Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Saying goodbye (dammit) to 24...for now, at least

It wasn’t the best of seasons (takes a lot to beat seasons 1 and 4). It wasn’t the worst of seasons (that dubious honour goes to season 6). But there was a real energy about the last few episodes that dragged it back from the edge. Watching the final two episodes was a strange experience, however, for its revelations about what the series did best, and for more than a few last frustrating reminders of when it failed gloriously.

The second last hour (2pm-3pm) was another strong entry, with Jack continuing on his one-man campaign to kill anyone involved in the conspiracy / death of Renee Walker. In many ways, this episode brought the entire eight seasons full circle, with Jack once again in the position of having a (former) U.S. president in his sniper scopes. Harking back to season 1, when Jack was blackmailed into almost assassinating (future) president Palmer, there was a brief moment where I thought he was actually going to shoot Logan...and then, obviously, the show backed away from that ledge and (in the final episode) went down a more familiar, get the electronic MacGuffin to wherever it needs to be to.

The strangest thing about the last episode (3pm-4pm) was that most of it wasn’t actually about Jack Bauer. He largely sat the episode out, either laid up in an ambulance or in the back of a kidnapper’s van, leaving a bunch of fictional politicians to tie up the final narrative loose ends. It was the series’ last chance to put another U.S. President through the ringer, as President Taylor finally remembered that (up until episode 14 or 15) she did have morals and principles. 24 has, traditionally, introduced character-shifting decisions that had little or no relevance to where the character started off, but this last minute (Jack-influenced) conversion at the UN was up there with Wayne Palmer’s presidential meltdown in season 6. Everyone in the 24-verse KNOWS that Charles Logan is a lying piece of slime, it’s not like it’s a big secret: so Alison Taylor’s decision to trust him was just the latest in a long line of 24 decisions that were necessary for dramatic purposes (and, I’ll be honest, I loved seeing Logan back and as bad as ever, so I’m willing to let them have this one) if not logical character ones.

But why was the final episode so Jack-lite? Fans knew that he wasn’t going to take out Logan and Subarov but, let’s be honest here, we also wanted the Wild Bunch psycho-revenge Jack suicidal slow-motion blaze-of-glory ending, didn’t we? (or was that just me?) Tagging on another ‘Chloe to the electronic rescue’ twist (that also failed once again to justify Cole Ortiz (Freddie Prinze Jr.)’s presence in a CTU windbreaker) felt like one final 24 cliche too many.

All that being said, however, the final moments of the last episode pulled victory from the jaws of defeat (although the less said about the last-minute rescue of Jack from more of 24’s patented dumb special forces guys the better). President Taylor did her best President Palmer (who had a similar phonecall with Bauer after helping Jack escape the authorities at the end of season 4), and then it was all down to the ultimate odd couple of Jack and Chloe. Having these two isolated, socially awkward individuals separated by distance but, as ever, connected by electronic means, reminded me that this was often the heart of 24’s drama. Jack, protecting his family one last time (until the movie). Chloe, unable to articulate herself properly and falling back on spiky retorts. I’ll admit to getting misty-eyed when Jack said he never thought it would be Chloe who’d be with him all this time. Chloe, unable to finally blurt out her feelings, falling back on technology, saying he needed to go before the authorities got there. Jack, silent, staring up at the camera, saying goodbye (although let’s not count the number of times he’s actually said goodbye in the last eight years). Chloe, shutting down the feed from the drone, so that Jack’s face pixellated, then disappeared into static.

With a proposed movie, the show was never going to have a slow-motion, Jack’s last stand, gun battle. Luckily, that pitch-perfect exchange between Jack and Chloe pulled 24 back to the quieter moments, and maybe that was the perfect way to pull the curtain over Jack Bauer’s television adventures, with him on the run, and Chloe, heartbroken and alone in a deserted CTU.