Day 1 — 12:00am-1:00am
To say that 24 began with a bang is an understatement. 24‘s pilot episode ends with saucy bisexual assassin Mandy (Mia Kirshner) stealing a press photographer’s ID badge while having sex with him in an airplane lavatory, then blowing up the plane to cover her tracks — as she safely parachutes out. No wonder the premiere — initially set to air shortly after 9/11 — was pushed back to Nov. 6, 2001. But even then, creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran took a huge gamble with America’s shattered nerves.
NINA’S A TRAITOR!
Day 1 — 10:00pm-11:00pm
Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) being shown as the long-suspected CTU mole is one of the great revelations in TV history. We all thought she had been cleared of suspicion earlier, and even felt horrible when Jack had to act like he’d killed her to satisfy Teri and Kim’s kidnapper. Nina and Jack had even had an affair! But lo, as the final moments of Day 1’s penultimate episode tick away, Nina picks up a phone call from Dennis Hopper’s uber-villain Victor Drazen and starts speaking with him…in Serbo-Croatian!
VICTOR’S LAST STAND
Day 1 — 11:00pm-12:00am
His plot to kill Senator (not yet President) Palmer and Jack’s wife and daughter foiled, Victor Drazen used his mole in CTU, Nina, to tell Jack that the Coast Guard had discovered Kim’s body in the water near Drazen’s hideout. Drazen, played by Dennis Hopper as if channeling Blue Velvet‘s gas-sniffing Frank Booth, hoped this would lead Jack to walk into a trap. Instead, once Bauer was through with him, it was Victor’s body the Coast Guard was dragging out of the harbor.
Day 1 — 11:00pm-12:00am
Oh, to think we were once so innocent! Conditioned as we were by years of TV-watching, we never thought it would be possible for a major character to be so unexpectedly dispatched. But no, when all seemed right with the world — Victor Drazen was dead, Nina was captured, Senator Palmer was safe — Jack discovered that his wife Teri had been shot dead by treasonous minx Nina, prompting the first ever use of the ”silent clock.”
GET ME A HACKSAW!
Day 2 — 8:00am-9:00am
Looking back at him in Day 1, Jack Bauer seems like such a normal, well-adjusted father and husband, not the unhinged rogue, who, by the first hour of Day 2, shoots and kills a suspect, shouts ”Get me a hacksaw!” beheads the guy, and brings the head to the terrorist group planning to bomb CTU so he can infiltrate them. But who are we to judge? Maybe losing a spouse would make anyone clamor for a hacksaw.
KIM BAUER’S DAY OFF
So let’s recall what happens to Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) in Day 2 when she’s away from Daddy, shall we? She learns the perils of being employed as an au pair when her boss, murderous family man that he is, stalks her; she rescues/kidnaps said murderous family man’s daughter; she gets lost in the woods and menaced by cougars; meets a deranged forest-dweller (Kevin Dillon) who tries to get her to stay with him in his bomb shelter by telling her LA’s been nuked and the world has ended; gets caught in a convenience store holdup; and finally schooled on killing a man via cellphone when her dad tells her how to shoot her boss. Aside from the cougars, a day to remember.
CTU UNDER SIEGE!
Day 2 — 10:00am-11:00am
Sadly, Jack didn’t really need the hacksaw after all. Although he wormed his way into a posse of C4-packing terrorists, he wasn’t able to stop them from bombing CTU. With CTU (temporarily) out of commission and the death of Sara Gilbert’s proto-Chloe techie, we felt for the first time a gnawing sense of vulnerability.
JACK SAYS GOODBYE
Day 2 — 10:00pm-11:00pm
Joining the pantheon of great male-weepie moments (e.g. Spock’s death, the final shootout in The Wild Bunch, etc.) is the tender phone call between Jack and Kim, as Jack flies a nuclear bomb out into the Mojave desert, where it can explode without killing anybody. He thinks it’s a one-way trip. The father-daughter moment is so touching, it actually justifies the whole existence of the otherwise pointless Kim. Thankfully for Jack, the radiation-poisoned George Mason (Xander Berkeley), who only has hours to live anyway, stows aboard, takes the stick and lets Jack parachute to safety.
