While writing about the Season 5 episodes of 24 in previous weeks, I have been constantly reminded of a Shakespearean tragedy, and the two-part season finale only reaffirmed my belief that this is the case. Shakespeare usually focused on the matters of kings, queens, or procrastinating princes, but our story is more a about a soldier named Jack Bauer.
Jack fits Aristotle’s model for a tragic hero very nicely: he is elevated in society or the world as a CTU agent; there is an innate goodness in his nature (he loves and wants to be loved); he has a tragic flaw (he makes mistakes based on those he loves, like taking a phone call from his daughter); and he most definitely realizes that his tragic flaw is destroying him (as most evident from the final scene last night).
After making my case for Jack being a tragic hero, it is also necessary to make it clear that President Logan is one classic villain, most definitely an Iago-like chameleon but with even more power. In some ways, I’ve seen Logan as a kind of Macbeth, but in truth Shakespeare’s character falls very far from grace and is led down that path by his wife’s insatiable lust for power. Here the opposite is true: Martha Logan brings about her husband’s destruction not in an effort to obtain power but rather to obliterate it. Hers is a worthy cause, and thus she does not bathe in the imaginary blood of her husband’s victims but instead avenges their innocent blood.
I have tried in my reviews each week to inject humor into the mix, but I am abandoning that today because I am so thoroughly disappointed with the outcome of the last fifteen minutes of the season finale. I would think that the producers (and Kiefer Sutherland is one of them) and writers would have had enough respect for the loyal fans of the show, many of whom have watched all 120 hours of the five seasons passionately, to give them an ending that was at least plausible. Instead, we are left with a totally contrived and obviously manipulative ending that will leave many of us grumbling for months to come.
Season 5 has been devoid of humor for the most part. By killing off Edgar, they lost the comic edge that his scenes with Chloe gave each episode. Edgar and Chloe were like the gravediggers in Hamlet, and we really need that relief from the grim reality at hand. In the last episode, they brought in a bald guy named Morris, who just happens to be Chloe’s ex-husband. I never even knew our intrepid gal was married, but perhaps it explains the stun gun she has been carrying around with her. There was some attempt at humor between these two, but otherwise it was one long and grim ride.
The first hour basically took care of the Henderson-Bierko storyline and did it well. This was satisfying and in keeping with 24 tradition. Jack stops the threat of the nuclear missiles with Henderson’s help, and he even finds the time to break Bierko’s neck. For a character who wanted to bring fire and brimstone down on the innocent population centers of this country, it is fitting that Jack kills Bierko like the common thug that he is.
With the nuclear threat averted, Jack realizes Henderson is missing and goes outside to look for him. Henderson comes up from behind Jack with a gun and it looks like Jack made one major mistake (giving Henderson the gun in the first place). But Jack comes from the John McLane school of smart (remember that scene in Die Hard when he gives the unloaded gun to Hans?) and Henderson pulls the trigger and comes up empty. He says, “Good for you, Jack.”
Henderson, the master teacher, has been eclipsed by his pupil. Jack, as if reciting the charges against Henderson, reminds him that he is responsible for the deaths of President Palmer, Tony Almeida, and Michelle Dessler. “They were my friends,” Jack tells him and then blows him away.
The second hour is all about bringing down the malevolent president. Jack concocts a rather crazy plan to infiltrate Marine One as a co-pilot, and he does this with the assistance of Mike Novick (Chief of Staff) and Aaron Pierce (bloodied but unbowed Secret Service Agent). Once on board the helicopter, Jack takes over rather quickly, pulls off his helmet, and handcuffs Logan like a common criminal. Logan can’t believe it, but we the audience can because Bauer Power has come through again.
Jack takes Logan into yet another abandoned warehouse, and there he relieves him of presidential pen and cell phone and sets up a video conference with CTU. The object is to get Logan to confess and send the recording to the Attorney General, but Logan isn’t giving in one bit. He denies all Jack’s charges and soon Logan is rescued by a rush of agents who capture Jack. Logan then returns to the airfield where the body of the dead President Palmer is being readied to be flown back to Washington for the funeral.
No one can miss all the symbolic significance of this moment: the sitting president responsible for the death of the ex-president is going to speak over the body. The level of repugnance for Logan reaches its greatest heights, for only minutes before he dared to compare Jack to Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth.
