This final stretch of episodes of "24" has caused quite the division among fans. Some see everything since the death of Renee Walker as a slow but steady example of character assassination, both for Jack Bauer and President Taylor. Others (including Howard Gordon, executive producer for "24") see this as the usual tragedy that befalls Jack. There's little question where this reviewers stands.
This episode continues the process that began in earnest with Dana's murder. Jack's torture and killing of Renee's killer has absolutely nothing to do with justice; it's turned into a cold, calculated vendetta. And frankly, it's still one that is hard to reconcile. The thing about Jack is that he has rarely tortured someone out of vindictive anger. There may be some of that in the mix, but the point is always the mission.
In this instance, that's not necessarily the case, especially since he keeps bringing up Renee in the midst of the agonizing bloodletting. And if it's about revenge, then once again the question is: how is that different from what Tony was doing in the seventh season, when it was clearly an amoral choice, especially in Jack's eyes?
More than that, why wasn't Jack ready and willing to go to such lengths with Nina Myers? After all, Jack knew Nina was the one who killed Teri, and Jack had been married to Teri for a hell of a lot longer than he even knew Renee. Why, then, the disproportionate response? Considering that Jack was repeatedly dealing with Nina for the first three seasons, he had the opportunity to let personal feelings overcome his better judgment. And for some of that time, he was strung out on heroin!
Compare that to his relationship with Renee. It made sense for the two of them to fall into a relationship because of their similar personal crises. Jack had just overcome his own time in the abyss, and he had to feel partially responsible for Renee's own descent. The attraction was palpable between them in the seventh season, so the eventual progression was no surprise. But if Jack was willing to all but ignore Renee for nearly two years after she was dismissed from the FBI, does it make sense for his response to her death to eclipse his response to Teri's death?
Of course, the writers try to justify this by having Jack uncover direct evidence that Charles Logan was behind Renee's killing and the attempt on Jack's life. This will inevitably be used as the justification for why the Russians made the ridiculous decision to take out Jack and Renee, when they were overtly out of the game. (Because killing them wouldn't be a massive red flag to the counter-terrorism world that something was still amiss. Not at all.)
It was clear from the moment that Logan appeared on the scene that he was neck-deep in the terrorist plot, and that he was using the situation to regain power and prestige. And of course, the writers will point to that as justification for Jack's actions. But here's the problem: Jack didn't know that his actions would result in meaningful intelligence. It was all about getting the name of his next victim. To defend Jack's actions in this instance is to say that the ends justify the means, which was exactly Tony's point of view last season.
What the seventh season underscored was the principle underneath Jack's actions. Jack was capable and willing to use horrible means to achieve his ends, but only when there was a higher purpose to his actions. There had to be a logical rationale, based on experience or information. The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, but Jack would happily agree that his personal hell of conscience and consequence was his willing tradeoff for the good and security of his country.
It's not about giving Jack a "happily ever after" ending. Jack has done too much and gone too far to ever have complete piece of mind. That, too, was part of the point of the seventh season. Jack came to terms with the cost of his years of service. It's hard to imagine how he could end his journey (since the producers have already said the film will not be connected to the series' continuity) by betraying the principles he has demonstrated since Day 1.
The predictable connection between Logan and the terrorist plot, now that it is revealed, further undermines whatever facile argument might have been offered for President Taylor's decision to rely on Logan's judgment. With Jack now on the rampage, not caring about who gets caught in the crossfire, Taylor is completely compromised, and her character assassination is effectively complete.
There may come a time, before the final tick of the clock, when Jack decides that his thirst for vengeance has been fulfilled. Inevitably, the audience will be expected to accept that moment for what it is. But for many fans, the line has already been crossed.
Overall, this episode continues the mind-boggling character assassination of Jack Bauer, with no end in sight. While the action continues to live up to the "24" standard, it's hard to reconcile the logic behind Jack's current descent.