24 Finale: A Showrunner Explains Why They Did That to Jack Bauer

24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY: Jack (Kiefer Sutherland, R) makes a life-changing decision in the "10:00 PM - 11:00 AM" Event Series Finale episode of 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY airing Monday, July 14 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Also pictured: Mary Lynn Rajskub, L. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Chris Raphael/FOX
Photo: Chris Raphael/FOX

This article contains spoilers, so come back when you’ve watched the Live Another Day finale.

Jack Bauer has always been one of TV’s most tragic heroes, but daaaaaaaamn, 24. The cost of safety for the free world? Audrey is killed, President Heller won’t remember having a daughter, Mark goes away for treason, Kate leaves the CIA, Chloe’s left alone, and Jack? Jack’s in the custody of Russians eager for payback. This 12-episode “limited event” season was written to stand on its own, a one-time deal, but is this really the last we’ll see of Jack? Address all pleas for renewal — maybe in the form of “dammit!” voice-mails — to new Fox Television Group overlords Gary Newman and Dana Walden, and in the meantime, read our conversation with 24 co-showrunner Manny Coto about the gargantuan task of bringing Jack’s journey to a close. If it’s the end, it was a supremely sad and most excellent way to go.

How could you kill Audrey? Hasn’t Jack lost enough women?
We’ve always conceived Jack as a tragic character. I don’t think that’s news to people who watch the show. We felt there was a certain irony this season. Jack showed up to save Audrey deep-down. Chloe at the beginning of the season called Jack out on it. She tells him, “The reason you’re here is because of Heller and Audrey,” and he kind of admits it. There’s an irony that he ended up saving the world but losing the one person he really came to save. Season one closed with the death of his wife. There’s a kind of closure to Jack once again losing the person he loved the most but saving us all. In our minds, why Jack readily gave himself up to the Russians — it was partially to save Chloe, but you see there’s a smile on Jack’s face at the end. It’s wonderfully played by Kiefer. Kiefer understands the soul of Jack more than anybody, and he really felt there’s a penance he has to pay. In doing the good he does, there’s a lot of bad he does, and has done, along the way. He feels he must pay this penance, that Jack must pay for what he has done in some way. No matter how many lives he saves, there’s a balance that needs to be paid. That’s a long way of saying why we felt this tragedy had to befall Jack and Heller at the end of the season.

You say “closure.” Did you write the finale to be Jack’s final chapter? You weren’t considering the possibility of doing another season? Or a movie?
We always conceived this as the final season. We never went into this thinking there would be more. We wanted to approach it that way and really just deliver what we felt were the final moments worthy of a finale for Jack Bauer. Now, who knows what the future holds? Who knows if he’ll come back? You never really know. But there are no plans for anything more.

Then it ends horribly for everyone — Jack, Heller, Kate, Chloe, Mark. And me, too.
Again, for us, it’s balance. It’s more bittersweet. Yes, it’s tragedy for everybody, but we have to remember that World War III was averted. Billions of lives were saved, but there are losses. That’s the way it is in real life as well. It’s what makes it real, I think. It never comes out roses. In war, in treachery, in espionage, does anyone ever come out unscathed?

The thing that made me cry the hardest was what Heller says about losing his Audrey, and how because he has Alzheimer’s he’ll soon forget she ever even existed. Can you talk about writing that final scene from him?
We were searching for Heller’s reaction to his daughter’s death, and we went into the season knowing he’d been stricken by this tragic disease. It just occurred to us as we were writing that it would be ironic and devastating that if he were able to, in these terrible final moments, extract what for him is a silver lining — yes, I have this disease, but soon I will forget everything that happened. Once we hit on that, there was no other thing for him to say. He’s a man who has lost his daughter, and he’s searching and struggling for anything that can keep him going.  This is what came to mind. We all believe it was real, and as tragic and as ironic and in some ways ugly as it is, inside his head, it makes perfect sense.

