In The End, They Didn’t Know Jack

Now that 24 has ended its run, it seems obvious that the man who truly knew the character of Jack Bauer was the series co-creator Joel Surnow. There’s no denying that 24 has always been a spotty show, but in the two seasons (or, on the show, days) that Surnow has been gone, the main character has evolved into someone entirely different from what he had been.

Some critics have blasted Jack’s “conversion” to Islam at the end of Day 7, but that’s wildly overstated. Yes, it was a blatant genuflection to the gods of Political Correctness to have the wise Imam provide the spiritual counseling to the terrorist hunter Bauer, but there’s no actual evidence that Jack “converted” or that he had any religious beliefs before meeting the Imam or after. In eight seasons I’ve never seen Jack so much as whisper, “Please God, get me out of this situation.”

What offended me more was the standard gimmick of revealing that the real threat was not the Middle Eastern terrorists blowing up bomb, but the American corporation that was financing the whole situation. On Day 7, after African guerrillas managed to take over the White House (!), it was revealed that the villain was really American fatcat Jon Voight and his Blackwater-style military mercenaries. Their plan was to explode warheads in America in order to prove how necessary they were to the nation’s safety. Gotcha.

But throughout the first seven seasons one thing remained rock steady: Jack Bauer. As played (brilliantly) by Kiefer Sutherland, Jack was the man who was never afraid to get his hands dirty, to play (very) rough, and to do whatever was necessary to get the job done. The job was to protect the United States from some type of serious threat. To meet his ends, Jack worked in tandem with several U.S. presidents, the fictional Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU), the Secret Service, local police departments, and the FBI. He did what those others may have been unwilling to do, frequently breaking the law, but always doing it because the law was a hindrance to the greater good: saving the lives of thousands, or even millions, of Americans.

Well, I guess that the Imam at the end of Season 7 didn’t give very good spiritual advice. For the last quarter of this final season viewers were introduced to a brand new character, an evil twin of Jack Bauer. Physically he looked the same and sounded the same. He continued to say things like “Damn it, Chloe!” and “We are running out of time!” But that was where the resemblance ended.

The Jack Bauer at the end of Season 8 was an out-of-control killing machine. Far from being the tortured soul who agonized over his actions, this Jack was like a cross between the Terminator and John Rambo. Like the former he was unstoppable, killing nearly everyone in his path. Like the latter, he seemed less interested in doing the right thing than in exacting revenge for wrongs that had been done to him.

For those shocked by Jack’s casual murder of the single silliest villain in 24 history, Dana Walsh, this action was not isolated. Jack murdered Nina Meyers in cold blood as she lay defenseless on the floor, but Nina was the one who murdered Jack’s wife and created enormous trouble for both the United States and Jack personally. Jack also murdered an in-custody thug as a way of gaining admittance back into a terrorist cell at the beginning of Season 2. But the murder of Dana Walsh was different. He had what he needed from her, and shot her for no reason other than that she was a pain-in-the-butt who was the main focus of the worst subplot since Kim met the cougar. I wanted to kill her, too, but it still seemed out of character for Jack.

The following hours were a bloodbath, instigated by the assassination of former FBI agent Renee Walker. The writers of 24 tried to pass off Renee as the great love of Jack’s life, and her murder was the catalyst for the new Jack Bauer. But the relationship angle between Jack and Renee was weak at best.

In Season 7, Jack partnered with Renee who spent the first half of the season accusing Jack of being over-the-top and cruel. Impressed by results, she eventually came round to doing things Jack’s way and she ended up as a good partner. They parted at the end of Season 7 and were reunited a few hours into Season 8. This time around, Renee was the loose cannon. She was using Jack’s methods but didn’t understand that Jack would do these things only if there was no alternative. So for several hours Jack was accusing Renee of being insane (she clearly was not playing with a full deck). Finally he got her taken off the case, though she gathered her wits and made peace with herself in time to save Jack one final time.

With the situation seemingly resolved, Jack took Renee home and they had sex. Still basking in the afterglow, Renee was killed.

So what happened is Jack’s entire homicidal rage…right down to kidnapping a former President of the United States and threatening to kill him and nearly assassinating the President of Russia…was sparked by the murder of a woman he had known for less than 48 hours and hadn’t seen in the 18 months since the events of Season 7. A woman he spent several hours rightfully accusing of being crazy and suicidal.

I’m just not buying it. Jack Bauer would use torture to save lives. He would not assassinate a world leader, and likely spark a war, no matter how much he enjoyed his time in the sack with Renee Walker. It would go against everything that motivated him for Seasons 1-7.

The series finale was not without merit. The final showdown between Jack and Chloe O’Brien was worth its weight in gold. These two characters have always had a really interesting relationship, and Chloe’s final “Shut it down” was an appropriate conclusion. In the end, though, the show was Jack Bauer and the character who could always be counted on to do whatever was necessary for the greater good had become a merciless monster, slaughtering people and risking global war in the name of a woman he barely knew. The Jack Bauer I knew deserved better.

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