24 – 3×03 : ‘3:00pm-4:00pm’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by Ian Toynton
Original Air Date: November 11th 2003

There’s always a pleasingly intense sense of escalation when it comes to the third episode of a season of 24. Day One featured Kim and Janet’s intense and sometimes disturbing journey into the darker corners of two-in-the-morning LA, while last season only went and bombed CTU under fraught circumstances during its third hour.

3:00pm-4:00pm doesn’t quite go as hard when it comes to a big shock in the manner of the equivalent episode from last season, but the final moments here will still have your jaw on the floor, coming as it does just when Howard Gordon’s script escalates the suspense to unbearable levels.

There is a lot of moving parts here, with the episode feeling like the point when the third season is really starting to hit its stride-Sean Callery’s music pulsates over the soundtrack, decisions are made that will have repercussions going forward and by the end of the hour, Tony is in very bad shape.

The image of Carlos Bernard clutching his face as blood seeps from a neck wound is graphic and distressing one. It’s not enough to just place characters we have come to love in danger, 24 has a dark glee to it where it really wants to hurt the ones we love and leave them at death’s door for a traumatising week/couple of minutes.

Whenever someone in a series like this says a line like ‘so we really lucked out’ followed by another claiming ‘that we deserve a little luck’, you know the proverbial manure is going to hit the fan, and sure enough just when it seems CTU and Jack have got the situation well in hand, Tony is on the verge of dying and the old maxim that ‘nobody is safe on 24’ is fired back to the audience.

This might not be as instant a classic an hour as the third episodes of seasons one and two, but this is still 24 firing on all cylinders. The character interactions are wonderful, the tension builds, and the pace is incredible. The only disappointment here is stemming from the Palmer side of the story tree. Dennis Haysbert and DB Woodside are wonderful, but the cliff-hanger at the end of the previous episode hinted at something bigger than this one ends up paying off. Once again Palmer is at the centre of a conspiracy of sorts involving a loved one and a cover-up, but it doesn’t have the juice that came with the revelation that the conspiracy begins at-home vibe that made season one such a joy.

It’s a minor blip on an otherwise highly enjoyable hour that sees the season shift into a higher gear before launching even more chaos over the next four episodes which will see the season deliver a run of fantastic episodes, even if reactions to some to the creative decisions regarding the behaviour of its characters would prove divisive in some quarters.

In a way, this is really the beginning of the season, which is something that Kiefer Sutherland remarks on in this episode’s audio commentary on the DVD boxset. On top of that cliff-hanger that virtually guarantees a return to the next hour, the episode finds much mileage in its characters.

The scenes with the Singer family are especially effective as they find themselves shifting from domestic strife over rent and a lack of money, not to mention arguments with their son, to being caught in the middle of a story that is far beyond anything they could have imagined.

I always love 24 that little bit more when members of the public and characters with realistic problems get caught up with events in the series and end up having to help Jack in some way. For a character in the middle of big-scale plots involving the destruction of LA and villains with dark motivations, there is always something enjoyable in seeing Jack caught up in the lives of characters that feel real. Ted Marcoux, Lucinda Jenney, and Riley Smith are a wonderful trio as the put-upon family, and they elevate the scenes they are in beyond being merely filler.

Howard Gordon has always been a writer capable of crafting great character scenes, not only here but in his previous work on The X-Files and would similarly do the same on the equally intense world of Homeland. He seems to find a way of making a viral outbreak plot involving drugs and drug lords in prison, not to mention on the other side of the border, feel tangible and just that little bit more real given that the lives it’s affecting are as far away from gunfire, explosions and calls to the President as you can get.

Riley Smith as Kyle Singer captures magnificently the confusion and fear of a teenager who has done the wrong thing for the right reason. The dawning realisation on his face as he realises how he might have unleashed something far worse that goes beyond the periphery of his own life that involves hanging by the pool or making out with his girlfriend Linda (Agnes Bruckner) is vividly portrayed by Smith and gives a plot line like this a grounded quality and a surprisingly intense emotional drive.

Part of me is reminded a little of Rick from season one when it comes to Kyle, and with his own blonde girlfriend, it almost feels like it plays as a mini-tribute of sorts to the teen soap shenanigans that Kim herself was caught up in season one, a far cry from the professional young woman she is now, reminding the audience once again of just how much has changed in the three-year time jump between seasons one and two.

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