Note: Spoilers for 24′s final episode (and previous episodes) are contained herein.
For eight seasons, Jack Bauer and a frequently-rotating supporting cast (many of which were killed off unceremoniously by the writers for short-term shock value) have supplied us with some of the best action-adventure-intrigue on TV. And, of course, plots like Dana Walsh’s.
I know that I’ve been down on 24 this season, and through much of the past three seasons. Pop quiz: Which was worse — season eight or season six? I’m gonna have go with season six, because it was just so ham-fisted and shark-jumpy, even though it was probably more exciting than season eight on the whole. But please discuss.(*)
* Also, please discuss your thoughts on the best season of 24. I know a lot of people think season one is the best, but I’m gonna have to go with season four or five, simply because the technical execution had gotten so much more skillful by that point in the series, and a lot of people tend to overlook certain silliness in season one like the whole Teri Bauer amnesia thing (I mean, come ON) or Kim being kidnapped a second time in a single 24-hour period. DAMMIT! Debate away.
But season eight of 24, after having dispatched Dana Walsh and thus one the series’ most badly handled season-long arcs, found for its final arc the notion of Jack as his own worst enemy, and for the most part that was a successfully interesting plot. The scene a few weeks back where Jack tortured Renee’s killer was 24 at its most viscerally compelling and also morally uncomfortable.
It was a well acted and directed scene of brutality, no doubt, but boy did it put me on the hook for finding satisfaction in Jack’s bloodlust. I know intellectually that torture is wrong, but the guy was a scumbag killer who had it coming, and this is only a thriller device within the wind-up toy that is 24, so I can guiltily enjoy it, right? (Perhaps I shouldn’t be; the writers clearly intended for it to be an example of Jack crossing way over the line. Maybe the bigger problem with 24 is that I in fact see it as a wind-up toy and little else at this point; the question has become how well it can execute its story and action points.)
So watching Jack in all-out, self-righteous, there-is-no-justice-so-that-makes-me-judge-jury-and-executioner mode has been compelling, albeit not in keeping with the integrity of Jack’s character over most of the series’ run. As you would expect, that arc wraps up in the series finale, in which the question is how far Jack will go in his scorched-earth campaign, and whether anyone can stop him before he finishes it.
I thought it was fittingly appropriate that this question would be answered with a scene between Jack and Chloe. The trust between Jack and Chloe has been one of the few things that has remained a constant on 24 over the years, and it’s good that the series saw that relationship through to the end. If the “PULL THE TRIGGER!” scene was perhaps within a hair’s width of self-parody in the annals of Kiefer Sutherland Yelling Urgently and Awesomely [TM], it did make for a highly watchable iteration on 24‘s running gag that there’s no time for the characters to take any course of action except the most desperate one.
Dramatically, and perhaps improbably, I thought the highlight of night was the confrontation between President Allison Taylor and President Dalia Hassan. These characters may have been poorly written at times through the season (in particular, Taylor’s arc of embarking on this absurd cover-up followed by all the unending hand-wringing has made very close to zero sense), but damn if this wasn’t a tense, charged, superbly acted scene between Cherry Jones and Necar Zadegan. 24 can still get mileage out of two characters going toe to toe.
Ultimately, Jack backs down and is captured, and Chloe’s attempts to expose the cover-up subsequently fail, so Jack’s fate rests in the hands of Taylor, who in the 11th hour realizes that she can’t go through with this awful conspiracy-and-murder plot after all. (There should be a 24 season eight drinking game on how many times Taylor flip-flops.)
There’s fun to be had in the material involving Charles Logan, who is the ultimate 24 schemer at this point. There’s just something great about the delusions of the character, who is hellbent on doing whatever he can just to claw back into the political relevance game, no matter how much deceit and death lies in his wake. A sane person would realize there’s no way this could possibly work. Gregory Itzin is terrific as usual, even if Logan is essentially a punch line.
As series finales go, I have to label this one under “meh.” It’s competently constructed, with some dramatic high points and nice suspense, but it’s not wholly satisfying, mainly because it doesn’t really have the payoff of a series finale. It plays more like season four’s finale, with Jack going into exile because he’s the subject of a huge manhunt. This feels more like a setup to leave the door open for Jack Bauer to come back in movies more than any sort of thematic ending that makes sense.
Or perhaps it makes perfect sense; after all, Jack Bauer is an action hero, and what better way to display that than having him on the run as the dogged outsider yet again, as the clock literally runs out on the show? I think the larger problem here — as with much of 24 — is that the writers have simply done it before, and it feels like the latest example of the show aping itself.