For ‘24’ and Jack Bauer, justice is served

[25 May 2010]

By Mary McNamara

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — In the end, it all came down to Jack and Chloe, surely one of television’s most complicated, and unconsummated, romances. Yes, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is married and Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) has had his string of disastrous love affairs, but it was Chloe who saved him from all his enemies, including, in the second-to-the-last hour of the series, himself. And it was Chloe to whom Jack directed his final farewell via drone satellite. “When you first came to CTU,” he said, bloodied but unbowed as ever, “I never thought it was going to be you that was going to cover my back all those years. ... Thank you.”

With Chloe’s final words — “Bring the drone back to the base. Whatever happened here didn’t happen,” she said, pausing to gaze through her tears at Jack’s face before adding, “Shut it down” — “24” managed to do what so many shows try and fail to do: Go out with not just a bang but its original convictions intact. Jack Bauer remains, to borrow the words of the immortal Harper Lee, one of those men born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. (Atticus Finch, you may recall, was a darn good shot too.)

Though Monday night’s finale may not be the last of Jack Bauer, it’s hard to imagine a sweeter victory.

Unless you count how creators Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow managed to gut-punch what for weeks seemed like the lamest season yet and send it to the finish line swinging.

One can only hope that in the congratulatory frenzy of bringing one of the more talked about shows on TV to such a satisfying close, the folks at Fox remember to send Gregory Itzin, who played former president Charles Logan, a very fancy fruit basket. Because even though the season opened big — with Jack apparently ready to leave his old life behind and head for L.A. with his lovely granddaughter only to be drawn back into a case by his need to protect Renee Walker — it almost immediately collapsed because, until Logan showed up, there was no good villain.

Sure, we had President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), who covered up the fact that the assassination of the president of Kamistan was orchestrated by the Russian government. But it’s not like she killed the guy herself. And as fine an actress as Jones is, her inner struggle was far too subtle to serve as a centerpiece for “24,” which has never put much stock in subtlety.

Fortunately, she was coaxed into this precarious position by Itzin’s Logan who, like so many Iagos before him, stole, and saved, the show.

Because “24” is — was — nothing more or less than an epic poem, with Jack Bauer in the role of Odysseus or Beowulf. Which means he needed to be fighting monsters, not essentially decent people who have made one very bad decision. And Logan was a terrific monster, the physical incarnation of all that Jack, and “24,” fought against for so long: Political corruption and cowardice, narcissism and megalomania, ruthlessness and stupidity. Itzin, with his elastic, shape-shifting face and eyes so incandescently blue they appeared to be CGI’ed, made Logan a politician so murderously self-involved and loathsomely ambitious, that the final episodes of the final season really did come down to a fight between good and evil.

That Jack, unhinged by the death of Walker (Annie Wersching), seemed to have lost whatever was left of his moral compass — going all “Saw” on one guy to procure a cell phone card from his digestive tract, stabbing another with what appeared to be a poker and shooting employees of the United States government whenever he felt it necessary — didn’t matter, really, because he was trying to stop a corrupt and infectious ex-president. He was trying to stop a political plague before it irrevocably infected the fine and decent President Taylor. And he gave Taylor the necessary injection — in the form of a cell phone-taped soliloquy about the nature of peace — Just in Time.

It was outside even Jack’s boundaries to kill a former president — after Taylor confessed, Logan killed himself — and that was a bit disappointing. Over the years, “24” has taken it on the chin for its politics and its violence, but killing Logan would have been less morally troublesome than slaying all those poor Secret Service guys who were just doing their jobs.

“Grave crimes have been committed in the run up to this treaty,” said President Taylor at the end, adding: “Before there can be a meaningful peace, justice must be served.”

Which is why “24” was the show it was, over-the-top but compelling if for no other reason than justice was complicated but still inevitably served.

As for Jack Bauer finding peace, well that is, no doubt, another story.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/126113-for-24-and-jack-bauer-justice-is-served/