Historically, 24 has tried to make things personal. Villains are somehow connected to the pasts of our heroes, and history between coworkers (d)evolves into tension, or worse. But there's a difference between "Oh, these bad guys killed this family member" and the extensive interlinking of history and personal conflict that ended up driving much of the action in Live Another Day. There are a number of reasons why this "event series" has brought us the best 24 in several years—the shorter season, the more contained narrative—but ultimately, it was the close connection that so many of the characters had to a plot, or to one another, that made Live Another Day wonderful to watch. And the finale, the awkwardly titled "10:00 PM-11:00 AM," was the affecting and effective conclusion to it all.
As I was watching the episode, I couldn't stop thinking about guilt. If there's one emotional register that defines 24 as a series, it's guilt. Jack is the poster boy for blaming himself for terrible events that extend beyond his culpability and control. It's always his fault, and the next attack or hostage situation always becomes his latest attempt to make things right, to appease the karmic gods, or to be able to sleep at night (even if there's no evidence that Jack actually sleeps). What ended up being great about Live Another Day is that the show didn't have to spend much time explaining or even showing us Jack's guilt, particularly in the first half of the season during Margot's reign of terror—it's just a given. We knew it was there, almost permanently fixed on Kiefer Sutherland's face.
Once Cheng Zhi returned, Jack's personal connection to the festivities was made much more explicit, but not necessarily for what Cheng did to Jack. Instead, after however many years, Jack still blamed Cheng—and by proxy, himself—for what happened to Audrey in Season 6. It also seemed like Jack blamed himself for who Chloe had become and the things that came down onto her family. That's not fully true, but that's just the kind of character Jack is. As a result, I got the sense throughout the season that when Jack told Kate or Chloe that something wasn't their fault, that they had it let it go, he was really speaking to himself, even if he knew it wouldn't work.
But Jack wasn't the only one trying to make amends for something. Though the season jerked her around a little, Chloe couldn't help but struggle with the guilt as well. Her relationship with Cross and the things she did for him inadvertently (at least on her end) caused many of the tumultuous events of Live Another Day: She helped develop the override, she didn't leave Cross when she had the chance, and she was forced at gunpoint to launch the missiles that destroyed the Chinese submarine. On top of all that, Chloe joined up with Cross and Open Cell to do good and to avenge her family's death, only to discover that they were truly killed in an accident. While Jack has had decades to stew in his self-inflicted shame, Chloe definitely tallied up the guilt points as this day progressed.
And we can't forget Kate. The third side of the show's heroic guilt triangle, Kate was introduced to us with quite a bit of remorse for what'd happened to her husband. As the story developed and both she and we learned that Navarro and Cross had orchestrated the theft and selling of state secrets, it wasn't just that Kate had lost her husband for no reason, but that she'd never believed his claims of innocence. Sure, everyone in the office made her a pariah for not seeing the supposed truth. But it was how Kate viewed herself and her role in her husband's suicide that hurt the most.
You put those three people together and you have a lot of self-hatred and guilt, only some of which is justified.* The finale, like all good 24 finales, gave Jack, Chloe, and Kate their latest big attempt to seek redemption or find peace, but it also piled on more damage, more grief. Although last week's episode was a little messy, it did set the stage for one heck of a 30-minute stretch at the beginning of this final hour, where Chloe led Jack and Belcheck through the floor plan of a freighter to reach Cheng while Kate worked to save Audrey from the snipers in the park and President Heller had to consider engaging in real war with the encroaching Chinese forces. Say whatever you want about 24's use of the real-time structure and how boring it grew to be toward the end of the original eight-season run, but when the show locks it in and uses the time, the split screens, and editing all together in a sequence like this, it's without peers.
*And really, this trio wasn't alone in Live Another Day; Heller's guilt over what happened to Margot's husband drove much of his activity early on, and even scummy characters like Mark and Navarro attempted to "make good" once they recognized the terrible things they had done.
Watching the events of the finale unfold, you had to know that something would go terribly, terribly wrong, and it wouldn't just be Chloe losing communication with Jack and Belcheck on the freighter. Unfortunately for everyone, Audrey—generally innocent and well-intentioned Audrey—was the victim. She was gunned down under Kate's nose, which only made Kate feel worse about herself and her skills as an agent. And for Jack, Audrey's death nearly pushed him to suicide. That brief scene when Jack learned that Audrey was gone and silently pulled out a handgun to kill himself was about as powerful and dark as 24 gets.
