And like that, another long day closes. Jack Bauer’s mission to keep the president and his family (and us) safe was mostly successful. He accomplished more in one day (again) than most field agents can do in a 30-year career. But the thing with Jack is his my-way-or-the-highway approach to diplomacy comes with a personal price, and I don’t just mean for those around him. Throughout this compressed “event season,” it felt like Jack was trying to out-think, out-maneuver his fate, and for a moment it looked like he might’ve.
But one of the bitter themes of 24 is how personal sacrifices seem to be a necessity for security. This is something Jack Bauer has come to accept over the course of nine long days. This season has been about Jack keeping his distance in order to do what needs to be done. He popped back up because he felt obligated to protect those he had abandoned. The paradox of Jack helping the ones he loves is that eventually he will let them down for the greater good. Jack is not a religious man, but he knows about karma. He knows he’s destined to live the same day over and over again.
The opening found Jack and Morgan looking for clues at the Russia house. When Boudreau discovered that Audrey was being held captive, Jack immediately knew that his fate was catching up with him. I think I’m not alone in feeling that Cheng has been a better villain these last three episodes than Michelle Fairley was the rest of the season. Fairley had moments of brilliance, but Tzi Ma has brought an almost sweaty desperation to his scenes. He knows he has the upper hand on Jack, but he also knows Jack won’t back off. There was something darkly funny in the way he told Jack, “Stop tracking me!” He looked like a bully getting backed into his own corner.
That led into the extended parallel mission of going after Cheng and saving Audrey. Jack was initially going to go after Audrey, but Morgan’s ability to separate the personal from the professional allowed her to convince Jack to let her go after Audrey while he went after Cheng. Jack’s hesitation was appropriate. He asked her, “You really think you can handle this?” Morgan answered, “Yes,” and we sucked in our breath.
The reunion scene between Jack and Chloe was both touching and ominous. Jack pretty much knew Chloe wasn’t responsible for the sinking of the Chinese ship, but he needed to know how she could be manipulated so badly. Chloe knew there wasn’t really an excuse good enough for Jack. All she could do was offer to help him get Cheng. She said, “I need to try to make this right … At this point, I think I’m the only friend you have left, whether you want to admit it or not.” That’s all Jack needed to hear to know Chloe was with him. When he told her that the reason they were going dark was because Cheng had a sniper on Audrey and Morgan was trying to rescue her, Chloe felt responsible. Jack told her, “It’s not your fault, Chloe. You need to let that go.”
This led into the extended suspense sequence of Morgan rescuing Audrey. So, who thought Audrey was going to make it? After the conversation between Jack and Chloe, I thought the show was setting us up for a cruel switch by having Audrey live and Chloe be the sacrificial lamb for Jack’s sins, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. (I was surprised they didn’t try to get Boudreau involved in this scenario in an attempt to redeem his character.) Kim Raver’s best acting this season was her reacting to Morgan’s instructions so she could figure out where the sniper was. These scenes had a hairpin precision in their editing that really heightened the tension. The crosscutting between the Morgan/Audrey situation and Jack going all Splinter Cell on the freighter ship was some of the best all season. 24 has almost always been successful in lulling us into thinking it’s going to go one way before springing a surprise. The death of Audrey was no different. After Morgan and the other agents seemed to have gotten her out of harms’ way, there was a feeling of apprehension. Seeing that there was still close to half an hour to go in the finale, we knew the day wasn’t going to end this easily. The second gunman sent by Cheng was inevitable and a cheat. Audrey’s death as it relates to Morgan is a little suspect because it unintentionally suggests she’s not up to being in the field. We know this is not true. Yvonne Strahovski has grown into the character beautifully. The death of Audrey was indeed tragic, but it’s also a case of book-keeping on the show. It added a layer of poignancy to the final act of the finale.
When Jack was informed of Audrey’s death it allowed for one of the all-time great Jack moments as he single-handedly went mad and took out an entire room of henchmen. While not quite at the level of Riggs losing his shit in Lethal Weapon 2, it came pretty close. When Jack finally captured Cheng, he growled, “You should’ve stayed hidden like a rat.” After confirming to the Chinese government that Cheng was indeed the one responsible for nearly starting a war, Jack dispensed with due process (again) and took him out. Was he justified? In terms of these rigged circumstances, absolutely. (I’ll save the discussion of the morality of Jack’s actions for the comments section.) And with that, one of the longer-running story arcs in 24’s history came to a satisfying (if nihilistic) conclusion.
The real fallout of Audrey’s death wasn’t Jack finding and killing Cheng, but Heller’s reaction to the news. William Devane’s final scene as Heller was quite moving, as Heller’s legacy is preserved but at a major price. He says, “I won’t remember anything that happened today. I won’t remember anything that happens, period. I won’t remember that I had a daughter that died such a horrible fashion.” It was a fittingly bitter note to close out Heller’s character.
The much touted time-jump of going from evening to morning was both clever and a non-event. The last ten minutes of the ten o’clock evening hour seamlessly morphed into the last ten minutes of the ten o’clock morning hour. It was the kind of knowing acknowledgement of the show’s gimmickry that has always been underneath the serious drama of the series.
The final scene saw Jack exchanging his life for Chloe’s as she was being held captive by the Russians. (You didn’t think Jack was going to get away, did you?) In the end, it’s Jack’s masochistic selflessness that makes him such an indelible character. He tells Chloe, “You were right about what you said earlier, about being my best friend.” (Actually, she said “only,” but this is the closest Jack will ever come to telling Chloe that he loves her.) Jack’s willingness to trade his life for hers is touching. It’s also a form of penance for all the pain he’s caused in the name of keeping everyone safe.
But 24 knows better than to end on a mawkish note. Jack’s exchange with his Russian captor put everyone on notice. He said, “I’ve taken you at your word, but if you’re lying to me, if anything happens to her or my family your entire world will come apart. And you will never see it coming.” It was the kind of no-bull threat that Kiefer Sutherland can still sell with chilling precision. And as Jack Bauer heads for a miserable existence in a Russian prison, we realize to our dismay that he seems almost fine with this outcome. Jack Bauer has done his duty and he still doesn’t get a thank-you from the people. No matter. He’s heading home. It’s all in a day’s work.