeat and reminds us once again that in this series nobody is ever safe.