All He Needs Is Love
You know what else is necessary?
Aside from his relationship with his daughter and his sporadic romances, it’s the main thing that’s been missing from Jack Bauer’s life.
Season eight gives you a lot of what you like about 24—heart pumping action, dirty double crosses, Chloe O’Brian scowling—but this time it comes packaged as a series of love stories. A crucial one involves “President Allison Taylor”, a character that Emmy winner Cherry Jones plays masterfully. Thanks to the previous season’s shenanigans, President Taylor lost her family in her attempt to maintain her integrity. In lieu of her husband and daughter, she’s fallen in love with peace. Specifically, she’s infatuated with a peace treaty she’s crafted with President Omar Hassan.
Seduced by the lure of bringing peace to a troubled region, President Taylor will do anything to keep the treaty alive. “Anything” means, among other things: withholding information about credible threats to President Hassan’s life for fear that he’ll leave the peace conference; enlisting the counsel of former “President Charles Logan” (Gregory Itzin), the shrewd snake in the Oval Office who dominated the fifth season; ordering the seizure of a reporter’s information in an unconstitutional muzzling of the press; authorizing an operation to neutralize (government-speak for “kill”) Jack; and then digging herself deeper and deeper into a pattern of betrayal, complicity, and subterfuge.
Some might lament the unraveling of President Taylor’s moral fiber, but that’s only a portion of the tale. The other is her total engagement with the peace process, her belief in the letter of her beloved treaty even as she witnesses the deterioration of its spirit. Again, Cherry Jones is mesmerizing in this role, as the character loses her way in pursuit of a greater good rather than chasing the usual spoils of greed and personal gain. Gregory Itzin shines once more as the charmingly loathsome Charles Logan to whisper devilish advice in her ear (“The time has passed for handwringing”), egging her on (“It’s a little late for buyer’s remorse, Madam President”), and deftly misdirecting her moral compass (“You are a beacon of righteousness”) until she can no longer justify her actions in the bigger picture. The worse it gets, the more she starts looking at Logan as if his every utterance is radioactive.
Love is everywhere: a Russian crime boss kills his ailing son with love as his justification; President Hassan navigates his trust and love for his traitorous brother and for peace; Freddie Prinze, Jr.‘s “Cole Ortiz” is engaged to double agent Dana Walsh; President Logan rekindles his love affair with power and exalting his name in the history books; Chloe O’ Brian maintains her loyalty to her friend Jack Bauer, as if they’ve been buddies their whole lives; and Jack establishes a new romance with former FBI agent Renee Walker. The greatest romance in all of 24? Well, that honor goes to Jack Bauer and his love for his country.
Where there’s love, there’s the danger of love being unrequited. Season eight leaves our characters fractured and heartbroken, as the things they covet most slip through their fingers.
There’s Mykelti Williamson, as CTU Director Brian Hastings, who seems genuinely motivated to distinguish himself in his job and to protect lives. The challenges prove too daunting, however, and he is replaced by O’Brian. He shouldn’t be too hurt by the demotion. I can’t figure out why anyone would want to be at the helm of CTU anyway. Politically, the position always gets squeezed by the top levels of government, and sometimes unjustly used as a scapegoat. Also, CTU Directors either die or have traumatic personal problems. So, to Brian Hastings, I say, “Bravo.” Maybe he was too stubborn at the start, occasionally shortsighted, and overly dedicated to procedure, but at least he made it through 17 episodes without becoming a statistic.
Watching the previously outcast President Logan worming his way back into the inside circle is supremely entertaining, second only to watching him panic as Jack unravels his hard work. The funny thing is, while Logan plunged President Taylor headlong into an ethical quagmire, Reed Diamond’s “Jason Pillar” advises Logan on viable exit strategies at every turn. Unfortunately for them both, Logan’s impulse for power is too strong. Gregory Itzin is so good in this role, striking a chin-up self-righteous pose that’s so cunning even in his cowardice, it’s a shame we probably won’t see him reprise it for another televised season.
