Review: '24' series finale: The clock runs out

May 26, 2010

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Jack Bauer kills Chloe O'Brian — revealed to be a mole — in the series finale of 24. Just kidding.

Note: Spoilers for 24's final episode (and previous episodes) are contained herein.

For eight seasons, Jack Bauer and a frequently-rotating supporting cast (many of which were killed off unceremoniously by the writers for short-term shock value) have supplied us with some of the best action-adventure-intrigue on TV. And, of course, plots like Dana Walsh's.

I know that I've been down on 24 this season, and through much of the past three seasons. Pop quiz: Which was worse — season eight or season six? I'm gonna have go with season six, because it was just so ham-fisted and shark-jumpy, even though it was probably more exciting than season eight on the whole. But please discuss.(*)

* Also, please discuss your thoughts on the best season of 24. I know a lot of people think season one is the best, but I'm gonna have to go with season four or five, simply because the technical execution had gotten so much more skillful by that point in the series, and a lot of people tend to overlook certain silliness in season one like the whole Teri Bauer amnesia thing (I mean, come ON) or Kim being kidnapped a second time in a single 24-hour period. DAMMIT! Debate away.

But season eight of 24, after having dispatched Dana Walsh and thus one the series' most badly handled season-long arcs, found for its final arc the notion of Jack as his own worst enemy, and for the most part that was a successfully interesting plot. The scene a few weeks back where Jack tortured Renee's killer was 24 at its most viscerally compelling and also morally uncomfortable.

It was a well acted and directed scene of brutality, no doubt, but boy did it put me on the hook for finding satisfaction in Jack's bloodlust. I know intellectually that torture is wrong, but the guy was a scumbag killer who had it coming, and this is only a thriller device within the wind-up toy that is 24, so I can guiltily enjoy it, right? (Perhaps I shouldn't be; the writers clearly intended for it to be an example of Jack crossing way over the line. Maybe the bigger problem with 24 is that I in fact see it as a wind-up toy and little else at this point; the question has become how well it can execute its story and action points.)

So watching Jack in all-out, self-righteous, there-is-no-justice-so-that-makes-me-judge-jury-and-executioner mode has been compelling, albeit not in keeping with the integrity of Jack's character over most of the series' run. As you would expect, that arc wraps up in the series finale, in which the question is how far Jack will go in his scorched-earth campaign, and whether anyone can stop him before he finishes it.

I thought it was fittingly appropriate that this question would be answered with a scene between Jack and Chloe. The trust between Jack and Chloe has been one of the few things that has remained a constant on 24 over the years, and it's good that the series saw that relationship through to the end. If the "PULL THE TRIGGER!" scene was perhaps within a hair's width of self-parody in the annals of Kiefer Sutherland Yelling Urgently and Awesomely™, it did make for a highly watchable iteration on 24's running gag that there's no time for the characters to take any course of action except the most desperate one.

Dramatically, and perhaps improbably, I thought the highlight of night was the confrontation between President Allison Taylor and President Dalia Hassan. These characters may have been poorly written at times through the season (in particular, Taylor's arc of embarking on this absurd cover-up followed by all the unending hand-wringing has made very close to zero sense), but damn if this wasn't a tense, charged, superbly acted scene between Cherry Jones and Necar Zadegan. 24 can still get mileage out of two characters going toe to toe.

Ultimately, Jack backs down and is captured, and Chloe's attempts to expose the cover-up subsequently fail, so Jack's fate rests in the hands of Taylor, who in the 11th hour realizes that she can't go through with this awful conspiracy-and-murder plot after all. (There should be a 24 season eight drinking game on how many times Taylor flip-flops.)

There's fun to be had in the material involving Charles Logan, who is the ultimate 24 schemer at this point. There's just something great about the delusions of the character, who is hellbent on doing whatever he can just to claw back into the political relevance game, no matter how much deceit and death lies in his wake. A sane person would realize there's no way this could possibly work. Gregory Itzin is terrific as usual, even if Logan is essentially a punch line.

