Jack Bauer, like Christian Bale’s Dark Knight in the Nolan “Batman’’ movies, was the hero that we needed him to be. The early seasons of “24’’ – beyond the impact of its groundbreaking, action-show-meets-soap-opera format – are going to exist forever in the annals as an artifact of the confused, wounded and angry America of the early 2000s. Flip the television a few channels up, and you get news of Guantanamo Bay and Iraq; a few channels down, Jack Bauer was doing anything and everything – sawing heads off with hacksaws, executing his own colleagues, torture, torture and more torture – all in the name of saving America against hordes of shadowy enemies and paranoid conspiracies. In a shades of gray world, Jack Bauer (played by a Canadian, of course) was as black and as white as it gets. To paraphrase another unforgettable TV character, there were men knocking at our door, and he went to kill them. Simple as that.
We’ve always needed those heroes. Few of our savior figures, though, have ever suffered as much as Jack Bauer has. Over the years, “24’’ has turned him into an emotional pinata. He’s Job, with a Glock, messenger bag and a scowl. He’s saved our country countless times, but it’s routinely cost him everything he’s ever held dear. This truncated season was no different. The finale of “Live Another Day“was as shattering as it gets.
So, here it is. The last hour in this unexpected return. Audrey is shell-shocked in the wake of last week’s park-bench massacre, as Cheng’s sniper holds her hostage – even brutally finishing off Audrey’s wounded contact while she waits, shaking, for some type of resolution. Over at the Great Bearded Russian’s London hangout, Jack finds a hidden phone and a timeframe – a ship booking out of England in forty minutes, the escape route for Cheng. Before they can go after Cheng, though, the Chinese operative calls him with pictures of the held-hostage Audrey, threatening her death for the prospect of his safe passage. All of a sudden, we’ve got the whole scenario for “The Dark Knight’’ playing out. Go after the love of your life or try to hunt down the person vital to the lives of millions?
Well, we know what Batman did, and that’s what Jack does, relying on Morgan to go save Audrey as he takes off after Cheng. Luckily, he’ll have some backup. Not only is Chloe still alive and kicking, she also apparently took the time to memorize Jack’s cell-phone number. One call later, and they’re reunited, the most unlikely duo of the last decade or so, off on one last ride into the sunset. Given the ominous nature of their conversation – it’s a lot of “I’m sorrys’’ and “regrets’’ – it certainly sounds like (to extend the Western metaphor) this could be the end of “Shane’’ all over again. Come back, Jack! Come back!
In the Pacific, the war is getting closer and closer to kicking off (boy, the Chinese can sure mount an amphibious assault rather quickly). Cheng arrives at the docks, where he’s greeted by another Russian with another sweet mustache. Is the entire country stuck in the Wild West era? Jack and his compadre Belichick (that might not be his name, I just like the idea that it could be) get ready for the assault on the ship, guided from above by Chloe, satellite system leading them right to each target. Docked transport ship assaults are always cool – “The Usual Suspects,’’ “Lethal Weapon 2,’’ “The Naked Gun’’ – and this one’s right up there. The two creep, creep through the ship, taking out tons of henchmen before everything goes to hell. Cheng’s men pick up on the satellite signal that Chloe is using, and he orders death from above for Audrey.
Thankfully, Morgan’s been able to pick out the sniper, thanks to a courageous feint from Audrey, and once the situation on the boat goes balloon-up, she takes the sniper out in no time. So, everything’s hunky-dory on that front. Right. Right? It has to be. Doesn’t it?
Wait. Cheng had a second gunman. There’s a hail of shots as Morgan and Audrey and the rest of the agents walk away. No. Oh no. This can’t happen. Not again. Not after Teri Bauer and Renee Walker. Come on, not again.
It totally did. This is devastating. It’s hard to even type this. Audrey took one in the gut. She staggers around for a second like Sofia Coppola in “Godfather 3’’ before collapsing and expiring. Sadness. Silent clock. I need a beer and a hug and to look at that video of the little girl getting a surprise puppy again.
Okay, I did all of those three things. My roommates might still be wondering what went on up here. When Jack hears, via cellphone, about Audrey’s death … oh man. Yikes. In this particular moment, Jack Bauer might be the angriest fictional character in the entire history of any medium. For the next few minutes, he turns into a combination of Martin Riggs and Doomsday, taking out terrorists left and right with an awesome butcher knife – pistol combination before disarming (literally) Cheng in a karate showdown.
Apparently, this ship also features the shop from “Pulp Fiction’’, because Jack finds a random samurai sword just hanging out on the bridge. He gets the proof of life – enough to avoid the war – out of Cheng before dispensing some decapitory justice on him. Anyone else have “samurai sword decapitation’’ as the final instrument of death for the bad guy this season? Well, good riddance to him. We’re not done with twists yet, though. Jack and Belichick leave the boat to find Chloe gone, with a mysterious phone caller telling Jack to meet him the next day. She better be alive. If she goes I’m beating up my television with my guitars.
Wrapping up the season – with ten minutes left – we get the big time jump we’ve been promised for a while. A guilt-ridden Morgan turns in her badge and gun. Ritter sends a beaten-to-hell Boudreau back for interrogation. Heller sends off his daughter’s body on the Heathrow tarmac, topping his day off with a heartbreaking acknowledgement of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Man, what a downer.
Here we go, the last scene of the season. A helicopter drops off Chloe somewhere outside London – whew, my TV’s safe – and Jack arrives on the scene with Belichick. It’s the vengeful Russians, and they’re hell-bent on a swap. Jack gives himself up for Chloe’s life, and our hero is whisked away to Moscow, torture and T.a.T.U. on tap. It’s sad … but, at the same time, there’s no way the series can end like this. No way in hell. No, Jack will be back. Another series, a movie, something … he’ll be back. He’s whatever we need him to be, whenever we need him. That Bauer-signal will shine again, and the world will be richer and a lot more terrorist-free whenever it next pierces the sky. Until next time.
Final thoughts on “24: Live Another Day’’:
– I noticed that the Home Run Derby was delayed for a bit over on ESPN. I’m only going to assume that was because they were waiting for Jack Bauer to get through with his business. If he were in it, he’d make Josh Hamilton look like Rafael Belliard.
– A friend had the best idea for the next Bauer entry: “I want to see Kate Morgan hire Chloe, Tony Almeida and Aaron Pierce to bust Jack out of a Russian gulag,’’ he said. You listening, Fox?
– My best guess for this franchise’s future? Movie. It’s come close to happening before, and it’s probably the best way to wrap everything up.
– That’s it for me for “24’’ this season. It’s been a pleasure recapping ‘em for you, and I really appreciated all the kind words I’ve received in the comments section, on Twitter and in my Gmail inbox. Hopefully, we’ll get some more “24’’ action in the future, and if so, I hope I’ll be back writing about it. If not, though, check out my “Extant’’ recaps (it’s not a bad show, really) and the other stuff I’m penning for this fine site.