It seems that Patrol has had a week full of articles on TV shows. This is appropriate, of course, not just because it is finale time, but because a few of the most iconic and groundbreaking items on TV are coming to an end. For good. Of course I’m talking about both Lost and Simon Cowell, but I’m also talking about perhaps my favorite television series of the past decade: 24.
A couple of weeks ago I laid out my case for why Jack Bauer, the show’s main character, needed to die for this season to make any moral sense at all. Well, the series finale came and went, and Jack’s still alive. In fact, they repeated an ending from one of their earlier seasons (I can’t remember which one) where Jack is told by the President to run away as a fugitive. Jack, in both seasons, had done very bad things that deserved his being hunted down by American forces, but the President in a moment of gratitude and/or guilt gives him a few extra moments to escape before law enforcement arrives.
Strangely, the ending worked. In fact it was probably a bit more emotionally satisfying than the Lost finale (which I still loved), but the satisfaction this finale brought was of a much cheaper, less profound, kind. It was like sugar, or desert. At this point, I suppose the upcoming 24 movie will pick up with Jack living life peacefully in some European country, where he then gets wrapped up in some terrorist plot against one of our allies. Or something like that.
But either way, I do want to bring attention to the interesting way in which the show fooled its viewers into rooting for Jack once more. Jack has spent the past four or five weeks (or “hours”) doing very bad things — things for which I’m certain all of us would think there were no earthly redemption. And indeed, I would agree. He has been on this bloodlust trip of revenge, torture, and murder that has shocked even us most long-term of fans. It has been a non-stop downward spiral for Jack. Until that last two hour episode, that is. In the final two hours of the show, Jack had only two moments of clarity/”mercy” in the midst of his vengeful massacre (not killing the ex-President’s crony and not assassinating the Russian president) and one little “explanation” for his actions which was tantamount to “they made me do it” (his video he made for his daughter that the President watched).
And we the audience totally ate it up. These three items came together to absolve Jack’s sins and then justify his running off and living life as a fugitive. In the previous seasons, when similar moments have occurred, there was a much more justified sense of it is ultimately right, good, and just for Jack to run away. Not this time, though. I had this thought in the last moments where Jack had to decide whether to run or not: it seems in this moment it would in fact require more strength, more moral fortitude, and more justice for Jack to stay and admit that it was finished — he had to pay for his sins, and he would willingly do that.
I think I would have preferred this ending. Sure, let him gain a pardon from the President at some point in the future for some grand purpose for the movie; create some plot where he had to escape from the prison in order to save the world; let there be some corruption in his federal trial where he strangely gets found not guilty because of people that want to use him as a pawn; let the Russians ambush his transport to jail to kidnap him and take him to Russia for torture, questioning, and trial (as the Chinese did in a previous season finale). But either way: let him willingly lay himself down to bear the weight of the principles he supposedly spent eight seasons trying to uphold at any cost.
In the end, the 24 finale was still a cheap thrill that was “enjoyable”, though not “profound.” It could have been a moment that stood as an indictment of our culture’s love of being lost in a state of numbness to transcendent morality and justice that must be responded to appropriately. But instead it further enabled that ignorance-is-bliss mentality that leaves the poor in poverty, keeps the victims of genocidal dictators hungry, and allows for the depravity of even one of television’s greatest heroes to go unanswered for.
Just so the thrill can continue.
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