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.


Natureboy said...

Enjoyed the review . One glaring omission was the great acting of Wiiilam devane . His last 12 hrs of 24 as Pres heller from joy to complete grief agony

Yoda said...

Very good review as usual !
I didn't like this ending at all too repetitive: Audrey killed again (after 2 times in season 6), another love lost for Jack, prisonner again, the scene in the chopper is the same as Redemption...and the time jump is totally useless.
I'm very disapointed, my only hope an another season !

Unknown said...

I completely agree- Jack is a hero. And I don't understand that Russia is after him- the Chineese, I understand, but Milakovich or whoever was part of a secret underground government with its' own motives outside of Russian law. Not only that but they played a part of the almost complete fabrication of a peace treaty with the US and foreign country and got a girlfriend and close college of Jack, killed. So Jack exacted his own brand of justice on them, and is thus damned to face justice in Russia?

Yeah, I don't get that either. The thing is, I hated the ending of Jack being on the helicopter to a bleak, dark fate. Even that relieved look on his face, knowing that he was facing justice for his crimes and he wouldn't have to run anymore- remember, he had no intention of getting away from this. He knew that if he succeeded in saving the President and stopping the threats, this was probably his final outing.

You're right that people shouldn't spit on Jack when he's better than them. He is better- but this all goes back to that court date with him in the beginning of Season 7, when he said that he has no problems facing justice, but when he is brought in it's for a reason- to stop the threat.

I think that one of the traits of Jack is that he breaks the rules, but accepts responsibility and punishment. That doesn't mean he regrets his actions, but that is the sacrifice he's making for the world. Imagine if Jack hadn't been around in the show, the world would've probably had blown up by now 5 times over. He's like Batman, he's the dark knight, only this time he didn't get to dissapear into the night, he got caught, and is going to pay his due. And he accepts that.

When this season started, I doubted that Jack would have a new love. Renee's death was so finite for that hope of romance and normalcy, but then Audrey's name came up in the news for the season and I thought, yeah, Audrey really is the last hope for Jack.

The thing is, after her death, does it even matter? Jack's going to keep having girlfriends until one of them is bound to not die.

I think that this shouldn't be the end of 24. This is actually a good cliffhanger because it's a resolution to Jack's character and a reminder that he's never considered himself above punishment. So yeah, if we get a "Chloe's arrest" like DVD extra and the Russians make a deal with Jack that he'll be free if he goes on a mission for them, and then comes a partner for the mission- Tony Almeida- that would be the perfect set up for another season. Because I think that, after years of prison, Tony isn't above an epiphany.

Granny Annie said...

I needed for the writers to end it once and for all. We were ready to let Jack go after season 8. Now we must let him go again and only with the fear that once again he will rear his head to chop off others heads. And, I too, will watch when it happens. Wouldn't it have been more fair to have killed Jack and Chloe together in a hand-holding explosion? Now if/when Jack comes back he'll be carrying depends in his Jack Sack and walking with a cane. I am going to miss you Adam. You were the best part of this season of 24.

TheJackSack said...

@natureboy- Agreed, Bill Devane closes out his run on 24 with a fantastic performance. What they've done to his character, however, bothers me. His story is so tragic, you kind of hoped that he didn't have to endure losing his daughter but they forced it anyway. I'll miss him.

@Yoda- Yes, this has all been done before. I guess we're missing the point of the show because they seem to be telling us that Jack must suffer and suffer and suffer...

@Kaden- I love the Batman analogy. That's why he's a compelling hero- the rules matter to him but he's justified in breaking them (or is he?) and that raises great storytelling conflict. I think a little more honesty from the "rule followers" would be appreciated since in all facets of American society (government, private industry) the rules are broken by those in power. And yet here's one man who's power is based on his own sheer will of body and mind, turning them all upside down. Jack is a cowboy in the less conventional sense of the word- he does things on his own but he does them to protect the things that we collectively value. When the system breaks down, Jack is there to fix it.

@Annie- thank you so much. You always make me smile, I am so blessed to have you as a reader and friend. I'll be around, and hopefully when Jack comes back, we will have something more uplifting to discuss. Talk to you soon. :)

Natalie said...

I've never been one to keep a go-to list for reviews, the exception being 24 -- it's a short list: you're the only one on it. Throughout the seasons, you've been providing readers with one good laugh after another -- and not once has that taken away from what was important and/or of curious note within the episode. So whatever rustiness you were feeling, rest assured you shook it early on. This latest batch of reviews simply proves one thing: you've always had a knack for it.

That said, I also enjoyed the different approach you took with this review. It got me thinking. It took until around the seventh episode or so for me to really feel like this was the show I'd come to know and love over the years. For the first few episodes, I was far too buzzy with excitement over the shows return, and that -- combined with a little comeback!anxiety -- kept me from allowing what was unfolding to soak in. (It also didn't help that I was having to catch up two at a time for the first half or so of the season.) It didn't matter. My show was back! The ticking clock! Kiefer was being all Jack Bauer 2.0 from the get go! Jack could probably have pulled a unicorn outta that manpurse and I'd have still sat there grinning.

