The Countdown Ends at Zero- My Thoughts on the “24” Finale

For a long time in my television watching career, I did not care much for dramas. Sure, I was into the X-Files, but more for the sci-fi of it. But my favorite shows had always been comedies.

Until 2001-2002 rolled around, and my friend Trevor (more affectionately called “Goose” in our circle of friends) turned me onto this ground-breaking, political action drama “24.” I started a bit late, watching season 2 when it aired, while catching up on the Season 1 DVD. Granted, some big plot points were already spilled, but the show didn’t need much to grab me. I had never before followed a show where you had to watch every single episode or nothing would make sense. Sure, some episodes would be better than others, but the show’s bold format took me along for the ride. I enjoyed every day, every hour, every minute of the drama that unfolded for one Jack Bauer and his ever-changing cast of heroes and villains throughout the series. Well, maybe not EVERY moment of the show, and certainly not every season. But with the obvious exception of Season 6, which was bearable to watch because of James Cromwell (aka the farmer from “Babe.”)

This series, which officially became the final season a few months ago, had a surprising promise like last season. They changed up the setting and scenarios a bit, as there seemed to be only so many times Jack could save Los Angeles (or would want to save Los Angeles). Season 8 struggled in the beginning, but picked up once the writers knew they were writing their last batch of episodes ever.

Dana Walsh as the CTU mole was the catalyst in my eyes, for what ended up becoming a great 24 season, and a fitting 24 finale. Using up their last tired serial plot point, the season began to pick up when we not only started getting the sense that were more than Islamic Extremists behind the impending terror attacks, but that the conspiracy rose higher up, and involved another party – The Russians.

Action-wise, it gained steam when we lost Omar Hassan to the extremists in one episode, and then poor Renee Walker in the next. One silent clock to end an episode is poignant and touching enough. Ending two weeks in a row that way hit me hard, and helped solidify the idea in my mind that the show was ending.

The next weeks may not have been home runs on every episode, but they kept the drama and suspense going until this week’s 2-hour, series finale. Before I get into the episode, I need to mention the awesome destruction that was Jack in full body armor, taking out President Logan’s caravan. He became the superhero vigilante we always saw him as. He was like Batman with a gun. Or like Jason Vorhees with a gun. Logan’s scared-shitless “That’s Jack Bauer!” exclamation further exemplified this comic book sensation this scene portrayed. And then to later find out why Jack didn’t bother killing Logan, when he planted the bug on his shirt collar in order to find out who’s really calling the shots for this Russian conspiracy was a great twist and perfect setup for the finale.

Now, onto the main event.

Going in, I kept in mind that 24 is a show where each season stands alone plotwise and the only series-arching elements had to do with Jack himself. I figured the finale would still only seem like a season finale, because there wasn’t any bigger plot than what needed to wrap up in this season. What I was expecting was some sort of cathartic, emotional ending where Jack “left” with a big impact. I knew in the back of my mind he couldn’t die, because of all the 24 movie chatter in recent months, but I kind of held out hope that maybe they could still kill him off to end the series.

I’m glad they didn’t, and I was extremely pleased with the final scene. Jack still attempted to go down fighting, as up until the phone call with President Taylor, he was still trying to fight for justice and stop the fraudulent peace treaty, as he called it in the video that essentially changed Taylor’s mind on signing the treaty. Taylor dug herself a deep hole she couldn’t get out of, and almost managed to take down Jack with her, but in her last act of humanity toward him, she lets him go to flee the country, before both the Russians and the US went looking for him.

That brings us to the best part of the episode and the moment I was looking for in this finale – Jack’s phone call with Chloe. Since she is the only other recurring character remaining in the series (Aaron Pierce neglected to show up to my dismay), Chloe is the one loose end that needed tying up. Jack said exactly what he needed to say to not only summarize his relationship with Chloe, and express how important she was to him over the years, but also to bring a tear to her eyes, something that we haven’t seen much of from Chloe (Edgar’s season 4 death maybe…) And what brings tears to Chloe’s eyes brought tears to mine – I’ve always liked Chloe, and was glad she ended up as the sole survivor of 24 supporting actors. Mary Lynn Rajskub did a fantastic job with Chloe – she was an awkward but savvy tech genius that always had a way around things, and brought a sense of wry humor (Mary Lynn is, by the way, a comedian, and a great one at that) and persistence that somehow managed to always help Jack and contrast him at the same time.