Agent Ortiz watches as his engagement to Dana Walsh deteriorates. Although it appears that Dana loved him too, this thread is a bit of a downer, as it involves a sweeping tangent that leaves behind the dead bodies of her ex-boyfriend, his loser friend, and his probation officer. Ortiz, blinded by love, helps Dana dispose of the first two, which is definitely not a good look for a federal agent, and Dana strangles the probation officer at CTU and hides him in an air duct. As Ortiz, Freddie Prinze, Jr.‘s performance is solid. It’s the character that needs work, coming off as a bit slow and frequently a step behind the action. Arlo Glass’s cluelessness arguably rivals Ortiz’s, and when characters like this build drama based on not knowing things, it’s a bummer compared to the battle of wits between Jack and Charles Logan or the emotional tension building between President Taylor and Omar Hassan’s widow Dalia (Necar Zadegan).
The Ortiz character is symptomatic of the Clueless Cop syndrome that pervades television and movies. Fictional police officers, especially the minor ones, typically function as obstacles to the lead character’s progress. They get in the way by misreading situations and generally being unreceptive to information that requires verification or a modicum of thought. If the TV cop isn’t there for comic relief, like a Barney Fife type of character, then the cop is there to be appallingly obnoxious, like the one who wastes time putting a beat down on Jack because he thinks Jack murdered a fellow officer and his family. Jack getting a taste of his own torture does provide an interesting philosophical question, but it slows the momentum considerably.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen Jack endure the physical tolls of his missions, but just when he thought his psychological and emotional turmoil might subside, a sniper pulls him back into the thick of it and then over the edge. On the verge of beginning life anew, as a civilian, with Renee Walker, her murder sends Jack careening down an unfamiliar path. We’ve seen him exact revenge before, like when he finally executed Nina Myers in season three. Here, though, his revenge is hostile, continuous, and open and notorious, targeting not only the Russians who were behind Day Eight’s insidious events, but also Charles Logan and the false foundation of the peace treaty itself. If the Russians masterminded President Hassan’s assassination, Jack reasons, there’s no way President Taylor should be signing anything with them.
It’s vengeance for Renee’s murder, however, that animates him. Renee Walker was his complement, his equal in terms of gutsiness and resolve, and Annie Wersching approaches the role with gusto. During seasons seven and eight, Renee and Jack completed missions together, took down numerous evildoers, pieced together complex scenarios. He taught her that physical pain could be her friend when interrogating a suspect. She saved him from a potentially incriminating Congressional hearing. Had she lived, no one would have blamed him if, faced with running off with her versus exposing the Russian-American cover up, he’d chosen Renee. He admits as much during his torture of “Pavel Tokarev”, Renee’s murderer, “We were out. All you had to do was leave us alone.” We’ll never know how these two adrenalin junkies would have handled a relationship that didn’t involve keeping an eye on the clock.
Renee’s death, and its attendant sadness, sends the season into overdrive. There’s no doubt that if the sniper had taken Jack out, Renee would’ve pursued Jack’s path of revenge just as mercilessly. Actually, that might have been an interesting twist, although talk of a 24 feature film basically flattened the suspense surrounding any chance of Jack getting taken out on Day Eight. Also, the idea of 24 seeing another day at the theater probably made it that much easier for the Lost finale to eclipse 24‘s television exit.
If the movie does happen, maybe Mia Kirshner will reappear as cunning henchwoman “Mandy”. I’d also like to cast a vote for the return of former Secret Service veteran “Aaron Pierce” (Glenn Morshower, who was also great on Friday Night Lights). Or maybe Jack’s old buddy “Tony Almeida” (Carlos Bernard) will show up. He was missed in Jack’s final push toward closure. Since Jack intervened in Tony’s plan to avenge his wife Michelle Dessler, I’d like to know how Tony would have responded to Jack’s vengeance in Renee’s name.