The material isn't always there for Kiefer Sutherland on 24, but when it is, especially when it doesn't involve a lot of dialogue, he destroys all. Losing Audrey is a big—albeit somewhat expected—blow for Jack, because it signals that no matter what he does, no matter how many times he saves the day, the people he gets involved with almost always perish. That's just a straight fact. So, even after Jack morphed into the Terminator and mowed down the remaining members of Cheng's entourage and trapped Cheng long enough to pass the information along to President Heller and stop WWIII, he couldn't help but CUT CHENG'S HEAD OFF WITH A SAMURAI SWORD. What a brutal scene, and one that was simultaneously worthy of a fist-pump and extremely sad because you just know that killing Cheng isn't going to make Jack feel better in the end. In Jack Bauer's world, the wins aren't really wins.
That idea extended to other characters as well. President Heller stopped nuclear winter but lost his daughter in the process. While the 12-hour jump provided an opportunity for the finale to celebrate Audrey's life a little bit, Heller's heartfelt explanation to the prime minister that he eventually won't remember any of this, that he eventually won't even remember Audrey, was nearly as wrenching and tragic as Jack's aborted suicide attempt. William Devane was awesome as usual, but that was also a moment that underscored the cost of surviving in the 24 universe. It's almost like the Final Destination series or something—eventually, death finds you.
Similarly, Kate and Chloe helped Jack take down Cheng, but not without consequences. The former couldn't handle Audrey's death and walked out on the job, and Chloe got kidnapped as part of the Russians' last-ditch effort to drag Jack to Moscow.
Past seasons of 24 have ended similarly, with Jack being dragged off to a foreign land to pay for crimes he'd previously committed, but this one felt very different. Part of that stems from Jack having traded his own life for Chloe's in yet another self-sacrifice attempt; that decision was clearly made to highlight the fact that Jack and Chloe are BFFs forever, that they're almost guaranteed to alternate giving up their safety and health for one another other in perpetuity. It's fitting that the season ended with Jack saving Chloe, given that Live Another Day started there as well. However, what made the situation more powerful, and what made the final scene a better variation on the "Jack gets kidnapped" beat, was that Jack seemed... almost relieved? While he certainly didn't have much of a choice in the matter, the look on his face didn't seem to express pain or anger. With Audrey and Cheng gone and Chloe safe, there's not a whole lot left for Jack to do. He can't return to his family or a normal life. Plus, he still has some guilt to repent for, and I'm guessing torture at the hands of the Russians fits the bill. Only 24 could end a season with its hero en route to a different country to be beaten within an inch of his life and have it feel satisfying and apropos.
What a great conclusion to a very strong season. The big questions coming into Live Another were whether or not we needed more 24, and whether or not there was a good story to tell. Having seen all 12 hours, the answer to both is definitely yes.
– Mark appeared to be on his way back to the U.S. to be put on trial for treason. Kind of crappy that he faces prosecution but much more nefarious dudes receive immunity. Maybe he can share a cell with Navarro.
– Before this episode, Jack had reportedly killed 17 people. By my count, he took out at least 18 people onscreen in this episode, and a few more offscreen. Let's round up, and conclude the KILL TRACKER at roughly 40 for the season. That's in the upper echelon of bloodshed for Jack, which I guess is what happens when Cheng returns and one of Jack's former loves gets murdered. I didn't count any DAMMITs this week; on the whole, Live Another Day was somewhat calm on that front. Jack did call Cheng a son of a bitch though, so there's that.
– Speaking of kills, is there a cooler one in 24 history than Jack beheading Cheng with a sword? I can't think of one. Pure insanity. Bring on the .GIFs!
– I'm glad that Kim Raver enjoyed some quality material in the back half of the season, before her character's death. It was great to have her back. Really, this was one of 24's better casts. All the vets were on-point, and newcomers like Yvonne Strahovski blended right into the world with ease.
– Ultimately, there was no appearance by fan-favorite Tony. I'm surprised by the restraint there, but that of course means that Mr. Almedia could be the centerpiece of a theoretical tenth season of 24, perhaps one where Tony, Kate, and Chloe bust Jack out of Moscow. What if the entire half-day were set in a dingy Russian prison or something? That would be cool. But no follow-up season has been announced yet. I don't know what that means.
What'd you think of the finale? Where does it rank in the pantheon of 24's day-enders?
AIRED ON 5/24/2010
Season 8 : Episode 24