Earlier in the season, it looked like Margo had succeeded in blowing Heller up with a drone. We don’t see Jack saving Heller, but we hear about how it happened in the next episode. 24 doesn’t really do that kind of thing. Did you feel like you were being tricky doing that?
Well, I think we were just preserving a twist. We weren’t trying to be specifically tricky. It also felt like in that moment, his “death” should be Margo’s point of view. This was her goal the entire season, and we felt like being with her was an honest thing to do, and in that case, allowed us to pull a sleight of hand. Heller’s “death” was originally planned to happen in act four of that episode, and in act five, we reveal he’s alive. So it wasn’t originally planned to go over the week, but in plotting it out — sometimes in these shows, we do kind of know where we’re going, and sometimes the stories take over. We found ourselves ending the episode with that “death.” We were frankly a little worried about it. We never intended that to be something that played out over a week. We were worried about what the audience reaction would be and what have you, but sometimes that’s the way stories lay out, and we just had to run with it. What was good about the next episode is, yes, he was alive, but by then, Jack was already racing to Margo so people couldn’t catch their breath. They were like, Okay, great, he’s alive. Now go get Margo. And next thing you know, he’s throwing her out the window. Heller’s all but forgotten. [Laughs.]

This shorter run felt more planned in advance then any other season. True?
Yes, it was more pre-planned than ever before. I wouldn’t say every moment was planned or that we knew exactly what was going to happen, but we all knew where we were going and where this would end and what events would take place. Twelve episodes you can plan. Twenty-four is almost impossible. If we were in 24 episodes, we’d be flailing right now. We’d be throwing in filler episodes just to try to get to the end. This worked out quite well.

Even if you envisioned this as Jack’s swan song, there’s that moment where he’s gotta go after Chloe, and I thought that might be what a next season would look like. Did that idea ever cross your mind?
No, that was never really the idea. I will be honest with you — we were playing with various endings. It wasn’t always firm that Audrey was going to be the one to die. There were a lot of different characters that we discussed. A lot of it is a give-and-take in the writers’ room. There’s a lot of people with a lot of opinions. Actors have opinions. There were a lot of actors in London who I think were waiting for that terrible phone call.

Pick your favorite line: “Wake the bitch up!” or “Immunity isn’t on the table — but your hand is!”?
I would say “Immunity isn’t on the table — but your hands is!” I think that’s my favorite line.

Me too. There was a ton of action this season, but the car chase — or rather, drone chase — in the streets of London was especially impressive. How complicated was that to shoot?
Yes, absolutely. [Co-showrunner] Evan Katz and I came into the season really wanting to go back to the show’s action-thriller roots. So we consciously planned each episode to have a big moment, and to not let up. We knew when we were talking drones that at some point or another we wanted Jack to be chased by a drone.

Of course.
Exactly. We didn’t know if it would be on foot or what. We ultimately came to this car thing, wrote it, and sent it off. “Good luck, London!” Good luck putting this together. But dammit if the production crew and director–executive producer Jon Cassar pulled off. To this day, I don’t know how they did it. I read that one of the car chases in Bourne Identity movies took six weeks to shoot. These episodes shoot in one week. I don’t know how this was done.

Why was Navarro shirtless for his interrogation?
Because in episode one, Jack is shirtless. We were using this device that was kind of a lie detector that took readings all over the body. We wanted to also show off that Kiefer had tattoos — we wanted to show that Jack was tough and had been through a lot in the four years. That Navarro episode we thought was a beautiful reversal of everything that had happened since episode one. Everything’s completely flipped. Navarro’s in the chair and Jack’s interviewing him. We felt it was right that Navarro get the same treatment Jack did, so he would have to be shirtless. For us, it was a parallel pair of scenes. It wasn’t anything to do with us wanting to see Navarro shirtless, although, you know, a lot of people liked that. [Laughs.]

If Fox wants another season, how would you feel about that?
I personally would be delighted. I love the show and I love working on the show. I think there are stories to tell. My fantasy — and this is just me — is that Jack Bauer arrives in Moscow and the Russians tell him, “We have no interest in keeping you incarcerated and/or torturing you. We actually need you.” That’s one possibility. You never know. I would love to see it keep going. But that’s just me.

Feel like saying anything nice about the new Fox bosses Gary Newman and Dana Walden? Maybe we can get this going together.
I will say that Dana is one of our greatest supporters and fans. She called Evan and I up on a couple of occasions — and she spoke as a fan — and she’d say, “Oh my gosh, I cannot believe what happened in this episode. Fantastic. I can’t wait to see the next one. When’s the next cut coming?” So, we were blessed to have someone who really loved the show as much as she did behind it.

Well, I hope I see more of Jack Bauer. Even though I have no idea how you’re ever going to give him another love interest. He can’t possibly look at another woman without feeling like he’s giving her a death sentence. Audrey’s it.
The only love interest he could have would be someone in some sort of concrete bubble. They could text long-distance. Actually, she’s in a secure location in a Nevada bomb site. Maybe that could work.

24 Showrunner on Writing Jack’s Final Chapter