Jack tells Chloe he never thought she would be the one to always have his back, and thanks her for that. As viewers, we feel the same way. Each season Chloe grew on us and this relationship became more clear. Just like Chloe’s rise through the CTU ranks this season, she became Jack’s number 2, the person he knew he could trust, after everyone else who filled that role were taken out (Palmer, Tony, Bill Buchanon, Renee). Jack looks up to the sky to find a way to connect with Chloe as he opens up to her. Fittingly behind the technology she knows her way around so well, they share an emotional moment, which I thought was a perfect way of ending the show. The feed goes dark after Chloe says “shut it down…” and our famous countdown finally reaches its end –

Some shorter tidbits about the episode itself that I enjoyed –

  • Chloe invoking Renee and her death to stop Jack from shooting President Subaroff – “Don’t start a war in her name.” Again, shows how strong an influence Chloe has on Jack. No other character could have stopped him in that moment, it had to be Chloe. I was especially fascinated with how soft and caring Mary Lynn’s eyes looked during this scene (maybe it’s just the HD).
  • Jack’s video convincing President Taylor to back out of the treaty – “Lasting peace cannot simply be political. it has to be born out of trust and honesty and understanding and most importantly a will on both sides to move forward. currently that will does not exist and this peace is fraudulent.” We rarely get to see a political side of Jack aside from his obvious pro-torture stance. He’s always been all action and not much talk. It was good to see him explain his stance on the issue, and in a similar scenario to the previous bullet point – Jack was the only one in that moment that could convince Taylor to change her mind. Like I said before, she dug herself into a huge hole and Jack was the other unfortunate casualty of her actions. Her guilt in the matter, coupled with the great guilt-laden gift of Omar Hassan’s pen as Taylor’s apparatus to sign the treaty, stopped her from putting pen to paper and going along with the conspiracy/fake peace.
  • Bringing back the “Events occur in real time…” disclaimer at the beginning (although I’ve still been waiting for the “On the day of the California Presidential Primary” after every hour)
  • The countdown to 00:00:00:00 to end the show. The only thing that would’ve been better is if they did another silent countdown, to signify that the show was done, although my guess is that since there’s a movie in development, the writers/producers don’t see the 24 story as being completely finished.
  • Just a quick comment on how well Kiefer plays this character. It’s a cliche to say an actor inhabits a role, but it’s very true with Kiefer and Jack. The show helped revive his career, and you can tell from his performances for the past 8 seasons that he’s been eternally grateful for that. Jack Bauer remains the most bad ass character on television.

My last question I pose to myself is how I feel about a 24 movie…

I know it’s been talked about and in letting Bauer live through the Finale, sets up for a  potential movie. However, in the discussions about the film, it seems they may drop the real-time format and condense 24 hours into a 2-hour film. This would make the movie more of a Jason Bourne-type action spy drama, which would be entertaining, but aside from starring Jack and whoever else shows up, is not essentially what 24 is all about. I’ll still go to the theaters and check it out, as by that time Jack will have been absent from my television set for far too long, and I’ll need my makeshift torture technique fix – a la the lamp plug shock treatment or the neck and ear biting.

I am really sad to see this show go. It was the one television constant that preceded my desire to get into television, and shaped how I watch (or would like to watch) TV dramas (sorry procedurals, you don’t cut it anymore). The show has meant a lot to me, I’ve shared a lot of great moments with it, and with fellow 24-fans. I’ve even participating in converting friends into 24 fans themselves (It’s amazing what owning DVDS can do to your popularity). I know we’re all sad to see it go, and I’m sure we’re all moved by how it went out. Thanks for the entertainment 24.

Saying Farewell to “24”

Spoiler warning – post and links may reveal information about current or past seasons of “24”

Fox announced Friday that they would be canceling their successful and long-running real-time drama, and one of my favorite shows, “24” after the end of the 8th season (Variety article here). There had been some previous speculation about this, but when the news became official, it hit me harder than I thought it would.

Although it had suffered in quality in recent years, like many long-running TV shows do, “24” has been a Monday night staple for me over the majority of this past decade. I have to admit, I didn’t start from the beginning, but I was hooked right when I started watching (I pulled double-duty, watching Season 2 live while catching up with Season 1 on DVD.) At first it was the real-time aspect of the show’s premise, but after awhile I was enthralled by this take-no-prisoners, do-whatever-is-necessary patriot and protagonist, Jack Bauer, and how he becomes this almost superhuman figure, continually tasked with saving America from the evil hands of foreign or even domestic terrorists.

