May 20 2009

The Absolution of Jack Bauer

Published by at 10:00 am under Reviews,Television

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People often ask me why I still watch 24. After seven seasons, they say, isn’t it just the same thing ever year? Jack running around shooting people and trying to diffuse a bomb?

And most of the time, they’re right. In every subsequent season after the original, there has been some sort of “ticking time bomb” threat, which is quite literally in most instances a ticking time bomb. Sure, they try to mix it up between nuclear (seasons 2, 4 and 6) and biological (seasons 3, 5, and 7), but the fundamental premise remains the same.

So much to my great disappointment, about three quarters of the way through season 7, the plot which had previously been about a cyber threat and a military assault on the White House, finally gave in and included a biological weapon with a countdown timer. The season nosedived rather quickly after that, turning a promising storyline into something we’d seen approximately five times before.

But with these last two hours that were Monday’s season finale, 24 has turned it around, and shown that even in its seventh season, it can create one of the most engrossing and gripping shows on television.

Because the majority of the threats of the day were over, 24 got to do something it has never really had the time to do, be introspective. There were a number of scenes in this episode that were some of the most emotionally compelling I’d seen on any show this entire year, and it was refreshing to see that America’s best action show does actually have a heart as well.

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The first character arc we see come full circle is Tony Almeida’s, who upgraded from double to a triple agent in the finale, when we discover that he’s actually working for himself, rather than the good or the bad guys. The entire day (and his last few years) have been spent as an elaborate revenge plot, trying to find the man who was ultimately responsible for murdering his wife, Michelle.

It’s a perspective we’ve never really seen much before on 24, usually a character is usually aligned with good or evil, and the show rarely believes in a grey area. Tonight we learned that righteous revenge can be a desire greater than either law abiding justice or money. Not since season one where we saw Jack murder Victor Drazen in cold blood after he believed his daughter to have been executed, have we seen this kind of righteous fury. But this time, Jack was the one stopping it rather than committing it. I imagine Tony rotting in jail will only strengthen his resolve, and we’ll see him back to further his own revenge agenda at some point in the future.

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This season Renee Walker has become our guide to show us just how Jack Bauer got the way he was. She’s watched Jack break every single law and moral standard in the last 24 hours, but she’s also watched him save a countless amount of lives because of it. For me the highlight of this episode was Jack’s gurney-side talk with Renee, to convince her that he really does know that the laws he’s breaking are ultimately more important in the long run than the people he’s trying to save. He says the world needs people like her to balance people like him out.

But as we see at the end of the episode, she has crossed over into a complete Bauer-ite, she does what Jack would do, holding her friends at gunpoint while she does what’s necessary to torture a confession out of a suspect. For all its debates on the matter, 24 is still firmly in the camp that despite its moral failings, torture works, and therefore, it’s almost always the right and necessary path. It was kind of sad to watch Walker lose her humanity like that, but at least Jack will have a partner that’s an even match for him come next season.

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The last and final emotional moment of the episode involves Jack himself, and his tearful and somewhat ironic death bed confession to a Muslim Imam of all people. I was genuinely shocked when he walked into the room, instead of Kim like we were all expecting, and Jack’s tearful prayer was genuinely moving as you see the full weight of the life he’s lived catch up with him in his final moments.

One of my favorite parts of this season is when we see Jack without a shirt on (not why I liked it) and we get to see his massive amount of scars, reflecting the physical abuse he’s suffered throughout his life at the hands of various terrorists and foreign governments. This deathbed scene was a revelation of his emotional baggage in much the same way, and considering all he’s been through, is probably a much greater burden than his physical scars.

For all its explosions and kneecap shots, 24 has proven that it can work as a drama as well, and even after seven seasons, still has a few tricks up its sleeves to keep us interested. So after season ten wraps, and people ask me how I made it through a decade of the show, I guess I’ll just tell them that the show kept working hard, and I felt like it earned my loyalty to see it through to the end.





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3 responses so far

  • Warren

    I must admit that I was ready to give up on 24 after season 6. But season 7 brought everything back around for me. The action was good, and though the plot did eventually devolve into the ticking time bomb scenario it was interesting throughout. I hated Tony’s double (Tripple?) agent status when he killed Moss because it seemed to come out of left field and made no sense at all in light of everything else he’d done that day but I thought the revenge explanation worked. I’m now looking forward to season 8.

  • Ryan

    I am glad that it got away from the first 1/3 of the seasons story line. Mostly because it would be like watching Live free and Die Hard, but in an extended version that just drags on.

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