Except for Lost, 24 is the only show that I have consistently and faithfully watched from season one until its end, and with this show, I’ve been at it for eight seasons as opposed to six. I love it. With this season, though, 24 comes to an end. And for once in my life, I’m satisfied with one of my favorite shows ending. They’ve been able to maintain such quality story-telling for this long, and ending it just feels right. But as I watched this past Monday’s episode, I came to a conclusion that was both unsettling and awe-inspiring:
Jack Bauer must die.
The show’s moral ambiguities have been a constant theme. The main character, Jack Bauer, has had to constantly go against orders, kill people he shouldn’t, break laws, hide crimes, and (most famously) torture people from time to time. In one conversation from last year’s finale, Jack says that though “these laws were made by men better than me”, whenever he sees people in trouble he can’t not do “whatever it takes” to save them. He goes on to sum up his unique place in the morality drama that is 24: the law should consider what he does as wrong, but he is willing to be the one that breaks these laws to help us (sort of a modern-day Ubermensch argument, if you ask me). Jack Bauer has felt that his morally-gray existence is justified as long he is willing and able to, with a clear conscience, transcend the laws others must follow. We the audience are meant to trust Bauer almost as a Christ figure who is willing to become dirty, bear reproach, and carry our shame on our behalf so that we might continue our lives in ease of mind. As long as he remains ”pure”, that is.
And so far in the series, Jack has been able to maintain this “for-the-greater-good” perspective on things. Until this last week’s episode. At the end of the episode, he has finally caught the lowest person on the totem pole in a long chain of people that led to the murder of the woman he loved. This woman standing at gun-point before him played no real part in the murder. She was a pawn used by others to infiltrate a government agency. She has been around all season long and we’ve watched her as she was slowly exposed as the “mole” (there’s one of those every season, it seems). She finally gives Jack the evidence that will take him to the real people that led to the murder, and yet he continues to stand with the gun still at her head. She asks him: “Jack, what can I do?” We watch the conflict play on Jack’s face, knowing she’s not responsible for this, and on the verge of tears, he says “Nothing”. And then he kills her.
Jack, it seems, has finally been broken. He has become corrupted. He is going against his president’s demands to settle a personal vendetta and threaten national security, undoing all he has worked all these years to accomplish. In the grand scheme of all of his transgressions throughout the show’s years, it appears that the writers of 24 are going to make Jack a tragic hero after all. The balance of morality and justice must be righted, and it seems that the only way out for Jack–indeed, his only redemption–is by dying to save the world from himself.
Yes, I know there’s a 24 movie in the works, but this could easily be a prequel to the series or occur in between seasons. Or I could be wrong about all this, although a recent finale spoiler dropped by the actress playing Jack’s long-time friend Chloe seems to point in my favor. When asked about the ending, she said it was: “Big big big, bigger than ever….Chloe and Jack confrontation.” Could the one consistently-moral character in the show be the one called upon to finally kill Jack?
It would seem tragic, though indeed fitting, that one of the most beloved and infamous characters in television history, who has had to bear the sins of our society, should finally pay the price appropriate for his own.
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