As series finales go, I have to label this one under "meh." It's competently constructed, with some dramatic high points and nice suspense, but it's not wholly satisfying, mainly because it doesn't really have the payoff of a series finale. It plays more like season four's finale, with Jack going into exile because he's the subject of a huge manhunt. This feels more like a setup to leave the door open for Jack Bauer to come back in movies more than any sort of thematic ending that makes sense.

Or perhaps it makes perfect sense; after all, Jack Bauer is an action hero, and what better way to display that than having him on the run as the dogged outsider yet again, as the clock literally runs out on the show? I think the larger problem here — as with much of 24 — is that the writers have simply done it before, and it feels like the latest example of the show aping itself.

Finale rating: 2.5 stars.
Season rating: 2 stars.

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22 comments on this post

    I agree with much of what you've said, but would probably give the finale 3 stars. The biggest problem, I think, is what you've said about the ending. It's enjoyable and I was actually glad Jack didn't dye, but it feels like a retread of territory they've already covered. I also wasn't sure what happened to the actual recording of Logan, since Taylor ended up with the recording Jack made for Kim.

    As for the best season, I'd have to go with one of the first three. They've all had their ups and downs, but I think the first three were more consistently enjoyable than seasons 4 and 5, which had some incredible moments but were a little more frustrating than they really should've been. In particular Miles' betrayal in season 5 was one of the worst reset button plot devices I've ever seen, and the subsequent terrorist plot involving the submarine was pretty pedestrian. Season 8 is hard to rate because the first 2/3 of it were borderline awful while the last third was generally quite good with a few awesome moments.

    I pretty much agree with Eric. I'd give this finale 3 stars as well. Although I agree there was definitely a feeling of 'been here, done that', it felt like a fitting end to the show. I also really appreciated the attention given to the friendship between Jack and Chloe -- we got some emotional moments out of them.

    As for the best season, I'd probably give that award to Season 1. Although certainly flawed (as every season of 24 was in some way), I felt it had the best 'charge' of all the seasons. The first three seasons were all pretty fun though. 4 and 5 were also decent, although I preferred the first three more. Season 6 was just terrible. I actually really liked Season 7 (and Renee Walker at that point) and felt it was a return to form. Season 8 ended decently, although I agree it started off pretty poorly.

    All in all, a fun show, but one I don't plan on rewatching any time soon, if ever.

    After a shaky start this turned out to be a great season. Well, the second half anyway. Admittedly the Dana Walsh subplot started out sort of interesting, then got boring, then interesting again once it was revealed that she was the inside contact. Which brings up the question, what was the point of the whole ex-boyfriend thing anyway? It seemed to have no bearing on the rest of the season.

    Almost the whole second half of the season was tense and especially gripping in moments like when Taylor was about to sign the treaty. Those episodes are 24 at its best.

    I really liked the final scene of the finale with Chloe and Jack. If the writers can come up with episodes like the ones in the second half of the season, I would actually like to see it keep going. At least we have a movie on the way.

    Agreed on the final scene. I'm actually surprised Jammer didn't mention it, as I thought it was a really good final scene, even if the rest of the finale wasn't so good. I hate to compare it to a much better finale, but they really struck the right emotional chord in the same way that TNG's finale made a good choice by ending with the poker game (and damnit I really felt like LOST botched their final scenes, but oh well that's another discussion entirely).

    As far as which season I liked best, if I could take the first 13 episodes of Season 1, that would be it (The first 13 were intended to be a complete story in-case the series wasn't renewed). But yea, that Teri amnesia plot rivals the Cougar in stupidity. So I guess I would say Season 5, because it brought us one of the best villains of 24.

    Season 8 was serviceable.

    The problem I had with the Dana Walsh situation was the way she was so passive when her boyfriend showed up and then suddenly turned into a cool and collected natural born killer when her flip was switched like a Cylon sleeper agent. I would not be the slightest bit surprised if that twist was written off the cuff rather than planned from the beginning.

    I didn't completely buy President Taylor's descent. She completely lost the plot very quickly, throwing out every character trait that had been established about her, namely her integrity. She refused to cover up a murder orchestrated by her own daughter FFS. And I didn't get why revealing the truth to the world would be a major derailment to peace. It would set back the proceedings sure. But it's not going to change the resolve of the IRK's leadership to that peace. It will only strengthen it as indeed it did.

