Jack Bauer, The Last of the Secret Agents, Finally Escapes… Or Does He?

“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.

DVD: 24: The Complete Final Season

TV Show: 24

Network: Fox

Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Cherry Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Gregory Itzin, Annie Wersching

Release Date: 2010-12-14

Distributor: Fox

Length: 1197 minutes

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/s/sel-24-s8-cvr.jpgOn 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.

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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.

All He Needs Is Love

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You know what else is necessary?

Love.

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.

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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.


Necar Zadegan / FOX / 24 /Season 8 from M G on Vimeo.

The Final, Final Countdown… Maybe

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Maybe the most subtle performance goes to the people behind the scenes. They fill the blue and green screens with digital imagery and they design the sets. Thanks to the DVD extras, such as the “Virtually New York” feature, we get to see how the show created the city of New York without having to film on location. In many cases, whole cityscapes were added in post-production, even in relatively inert scenes, to ground the action in authentic-seeming hustle and bustle. Fascinating as it is, this is one of those things I didn’t notice until I was told, but now that I know it, I can’t stop noticing it!

“The Ultimate CTU” feature shows us how production designer Carlos Barbosa, art director Carlos Osorio, and construction coordinator Philip Stone configured CTU’s New York headquarters. Where season seven’s Washington, D.C. locale signified scrutiny, of national policies and of Jack Bauer’s tactics, season eight’s New York center evokes healing (due to September 11, 2001’s indelible impact) and unity (with the presence of the United Nations and the season’s aspirations for peace). CTU’s new workspace is sleek and “super-glossy”, plus completely businesslike, devoid of family photos and artwork. It is meant to be green (eco-friendly), harboring hardly any paper at all.

On the tech side, CTU’s massive 24-foot command and surveillance screen is the show’s “window on New York”, echoing the interior design meant to be a “world of reflections and reflections and reflections”. In the closing scene of the series, it’s on this screen that Jack says his last “thank you” and bids his farewells. He confesses to a teary Chloe O’Brian, “When you first came to CTU, I never thought it was gonna be you that was gonna cover my back all those years.”

Otherwise, the extras are rather light — a few extended episodes, some brief commentary, and deleted scenes that almost never should have been included. Personally, I prefer the full walkthrough commentary on selected episodes that accompanied previous seasons, so I find the short discussions (called “Scenemakers”) too disconnected from the action.

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As Dalia Hassan, Necar Zadegan is captivating. Viewers go into a season of 24 knowing that a lot of people are going to have horrible experiences but, relatively speaking, Dalia Hassan’s day was truly awful.

First she discovers her husband’s affair with American news reporter “Meredith Reed” (Jennifer Westfeldt, who played the titular character in Kissing Jessica Stein). Then she learns of the death threats against her husband, along with the understanding that Omar Hassan’s brother participated in the coup. An adulterous husband, a treacherous brother-in-law — could it get worse?

Yes. In horror, she watches her husband impose martial law in retaliation for the attempt on his life, compromising his pledge to build a revitalized Kamistan governed by the rule of law. Next, her daughter gets kidnapped, followed by her husband’s actual assassination. To keep the peace treaty intact, President Taylor and Omar Hassan’s aide “Minister Jamot” (Navid Negahban) persuade Mrs. Hassan to assume the presidency, which she agrees to do. Unbeknownst to her, she’ll be partnering with the forces that, behind the scenes, orchestrated her husband’s murder — the Russians.

When President Allison Taylor and Dalia Hassan share screen time, they are as natural together as they are dynamic, portraying resilient women motivated by the power of their convictions but undermined by the people upon whose counsel they rely. As she urges Dalia Hassan to carrying her husband’s ideals forward, President Taylor communicates her own shortcomings, “I know only too well how difficult it is for a marriage to survive a life in politics.” Mrs. Hassan responds with her love for her husband, despite his imperfections, and the belief they shared that peace might be possible. In this way, President Taylor and Mrs. Hassan bonded, not only as heads of state but as women.

That’s why, when Mrs. Hassan realizes the truth, that President Taylor withheld from her the Russian involvement in her husband’s murder, she’s absolutely disgusted. As Dalia Hassan refuses to participate in the treaty, President Taylor turns on her and threatens to attack her country under pretense if Mrs. Hassan steers Kamistan away from the conference. Outraged, Mrs. Hassan is forced to sign a document with her enemies, only to have President Taylor’s attack of conscience bring a halt to the proceedings. Dalia Hassan’s day was a rollercoaster, with little, except maybe the truth, to show for it.

Zadegan fully immerses herself in her character’s cycle of emotions, from apprehension to fear to sympathy to loathing and shock. Her strength resides in her ability to absorb pain, even as it ripples through her posture and facial expressions. Dalia Hassan’s firm stance provides the perfect foil to President Taylor’s shifting principles, her voice crumbling with each new deceitful word as she strains under the weight of her many secrets. And Taylor’s betrayal of Hassan, not only as Commander-In-Chief but also as a woman, is gut wrenching. Dalia Hassan’s grace under these extreme circumstances segues so perfectly into Jack’s final moments before he is forced into hiding, the world’s lone protector once again banished into exile as the 24 clock fittingly counts down 00:00:03…00:00:02…00:00:01…and 00:00:00.

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