Written by Evan Katz
Directed by Jon Cassar
Original Air Date: 25th November 2003
This episode features one of the best pieces of editing in the history of 24; we begin in a state of nervy calm as Palmer prepares for his debate with Senator Keeler. The air of the scene is tension soaked in a manner that is classy and respectable, as two presidential hopefuls dressed in nicely tailored suits take to the stage to debate the political issues of the day. Just as Palmer begins his opening remarks, we cut to a television and a glass smashing against it. Before we know it, Jon Cassar’s camera has swung us around in the chaos of the prison riot Jack had to kickstart in the previous episode to help facilitate Ramon Salazar’s escape from life imprisonment.
It’s a moment that perhaps perfectly sums up the separate but connected worlds of the series; Palmer’s world of politics and platforms for outlining policy but also one ripe for blackmail and threats of a more ordered fashion which always runs parallel to the chaos of Jack’s, where gunfire, explosions and the constant threat of death always hangs in the air.
There is something beautifully contained about the chaos the two characters are caught up in during this hour. Palmer might be in the more comfier surroundings of a UCLA stage, but it is still a dirtier world, his rival for the seat of the Presidency showing himself to be unafraid to use dirtier tactics to try and worm his way to the highest seat in the land.
Palmer has always been portrayed as a decent person, but the series has always gotten so much creative juice from watching him as that very decency is put through the ringer, whether it be from the motivations of Sherry, right down to last season when he had to make some very drastic, even unethical, choices in the name of public safety.
The world he lives and thrives in is still refined compared to Jack who finds himself playing Russian Roulette in a sequence complete with a pulsating air of death and threat hanging over it. It makes for a very contained episode in a way, the series making the best use of the prison set it has access to this season, turning it into a chaotic playground full of incident throughout much of the episode; we get copious extras fighting to the death either as prisoners or guards, and this being set in amongst the seemingly never ending heat of LA, the sweat glistens on the faces of everyone, including in vivid detail on Sutherland and De Almeida’s faces Jack and Ramon find themselves relying on each other to survive in a place best described as hell on Earth.
It builds to a glorious cliffhanger where the character of Chase Edmunds is very much a stand-in for the audience, screaming into the sky for Jack to turn around as he flies away in a helicopter to a destiny unknown and straight into the next episode and one of the series’ all time great action sequences.