24 Retrospective: Day 2

Welcome back to my retrospective of past seasons of 24, here on The Pop Break. If you’ve read my piece on Day 1 then you’ve got a good idea of what the rest of this is going to be like. Thanks again to Wiki 24.

Once again, SPOILERS.

Day 2 starts in a place that we’ll see Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) a lot, away from CTU. Understandably, his wife’s death has shaken to him to his core and damaged his relationship with his daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert). He might have saved Senator Palmer, but he failed his family. Despite the show saying otherwise, in my opinion, Teri’s death is his fault. But it’s also the fault of everybody who didn’t see through Nina (Sarah Clarke). So he shouldn’t punish himself. He is undeniably divided between his duty to his country and his desire to have a normal life though, and we’ll see more of that as the series goes on.

David Palmer is now leading that country as President. I didn’t go too much into him in my Day 1 retrospective, but Dennis Haysbert was born to play President Palmer. He commands scenes with his booming voice but remains vulnerable, as we see in this season. Some pundits have actually hypothesized that his appearance on 24 made the American public more comfortable with the idea of an African American as President. Whether this so-called “Palmer effect” was real is up for debate, but it’s interesting to ponder as we say goodbye to our first black Commander-in-Chief.

Returning characters include Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) and George Mason (Xander Berkeley), the latter taking over as Director from Jack. The biggest addition this season is Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth), a new analyst who also serves as Tony’s love interest. This time around CTU is dealing with a much larger threat. There’s a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists and they plan on detonating it in Los Angeles and killing millions. Of course, our characters’ lives are on the line too. Mason is well aware of the risk and plans on running, only to be exposed to radioactive material and given hours to live.

This is where the show works its magic, taking a despicable character and making him a hero. Mason is a humorous heel but like Jack’s other superiors he gets in the way. He’s also corrupt. But he finds redemption by sacrificing himself only minutes after Jack tells Kim he has to land the bomb in the desert to safely detonate (Cuthbert’s best performance, easily). I just wish they left out the lousy looking mushroom cloud. Sometimes less is more. That’s not the last time you’ll hear me say that.

Another thing that you’ll hear me address again is the controversy surrounding depictions of torture. Day 2 is the first season for torture to be a plot point. Both Jack and the terrorists use it and Fox managed to get away with quite a lot throughout 24’s run. In this season alone, the terrorists dismember a minor character with a buzzsaw (not to be confused with the hacksaw Jack uses to behead a dead body). Just remember that at the end of the day, 24 is a work of fiction in a vastly different world than our own, and if politicians, people in the armed forces, or people in the intelligence community can’t tell the difference, they should not be serving our country.

That being said, one of the draws of 24 is the illusion of realism based on the high quality effects and the series’ intensity. You can bet if there were a rogue nuclear bomb on American soil it would FEEL something like this. Despite the highly fictionalized plot that fits nicely into a day, 24 has contained eerie parallels with real world events in the past. Day 1’s plane explosion was filmed before 9/11 (leading to a rather bad looking visual effect being cut) and 2002/3’s Day 2 has a huge parallel to the Iraq War. In the latter half of Day 2, the U.S. wants to go to war with a perceived enemy over questionable intelligence. Sound familiar? As far as I know, this wasn’t written as some sort of artistic protest and is instead a strange coincidence. I could be wrong.

All the drama involving the bomb and going to war leads to amazing standoffs between Palmer, his ex-wife Sherry (Penny Johnson Jerald), Chief of Staff Mike Novick (Jude Ciccolella), and his entire cabinet. Even though it’s fairly telegraphed, the cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to circumvent Palmer is some of the most compelling TV I’ve ever seen. There are so many other great moments in Day 2, like Nina’s return, the attack on CTU, and the search for the bomb. But it all culminates in one final showdown at the LA Coliseum as Jack and Sherry race against the clock to stop the war. It’s high-octane thrills and composer Sean Callery brings his A-game (and he won an Emmy for this season).

Jack’s Onscreen Kills: 30

Jack triples his kill count from Day 1 and 24 begins to transition from spy thriller to full-blown action show. Not included is Jack killing of an attack dog.

Silent Clock(s): “Day 2: 9:00pm-10:00pm” at 9:35:56pm and “Day 2: 7:00am-8:00am” at 7:59:57am, accompanied by music and breathing, respectively

The first is George leaving CTU the final time. Notable is that he had yet to die and it happens mid-episode. The second is the attempt on Palmer’s life at Day 2’s conclusion. Just a little longer and the finale would’ve ended on a happy note.

Kim Bauer Moment(s): Half this season is filler, mostly centered on Kim rescuing Megan Matheson (Skye McCole Bartusiak) from her psychotic father and the aftermath of that. Seriously, Gary Matheson (Billy Burke) really has it in for her. She also gets lost in the woods, stuck in a weird convenience store hold-up, and there’s that infamous mountain lion she runs into.

Unfortunately, a suicidal brother and jealous co-worker drag down Michelle as well. But fortunately, the good parts of this season are so good they make up for the trainwreck subplots.

“Damn It” Count: 19 with an average of 0.79 DPE (Damn Its Per Episode)

Only a couple more but Jack greatly raises his DPE,  He’s angrier and more vicious this season, perhaps unhinged by Teri’s murder.

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.