Written by Joel Surnow & Michael Loceff
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: October 28th 2003
The passage of time is intriguing to think about in relation to 24. While a season of the series is long (especially in comparison to the current era of television where ten episodes a season is considered a lot to some audience members), in the grand scheme of things we’re only ever seeing a portion of the lives of the show’s core cast of characters.
This might be the third season, but we’ve only spent two days with Jack Bauer, and where season two took place eighteen months later, the third season opens with a recap of last season’s shocker of a cliff-hanger before plunging us ahead in time with a caption that reads ‘Three Years Later’.
We’ve barely time to register where we are with the 24 universe before the series drops us into a ferocious sequence depicting LA lunchtime traffic, a white van speeding around lanes of cars with a dead body which the occupants then proceed to drop off in explosive fashion at Health Services.
The first glimpses of our favourite characters emphasises the element of change and the passage of time. So much has happened that we haven’t seen; Jack is wearing a suit, has a new partner and has recently come off an undercover operation that has left him even more bitter and angry than we’ve seen him before; Tony and Michelle have gotten married (a lovely and subtle piece of direction from Jon Cassar here as he zooms in on their wedding bands during a somewhat mundane workplace conversation) and are in a very adorable phase of their relationship which, since this is 24, probably won’t last long.
Then there’s Palmer. He’s back on his feet, running for re-election, prepping for a televised debate and is in a new relationship but has the remnants of his attack still reverberating, while his new Chief of Staff is his brother Wayne (DB Woodside).
For the first act of the episode, it takes some time to acclimatise to all of this. As part of the course for a season premiere of 24, this is slow by the standards of the rest of the series and yet runs faster than most other television shows. It entertainingly catches us up with everyone and what has happened in their lives between seasons but makes us work a little harder given the bigger time jump here than there was when season two started.
For some this might prove a bit much, but there is a lot of very lovely ‘show, don’t tell’ moments; Kim is now employed at CTU, but before you can claim nepotism, as new character Adam (a pre-Heroes Zachary Quinto) suggests, she shows herself to be more than capable and deserving of being there, while Jack has a new partner in the shape of Chase Edmunds (James Badge Dale) and one already has a sense of a nervy but respectful partnership.
It’s also during the initial CTU scenes where we say hello to Mary Lynn Rajskub as Chloe O’Brien who makes an instant impression here with a brazen attitude that has no concept of social interaction, although, given the tentative and brilliantly written friendship that is about to develop and become a cornerstone of the series, it’s a little distressing to watch Jack yell at her during one of his many angry moments in the episode, although she quickly brushes it aside in a way that we’d all come to love.
What’s quite brave here is how the episode takes its two stalwart main characters, Jack and Palmer, and bravely compromises them in the way they do. Palmer is seen at one point as being not sure on his feet, although he manages to do well at his debate prep despite that. Jack meanwhile has a deadly new issue to deal with.
All episode we watch as he sweats, shakes and loses his cool, the implications from newly arrived and incarcerated villain Ramon Salazar (played with enjoyable relish by Joaquim De Almeida who some might recognise from Jack Ryan blockbuster Clear and Present Danger) meaning that you might already be able to tell why Jack is the way he is, but that doesn’t mean the eventual reveal as we watch him about to shoot heroin in the episode’s final scene loses any power. If anything, one watches it hoping against hope that won’t be the case, but the revelation has an inevitability to it that borders on tragedy.
The final scream of anguish that Jack unleashes is a characteristically powerful 24 moment, and once again reminds the audience that this isn’t some comfy cheesy action drama where everything goes back to being normal. The final moments of the season two finale ended with Jack and Kim reunited, Jack himself in contentment for what felt like the first time in a while.
In the three years that have passed in the 24 world, three years that we haven’t seen, we can already sense the turmoil and darkness that has enveloped and consumed him indicating once again just how much of a burden the character carries. The final batch of episodes last season hinted at new possibilities with Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter), but her brief appearance here carries with it the stench of a quietly hurtful break-up.
Even more distressingly, the heroin revelation shows just how far Jack is willing to go for his work, while later hints in future episodes will indicate he may never have had to go that far in the first place. It’s another brilliant complex piece in the puzzle that is Jack Bauer.