    By the way, Kamistan is such as silly name that even the writers recognised this. Most of the time they had the characters refer to it as "the IRK" rather than "Kamistan". Think about it. Do you say "Pakistan" or "IRP"?

    I recently saw season 4 for the first time. Now that was retarded. Every plot twist made zero sense, which just made the villain's talent all the more frustrating. It was talent purely because the writers had written it that way (and they never did explain why exactly he was so well equipped and well coordinated that he could constantly outwit the combined intelligence forces of the United States.

    The nuclear reactors plot in particular was stupid. It was based on the conceit that every sophisticated piece of technology is controllable via the Internet if only you can get through the firewall. It annoyed me when I saw season 7 with the stupid safety valves that couldn't be opened and it doubly annoyed me here because even if the terrorists had control over every valve and pump in a nuclear reactor, what happened is physically not possible. You cannot remove a containment structure from the command line. They didn't even pay lipservice to how the melted material got past containment. And the operators just sat on their hands when all they needed to do was physically cut all electrical power to the reactors through the complicated technique of pulling fuses. Without electrical power, nuclear reactors shut down because the control rods are pulled down under gravity and through hydraulic pressure or spring loading into the core.

    And they were sure casual about a powerful nuclear warhead getting stolen. They just ambushed the convoy off screen like they were holding up a 7/11. Why were they even transporting nuclear weapons in the middle of a terrorist attack? They dropped a line about them moving when the alert level went up for security but that is simply retarded. When you have an active terror attack going on, how is it logical that it is safer to take the warheads from the safety of the silo to the open road with clearly inadequate protection. And where did the terrorist get such a formidable fighting force that they could easily overwhelm a United States military transport of a nuclear frakking weapon? How did the terrorist even get his forces mobilised? He didn't know where the weapon was going to be? Did he have units stationed all across the country so they were ready to strike wherever?

    And it sure if fortunate for him that when CTU arrived at that power station where the football was being held that they didn't do anything to disable his unattended vehicles. It is also fortunate for him that CTU never learnt their lesson about blocking off escapes by subsurface means since that was his escape plan every time. Isn't it also fortunate that whenever they assaulted his position, they didn't use any tear gas? They could have caught him from the chopper if they'd done that. Damn CTU was retarded in that season.

    I do not tend to forget Teri's amnesia. In fact, whenever people ask why I never watched 24 beyond season 1, that is exactly what I tell them.

    I agree with Jim about season 4. I was a little disappointed in it when it was first run on TV because of the way the same villain was able to seemingly outsmart the US at every turn. Chasing him over the course of the season got really repetitive. Also, the new characters introduced (the new CTU chief who left after her daughter died, Secretary Heller) were cardboard, and the way that the old ones were brought back was entirely too predictable. But it did have the best finale, with perhaps the exception of season 1.

    I'n not a Keifer Sutherland fan, so I never got into 24. A couple of my friends became big fans and started collecting the series on DVD. I did watch all of Season 3 with them and I very much enjoyed it. Lots of twists, and while it may have already been showing a bit of repetition, it was all new to me. I heard great things about Season 5, but I've only ever watched Season 3. As with any show, 24 had to end sometime and considering the basic formula for the series, I'm impressed that it ran for as long as it did. While I have no intention of seeing the movie(s), I am curious to hear how they make the format work in motion picture form.

    To me, this was a four-star episode, in a three-star season. These last couple of months were a brutal rollercoaster. The last 10 or so episodes of 24 were worth every minute, especially this finale.

    Season 8 may have had a slightly slow start, but the slow buildup was ultimately rewarding. It remind me of Enterprise's third season, which also had a slow start, and finally culminated with the Azati Prime episode and the season's subsequent home stretch. Having Manny Coto and Brannon Braga as executive producers on both shows certainly helped.

