Jack Bauer, portrayed by actor Kiefer Sutherland is shown in a scene from the
two-hour 24 series finale '24,' airing airing May 24 at 8:00 p.m. AP/HANDOUT PHOTO
Let’s get this right out of the way up front: if you have videotaped, time shifted, illegally streamed or downloaded, on-demanded, DVRd, PVRd, TiVod, pre-ordered on DVD or otherwise in any other manner put off watching Monday night’s24 series finale and still intend to, please stop reading now. We’ll wait.
I only take these precautions because I am still getting grief over an inadvertent Dexter reference I made last week, tipping that show’s season finale. And that aired five months ago!
Okay now. 24. Last episode. In a word: perfect.
It’s a word I do not write lightly. And of course I don’t mean literally “perfect” — it was, let’s face it, overwrought, excessively violent, morbid, melodramatic and, for the most part, patently, absurdly ridiculous.
Which, as any fan of 24 already knows, was just as it should be, just as 24 has always been at its best.
Also at its worst, but I think that most of us agree that was pretty much a single-season slip. And maybe a couple of clinker episodes, even whole story arcs, here and there over the last eight years (and yes, that would include the cougar).
The very notion of the show was, to say the least, unlikely: a real-time depiction of a single day in the life of an impossibly heroic and resourceful super-spy. A man of resolute ethics and a taciturn willingness to cross any moral boundary in the service of the greater good. And to do so absolutely selflessly, in the face of constant doubt and persecution, and the endangerment if not death of virtually everyone he has ever been close to.
Not just anyone could pull this off, on the screen or behind it. In the case of 24, that man was in both cases Kiefer Sutherland, who very early on surmounted the unprecedented demands of a lead actor maintaining a level of tension and physicality without missing a beat — or getting a bathroom break, or for that matter even eating — over the course of an entire 24-episode season.
And then he took on the added responsibilities of executive producer — and not in the usual sense of an actor negotiating a figurehead producing credit as part of his contract re-negotiation. Everyone I have ever talked to who has ever worked on the show confirms that Sutherland had input and even veto over every single aspect of the show.
All this, with time out for a jail term and a couple of bar fights (one, apparently, with a Christmas tree). But given the kind of pressure the guy’s put himself under, I think the occasional lapse into over-indulgence is more than understandable.
It should also be noted that the show’s inherent kinetic energy came not so much from the ticking real-time conceit as it did the writers’ insistence on plotting on the fly, deliberately setting up impossible scenarios and only then figuring out how to resolve them.
Sutherland rejects the suggestion that this is what went wrong with that much-maligned Season 6. It is a problem every year, he once told me, when they get to Hour 16 or thereabouts and the primary crisis gets resolved, only to reveal another and inevitably larger conspiracy.
Be that as it may, for the last two seasons since, the show’s writers have been much more deliberately contentious about actually planning and plotting ahead.
Which very conveniently brings me back to the closure of Monday night’s farewell episode — not closure, of course, in the smaller, more specific sense, which would fly in the face of everything Jack Bauer has experienced over eight years (or from his perspective, days).
But really, would you have wanted, as we were teased might happen, for poor ol’ Jack to finally die? As poetic as that might have been, there would have been villagers with torches outside the studio. Leaving Jack once again on his own, maligned, discredited and on the run is the only way this all could end.
(And yes, he could very well have been killed, even with the 24 movie confirmed, since that could just as easily been made as a prequel.)
You want to talk closure? How about Gregory Itzin’s deliciously Nixonian ex-president, easily the series’ best villain, returning for even more insidious evil, dragging his presidential successor (the formidable Cherry Jones) down with him and then, in the end, trying to blow out his own brains and succeeding only in irreparable damage.
And then, at last, that incredibly touching moment between Jack and faithful Chloe O’Brien (comedian Mary Lynn Rajskub), the pouty, socially impaired computer genius — the only Bauer intimate, aside from daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) to make it all the way through the series unscathed — who ultimately, however unlikely, ends up running the CTU.
All in all, a helluva day.