We already know 24: Live Another Day won’t quite be the same as the show’s first eight seasons. This new installment will feature only twelve episodes, so there will be some unfamiliar time skipping between certain episodes; Jack will be spending his time in London; and somehow Benjamin Bratt finds himself in charge of CIA operations in London, TRACKING JACK BAUER. 24 seemed to lose some of its buzz as it entered seasons 7 and 8, but I am here to question whether or not we even need this additional twelve-hour treat, given the narrative finality the show seems to have achieved. As an individual who lives by the word of Jack Bauer, I would like to delve back into both the final season and the show’s incipient episodes, to remember where we began this journey and where we ended.
24 was good from the start. The pilot aired less than two months after 9/11, in a time when the show’s fictional threats felt very real and Jack’s heroism necessary and inspiring. With only foggy details emerging about Jack’s past in the first few episodes, we had to believe in him knowing only that he had great hair, a flair for the dramatic, and a thirst for justice — expressed through the insight that he recently caught three fellow CTU agents for bribery. Already balancing his commitment to justice with rogue techniques, Jack tells Nina Myers in the pilot, “Those guys…they weren’t bad guys…except they compromised once.” We could argue on and on about different instances throughout the show’s history of Jack “compromising” in terms of CTU’s protocols or accepted moral codes, but never can we question that Jack wholeheartedly believed in the justice and necessity of the steps he took to protect his family and his country.
The first weeks of the show contained many its greatest elements: Aaron Pierce,
Kim Bauer, Nina, President David Palmer (who played college basketball and made a Final Four, we learn), George Mason, and of course some dammits. Creators Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow clearly didn’t mind stirring things up, as we had witnessed heroin, lesbians making out, and a plane blown out of the sky (especially bold given the timing) by the end of the first season’s third episode. Besides all of these wonderful and shocking characters and moments, the first season set the stage for Jack’s future badassery/recklessness. In the pilot, Jack has just moved back home after some rocky times with his wife, Teri. We see a family coming back together physically and emotionally, only to be torn apart by Kim’s stupidity, EVIL NINA, and really by Jack’s insidious line of work. Committing himself to protecting his country, and specifically Palmer, brings Jack to his knees by the end of the first season, a hole in his heart leaving space only for steadfast devotion to CTU and “by any means necessary” tactics of getting his way. If there hadn’t been a threat on Palmer’s life, we may have seen Jack settle back in at the Bauer household, able to balance his work and family. But Nina left him broken, forced to spend his life stopping people like her because he was left with nothing else.
Perhaps forgotten or abandoned by many viewers, season 8 probably had more in common with 24‘s origins than any other. On the verge of flying off to California with Kim and her family, Jack finds himself thrust back into action, unaware of the gravity of the situations that await him in the day ahead. The season certainly reflected a certain acceptance of the show’s ridiculousness, with twists and turns on the regular, but it eventually comes down to Jack’s psyche being broken down to the point of losing control. Dana Walsh, who we all feared was some immaculate reincarnation of the Satan-spawned Myers herself, surely stirred up horrific memories and feelings for Jack as the day’s events pulled him in deeper and deeper. By the time he snaps and kills her, it is clear that Jack’s definition of “compromise” has become foggy. From there, Jack goes roguer than ever before, leaving bloodshed in his wake, responding to one Russian’s request of “Go to Hell” with “You first.” Jack knows he’s crossed countless lines, but he also knows this is the end, in some way or another, that he can never be part of this world again once the day plays itself out.
The season (and series, allegedly) finale deserves a lot of credit for tidying up an untidy story. Charles “Why did anyone elect me?” Logan bowed out, Chloe shot Jack (!!!!!!), oh and yes, Jack did in fact bite a guy’s ear off. The final moments of the show were beautiful, as Jack gets one last President to take his side, allowing him to flee. He looked up into the drone hanging over him, into the eyes of Chloe and his faithful audience, bidding adieu as the clock struck zero. We didn’t know where he was headed or how great a punishment he faced if caught, only that he was now more alone than ever, or perhaps just as alone as he had always been since Nina left Teri to die.
Part John McClane, part Batman, and part Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer has helped lead the way for other shows of 24‘s ilk. The Following currently fills Bauer’s former Monday slot, and it certainly draws on its predecessors in terms of gory boldness and inventive storytelling. Likewise, shows like Burn Notice take on different tones than the work of Surnow and Cochran, but they still rely on our fascination with espionage, action, and a man’s uncompromising nature in his pursuit of justice. These other shows, however, have thus far left us with hope for an end to life on the run for their protagonists while we were led to think Jack’s story would close in flight.
Now of course I’ll be watching Live Another Day; I couldn’t sleep not knowing what happened to Jack. I’m just not sure we needed to know. Like Bruce Wayne speeding off to end The Dark Knight, Jack ran off to end season 8, trusting in his code but accepting that someone had to take the fall. Billions of dollars and a clamoring moviegoing world necessitated more Batman, but I still don’t know why we needed to bother Jack. We could certainly have trusted that he would survive on the run, relying on his instincts and international resources. Maybe Jack will do enough to earn a warm welcome back home, or maybe he will end up fleeing once again, too extreme for his former employers and their colleagues. The semi-season may be great or terrible, but no matter what it feels like a compromise, and we know how much Jack hates one of those.