Thursday, July 17, 2014

What ever happened to Jack Bauer? Season 9 finale review

My delay in writing this came first from a hectic flight back into the country on the night the show aired and with me struggling to find a way to write a review now that I missed the instant "quick review" format that I've been utilizing all season. Having some time to reflect on the episode, here's my less traditional take on yet another finale of 24:

Watching the end to Season 9 of 24, called "Live Another Day," I found myself spacing out right after Audrey Raines bit the bullet thanks to Chinese mercenaries. My mind drifted to a scene far removed from what I was looking at on screen- I began to imagine Jack's college friends at a reunion, talking about their absent friend. 

"What ever happened to Jack?" they would ask. "I heard he's dead" "No, I think I read somewhere that he's on the run, a criminal who betrayed his country." "I heard he's saved our country many times over." "Yeah, same old Jack."

I suppose a show thrives on its formula. If it works, don't change it because otherwise you lose the identity of the show. Well, what if the identity of the show was based on the eternal suffering of its hero? It messes with the viewer because each of us sympathizes with Jack Bauer. We root for him to win, not just for the safety of millions of people, but for himself. I guess I'm a fool for bringing that hope with me each time I watch a season of 24 because I really have come to like this character. He's resilient, smart, ruthless when necessary but also fiercely honest and loyal. He's not a bastard, he's not a conflicted man, he is in many ways morally superior to everyone around him. So, when he drops in the ground when learning Audrey is dead and reaches for his pistol to end his life, I actually wanted the guy to off himself because the world the writers have placed him in doesn't deserve Jack Bauer.

Jack Bauer deserves the trust of his government and its president. Jack also deserves to have real human relationships because these things matter to him. This isn't The Man With No Name or RoboCop we're dealing with here. Jack is a soldier, yes, but he's also a leader-- a skilled, free-thinking man. If he doesn't get to enjoy peace after the wars he fights, but instead is destined to suffer and be spit upon by the filth of the earth, then I'm not sure I get the entertainment value of this show. Sure, it's entertaining to see Jack behead a bad guy, but that's become a trope for this show. And I really do like Jack watching Jack hunt down bad guys one by one. Yet, that too feels "safe" for this show. What I have yet to see is Jack be a free man. At some point, you either kill him or you set him free.

What we got to close out this otherwise strong season is the third option, the one the show runners seem to embrace- Jack needs to suffer more. In this finale, it's the Russians that take Jack away for another summer camp of torture and imprisonment. I read somewhere that people hope this sets up the return of Tony Almeida, coming from the darkness to save his old friend. Ah, remember Tony? He died, but then he didn't. And then Tony became bad. But he was bad for good reasons. And then he went to jail. Tony, stay in jail, it's safer in there.

There will be more 24, and I will watch it. I'll bring my hope that Jack gets to be free again. Does being free constitute being happy? Not necessarily, I think it means that Jack gets to choose where he goes and what he does again, instead of being handed off from one group of jerks to another. If I'm being overly simplistic, maybe it's because the show has become a blur to me. The side stories over the years promised some intrigue, particularly the idea of some larger cabal being behind some of the greatest acts of evil known throughout the years of 24. At least with that sort of plot, Jack has a real purpose and an actual chance at justice and maybe redemption. There's great potential for Jack Bauer's story to mean something again. I wait patiently for the show to find its way back to that path.

Monday, July 07, 2014

24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY: Season 9: 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Quick Review

Previously on 24:


Heller sees that the Chinese carrier is toast. Heller wonders to himself if he gave the order and forgot about it afterwards. Hey, I'm not being mean, the man has a medical condition!

Jack and Kate are doing unholy amounts of damage on Russia's best London-based goons. The kill-meter is blowing up, people. It's like a firecracker warehouse on fire on the hottest day of the year. On the equator. BOOM!

Chloe gets some intel from Cheng himself stating that his government has disavowed him. Cheng gets intel of his own that reveals Bauer is right down the road from him. Chloe tries to steal an iPhone and Cheng notices this pretty easily.  Cheng and the gang take Chloe out for a drive to anywhere not near Jack Bauer.

Jack shoots conveniently situated propane tanks. And then the cavalry shows up. Jack is out of breath but full of anger. And he still has a lock on the override device. And Cheng watched his Dark Knight Rises because now he's gone mobile!

The signal for the device leads back to a room full of dead Scooby Gang peeps. So, Cheng found the very large tracking device and removed it from the override doohickey. And now Jack finds a recording of Cheng. CHENG!!!!! Time to call Heller!

Jack tells Heller that Cheng is back and that the Russians are involved. Russians? Chief-in-Law poops himself upon hearing the word "Russian." Maybe Heller was ordering a salad with Russian dressing? Yeah, no one uses Russian dressing anymore.  Audrey starts to deteriorate when she hears of this news (of Cheng, not the salad dressing for which she feels immeasurable nostalgia).

And then Jack learns that Chief-in-Law sold him out. Oh man this episode is already off and running.

Cheng phones the Russian circus barker. The Ruskie says "get to the docks" as all villains suggest. I mean really, can we just have a movie where the good guys hide out at the dock? It's gonna happen one day and I'm going to claim credit for this invention.

