During this season I have frequently alluded to the Star Wars films, almost as an extended metaphor, when discussing Jack’s relationship with his father. There was certainly a Return of the Jedi moment toward the end of last night’s second episode, but Phillip Bauer’s grandson Josh also played into this scenario. Josh was unable and unwilling to be a pawn in Grandpa’s game and he fought back (in true Bauer fashion), even shooting the old man. Jack came onto the scene as almost an Obi Wan Kenobi figure, counseling Josh that killing someone who is evil doesn’t necessarily make one feel good, nor does it make one inherently good in the process. Who would have ever thought that 24 would develop such a metaphysical nature?
The best way to summarize this two hour season finale is to say that we have yet another example of why everyone should always listen to Jack Bauer. Everything Jack predicted would happen (his father would double-cross them, for example, in the Josh for the component deal) happened, and if not for Jack the armies of China, Russia, and the USA would likely be engaged in the start of WWIII. Where is the big “thank you, Jack” that we should expect from Vice President Noah (Jim Jones) Daniels and the rest of the bigwigs and blowhards that run the country?
Karen (Hillary) Hayes and her loyal husband Bill (The Stoic) Buchanan take a stand to help Jack, as does Nadia (Squinty) Yassir. Bill tells Nadia “You did the right thing” and she squints, letting us know she appreciates hearing that. She also understands that they have been thwarted by Jack’s father, and now Agent Mike Doyle is a victim of this as the false component blows up in his face, possibly leaving him in need of a guide dog for the rest of his life.
Jones is trying to keep Russian President Subaru from driving full speed ahead into war, but nothing is going right for him. Tom (Twitchy) Lennox is there to help as well as that weird-looking dude Ethan who is the head of the Joint Chiefs. They all seem rather impotent in the face of this crisis. Thank goodness they have someone the likes of Jack Bauer to save their droopy butts from an almost inevitable war.
Of course, Jack has had a long, long day. If we look at the twenty-four hours that he has spent this season, we can only wonder how he is still standing (broken ribs and all). Still, Jack is a good soldier and at his best against impossible odds. After Jack learns that his nephew has been taken out to an oil platform owned by his father, Jack does the only sensible thing to do: he commandeers a CTU helicopter to go out and retrieve the young man.
This is all more difficult than it sounds because not only does Phillip and Cheng have armed men all over the platform, but Jones has ordered two F-18s to take out the platform and destroy the component to appease Subaru. So once again Jack is running against the clock to save Josh before it is too late (anyone thinking of the Death Star and Darth Vader please note that I was thinking it too).
Jack utilizes all his training as a Navy Seal in this moment when Bill flies the helicopter onto the landing (hey, who knew Bill had such a big pair?). Jack wields a machine gun like a Samurai does his sword, taking out the bad guys left and right and blowing up a barrel of fuel that badly burns the evil Cheng. Bill takes Cheng into custody as Jack races to find Josh and get him out of there before the F-18s shoot their load.
This is when we have the classic Star Wars moment where Josh (looking a lot like a young Jack) takes a wrench and whacks Grandpa over the head. Josh then grabs the gun and resists Phillips’s overtures about love and “doing this all for you” crap. As the old man lunges at Josh the kid shoots him in the shoulder. Papa Bauer falls to the deck just as Jack arrives on scene. It is reminiscent of that lovely moment in Return of the Jedi when Luke and Anakin make some kind of peace and reach an epiphany.
Unfortunately, no such catharsis is available to the ever-suffering Jack. He tells Josh that killing the old man is not worth it, and then after Josh has run off to jump on the helicopter, Jack contemplates justice for his father. Where Luke Skywalker saw sincere sorrow in his father’s eyes, Jack only finds contempt and loathing. Jack wants Papa to face justice, but there is not enough time because of the F-18s. Before Jack leaves Phillip to a certain death, he tells him “You got off easy.”
