Early in this episode, Jack Bauer seeks the help of Chris Tanner in locating the flight key from the drone which the terrorists hacked. Because no one else has believed him, Chris naturally wonders whether he can believe Jack’s intel about a terrorist attack. Jack responds, “Son, the point is, I believe you,” and then goes on to explain he is Chris’ only shot at clearing his name.
This again is quintessential 24: If we live in a world of lies and deception, then whom can we trust? How can we make any crucial decisions, as these characters constantly must do, if we have to rely on what other people are saying? There is no infallible way of determining whether they are speaking the truth or not. Although this theme frequently arises in 24, this episode skillfully highlights it again and again, as characters seek to persuade others, as the words “I believe you” are repeated in different contexts.
In his address, President Heller seeks to convince Parliament they should continue to trust him and the United States, despite the drone attack. His reasoning here is the same as Jack’s to Chloe in Hour 3: I wish I could bring back those who have died, but since we cannot, we must move forward together in opposing the dire threat brought by our common enemy, those who wish to destroy our way of life. Although the politicians present do not voice a response, they do clap, as if to say “we believe you.”
The ultimate showdown of this episode, the one that leads Jack to barricade himself inside the communications room of the American embassy with three hostages, is his attempt to get President Heller to believe there is a terrorist plot. When the two are finally able to talk over the phone, Heller expresses surprise Jack did not come to him in the beginning, and Jack says Heller’s staff labelled him a terrorist, that no one would believe him without proof, even though he felt he had “earned” the right to tell his own story. Heller says the shootings and the hostage situation weigh against Jack. Jack defends himself (I only grazed them.) and then explains the Al-Harazi plot.
The impasse, though, comes when Jack refuses to reveal to Heller the people who are helping him decrypt the flight key. Realizing the potential problem, Jack at this moment emphasizes, despite their differences, he has never lied to Heller. Jack suggests Heller believe him. However, in the following conversation Heller has with his staff, Chief-of-Staff Mark Boudreau calls into question Jack’s reliability, accusing him of working with Open Cell to expose government secrets. When Heller argues the decision isn’t clear cut, because he and Audrey know Jack (and Mark doesn’t), Mark counters Jack is not the same man they once knew; he has left nothing but damage in his wake, including the killing of Russians in their embassy. So Heller finally relents and orders the marines to enter the communications room.
Heller’s order then leads to the final standoff between central characters, when Kate decides she needs to take matters into her own hands (sneaking into the ventilation system) to convince Jack he should turn himself in. As she enters the room, just before the marines blow open the door, she says to Jack, “I believe you.” She asks him to give her the flight key to allow her to finish the upload. When he asks her why he should trust her (paralleling Tanner’s question which opened the episode), she repeats, “I really do believe you.” With Chloe’s endorsement in his ear, Jack hands himself over to Kate, and she is able to deliver on that act of trust, by saving his life, calling for CIA jurisdiction as the marines enter.
Throughout the episode, there are also other instances where the politics of trust play out on smaller scales: Erik seems incredulous Kate believes Chris Tanner’s report about Jack; Chloe wonders whether she can trust Adrian Cross when he says he is helping Jack for her sake; Kate tries to convince Steve Navarro (after Captain Cordero rebuffs her attempt on him) that Jack really has a lead on a terrorist plot; Jack seeks to persuade the hostages he is not really going to hurt them; Audrey lambasts her husband Mark for not trusting her intuition about Jack; and Jordan Reed accuses Navarro of dismissing Kate (and Navarro returns the attack, accusing Jordan of letting feelings for Kate cloud his reasoning).
The last example is an inversion of the other negotiations for trust: Margot Al-Harazi tells her reluctant son-in-law Naveed that she “believes him” when he tells her he will not, no matter what she does to him, pilot the drones. This scene pulls from the themes of Hour 3, and Margot repeats several times, each one getting more sinister, she will do “what is necessary” or “what must be done.” When Margot finally confronts Naveed about his doubts and his plan to escape with Simone, he argues he does not want to kill innocents. She yells back, “There are no innocents! Not when they elect murderers.” In response, he calls her reasoning “nonsense” and her actions “wrong,” vowing to take a stand against the plan. Here is where Margot says she believes him, just before she orders her thugs to sever a finger off her daughter’s left hand. She resorts to violence to break his resolve, and Naveed’s arguments crumble when he sees his wife in pain. Finally, he agrees, as Margot prompts him, to do “what is necessary” and pilot the drones. Terror replaces trust.
All these moments add up, and we come away from the episode, and the series, wondering about our own place in this world. Where do we place our trust? Whom do we believe in a world where many people seek to manipulate us and some even resort to horrific violence? If we are to be people of integrity, how do we stand up for what is true? How do we discern what truth is? What sacrifices, or what compromises, will we make in our quest? 24 asks these questions of us and offers us several role models in turn.