    I was never as critical of the whole Dana Walsh subplot as most people. Having gone through Erin Driscoll's loopy daughter and Kim's cougar hunt, Dana Walsh doesn't even make the team of bad 24 plotlines.

    As for the finale, i was pretty shocked with the decision to drive Jack this far past the ethical lines and turn him into judge and jury to the point of biting Pillar's ear off, killing the russian diplomatic corps, and slicing Pavel open in a Saw-esque torture scene. But i understand it was necessary and it had that impact. You felt like 24 was drawing to a tragic conclusion.

    It was almost funny seeing Logan screw up his own suicide attempt. As for Allison's last-minute admission of guilt and refusal to sign the treaty, it had me biting my fingernails. That's how good Cherry's performance was. It kept me riveted. Kudos also to Necar Zadegan, who really managed to carry on past Anil Kapoor's Hassan.

    Howard Gordon really nailed those final scenes down. It had to be about Jack and Chloe. Nice nod to season 3, reminding everyone how much we used to HATE Chloe O'Brian in the early days. It's amazing how far she's come. Jack Bauer isn't the only one who would trust her with his life. I would too.

    That final scene had it all: brilliant Rodney Charters cinematography, Sean Callery's unforgettable score, Kiefer and Mary Lynn, Howard Gordon's simple-yet-meaningful words, and Brad Turner's talent for putting the whole thing together.

    Having the drone shut down on Kiefer's face, and cut to an actual countdown instead of 15:59:57 was a stroke of genius as well. It was a final thank you to the fans for sticking out for 8 seasons. I never thought 24 would live past the Victor Drazen days, let alone nearly 10 years.

    Where does Jack go from here? God only knows. Looking back, i don't see any other possible ending for him. I know i'll miss him. If there is a 24 movie, i only hope they carry the post-season 8 story convincingly. At least Howard Gordon is still a producer on the film.

    I thought the ending was lame. With Jack going into hiding (again) and crossing his fingers that the vengeful Russians wouldn’t go after his daughter and grand-daughter. Is he so selfish that his own freedom and life are more important than his family?? That’s not the Jack I know. The show should have ended with him being caught or killed. A tragic, heroic ending. But they are so focused on making money in the movies that they cheated the TV show.

    As for favorite season. I guess Season Five was the best in quality. But my favorite was Season One. I just have so many fond memories of watching that season when the premise was fresh and new and you had no idea what to expect. You held your breath until the commercial. Yeah, the amnesia storyline was beyond lame. But I can forgive them for that now because they were just getting their footing on how to write for a 24 hour storyline. Besides, Season One had the best finale. Nobody in their right mind would have thought that the hero’s pregnant wife would end up dead…But that’s exactly what happened. Blew me away.

    However, my single favorite moment in 24 history was from Season Four. When Tony returned to the series out of nowhere to save Jack and Audrey. I couldn’t believe I was so excited, literally screaming “Tony!!” That was a great moment.

    Speaking of which Jammer, are you going to offer up your thoughts on the LOST series finale? Heh, that seems like a more divisive/interesting topic right now.

    Also, for your question about our favorite seasons of 24, mine would definitely be Season 5. As I said on a previous 24 related entry, it was the creative peak for the show. Everything came together very nicely that season and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the ride.

    The big twist that the President had been in on the whole thing... man. Plus, you had great villians like the Russians played by the great Julian Sands and Mark 'Romo' Shepard, along with Peter Weller. When Jack kills Henderson for the deaths of Tony, Michelle and Palmer... it felt very personal and satisfying to the long time viewer/fan.

    I also really enjoyed Season 3. Mainly because of the strong second half with Saunders, Chappelle's death and the virus getting out. I don't think this season gets nearly enough credit for what it did or tried to do.

    I will offer up a Lost finale post this week. How in-depth it goes is another matter, but at the very least I will have some thoughts put up and a place to comment.

