Open Mic

'24': A Grand Finale or a Missed Opportunity?

Chuck Ross Posted May 25, 2010 at 7:01 AM

The finale of “24” actually began in the waning moments of the episode that aired on May 3rd.

Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) had just forced double agent Dana Walsh (Katee Sackoff) to give him evidence of the Russians helping in the plot to kill President Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor) of the Islamic Republic of Kamistan.

Pleading for her life, Walsh asked Bauer, who is holding his pistol on her, “Tell me what I can do.” Bauer, choking back emotion, replies, “Nothing,” and proceeds to blow her away at point blank range.

It was a transformative moment for Jack. The final straw.

Yes, Jack’s been hurt personally before, starting in season one, when his wife was killed. And then there was his romance with Audrey Raines that went sour.

Jack had thought he’d never be able to love again. But then came Renee Walker, and Jack thought he had finally finished being an agent and helping the country and could salvage what was left of his life with Renee.

But then she too was killed, by the same Russians that had helped engineer Hassan’s death. Clearly Jack snapped. He was going on a personal vendetta to avenge her death—under the guise of exposing the Russian plot that not even the president of the United States wanted exposed. And Jack’s first victim was Walsh.

That set up the episode of May 10, officially known as Day 8 from 12 pm to 1 pm, brilliantly written by Chip Johannessen and Patrick Harbinson.

Jack, having gone rogue, is hunted by both CTU and the Russians. Bauer enlists the help of Jim Ricker, a former intelligence officer who is supposed to be dead and is living off the grid. Ricker, in an inspired choice of casting, is played by Michael Madsen.

In a sequence worthy of Academy Award-winning editing, Jack and Ricker thwart CTU and the Russians all in plain sight in a department store. By the end of the sequence, the Russian who shot Jack’s lover, Renee Walker—Pavel Tokarev (Joel Bissonnette)—is in the custody of Ricker and Bauer.

Then comes the most startling, jaw-dropping scene of the season.

Jack starts to torture Tokarev to find out the names of other Russians involved in the events of the day, including the killing of Walker.

Now remember, this is a show whose scenes of torture were widely discussed and criticized three years ago. Most notably, it was written in an article in The New Yorker that U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, met with the producers of the show. According to the article by Jane Mayer, he told them “that ‘24,’ by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by ‘24,’ which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, ‘The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about ‘24’?’ He continued, ‘The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.’ ”

Some argued that “24” was a TV show and not real life and the students needed to realize that. Nevertheless, the show did seem to cut down on its scenes of torture.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and clearly Jack is at a point in his life where, dramatically, to be true to who he is and his state of mind at the time, he has to torture Tokarev to get what he wants.

And man, this had to have been the most grueling torture sequence ever in a mainstream broadcast TV show. Pliers, a blowtorch and some liquid that causes wounds to become excruciatingly painful were used. Tokarev didn’t break.

Finally, Jack realizes that the information he seeks is contained on the SIM card in Tokarev’s cell phone. Furthermore, Jack figures out that Tokarev has swallowed the SIM card.

That’s when Jack takes a knife and eviscerates the still conscious Tokarev. Bauer then sticks his hand inside Tokarev’s entrails to find the SIM card, which he gets.

While this is happening, Madsen’s character stands by in another room, waiting. Of course if you’re like me, you cannot help but immediately think of Madsen’s role in “Reservoir Dogs,” where, as the character Mr. Blonde, he tortures a police officer in one of the most brutal scenes in movies.

The torture of Tokarev is the nadir of Bauer’s life. He’s crossed a line from which he can’t return. Dead man walking. And he knows it.

In the ensuing hour the plot thickened but mentally that's where Jack found himself as the 2-hour finale raced to its close on Monday, May 24th. 

But then Jack starts on the road to redemption, convinced through the words and deeds of Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who is the one person who has always most understood him and loved him unequivocally.

Thus ends one of the best dramas—and certainly the best thriller—in TV history. A show groundbreaking in form, with one of the most charismatic, iconic lead characters ever to appear on TV. [To see my tribute to all that “24” achieved as a TV show, click here].

Now, Jack must go into exile, hunted by both the Americans and the Russians. Chloe will always have his back, and now it looks like Cole (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) is on his side as well. Plus a few other characters.

Time to bring on the “24” movie, that will reportedly be set in Europe.

No doubt some will argue that the ending was a cop-out since it has to set-up the movie.

Given Bauer’s transgressions, they will argue, the true tragic end would have been Jack’s death.

Perhaps so, but that might be asking too much of a TV show that caught the Zeitgeist after 9/11 and has meant all along to be a terrific crowd pleaser and thus, at the end of the day, is not a Shakespearian drama, but a Hollywood melodrama. #