At this point in the 24 canon, we true fans of the show understand Jack Bauer, even when his actions seem beyond all reason. Witness his actions in episode 21 of this season, when Jack pulls out all the stops to get where he wants to get, taking no prisoners and seemingly not caring about anyone else. The truth is something else entirely, as when Jack tells Pavel (the man who murdered Renee Walker) during a brutal torture sequence, "We were out. Why wouldn't you just leave us alone?" Then Jack proceeds to eviscerate him.
Anyone who is disillusioned by how deep and dark Jack has become hasn't been watching 24 for the last eight seasons. Jack goes as far as he has to go to do what is right, even in the course of events that make him do things that are ostensibly wrong. Can anyone forget how he wiped out the Drazen crime family in season one, beheaded killer Marshall Goren in season two, and killed countless others in the pursuit of stopping bigger and more inhumane things from taking place?
At this point we can look at the situation in two ways: the writers want us to completely accept that Jack has fallen from grace, or they want us to remember the Jack of old who kicked ass with no apologies. While I would like to believe it is the latter, there is a case to be made that this rogue Jack may be going to a dark territory even he cannot navigate.
When disgraced former President Chucky (Your Friend to the End) Logan asks President Taylor for some kind of recognition for his help in the peace accord, we can see the great pain it causes Taylor to acquiesce to this essentially diplomatic blackmail. Thanks to Cherry Jones's amazing portrayal, Taylor is battling internal demons like never before, knowing that Chucky has dispatched a team to murder Jack Bauer. Despite knowing it is wrong, Taylor's eyes are on the bigger prize of world peace. Perhaps she sees the death of Jack Bauer as collateral damage, but her expression lets us know it goes against all that she holds dear.
Jack has the evidence that confirms Russian involvement in the death of President Hassan. He calls reporter Meredith Reed, with whom Hassan had a clandestine romance. Reed agrees to meet Jack to get the information to make it public in the press, but Jack's call has been monitored by CTU and teams are descending on the department store where Jack has arranged a meeting with Reed.
Jack is getting assistance from old buddy Jim Ricker (played with panache by the incomparable Michael Madsen), and they know the department store will be a set-up. Pavel is sent to take out Bauer, and he confirms in a cell phone call to Logan that he should also kill the reporter for good measure.
Ricker is in place to stop Pavel, and then Jack bing-bang-boom takes out the team that was in place on the ground in the store. Pillar, the Chucky flunky who has managed to be in charge of CTU, realizes Bauer has escaped with the evidence and Reed, and he calls Chucky to tell him to get out while the getting is good. Chucky has his eye on the big prize (public redemption as a savior of the peace accord), so Chucky is unrelenting. He still orders Pillar to get Bauer.
Meanwhile, in yet another abandoned warehouse, Jack has Pavel tied up and ready for torture. Jack knows how to take pain as well as anyone (witness how many times he has been tortured in eight seasons), but Jack also dispenses it with expertise. He tells Pavel, "You don't know pain," and proceeds to work on him with tools, alcohol in wounds, and a blowtorch. Still Pavel will not give, proving to be as resilient to torture as Jack.
Seeing that his methods are not working, Jack checks Pavel's cell phone. He realizes the SIM card is missing, and then figures that Pavel swallowed it. This is when Jack parts ways with Pavel, telling him this is for Renee. He splits open Pavel's stomach and retrieves the SIM card, leaving the terrorist who killed Renee to die.
Upon putting the card into the phone, Jack makes a huge discovery: President Logan was the last person who spoke to Pavel. The expression on Jack's face (give credit to Kiefer Sutherland for this nuanced performance) lets us all know that everything has come to this moment. The ghosts of the past collide with the here and now, and it is obvious Jack's next move will take him to a place he has never been before.
With three hours left in the season and the life of 24 as a television series, we must pause to understand that Jack has no place left to go. He is more than a rogue operative at this point; he is a man without a life, without a country, with nothing left to lose or to give. Jack will pursue justice the only way he knows how, but the price of his actions may be more than we as fans have ever wanted him to pay.