"Events occur in real time." It was a gimmick, of course. It was always a gimmick, but that was the fun of it, that was what hooked you in. Television action series have always been about the escape. A bad guy makes a play, some guns get fired, and the bodies disappear before anyone really understands what happened, but the good guys won, so that's all we need to know. 24 promised something different. It promise consequences, and it promised the exhilaration of immediacy. It was never about realism, of course, although that was the initially the pretense. We didn't watch because we wanted to see people eating, sleeping, hitting the restroom. We watched because we wanted to get as close as we could to what was happening, because we wanted to have a hero go from beginning to end and be there with him every step of the way. There was no escape, no jump-cuts that got us past awkward moments. Bad guys were shot, and then the good guys poked around the bodies, and then who knew what happened next.
And that was the other part of it, right? The not knowing. For better or worse, no other network show relied so heavily on its cliffhangers. Episodes ran on an engine fueled by threat and danger, and because there was no time to breath, to take stock in it all, logic was never the issue. Maybe we expected the plot to make sense on that first day, but we stopped caring soon enough. It was enough to make sense between moments. The big questions going in to last night's Lost finale all had to do with how that finale would conclude the series as a whole, if it would satisfy fans by providing a closure that encompasses all six seasons. I can't imagine anyone going in to tonight's final double episode of 24 expecting that Jack's hunt for vengeance would resolve in a way that would connect back to all eight seasons. The most I wanted was some shocking action, and maybe Taylor get her just desserts. I got one of those things, and sort of got the other.
Really, I didn't care if "2:00pm - 4:00pm" fit everything that came before it. Day 8 has been surprisingly linear, the final act turning on a character development rather than a big reveal, and surprisingly, I don't think that was a good choice for the show. Jack's descent into violent fury made for some interesting dynamics, and some top-notch set-pieces, but it doesn't really make sense dramatically. And that's a problem, because as ornate and bizarre as this show's storylines often get, Bauer has to be the anchor. He's what keeps everything grounded in some kind of honesty, if he's going to go off the rails, it can't just be to generate some thrills. It has to work as a culmination of a tragedy that actually has been building since the first day. I keep watching because the action is swell and I like the contortions the series goes into to keep itself alive, but I mostly keep watching because I want to see what happens to Jack.
That's why I think Day 8 let me down the most. The threat was never all that threatening, and the peace treaty had no urgency behind it, despite the endless repetitions of its importance. There were those long middle stretches when the only thing moving forward was the beeping clock. This show really hasn't worked properly since Day 5, but it's still managed to give us the occasional ass-kicking to remind us why we started watching. Just as importantly, Jack has stayed fairly consistent. A little on edge, sure, but Sutherland keeps bringing his A-game, and that counts for a lot, especially on a show with this high an attrition rate for recurring characters. Only this time, he cracked, and while I can see why, I don't think it worked.
So he lost Renee. How many love interests has he lost over the course of the show? (Correct answer: all of them, even the ones that didn't die.) We're supposed to believe this last one was the final straw, because not only was Renee murdered, her murderers were allowed to go free by a complicit government--a government Jack had spent his life protecting. That's powerful, affecting stuff, but it mostly played out as an excuse to let Jack do whatever he wanted, regardless of morality. As satisfying as it was to watch Jack take on Logan's entourage, his mass murder at the Russian's suite made him into something new, and his change of heart tonight was more a matter of plot necessity, as much as Taylor's change of heart when she watched Jack's confession to his daughter. Chloe had already tried to talk Jack down, and failed; what would make him hold off shooting one more Russian? And Taylor, gah, Taylor didn't even exist at the end. It was just Cherry Jones doing her best to look heartbroken. The idea that she would have a final reversal after hearing someone explain something so basic as "A document signed at gunpoint doesn't mean much," is less redemptive than perfunctory.
There were satisfying moments tonight. Dalia confronting Taylor was great, even if Taylor did look like she was about to have a stroke, and Taylor's attempts to force Dalia into compliance made for some great tension when Yuri arrived. Chloe shooting Jack, Pillar behaving like an asshole, Logan's Final Squirm--this was neat to watch. And yet that "real time" comes back to kick us in the ass because there was a lot of waiting around, and there was precious little Jack in any of it. He threatens some people, he gets injured again, he suffers, he inadvertently saves democracy, and we see all of it. And there was no decompression, no time to process anything. Just a back-lot with a drone in the sky staring down at him. Jack and Chloe's last conversation was lovely, really. Chloe's been fairly inconsistent this year, but it was nice to get a moment between the two of them, as the only two characters left who had any real history together. 24 ends, like it has so many times before, with Bauer stumbling into the shadows. Much like the series itself, he's seen better days.
- So, favorite season of 24? Least favorite?
- I know he's basically unkillable at this point, but after knife to the stomach, some light torture, and a bullet through his shoulder, Jack may want to call a cab.