01 December 2010

EDITORIAL - 24: Day 8, Part 3

"24": Day 8 - Part 3

Yes, I know, 24 ended all the way back in May, so this third and final installment is a little bit on the late side. And I dunno why, exactly; I mean, the fact that I'll be writing about the last episodes of the series does weigh on me a little. It's like I'm trying to pick the perfect words to do these final eight episodes justice. And I also recognize that these will most likely be the last words I write about the show for a long time. But I must go on! For the previous entries in this review, refer to Part 1 (Hours 1 - 8/10?) and Part 2 (10-17).

To put it kindly, the previous 16 episodes of 24 tanked. They were a mighty step down from passable entertainment, and was a slap in the face to the greatness the series achieved the previous season. It's nothing less than a miracle that the writers and production team crafted such a amazingly satisfying season finale, let alone series finale. The audiences were treated to truly the worst character and storyline the show has ever seen [Dana Walsh], and there was virtually no jeopardy in any of the situations Jack found himself in. For the first time since Day 3, I just didn't care. Why should I? The main actor - the whole reason audiences watch the damn show - spent 60% of each episode behind the wheel of a car on the phone. Hardly a engaging hero.

And then there was a game-changer. The man Jack Bauer had promised to protect died; Jack failed. Now with all the bad guys enjoying their being deadness, there was no threat that needed to be thwarted, no new villains for Jack to defeat. He was free. He was done. He was out. For good. And on the plus side, he was celebrating the end of another difficult day with a session of bliss with Renee Walker. But no, she had to give a second glance, semi-recognizing a Russian agent back from her days in the field. And by hours end, Renee Walker was dead - two bullets in her chest. The conclusion of episode 17 had Jack Bauer totally defeated, barefoot, shaken, torn to pieces, his eyes transfixed at the body of Renee.

This horrible, tragic conclusion paved way for the best episodes of 24 since the entirety of season 5. It nearly corrected an entire season worth of mistakes and poor judgments on the writers part. And best of all, it made Jack Bauer a force not to be reckoned with once again. And perhaps the best, most juiciest part, was the reintroduction of Gregory Itzin's President Charles Logan; boy I've missed him. With the story once again Jack vs. Logan - and to the greater extent Jack vs. Everybody, and this time really, really Everybody - it's as if the writers recognized the strength of Day 5 and decided to invoke that same sense of power and awesomeness for Bauer's last hoorah [I believe the final episodes were being scripted while the cancellation was announced, although I could be wrong].

These final eight episodes are powerful. Completely, unwaveringly powerful. They encompass the best elements this series has to offer, and provides them in such a rich, beautiful way, I can honestly say no matter the amount of times I rewatch the episodes, I won’t find myself bored. Alright, now that I've hyped up these awesome episodes enough, I wager it's time to get into the analyzing why they're so damn good.

See, when Jack Bauer is consumed with grief and rage, that right there allows for sheer magnificence. See, these last episodes are built entirely on emotion. Jack's fury with Renee's death to disgust at President Taylor for covering it up. Need a great example of this? The very moment at the end of S08E21 when he finds out Logan is involved, you get know it's on. 100% honesty, at the end of each episode, I was giddy as a kid in a candy store and could not contain my excitement for anything. It took 17 episodes, but 24 finally found its ground, and it's the emotional center it had been missing all year. Redundancy and a heartlessness permeated over the preceding episodes, and now we have a one-man machine who will fight the entire country in a mission he accepts he won't come back from. Um, goosebumps!

The reunion between Jack and Logan was magnificent. Dressed from head to toe in thick body armor, Jack bombards a underground tunnel to get to the disgraced President. If there's any one sequence that perfectly solidifies the unstoppable machine Jack Bauer is, this is it (and the single shot of Jack killing all of Novakovichs' men, which just sends chills up my spine). As Jack tosses Logan around, Gregory Itzin sells the performance splendidly and hilariously. Crying, begging for a reprieve, Logan is scared shitless of Jack Bauer - as he should be - and there's a certain amount of delight that comes from this scene. After Day 5, the reunion between these two characters (forget Day 6) was something I was quite looking forward to, and it delivered on every way imaginable. Logan's fate by the end of the day is perfect for this particular character. Sad, pathetic, and a little tiny bit tragic, frak I love it. As a final outing for President Logan on this show, I couldn't have asked for anything better.