Day 2 — 7:00am-8:00am
Remember evil hottie Mandy? ‘Course ya do! Well, she shows up again at the end of Day 2 and gives President Palmer a lethal handshake. Apparently, her hand is coated with some sort of bio-weapon. Oddly enough, Palmer seems little worse for wear when Day 3 starts, as we next see him preparing his re-election bid. I guess this was just one of those storylines that went out into the netherworld of implausibility and died.
GAEL’S A GOOD GUY!
Day 3 — 7:00pm-8:00pm
A bad guy actually turns out to be good? On 24 that almost never happens! In Day 3 we had come to think for sure that CTU techie Gael Ortega (Jesse Borrego) had been working for Mexican drug lord Hector Salazar (Vincent Laresca) to bust Hector’s brother Ramon (Joaquim de Almeida) out of prison. Turns out it’s all part of an elaborate sting operation to track Ramon back down to Mexico and secure the weaponized virus he’s planning to buy off the black market. The rare twist that doesn’t just awe, but makes us rethink the whole season up to that point.
SHERRY PALMER LETS AN OLD MAN DIE
Day 3 — 1:00am-2:00am
Maybe the assassination-attempt-by-handshake took a toll on President Palmer’s judgment. There’s really no other explanation for why he would let his ex-wife Sherry (Penny Johnson Jerald), who had previously conspired with terrorists to bring a nuclear bomb into the U.S. just to discredit his presidency, confront hostile former campaign-donor, Alan Milliken (Albert Hall). Sherry’s solution? She angers Milliken so much that he has a heart attack, and then she prevents him from getting to his pills on time. But really, what did President Palmer expect?
NINA GOES DOWN
Day 3 — 2:00am-3:00am
Isn’t it great when you can have both revenge and justice? When Nina escapes from her CTU cell and threatens Kim (who’s inexplicably working there), Jack doesn’t have to keep her alive any longer and gets some sweet payback for Teri’s death.
TERROR AT THE HOTEL
When disgruntled former Special Ops agent Stephen Saunders (Paul Blackthorne) orders the virus to be released in an LA hotel, it’s up to Michelle and Gael to hold chaos at bay — ’70s disaster-movie style. With a panicking crowd of dying virus-infected hotel guests quarantined, the protracted drama at the hotel is one of the few times 24 demonstrates an oppressive feeling of impending doom, even far more so than when LA is nuked in Day 6. Of course, Michelle is the one person at the hotel immune to the virus?because the producers didn’t want to kill her off yet.
JACK KILLS CHAPPELLE
Day 3 — 6:00am-7:00am
Jack has had to make some moral compromises over the years, but none more extreme than when he shoots and kills CTU Division Director Ryan Chappelle (Paul Schulze) to fulfill one of terrorist Stephen Saunders’ demands. So much for not negotiating with terrorists, huh?
Day 3 — 11:00am-12:00pm
After turning on her ex yet again, Sherry Palmer tries to blackmail him into remarrying her, so she can be First Lady. But an unhinged Julia Milliken (Gina Torres) — the wife of the guy Sherry let die — shoots her, before turning the gun on herself. And all while David Palmer’s weak-willed brother Wayne (D.B. Woodside) stands by and watches. Seriously, that dude would become President?
CHASE LOSES HIS HAND
Day 3 — 12:00pm-1:00pm
The final minutes of Day 3 features a loss of limb on par with that greatest of pop-culture amputations, Luke Skywalker’s severed hand. With a timed-release virus vial hand-cuffed to his wrist, Chase (James Badge Dale) knew that there was only one sure way to get it off. Jack cuts off Chase’s hand with one swing of an ax, so that he can get the vial into a refrigerator where it can explode harmlessly. Of course, as we learned from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, all refrigerators are impenetrable, so…problem solved!
