Aside from episode one (for obvious reasons), each episode in the first season begins with a gruff voiceover from Kiefer Sutherland to the effect of, “Right now, terrorists are planning to assassinate a presidential candidate. My wife and daughter have been kidnapped… and people that I work with may be involved in both. I’m Federal Agent Jack Bauer and today is the longest day of my life.”
Presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) is campaigning hard in Florida. At the same time, a fresh-faced Jack Bauer is sitting at home with his wife Teri (Leslie Hope) and his innocent daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert).
But it turns out Kim has snuck out of her room and headed off to a cool club with her cool friends, complete with crimped hair. But there’s no time for Jack to worry about his daughter’s terrible hairstyle or chronic absenteeism. He gets a call from co-worker Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke) telling him to get back to the office – the Counter Terrorist Unit, or CTU. There, he’s told of the planned assassination of Palmer. Worse still, there are suspicions of some inside involvement within the agency. “For the next 24 hours, I want you all over this,” says his boss. What a convenient amount of time for Jack to be needed.
Meanwhile, a plane blows up. Specifically, a lady with sunglasses (Mia Kirshner) shags a photographer in the toilet, steals his ID card, straps into a parachute and blows it all to hell, before floating away.
Meanwhile, Teri Bauer decides to go out looking for her daughter, accompanied by Alan York (Richard Burgi), who says he thinks his kid Janet may be with Kim. And she is! The two girls party with some lovely young men, who then promptly kidnap them. Kim and Janet escape briefly, before Janet gets hit by a car and Kim is recaptured. But Janet’s not dead!
Teri and Janet’s dad Alan rush off to the hospital where Janet is taken. Meanwhile, Kim’s kidnappers meet with Ira Gaines (Michael Massee), who takes over her abduction.
Jack’s boss gets killed chasing up the mole, but gives Jack a keycard with incriminating evidence. CTU is placed on lockdown by big boss George Mason (Xander Berkeley) and Jack is placed under supervision – but Jack doesn’t care and escapes. He heads off to an address found on the keycard. At the building, he chases after Greg Penticoff (John Hawkes) and once in custody, Greg tells Jack that if he wants to see Kim again, he’ll get him out.
Oh, while all this is going on a reporter is threatening to publish a story that David Palmer’s daughter’s rapist didn’t commit suicide, but was killed by Palmer’s son. This makes David Palmer a bit stressed.
Jack joins Teri and Alan at the hospital, but then gets a call from Ira Gaines telling him to follow instructions or Kim will die. Also, a dead body turns up that’s ID’d as the real Alan! Alan’s not Alan! Run, Teri!
Jack goes rogue and starts to hinder the Palmer investigation in order to save his daughter. But he’s sneaky – when they tell him to kill Nina, he pops a bullet-proof vest on her and just pretends to kill her. Elsewhere, Teri gets kidnapped by fake Alan and joins Kim.
Jack rocks up to a Palmer press event at a power plant (after following instructions from Ira Gaines), in order to frame him for Palmer’s planned assassination, but gets detained by the Secret Service. Then he escapes.
Meanwhile Jamey (a suspected CTU mole) is found dying in CTU by Nina and Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard). She dies. Teri manages to call CTU with a stolen cell phone, so Jack, Nina and Tony try to trace the call to find the kidnappers. Acting CTU Director Alberta Green (Tamara Tunie) decides that Jack’s a fugitive, but Jack – once again – doesn’t care.
Teri kills one of the kidnappers and Jack soon arrives to rescue them. He goes after Ira Gaines, who then gets killed by an unknown assassin. More assassins start arriving.
With Teri and Kim safe back at CTU, Teri has an ultrasound and finds out she’s pregnant. She goes with Kim to a safe house, figures out that Jack and Nina used to be lovers and gets sad. Then more assailants arrive. Teri thinks Kim has died after the car Kim was in falls down a hill and as a result develops amnesia and wanders around aimlessly for an episode. She nearly gets kidnapped again, but is eventually rescued by Tony Almeida and suddenly remembers stuff again. Oh and although Kim isn’t dead, she is kidnapped. Again. Then she escapes. Again.
Meanwhile David Palmer arrives at CTU to see Jack Bauer. He wants to know who the bloody hell this bloke is. Turns out Bauer was in Kosovo two years ago with a team of special ops commandoes to kill Milosevic crony Victor Drazen (Dennis Hopper). The mission was overseen by Senator Palmer.
However, Victor’s still alive (Jack having killed a body double in Kosovo), a secret prisoner in the US and it’s his gang who are behind the current plot. They want Palmer dead and Bauer imprisoned for it, all in the name of revenge. Victor also blames Jack for the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter, hence the kidnappings.
Meanwhile, Jack helps fake David Palmer’s death. Then it turns out the real mole in CTU is Nina and the freed Victor Drazen tells her to tell Jack that Kim is dead even though she’s not. This doesn’t go down terribly well: Jack gets pretty upset, kills Drazen’s son, the guards and Victor himself.
Then Jack finds out that Kim isn’t dead, so figures Nina must be the mole. Nina, meanwhile, erases the evidence of her dirty deeds on the CTU network, but is interrupted by a freshly non-amnesiac Teri, who at first trusts Nina and then realises that she is the mole. Nina kidnaps Teri. Jack gets back to CTU and races to capture Nina, only to discover Teri’s been shot in the chest. Jack holds her in his arms and says he’s sorry.
Also, David Palmer decides to get a divorce from his wife Sherry (Penny Johnson Jerald).