As for President Allison Taylor, she finds herself morally compromised. In Day 7, we saw a strong President who stood by her convictions even at the price of her family, and multiple times in Day 8 she risked the safety of American citizens by not backing down to exterior demands. And now she’s presented with something so grand, a treaty unifying multiple countries in the name of peace, that not only does her ego (to have this be her defining accomplishment as President) flare up but her determination to do whatever necessary to keep this seemingly impossible treaty alive. 24 has always been good at exploring the gray areas of established characters, and even though President Taylor’s decision to be a major part in this cover goes against how she was written before, it’s no different here: even to the end, Cherry Jones had me captivated by what she was going to do next, or if she was still listening to Logan’s words and succumbing to them.

And there’s the other aspect of these final episodes that were critical in making them exceptional: ex-President Charles Logan. More on him later, but the writers made a brilliant move resurrecting the character after a ambiguous and ominous departure in Day 6. A manipulative weasel, a coward in disguise, a man intent on saving his reputation, when Gregory Itzin’s Charles Logan is onscreen, the series is on its A-game. In addition, through Logan we get the Classic 24 Reveal: that all the events of the day have been orchestrated by one major power. This time, it’s the Russians, specifically President Yuri Suvarov (who made a prominent appearance in Day 5) who put the plan into action.

The biggest convention the final episodes embrace is Jack Bauer going rogue. It happens basically every season, right from the beginning. Either things are moving too slowly for him to perform his job effectively and then must go outside the system, or everyone wants to kill him so he goes all Harrison Ford-FUGITIVE. As mentioned above, this time literally everyone wants a piece of Jack Bauer. The Russians, the Chinese (assuming their interest in Bauer didn’t drop after Cheng’s arrest in Day 6), and the United States. It may not be much, but it adds a new dimension to a tried and true storyline. But how everything goes down, it feels like a brand new, fresh concept. It's not Jack screwing the FBI and teaming up with Tony and Bill in Day 7, this is a city-wide manhunt for Jack Bauer, who is targeting some big time politicians and refuses to backdown. It's the TV version of THE TERMINATOR with Kiefer taking the reigns from Arnold. They both even wear jackets.

As a form of closure to the character and a fancy bookend to the day, it would have been nice to have Elisha Cuthbert reprise her role as Kim Bauer for the finale hour. However, considering how the series wrapped up, I can't see the particular use her character would have. I could envision Jason Pillar using her as leverage against Jack, threatening to kill her if he doesn't cooperate or something along those lines, although that would have been a rather awful note for Kim to end the series on. As it stands, I'm quite comfortable with her exit from the series. After endangerment and emotional turmoil in nearly every season she's in, it's grand to see her final appearance be a happy one, delighted with a daughter and husband (even though it's Paul Weasley, who I am not particularly a fan of) and encouraging her father to finish what he started.

Speaking of bookends, 24 does this quite often, and it's yet another staple of why the series finale was so well crafted. First, a overview. Day 1, he started the day with everything, even though his marriage to Teri was strained, they were content to work through it, and at the end, Jack lost it all - everything but his daughter, that is. Day 4, Jack's happier than he's been in a long time, and as the clock exits out, he's a dead man walking. Day 5, Jack comes out of seclusion only to be kidnapped at the end. Day 6, Jack is prison, and by the finale, a completely free man. Day 8 begins and ends in a similar fashion to Day 4, as the day opens with Jack completely happy being around his daughter and granddaughter in a New York hotel, and is even looking forward to moving in with them to California. And by hour 24, all that promise is gone. Jack will probably never see Kim or his granddaughter again, and he will be on the run for the rest of his life (or until the movie forces the government to work out a deal with him...). It's a sad ending, but perfectly and beautifully keeping in tone with what this show is and who Jack Bauer is. Gotta love brilliant bookends. And to nag on the earlier part of the season, it's yet another miracle that the producers were able to accomplish this.