Day 4 — 7:00pm-8:00pm
Okay, so 24 has never been the most culturally sensitive show. The first hours of Day 4 include a xenophobic subplot about a suburban Arab-American family plotting terror around their breakfast table. So Fox got Kiefer Sutherland to shoot a PSA reminding us folks in TV-Land that the vast majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists. But even more effective? A plot later in Day 4 where Jack and Paul Raines (James Frain) hide out in a gun store owned by young Arab-American brothers, who stand with our heroes fighting off corporate commandos.
AIR FORCE ONE DOWN!
Day 4 — 10:00pm-11:00pm
24 has had its share of ”Oh, no you didn’t!” moments — killing off former President Palmer, nuking LA — but none tops the ”wow factor” of a mentally unhinged air force officer stealing a stealth fighter and shooting down Air Force One — with President Keeler (Geoff Pierson) inside. What made this, and Day 4 as a whole, even more exciting was the continual one-upmanship of the plot. Turns out killing the President wasn’t even terrorist Habib Marwan’s (Arnold Vosloo) primary objective. He wanted to steal the POTUS’s ”nuclear football” from Air Force One‘s crash site, for even bigger evil deeds.
CHLOE GETS BADASS
Day 4 — 1:00am-2:00am
How great is it that there’s a character on TV like Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub)? The persnickety computer analyst completely won us over…by not trying to be likable. Chloe’s greatest moment comes in Day 4 when she and a key witness are being stalked by a hitman. She trades in her signature snark for some Sigourney Weaver-toughness and blasts her assailant with a sub-machine gun. Even better is her worry later that her lack of emotional distress means she’s a psychopath. Lesson here…don’t mess with the IT crew.
JACK LETS PAUL DIE
Day 4 — 2:00am-3:00am
Jack has had to make A LOT of tough calls over the years. Maybe that’s why he now seems like such a scarred human being compared to the comfortable family man he was at the start of Season 1. Other than killing Chappelle, one of the most alienating — yet indisputably necessary — decisions he’s ever had to make was when he ordered, at gunpoint, the CTU doctors to treat a dying Chinese national over Audrey’s husband Paul…who quickly died without treatment. It’s hard to believe that Audrey would ever have feelings for Jack after that. And yet she did.
Day 5 — 6:00pm-7:00pm
Edgar, you are still missed. When a henchman of pissed-off Russian terrorist Vladimir Bierko (Julian Sands) attacks CTU with lethal nerve gas, Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi) can’t make it to the air-tight situation room in time. Alas, Chloe has never had the chemistry with any of her other colleagues that she possessed with her mildly speech-impaired chum. Certainly not with that boozy ex-husband of hers, Morris. Check out Ken Tucker’s fauxbituary for Edgar back in 2006.
END OF A PRESIDENCY
Day 5 — 6:00am-7:00am
Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin): President, schemer extraordinaire…terrorist mastermind? After spending hours tracking down evidence proving Logan’s involvement in the day’s atrocities, Jack finally corners him in a hanger. But he realizes you don’t have to solve all your problems with violence when Logan tells him — as Jack’s about to mete out his own brand of gun-point justice on the snakish Commander-in-Chief — that he’ll only ever be remembered as another Lee Harvey Oswald. Good thing Jack decides to let the law handle this one.
MARTHA’S A LITTLE CRAZY
Day 6 — 6:00pm-7:00pm
Well, maybe if Jack had capped Logan at the end of Day 5 it would have been more satisfying than what happened to the ex-President in Season 6. Logan contacts Jack with critical information that only his slightly insane ex-wife, Martha (Jean Smart) could provide. Instead, Martha throws kiwi in her old hubby’s face, shouts ”Murderer!” and ultimately stabs him. Former President Logan is last seen flatlining in an ambulance. This isn’t the last we’ll see of Itzin’s chameleonic ex-Prez, though, right? Right??
Day 6 — 10:00pm-11:00pm
If those of us concerned about the moral implications of Jack’s near-vigilantism had qualms before, imagine our horror when he strategically wraps a chain around the neck of season 6 villain Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis) and proceeds to hang him. Coming after a particularly brutal succession of episodes — Morris tortured with a power drill, the Russian guy who cuts off his own arm — this resolution of the main terrorist threat in Day 6 just seemed like self-indulgent violence taking the place of good storytelling.