Jack explains geopolitics to Kate. Kate reminds Jack that she's smart, like him. Jack isn't used to talking to smart people.

Chief-in-Law tries to get Audrey out of the room because his spider-senses are shaking like a flamenco dancer's skirt. What? I don't know what I'm even writing anymore.  Heller talks to the Chinese president, they talk politely but then the Chinese president says "I don't like this stuff, James."  Heller tells his team to get Cheng so he can hand them over to the Chinese. And then Audrey comes in and says she can get some evidence to her contacts in the Chinese embassy to at least prove the Americans are incompetent, not evil. Oh, and the Chinese navy has sprung into action. World War action, baby!

Jack calls Audrey, she answers it with "Kill him." Jack thinks she's talking about Chief-in-Law, but he quickly recovers. Jack regroups and tells Audrey "Don't hate me." Audrey says "I could never hate you." And then they both get emotional in their respective ways. Jack basically stares coldly, his version of crying. So Jack fails to come clean about what he's about to do to her husband and Kate looks at Jack with that look-- like "Maybe we shouldn't hook up."

Back at the Battleship room, a colonel starts mouthing off to Heller. Jack walks in and asks to meet privately with Heller and Chief-in-Law.  The colonel's disturbing behavior in defiance of the long-standing balance of civilian control over the military is temporarily halted.  Mark, Jack and Heller finally have it out. Jack puts a gun to Mark's head and Heller says "Quit rasslin' you two!"  I have a feeling this private meeting is a mistake. Heller is about to get declared incapacitated. Mark is going to get let off the hook. I can see it now.

Anyway, Heller is angry and perplexed. Jack schools Mark on geopolitics, proving Mark is yet another moron with an Ivy League piece of paper and no damn common sense. Jack asks Heller to keep Mark out of leg irons as a pawn. Ah, let's perpetuate this fiasco. Let's work with the guy facing the inevitable death penalty for treason!  Mark tells Jack where the Russian circus guy is doing uneven bars. Well, it's a lead back to somewhere! If Mark gets away with this, man... what a mess.

The name of this season is "Live Another Day" which to me means (ever the hopeful one that I am) that Jack gets his life back. If Heller gets put in a room with padded walls, Audrey starts eating out of dumpsters again and Jack loses his pardon, then we've got a crappy series of events. All I'm saying is I hope we get a semi happy ending for this season. I need this. I know, there's no chance for happiness, blah, blah, blah...

Mark, Jack and Kate go to the Russian house. Mark is their lead "Agent" for this op. I predict a surprising display of competence is imminent.

Meanwhile, Chloe escapes from the custody of several goons. And then she falls down in the woods and knocks herself out. Cheng abandons the search for Chloe when a very English soldier convoy rides by asking Cheng to stop being a crumpet on the side of the road.

Back at the Fun House, Heller drops his pills on the floor.. The military brass are blown away by this revelation. They are so damn shocked to see this 70-plus year old man is on meds, they almost have to pick their jaws up off the ground. Poor acting to say the least, but easy comedy for this humble 24-blogger. The Chinese (official) government takes out a couple of US satellites (that was fast) and Heller reluctantly raises the DEFCON level to "Super Uncool."

Mark gets out of the Jackmobile and approaches the Russian House guard. Mark tells the Ruskie he needs asylum. Mark offers the keys to all the secrets he possesses too. This works. Mark gets through the gate. Mark gets all of the intel with his hidden pin camera.  The Ruskie walks Mark into a room full of glass for some salami and light conversation. Or maybe a bullet to the head.

Jack and Kate make their way through shrubs like a pair of skunks looking for stuff to spray. Their trusty, living CIA guy successfully jams the security signal! Raspberry jam! Anyway, Jack shoots with a silencer.  The Ruskie sees this on his CCTV monitor (which has no sound, btw) and goes to shoot Mark. Mark fights this out of shape Ruskie valiantly. But then the Ruskie gets a piece of glass stuck in the worst possible place, his carotid.  The Ruskie dies. No intel on Cheng. DAMMIT! CHENG!!!!

Audrey meets her contact in a park. She tells her contact that Cheng is alive, again, no one believes it. The persistent Elvis/Tupac/Bea Arthur "lives" rumors would never fly in China. When you're dead in China, they're done with you. Anyway, Audrey hands her contact some proof of the override device, at least to slow down World War III. Then Audrey hugs her awkwardly. Oh snap, someone kills her contact and the Secret Service detail. Who?!!!! CHENG!!! Audrey sits on the bench knowing that Cheng is able to kill her at any moment. It's full mental breakdown time!

Oh good, Chloe woke up!


What a great episode. My goofy observations aside, I love how quickly the chessboard has been reset. This is clean storytelling too- I don't see the writers pulling any double-triple-cross shenanigans. And the set up for next week's finale is perfect. Is Audrey in Kim/cougar territory by leaving the Embassy to meet clandestinely at a park in the wide open? Yes. This is television, we must forgive such contrivances. The set up of having Audrey in a life-or-death situation was too important to pass up and I suspend my disbelief for this reason. Besides, it's 24, people are always getting in trouble. At least this time it wasn't a cougar holding the sniper rifle!

Clem is boycotting the show, hopefully she'll be back for the finale.