“You think you know about pain? You don’t know anything yet.”
—Jack Bauer, Day Eight: 12:00pm-1:00pm
The following takes place between 2:00 am and 3:00 am, seven months after the failed peace treaty sponsored by the United States, the Islamic Republic of Kamistan, and Russia. Critiques occur in real time.
Within the first five minutes of 24‘s eighth season, agent “Arlo Glass” (John Boyd) at New York’s Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) asks, slowly, “Who is Jack Bauer?” The question understandably elicits a sideways glance. If you don’t know who Jack Bauer is, you’re likely to be out of touch with the essence of 24 itself, including its trademarks: the ticking clock that bolsters the illusion of the events happening in real time; the 24 sequential hours comprising each season, or “day”; the split panels; its intelligence technology; the hero who will complete his objectives regardless of the difficulties, his personal alliances, the Constitution, or the Geneva Convention. Seriously, who is this guy who doesn’t know Jack? People who don’t even watch 24 know about Jack Bauer.
For eight seasons, award winner Kiefer Sutherland has played Jack as an action hero, a somewhat reluctant government agent who, instead of foiling Acme-like terrorist plots, would rather spend the day with his family (like he started to in season one), with his girlfriend (Kim Raver’s “Audrey Raines”, in seasons four, five, and six), or even having United States congressmen question him about his rather unconventional interrogation tactics (as in season seven). Unfortunately, nefarious plots are unceasing, and so season eight finds Jack planning for retirement. He’s talking about going back to California to live near his daughter “Kim” (Elisha Cuthbert), Kim’s hubby “Stephen”, and Jack’s granddaughter “Teri”, named after Jack’s deceased wife. Jack’s got an apartment lined up and a security job for which he’s totally overqualified. At long last, he’s out of the federal agent biz, completely.
24: The Complete Final Season
(Fox; US DVD: 14 Dec 2010)
On the other hand, getting out proves to be an impossible mission, even for the great Jack Bauer. And if he’s got to be involved, you’d think anybody with an evil plot—at least anybody important—would know who he is. As you might guess, some of the season eight evildoers know him by name, like, “What? Bauer is coming after us? But why? All we want to do is take over the world. What’s up with that guy?” Others don’t recognize him, and all he has to do to establish a cover is don a pair of dorky glasses and pretend to be a German arms broker (do you see Jack Bauer as an “Ernst Meier”?) with an American accent (because he grew up traveling with his dad, went to an American university, and most of his clients speak English—quick thinkin’, Jack!).
Sure, there are a few plot holes and some stretches in characterization, but when it comes to Jack Bauer, the main attraction, Sutherland plays him like a pro. Since season one, Sutherland has methodically transformed Jack from a relatively grounded federal agent to the weary outcast we see in season eight. As always, he’s amazingly crafty in field operations, and surprisingly polite enough under pressure to say “please”, “thank you”, and “I’m sorry”. Yet, he’s also jumpy, twitchy, irritable, and unyieldingly paranoid, all of which makes sense given what he’s gone through. After tragedy first struck when his wife “Teri” (Leslie Hope) was murdered during Day One by his double agent mistress “Nina Myers” (Sarah Clarke), he’s been captured and tortured by a foreign government, infected with a lethal bio-weapon, and come close to death all too often.
Thanks to the machinations of conniving villains, his attempts at romance have been frustrated and he’s lost countless friends and colleagues, notably Reiko Aylesworth’s “Michele Dessler”, James Morrison’s “Bill Buchanan”, and Dennis Haysbert’s “President David Palmer” (the cool dude who does the corny car insurance commercials here in the States). It might sound cartoonish, but it sure is fun to watch this certified, and sometimes certifiable, bad-ass go to work. Jack Bauer is a mixture of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” and Bruce Willis’s “John McClane” in Die Hard, with Rocky Balboa’s ability to take a punch (or a Taser) thrown in for good measure.
In season eight, Jack Bauer cancels his retirement plans to stop a plot to assassinate “Omar Hassan” (Anil Kapoor), president of the fictional Islamic Republic of Kamistan. The plot also involves the possible detonation of dangerous weapons in Manhattan.