Jack makes a daring escape by grabbing a rope ladder on the helicopter just as the F-18s’ missiles hit their target. The platform is completely destroyed as Jack dangles over the black ocean with the flames licking the dark sky. It is a surreal moment as we see the bloodied Cheng in the helicopter, now a prisoner at the end of the day just as Jack was in the beginning. One can only hope that Agent Burke is waiting back at CTU with his black box of goodies to give Cheng an idea about how Jack felt in his custody.
Jack drops off the ladder and swims to shore. Bill brings the chopper around to pick him up, but Jack waves him off and Bill realizes that once again Jack is probably going dark, fading into the fabric of the night like the shadow that Jack Bauer has become. Since Jack is officially dead (from Season 4) and has no real identity, there is nothing stopping this from happening.
Back at CTU we get a scene between Chloe and Morris. She fainted earlier and Morris comes into medical to check on her condition. Chloe tests him a little and then reveals that she is pregnant. More drama between these two? Please, enough already. Bill returns to CTU with Cheng as a prisoner. Before Cheng is led away he says that his people won’t forget him the way the Americans forgot Jack Bauer. Here’s to hoping there is a nice dark hole someplace in Kansas that this guy can be dropped in for a long time. Nadia asks Bill about Jack, and Bill says that they won’t find him if Jack doesn’t want to be found. Nadia persists and Bill says, “Just let him go.”
These words actually foreshadow what is happening with Jack. Jack has conveniently swum ashore near former Secretary of Defense James (Nuts Landing) Heller’s beach house. Nuts is on the phone talking to someone and hears a noise. He looks around and sees a soaking-wet Jack standing in his living room. Jack and Nuts have a nice follow-up conversation (to the one when Jack was in detention at CTU). While Nuts won that round, Jack is in charge here (as the gun he puts in Heller’s face clearly indicates). Jack tells the old man off. The exchange is powerful and gives us insight into their relationship and Jack’s inner rage. “I just watched my father die and I felt nothing,” Jack tells him. Yes, it has come to that.
Nuts finally takes Jack into a bedroom to see Audrey. While it seems she is sleeping it is more like she is a vegetable, unable to open her eyes even as Jack holds her hand and tells her that he loves her with all his heart. This excruciating scene lays bare Jack’s soul, and he is a man who has lost so much and given so much and has absolutely nothing to show for it. Audrey is his last chance for a normal life. He just told Heller “I want my life back,” but it is clear that this will not include Audrey.
Since Jack loves Audrey so much, he does the only reasonable thing he can do: he lets her go. This is a sign of Jack’s true goodness, a real indication of his nature as a tragic hero. Jack is forever inches away from the goblet brimming with salvation, but he is never able to take a drink. Jack looks toward the window where the first rays of sunlight are slipping through the cracks in the blinds and are worming their way across the shroud of Audrey’s face. “I’m at a crossroads” Jack says, and damn if we as fans of the show are not right there with him.
Jack gets up and walks past Nuts on his way outside. He stops for a moment, Heller out of focus but visible in the background. The emotions are etched on Jack’s face (Kiefer Sutherland can do more with silence than most actor’s can do with lines of dialogue); we know there is nothing left to say even though there is so much unfinished business between these two men.
Jack walks outside holding the gun and goes over to the railing. He is staring out at the dawn of a new day, and he looks down at the waves coming in to shore. Literally and figuratively Jack is on the precipice; one quick jump over the railing could end it. He could raise the gun in his hand and do the same. Again, the expression on Jack’s face is worth so many words. It is clear he has seen the horror of death from every perspective and now even the possibility that it could come from his own hand.
He blinks his eyes and stares out at sea. Jack has chosen life, but he may not know why. He has been as low as any man can ever be forced to go, and now there is a chance to not only let go of Audrey but of everything he has ever known. The screen fades and we get the 24 clock counting down silently to end the hour and the season. Traditionally during this series, the silent clock has meant the death of a character. Here it signals the end of the show (and Jack) as we know it. What comes next year? It’s a long, long wait until January to find out.
Until next season, Klaatu barada nikto!