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.