Alright, I'm not getting to the point of babbling on and on and not getting anywhere. Point is, these last seven episodes are magnificent. Jack Bauer is a badass once again, fighting America and the Russians, a unstoppable machine fueled by revenge for Renee and disgust at the President. Moral dilemmas for many people involved, ginormous amount of 'OMG! What's going to happen?!?' that's been noticeably absent all season long is back when a vengeance up to the final seconds. And as a series finale, the writers had the trick up their bag that they could kill Jack Bauer as the ultimate twist. Improbable, but it could happen, which most definitely geared up the anticipation a few knots. The writing was off the wall fantastic in this last batch, the direction, pacing, and the performances were on par to Day 5 excellence. All the mistakes of the previous 16 episodes were remedied, and we were finally given the intensity of earlier seasons and the familiar yelling at the screen in disbelief another episode went by and you need to wait another week for the next. Overall, a brilliant, brilliant end to a rather dodgy day and a formidable eight season run. I love yah, 24.

Saying Goodbye

My addiction to 24 started with Day 4, which I believe was the first time FOX had the two-night, four-episode event that pretty much hooked me immediately. It was a fantastic season, ending with one hell of a sour note that was both downbeat yet hopeful. Post-finale, I made it my mission to watch the previous three seasons I had missed out on. From the library, I rented Day 1 and flew through that rather quickly, although it wasn’t 24 at its best. Knowing how the shows format would be crystallized by Day 4, it was interesting watching the creators and directors find their ‘style’ as the season went on. I made blind buys at Sam’s Club of Days 2 and 3, with the second season successfully making me a couch potato from the first minute to the last, and the third season not exactly something that grabbed me at all (with the exception of the Chappelle episode, which I dare anyone not to becoming emotionally knotted by). My love and affection for 24 officially cemented, it was with great joy and happiness that Day 5 delivered some of the best television entertainment that has ever graced the screen. Pitch perfect from the opening to closing minutes, Day 5 was the season that perhaps made the show more pronounced to the general public, and they quickly got on the bandwagon.

As a huge fan, one doesn’t need to guess my feelings toward Day 6 as that went forward. Not even the guest appearances from Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart satisfied me, but the finale sure did. At the end, Jack Bauer had a freedom to go anywhere and do anything he pleased, unburdened, so to speak. Much to my dismay, Day 7 was postponed a year thanks to the 100 day Writer’s Strike, but in the long-run, I should be quite grateful. It allowed the writers to connect the episodes together more, create a bigger fluidity throughout each hour. By seasons end, Day 7 nearly forgave the huge shortcomings of Day 6. And then we have Day 8, which has already been well documented.

Week after week, 24 was an adrenaline ride, and no amount of outlandish situation or solution that received rolled eyes or hollers of disbelief dissuaded my love for the series. Each Monday evening at eight at night, I was watching a mini Jason Bourne movie, with a frail, patriotic, no-bullshit kind of man who hardly had anything to lose. It was fun, it was exciting and exhilarating, and I was glued to the screen. And now with its final season done and gone, there is a certain sadness knowing that I won’t get to see Jack Bauer’s exploits again, that I won’t be able to experience another really, really bad day of his and see how he handles it.

But I understand the situation for the showrunners. For eight seasons and over a hundred episodes, the expectation and ability to write creative storylines and genuine twists was becoming more difficult with each passing episode. When 24 excels, it’s really fantastic, so when those less-than-stellar episodes come along, the fall was greater and more disappointing. By the end of Day 8, I wager the executives and writers were just exhausted, and with the nearly two million dollar budget per episode the show was simply getting too costly. It’s sad and unfortunate, but I understand the need to end 24, and as this rather glowing editorial has hopefully provided, they couldn’t have ended it better.

Reports say a 24 movie is in the works – either with those two hours representing two hours or a condensed ‘day’ by the allotted running time – but it’s probably a long time coming. As a fan, of course I’ll be more than receptive of a feature film, to see Jack Bauer doing his thing again on the big screen, and you can certainly bet I’d be there for the midnight screening. But if it doesn’t come to pass, I’m OK with that, too. Twists and turns, torn friendships, a few dozen moles, a half dozen betrayals, and a greater body count under his belt than Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers combined, 24 rocked. What we have here are eight seasons of a man who did everything he humanly could to save lives, often sacrificing the things he holds most dear to his heart. At the beginning of the show, Jack Bauer is a respected man who got the job done with questionable methods, and we leave him as a disgraced ex-CTU agent on the run from America, Russia, and (presumably) the Chinese. As a fan, I couldn’t ask for anything better, for the series stayed true to who Jack Bauer is and the journey he ventured.

Goodbye, 24. Thanks for all the wonderful experiences and keeping me at the edge of my couch every Monday night. You will be missed.

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