    Did a marathon session going through the whole last in two weeks, some thoughts:

    Season 1 - well-written and creative with some horrendous subplots ***1/2
    Season 2 - competent and well-executed but never particularly striking ***
    Season 3 - absurd first third, decent second third, phenomenal final third ***
    Season 4 - excellent action, strong character work, great villain some terrible storylines (the terrorist cell family, the arms company shutting off a power grid and sending in special forces to cover up barely anything) ***1/2
    Season 5 - very tense buildups with satisfying payoffs, intricate storyline, LOGAN ****
    Season 6 - pure formula, occasionally great but mostly bad with a mundane final act - **
    Season 7 - silly but fiercely entertaining ***
    Season 8 - first two-thirds: average and formulaic 'A' plot execution, awful Dana Walsh subplot. second two-thirds: phenomenal writing and moral dilemmas (I appear to be the only one who completely buys Taylor's endorsement of the cover-up) and impossible to predict **1/2

    Season 1 was my favorite because it was so well thought and events that happened from the first half to the second half mattered. Sure there are bad subplots but every season had them. Wasnt the season 5 you guys revere so much the season Logans wife went nuts and he tried to have her killed? Good lord.

    Season 1 was intense, fresh, and incredibly well thought out. Then they killed Terri, which was an awful idea.

    What are you talking about? Logan never tried to have Martha killed.

    What happened is that the US government couldn't tip off Suvarov that he was being betrayed to the terrorists in order to spare the lives of LA citizens, since Bierko had the nerve gas. Martha simply gave Logan no choice by stepping into Suvarov's limo without Logan's consent.

    When she was nuts, he tried having her commited, not killed.

    I'll stick up for Season 2. It remains the prototypical arc of "24." The first half is the classic Stop The Nuke scenario. The second half ties together the CTU and President business with the Phony Invasion scenario, which resonated strongly in early 2003. (Now I wonder if Kamistan was one of the unnamed "three Middle Eastern countries.") Even the cheeseball factors -- cougars, Ensign Ro's mysterious disappearance -- are iconic.

    Season 5 was the most audacious, but Season 2 still appeals to me for its baseline simplicity.

    Jammer, I have to say you've shown a lot of patience with 24. Personally I started out as one of those uber-fans that had to dissect every episode in detail with my friends the following day. But starting with season 4 I've become increasingly tired of the show. Yes, the cast and crew are first class, and as you say, the execution improved as the seasons went on. But to what end? Just so that we can see the same old tired plot threads and dramatic tricks rehashed again, and again, and again? I think the great tragedy of 24 is that so much talent went to waste. Not to mention that the actual storylines became more ludicrous and the trek style techno babble could be unbearable. I'm also one of those people that had issues with the right wing politics that dominated the show for a period. I don't mind shows having a point of view, but 24 could be offensive (though it did shift left when those trek writers started appearing in the credits!). I'm amazed I stuck it out actually. I was going to stop after season 6, but since it was off the air anyway afterwards due to the writers strike, I decided to give it another chance when it came back on air. I think seasons 7 & 8 were an improvement. It certainly was a groundbreaking show and deserves to be remembered as such. It's just a shame it became such a stalwart.

    "What are you talking about? Logan never tried to have Martha killed."

    Ill have to go back and watch it again, but I was fairly sure Logan sent Martha in some caravan that was about to be ambushed by people who were with Logan.

    The problem with this show is just got so hokey with its twists and killing off of characters. You could never get emotionally invested in anybody cause they would kill them off the second youd start to like them (Chloe and Jack excluded) At least with Lost, they didnt start to kill characters off until the end, 24 made a series out of it.

    The momoent of 24 I hated and despised the most, when Jack killed Ryan Chappele. You cannot, under any circumstance, have your hero execute one of his own people, a civilian at that, under threat. Like whats the deal with that? The writers couldnt come up with anything more creative? God Damn.