A lot has been said about the series and it’s politics, including this recent New York Times article – For Fox’s ’24,’ Terror Fight and Series Near End, but despite it’s conservative leanings, and controversial stance on torture, I never was negatively influenced by its messages. One thing about watching a TV show is that you should know that it’s just that – a show. I viewed “24”‘s reality as an alternate one to ours, very similar, but I still never brought my own political views into my enjoyment of the show. And there are some big cases against the show being too conservative – the fact that they broke television history with the first African American President in David Palmer before this country even elected one. The only thing I have to say on the subject is that the format they created made it easy to always side with Jack, no matter how crazy or immoral his actions were. You always knew as the viewer, that his methods would work, and as he would often state, there was no other way of getting what they needed.

The format itself, even the revolutionary real-time episodes compiling 24 full hours in a day-in-the-life, did tire after some time (Another NY Times Article, before the official announcement – Television – ’24’ Was a Victim of Reliable Format). But as a loyal viewer, you’re made to accept and forgive the unrealistic concepts that the important things always occur on the hour, or 1 minute before the hour, national or global crises take exactly 24 hours to be resolved, and no characters ever eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. For me, I tend to have fun with the predictability of some of these issues – anticipating when the clock will appear on screen, signifying an impending commercial break, playing the “what time will it be when we return?” game, or the “which box will they zoom in to, when they show shots from the multiple storylines within each episode. There’s also the ever popular 24 Drinking Game, where viewers take a shot or drink whenever Jack yells “Damnit!” kills someone, explains that they’re running out of time, or when popular plot twists and devices are revealed.

Despite these popular jokes and criticisms I’m showcasing, I’ve always had a respect for the writers and the show itself. Sure they would occasionally lose their way, and throw Kim at some cougars, or give a character amnesia, but the bigger and more important plot points always made up for the lamer ones. One great example that they used throughout was when an important character died at the end of an episode, they would do the “silent clock,” where the seconds would still count down to the end of the hour, but they would leave the “boop…beep…boop…beep” sound out of it, as a somber tribute to another fallen soldier. My top moments from the show often involved that plot device – George Mason’s Kamakaze suicide mission to detonate the nuclear bomb in Season 2 comes to mind. That was always one of my favorite parts of the show – how you knew in the back of your head that no character is safe, except for Jack (and Kim after season 3). They also did a great job of bringing back old characters from previous seasons, and whether it was a big surprise (Tony saving Jack in Season 4) or a cop-out (Tony coming back from the dead in Season 7), they always tried their best to explain it and put it into the context of the season, and once you got into the flow of the day, the “why” became less relevant, and you’d focus on the “now.”

While I am sad to see the show end, I’m satisfied with the amount of time it’s been on the air and I’ve enjoyed it. 8 years is a long time in this day and age of television, and FOX certainly did its part to support the show throughout its run. It won an Emmy for season 5, which was a great season, as well as many other industry accolades and honors. It certainly has already cemented its place in television history just in its real-time format alone, but is important to television for so many more reasons than the fact that each episode is an hour in a 24-episode day. It succeeded as a political network drama/thriller that wasn’t a serial drama, and because of it, was one of those shows where you can’t jump in halfway through a season and understand what’s going on. It’s definitely a show that if you want to get into, you should start from the beginning (although in recent seasons that hasn’t been as big an issue as it would have been earlier on). Weirdly, their better seasons have been the odd numbered ones, but that’s purely coincidental. Despite it’s new-viewer-limiting premise, the show did well in the past 8 years, especially once Fox decided to broadcast it week-to-week without a hiatus, which allowed viewers to stay in the show’s grasp, as opposed to the very real potential of forgetting what was going on if there was an extended hiatus halfway through the season.

The cast has already expressed sadness, but mostly gratitude toward the show after the announcement. For many of the actors – especially Kiefer Sutherland, “24” was a major part of their careers, whether it be a revival like in his case, or a big break, like for Elisha Cuthbert (Kim), Mary Lynn Rasjkub (Chloe) and Annie Wersching (Renee). Similar to the actors who have appeared on “Lost” or “The Wire” (and some of those actors have also appeared on “24,”) we’ll be seeing them in something else, and refer to them as their character names (I still call Dennis Haysbert “President Palmer” when he’s appearing in Allstate commercials.)

The show may live on with a feature-length movie, that may break the real-time format to fit within two hours, but whatever happens at the end of this season, I hope it give us loyal viewers a strong and meaningful conclusion so we can be proud we rode with them these past 8 years. I have no idea what’s planned, but I trust the writers and producers to give the fans what they’re hoping for, and whatever it is, I’m sure the silent clock at the end will resonate with us for the rest of our real-time lives, and continue to hope that there is never a real need for Jack Bauer to save the day from real terrorists threatening to attack us.