Bye Bye, Bauer
After eight seasons, 24 goes out on a high note
I shouldn't be using the present tense. The game is over; even if, as half-promised, there's going to be a movie, it's over. 24 needs its long haul, and it has made excellent use of it. The show has taken the manufacturing of televised tension to new levels, of both intensity and durability. The last season, happily, has been one of the best, and its sign-off was a treat. Jack, escaping summary execution for the umpteenth time, was allowed a tearful farewell, appropriately via long-distance hookup, with Chloe. "I never thought," said Jack, with uncharacteristic emotion, "when you first came to CTU, that it was you who'd end up watching my back." Fans had been pining for a moment like that: An acknowledgment that the two loved one another but were not in love.
Like every previous head of CTU, Chloe had found herself trying to rein Jack in. Unlike them, she had succeeded: she managed to dissuade him from shooting the Russian President. President Suvarov was in New York to ink a peace treaty whose other signatories were the United States and a fictitious but recognizable Islamic country known as the IRK. U.S. President Allison Taylor desperately wanted this agreement; so, in the face of violent internal opposition, did IRK President Omar Hassan. The Russians didn't, and Suvarov had Hassan assassinated. However slimy ex-President Logan had the dirt on Suvarov, and blackmailed him back to the conference table, in hopes of refurbishing his own reputation. President Taylor, passionately committed to the peace process, went along with this, even after learning the truth about Hassan's death. But the Russians had also taken out Jack's girlfriend Renee, who knew too much. That did it. Jack got through to Taylor's better nature, and the treaty died. The irony, unnoticed by Jack and also apparently by the show itself, is that, so far from this being a defeat for Suvarov, it meant he got exactly what he'd wanted. But maybe he'd forgotten.
Taylor's conscience was stirred, with more intentional irony, by hearing Jack's self-videotaped valediction in which he declared that no worthwhile peace could be based on lies and murder. This foray into international morality was a new departure for our protagonist. It's part, obviously, of the show's determination to pass him off as a tragic hero. A tragic hero needs self-awareness, and neither Jack's character nor the show's format has allowed for that. His friends have talked of Renee's death sending him "to the dark side" but he really doesn't seem to have changed much. If anything, he's tortured fewer people this season than previously, though his evisceration of Renee's killer was admittedly a showpiece.
Occasionally, someone asked Jack who gave him the right to be judge, jury and executioner. The answer is, we did; we shared those functions with him. We were entitled, because we always knew the facts. It's one of the differences between this show and real life. Another is that in the real world, political processes are unlikely to be halted on moral grounds. And if that process is a peace settlement, the real world may even be right.
If the season has had a tragic figure, it's been Cherry Jones' self-compromising President Taylor, faced with impossible choices. Her performance, and Gregory Itzin's face-screwing Logan, have been welcome injections of class acting. Kiefer Sutherland's performance one takes, unfairly, for granted; but try imagining the show without him. As Chloe, Mary Lynn Rajskub remained splendid, and could still be hilariously sour.
Annie Wersching's death as Renee was enough in itself to refute Jonathan Kay's assertion in these pages that the also-late Lost is the only TV show in which bad things have been allowed to happen to good people. 24 has been slaughtering its innocents since its inception. And that's without getting into cable TV, in which sympathetic characters are devastated or despatched on a regular basis. It's called serious drama. 24 has never been that, though it has expertly scratched some contemporary itches. Its first season remains its best: the only one which seemed plausibly to be unfolding within a single day. It also gave us Jack himself at his most believable, even without soul-searching. He never really developed after that, whatever his creators may have told themselves. And people never did learn to trust him. But if they had, there wouldn't have been a show. And we would have missed something. I'll miss it now.