24 Retrospective: Day 1

With 24: Legacy a month away and my expansive knowledge of the series (as well as help from Wiki 24), it feels only right to look back at the highs and lows of 24. I’ve watched all the seasons, of course, a few multiple times. So whether you’re a longtime fan or want to be up to date for 24: Legacy, I’ve got you covered. Of course, I will be going through some of the finer details of each season, so SPOILERS.

One of the seasons that I’ve seen multiple times happens to be the very first, which I will be referring to as Day 1. That’s the unique thing about 24. Each season has its own distinct plot taking place over 24 hours in real time. I’m not sure if it’s the first TV show to attempt real time (a few movies have tried it), but it’s certainly the most successful piece of entertainment to try it and the best known. That’s part of what made it so groundbreaking. It also saved Kiefer Sutherland’s acting career.

Jack Bauer is a noticeably different character at the beginning. Sutherland noted this much when he went back to the first season to prepare for Live Another Day. Jack is the Special Agent in Charge at the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) and lives a relatively comfortable life with his wife Teri (Leslie Hope) and his teenage daughter Kim (Elizabeth Cuthbert). But there are complicated aspects to his life too. He and Teri took a break from each other and he had a not-so-secret affair with his co-worker Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke). To make matters worse, intel says someone is planning to assassinate Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) the day of the California presidential primary.

There are too many twists in any given season of 24 to go over, but two key factors are someone is trying to blackmail Jack into killing Palmer to save Kim and Teri AND there’s a mole in CTU. Day 1, particularly the first half of the season, is essentially Taken before that movie ever happened. Along the way we’re introduced to characters like the tattletale with the Cubs mug, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard). Almeida is also in a relationship with Nina (why CTU puts up with office romances never made sense), but he comes around to help Jack later on. Senator David Palmer is a character you’ll want to remember too. Like Jack he’s a family man with a dedication to integrity. He’s also the first African American with a real shot at the White House, as the show puts.

So, to make a long and convoluted story short, Nina Myers turns out to be the mole in CTU. Originally another character is presented as the mole but there are actually two. Now, obviously, if you go back and watch the first half of Day 1, it’s pretty clear Nina wasn’t originally supposed to be a mole. In case 24 didn’t get picked up for a full season, the 13th episode, in which Jack rescues his family, was supposed to be the series finale. But 24 became a hit, despite airing shortly after 9/11, which meant the writers needed a plot for the rest of Day 1. So, even though some of Nina’s actions earlier don’t help her objective, I forgive them because it’s such a great twist.

After Jack’s victory against the terrorists (who aren’t Middle Eastern but Serbian war criminals), Teri accidently comes across Nina trying to escape. Jack stops Nina but he finds that Nina has killed Teri, who had just told him she was pregnant with his child (she had been raped earlier in the season).

So, this might come across as cliché, the whole murdered wife and child thing. But you have to realize that the show just put the audience through 24 hours of Jack trying to save his family only to have him fail. That takes guts. The viewers could have easily turned on the series. But they didn’t. Critics and fans alike often consider “Day 1: 11:00pm–12:00am” not only one of the best episodes in the series, but one of the best TV finales ever. It was a narrative gamechanger. Plus, if she could die, who else could?

There’s the whole “Women in Refrigerators” argument, that writers unfairly kill off and torture female characters to develop male characters. But remember, Kim is still alive and loses her mother and unborn sibling. Furthermore, Teri’s murderer, Nina, a woman, is one of the best villains and best characters the show ever produced. And I’m not just talking about Nina in Day 1.

The finale closes with the only time we see as flashback (in splitscreen) as Jack weeps cradling Teri’s lifeless body. And then we get the show’s first Silent Clock, counting down the final seconds of the finale without the usual beeping.

And now that I’ve gotten you thoroughly depressed, here’s a list of stats:

Jack’s Onscreen Kills: 10

As far as body counts go, this is the most realistic the show gets. Offscreen, Jack apparently kills four other terrorists.

Silent Clock(s): “Day 1: 11:00pm–12:00am” at 11:59:57pm, accompanied by the faint sound of wind and Jack crying

Kim Bauer Moment(s): Teri gets amnesia

Usually these soap opera-y filler moments center on Kim, but this one is her mother getting amnesia due to stress, believing Kim has died. It’s painful to watch in an otherwise tightly written season. Not to speak ill of the dead though, as I have the utmost respect for Teri for offering herself in place of her daughter Kim to get raped by a captor a few episodes earlier.

“Damn It” Count: 17, an average of 0.67 DPE (Damn Its Per Episode)

Jack Bauer’s catchphrase.

Aaron Sarnecky is The Pop Break’s Television Editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among other things. He is a TV/Film grad of Rowan University and the fraternal twin of staff writer Josh Sarnecky. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed.