Did you know that an astounding 37 percent of German men are smokers?
Jack Bauer does. In last night’s episode, Jack started smoking when he needed to disguise himself as a German arms dealer named Ernst Meier. (The smoking rate among American men is just 25 percent.)
Germany has had an enormously high smoking rate for as long as anyone can remember, although it has come down in recent years. Why do German’s smoke so much? Perversely, it’s Hitler’s revenge. Hitler was a fanatical anti-smoker who condemned the effects of tobacco on the Aryan race, but smoking rates shot up dramatically under the early years of Nazi rule, almost as if it were a kind of quiet civil disobedience.
To this day, many Germans apparently see the shadow of Hitler in anti-smoking campaigns. This gives a symbolic dimension to smoking; it becomes an expression of freedom. And the phrase “health Nazi” seems a little less hyperbolic.
There’s just one problem: smoking kills. If you think about it, that’s a pretty neat trick on the part of the Nazis. They convinced their enemies to take up slow suicide. Like we said: Hitler’s revenge.
The theme of death as liberation has been growing on 24 since former FBI agent Renee Walker showed up. The once straightlaced FBI agent spent a day with Jack that turned her into a bloodthirsty maniac. Offscreen she tortured a suspect so brutally he nearly died. She was fired from “the Bureau” and has become suicidally despondent. Now she’s back in action, but Jack is convinced she has a death wish that could compromise the operation.
Of course, we know that the problem with Renee is really a problem with Jack. She exists to show us the darker side of Jack Bauer — Jack stripped of the trappings of heroism. For eight seasons we have seen him risk his life countless times. Sure, it’s always for the cause of the good guys and saving innocents, but at a certain point, when someone finds himself repeatedly in similarly dangerous situations, you have to wonder: Is he seeking death?
Now, you might want to avert your eyes from the next paragraph, particularly if you really love Jack Bauer.
Because Jack is going to die. He must die at the end of show — assuming a 24 movie isn’t seen as lucrative — for the very simple reason that Jack can never stop risking his life and saving the world. There is no rest for Jack until the final rest. The very first episode of this season began with Jack attempting to retire. He was drawn out of retirement by the untimely arrival of a new crisis. But there will always be a new crisis. That’s the way the world is.
Or at least that’s the way Jack’s world is. There can never be a final mission for Jack that doesn’t end in him shuffling off his mortal coil. We think 24’s producers know this. We’re confident that at the end of this season, if it is to be the last season, as many believe, Jack will finally get to rest … in peace.