Along this path, the season employs devices familiar to 24 fans, such as:
(1) Most of the villains are thoroughly motivated by greed, anger, and/or power, except for a couple of government officials who disagree with the President’s choices and take matters into their own hands to safeguard American lives.
(2) The Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) will have a mole among its ranks (this season it’s Katee Sackhoff’s “Dana Walsh”).
(3) CTU’s mega-talented analyst “Chloe O’Brian” (Mary Lynn Rajskub) will assist Jack with audio-visual data and crucial information (later, he has to rely on Michael Madsen’s “Jim Ricker”).
(4) Explosions will take place and mass casualties will be threatened.
(5) Jack will have a theory about the current phase of the rapidly unfolding drama but the folks in power won’t believe him or will actively try to stop him and he’ll have to “go rogue” to follow his hunches.
(6) On his own, Jack will stock a shoulder bag (24-mers call it his “Jack Pack”) with the essentials he’ll need on a frugal budget—gun, ammo, monocular, flashlight, knife, flares, tear gas, and the like.
(7) Jack will physically hurt people (pliers and blowtorches are not off-limits) to extract information (does it help that they are “bad” people?), and he’ll scream variations of “Don’t lie to me!”, “Tell me what I want to know!”, and “You’ve got five seconds before I do something painful to you!”
(8) Bonuses: When he’s frustrated, Jack will yell, “Damn it!” Seeking to disarm a suspect, he’ll yell, “Lower your weapon!” If he needs a car, he’ll hotwire an older model, although in season eight he takes advantage of a lot of trusting New Yorkers who leave their cars unattended.
Obviously, a critical aspect of 24 is the question it raises every time Jack breaks protocol or challenges the ordinary chain of command: under what circumstances is it okay to break the rules? Is it ever okay, or will anarchy eventually result from everyone behaving like Jack? As the Fox network’s other show, House, suggests, there’s something about a protagonist who’s right that makes everything forgivable. But is being “right” the justification for exercising “might”? Season eight muddies the ethical waters by asking whether being “right” is enough: must a rule breaker also have pure motives in order to be excused?
Jack can be one scary S.O.B. That’s why he’s so effective. In one scene, faced with a young US-born suicide bomber, he warns him, “So, go ahead, blow yourself up into a million little pieces. First thing I’m gonna do is make your mother come in here and clean it up.” Then he threatens to take the youngster’s mother to the blast site of the dirty bomb to expose her to the radiation. Jack’s many intimidations turn to gold because, aside from Jack’s general awesomeness, Sutherland’s voice sounds so gruff and menacing. Remember, this is the same guy whose disembodied voice scared the daylights out of Colin Farrell in Phone Booth (2002).
More importantly, though, Jack generally doesn’t take pleasure in his violence. He might be relieved by what he’s done, and he might even be satisfied with the result, but it usually comes across that he doesn’t want the world to be this way. He doesn’t want to bite off the ear of a presidential aide or dismember a hit man in search of a swallowed cell phone SIM card, and he often finds his own actions as distasteful as the idea that terrorists would plot to kill thousands or politicians would seek to undermine sectors of their own government for profit and prestige. It’s a credit to Sutherland’s portrayal that he can communicate Jack’s horror at himself, sometimes in mid-action, even as viewers cheer for the character.
Of course, as much as Jack dishes it out, season eight shows he can take pain, too. Jack’s almost blown up, kidnapped a couple of times, stabbed twice, shot, and tortured. It goes without saying that Jack never sleeps. He just keeps taking care of business. An average dude like me would need time to recuperate from even one of these injuries. Jack? No way. Jack bounces back within the hour, and the possibility that he could fail is unthinkable. Nevertheless, he suffers two huge setbacks in season eight, the murders of President Hassan and his sweetheart “Renee Walker” (Annie Wersching). Both murders end their respective episodes with silent, solemn clocks.
As Jack explained in season seven’s Congressional hearings, his tactics are derived from his attempts to adapt to his enemies. Does “adapting” mean he’s willing to torture people and break the law? Jack said he would do whatever he deemed necessary to protect innocent lives. So, yeah, probably.