When S8 wrapped, I wasn't feeling much about it one way or the other (and in fact, I still have trouble remembering what even happened for most part). It was the season I'd never warmed up to, and so saying goodbye to the show at that point didn't feel as sad as it probably should have. Also, along with Cassar's exit, I was mad over the way things had been left with Jack/Heller/Audrey from seasons before. So going into Live Another Day, this felt very much like a gift to the viewers (in more than one way) and perhaps even a chance for the show to hook some new ones.

Once the season passed the halfway mark though, and we got to see some of the Jack/Heller/Audrey (!!!) interaction play out, I started to realize just how very much I'd missed these characters and that, they'd chosen them (the Hellers) for a reason. There was an untold story in the air, true, but as it usually goes in the 24-verse, those rare moments that seem to give the viewers what they want, always, always come at a cost. (Though for a moment there, after Jack found out about Audrey, I thought this might be the time they make Jack pay that final price for us. And I'll confess: in that moment I wanted him to.)

I agree with a lot of what you wrote here though, and I too shall continue to watch with hope should they treat us to further seasons.

A few quick notes:

- Not a fan of the time jump. I liked the faster pace of the season overall, but that leap forward didn't sit so well. Probably because I was surprised how very much I wanted more.
- Heller's words at the end: HEARTWRENCHING.
- I love how it turns out you kinda-sorta covered the finale ending in your first quick review of the season with this line: "And this is why Jack let himself get captured, so he could rescue his best friend." Because hells yes, it was time for Chloe to go home.
- Clementine is all kinds of adorable. As is that art piece of Clem/Priss. So awesome.

Thanks for picking up where you left off; the reviews were such a blast to read!

Ryan Whiting said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan Whiting said...

This was a good review, but I suppose I'm in the minority in that I really, really enjoyed this finale: in fact, it's up there for me in my all-time favorite episodes of "24."

I think it's interesting how divided the reaction has been. Fans seem to be disappointed for the most part, but this episode attracted unanimous critical acclaim. I can't quite put my finger on what is driving this difference.

I think what I liked about this episode—and especially the final moments with Chloe and Jack—is how it appeared to comment on the season eight finale, and Jack's rampage at the end of that day. Here, Jack was in the same position as he was with Renee four years ago: Jack saves the day, but at a personal cost. Jack's reaction in that season is one of extreme anger, and one which, ultimately, estranges and endangers his closest partners. I enjoyed watching this self-destruction, but knew that Jack would have to come to pay for his actions.

And so he did at the end of "Live Another Day," but not as I expected. Indeed, here, Jack makes a *choice* not to allow anyone else to be caught in the crossfire, least of all, his closest, and "only" friend. Jack could have blamed Chloe for her role in the day's events, and left her for the Russians. But he does not. Having felt he made the wrong decision to leave Audrey for Cheng (and no doubt feeling indirectly responsible for her fate), the moment represents a small chance of redemption not only for the Jack Bauer of season nine, but also for the Bauer of season eight. The point about season eight is foreshadowed in episode 10, where Jack expresses regret for his reaction to Renee's death.

I suppose what I am trying to say, if not quite so eloquently, is that I liked the episode for its use of parallels: Jack's choice with Chloe is informed not only by the decision he made to leave Audrey earlier in the episode, but also by his actions at the end of his previous day. And that his final decision is his *choice* is important. He is not, as in season five, dragged off to China or somewhere else for imprisonment, but rather he goes willingly, and the slight smile on his face implies he is at peace with that choice.

On Audrey, her death was inevitable. I believe the writers meant it to be less of a surprise, and more of an unavoidable outcome of every precedent the show has previously set. Women in Jack's life are doomed for death (watch out, Chloe). I mean, Audrey’s death was foreshadowed bluntly by Heller at the end of season six, and what happened here is simply that premonition rearing its head.

Watching the finale, I was of two minds about the decision to off Audrey when it first aired (and I still think she could have been given a better way to go out, rather than at the hands of a second shooter). But I now support the decision, given the incredible scenes we received at the end with Heller (one of the show's strongest emotional moments ever, which would not have been possible had Audrey lived); and, of course, with Jack and Chloe. For me, the importance of Audrey's death was not the death itself, but rather Jack's reaction.

One's feelings toward the finale will rest on how we feel about this reaction: do we support Jack going willingly (I do), or would we prefer that he have used the 12 hour time jump to devise some heroic plan to save himself and Chloe (as others have suggested)? In this moment, Jack felt he had already tried to save everyone by way of some elaborate scheme just hour earlier, and it had failed. Rather than risk the life of anyone else, Jack would sacrifice himself for his best friend, and in the end be content in that decision.

Unknown said...


tumbleweed said...

Ive just binged the whole of 24 & totally pissed at treatment of jack ...agreed with this summary and reasons jack and all of us who took this journey by his side deserved better than a pedestrian conclusion of same old in new town ...Moscow. and btw kate never would have taken that leisurely fckn stroll through the park out in the open like that with Audrey she was way too sharp for that! ! Love you forever jack and kiefer xxxx

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