Surely Logan is delusional at this point, almost not knowing the depths of his abomination, for he still clings to the “I was doing what I thought was best for the country” routine. Logan is without a doubt the most utterly and disgustingly ignoble scurvy little spider of a man to have ever occupied the highest office in the land (in the fictional world anyway).
It seems it’s all finished: Jack has finally lost and Logan is home free. But wait, Martha Logan has yet another breakdown on the tarmac. She accuses her husband of being responsible for everything including David Palmer’s death. Logan has her rushed inside a hangar and they are alone. He pats her down looking for a wire, understanding now that she had made love to him before only to delay his getting onto the chopper for Jack to get onboard. When she still insists on listing his accusations, he gives the same “good for the country” excuses and yet also admits his complicity.
He warns her that he’ll send her to the funny farm forever, and then they go back outside and he starts to give his speech where he hypocritically praises the great man he had killed.
There is hope though in that his whole conversation with Martha in the hangar was recorded, via the magic of a little micro-recorder that Jack placed on his pen. Jack Bauer is vindicated as the Attorney General listens to the admission of guilt by Logan, and soon the Secret Service are escorting Logan to a waiting limousine telling him they don’t work for him anymore.
Just as this is happening, Palmer’s body is being loaded onto the airplane to the sound of a 21-gun salute. The symbolic message is clear and Logan shuts his eyes; no such honor will ever be provided for him as he will leave office in disgrace.
At this point I am happy with the finale and ready for the Jack and Audrey reunion, and sure enough Audrey jumps out of a car in her unblemished white blouse (and, man, does she look good in the natural light of outdoors away from that awful CTU lighting) and runs to Jack. It’s a touching scene, a follow-up to brief ones throughout Season 5 when Jack and Audrey have had little moments. Audrey is ready to be alone with Jack, and if anyone deserves some down time it is our hero. However, someone interrupts their reunion to tell Jack he has a call from his daughter Kim on a landline inside the building.
This is the moment where the writers and producers of 24 lost me. Jack is way too smart to believe that his daughter would find the phone number of a phone in this building to call him. If anything, she would have called CTU and then they would have patched her through to his ever-available cell phone. CTU Agent Jack Bauer wouldn’t make that mistake, but maybe Jack the father would. Caught up in the emotion with Audrey and wanting to love and be loved as I mentioned before, Jack might have lost his senses for a moment.
It’s a real stretch though, and when he goes in to pick up the phone he is grabbed by three masked men, one of whom covers his face with a rag no doubt drenched in chloroform.
So after the absolutely worst day in the five days that we have come to know Jack Bauer, he doesn’t get to go home and snuggle with Audrey. Jack Bauer deserves that and so do the fans. This man is ready to break and now he is in a situation where he could be broken. Dragged into the bowls of a ship, Jack is bloody, beaten, and lying on the floor like a piece of garbage. The Chinese diplomat from Season 4 who jousted with Palmer comes into view, and Jack asks for one phone call.
It’s his last chance and Jack knows it. Last year he faked his own death and left Audrey and his daughter in limbo, but now this is even worse. If he can’t let them know what has happened, they will think he has done the same thing again. Thus, Jack loses any possibility of love that he needs and will be a lost soul. When he realizes this Jack asks to be killed, but the Chinese guy tells him he is far too valuable for that. The last thing we see is a boat with Shanghai written on the back heading off into the ocean, and we know Jack is in for one hell of a ride on that slow boat to what would seem to be no return.
Until now, I thought the ending of Season 2 was the most depressing, but now I am overwhelmed by these last moments of Season 5. I know some people will love this turn of events, thinking that it will change the dynamics in Season 6 and bring Jack into a whole new level of the heroic. But I see it differently for Jack will become a prisoner with little or no hope for the love he craves or the ability to do the job he lives to do.
Jack will become more desperate, less human, and infinitely more dangerous. I don’t think Jack needs to descend to that level and if he does, any hope of redemption or happiness may be lost. Jack Bauer doesn’t deserve that and neither do the fans of 24.
It’s going to be a long wait until January 2007. Until then, Klaatu Barada Nikto!