    Hey Jammer, I havent seen this season of 24. but I did really like season 7, season 6 was proberly the worst season in the series as a whole for me, and for best series, I would say season 5 is the masterpiece for me. it was so fluid and intense, it never missed a beat. and gregory itzins performance was amazing, the white house drama of season 5 was a great piece of writing. im not too sure if i would put season 1 on my favourites list either, their are alot of incredible moments in that season. but as you mentioned, the insomnia, teri storyline was borring as, it was almost as bad as the kim and the couger storyline of season 2.

    and I never bought the end either, the whole (most trusted person to the protagonist is the villain) revelation thing has become a tired cliche, and most of the characters actions didnt gell with the revelation. thats why most of this series has been a guilty pleasure for me. each season starts out great and ends great, but it never has been able to fully maintain that tension and suspense that it begins with. by the middle of the season it starts to spin its wheels finding somthing to keep it going, then their is the fact that their are so many things happen that somtimes the writers forget that all this is happening within a day and not a year.

    if i were to create a favourite season list it would be like this

    1 season 5 (most fluid storytelling of the whole series, nothing really annoyed me here (apart from the random tony false death)
    2 season 4
    3 season 2 (skip the kim moments and the season is a winner)
    4 season 3 (they should have kept chase throughout the whole series)
    5 season 1
    6 season 7
    7 season 6

    Your "this is just like Season 4's ending" was my exact thought too.

    I think Season two was the best season simply because it took what season one got right and avoided the same mistakes.

    I think over the course of the series there were only maybe a half dozen "money" moments: Nina's flipslop, Teri's death, Jack beheading a bad guy just to go undercover, CTU being blown up, jack shooting his boss...

    Many of these events recurred, but obviously, every time you show you're willing to go over the edge with something like these plot twists that were completely unthinkable and unexpected in a TV show at the time they first aired, they become expectable and predictable. CTU could blow up in season 8 (oh wait, it did) and It wouldn't come as a shock. Kim could be killed and it wouldn't come as a shock. There could be a mole in CTU (oh wait, there have been 47) and it wouldn't come as a shock. Palmer getting killed was one of the only examples of the kind of shock 24 was great for in the later seasons. I don't think many people expected him to return to the show let alone be killed immediately.

    I believe there was an important note someone made once about how many people died in each season of 24 or were killed by jack or something and the number increases rediculously after season one, which was relatively realistic and restrained.

    And so I reach the murky depths of the website's history, whilst doing a 24 rewatch. I'm about a third of the way into season 8 and feel like I'm biding my time until the far superior Live another Day.

    In the meantime, my random ranking of the seasons.

    Day 5 is my favorite on this rewatch. It's brilliant, with the slimy President Logan allowing the conspiracy of the death of David Palmer. Martha Logan was a great addition as well.

    There was such an explosive start to the day with David and Michelle's death, really getting Jack back in the mix after faking his death previously. They just carried that momentum well throughout the season.

    Day 2 is second, though it almost has the same great momentum that Day 5 had with the conspiracy within Palmer's cabinet. Tony and Michelle getting together after the attack on CTU is a highlight, too.

    The one thing that really annoys me every time is, gee, what wacky hijinks will Kim get into this week? Sigh.

    Day 1 used to be my favorite, but I don't think Teri's amnesia hasn't aged well with the show and screws with the pace. Nina being a mole was classic stuff, as was Alan York not being Janet's father. The first 12-13 episodes were a blast.

    Day 4 is very entertaining. I loved the addition of Audrey and Heller, with Audrey's relationship with Jack being my favorite romantic liaison he had through the show's run.

    I think 4 isn't quite the top 3 for me, as the main villain was a bit of a Houdini, getting out of scrapes every single time his back was against the wall.

    Live Another Day was a great comeback for the show. Having a few years off and having a shorter season really did wonders. Audrey and Heller were back, and Cheng as well. Hee.

    Day 7 was a step big step up for me over the dreadful Day 6. One of my favorite bits was the assault on the White House.

    Tony being back from the dead was a bit of a soap opera twist, but they took it and did something interesting at least.

    The FBI investigation into Jack was an interesting start to the day. The ongoing investigation into what really happened to the Taylors' son in Africa was nicely done as well.

    Day 3 is towards the bottom for me. I do love Tony/Michelle in this one, and when the season finally gets going when the virus hits the hotel, and Michelle has to enforce order in a crazy situation.

    The start of the season is painfully slow though. Everything with Jack going back undercover with the drug cartel; Wayne Palmer's affair was dreary; President Palmer's boring relationship with Anne - it was all just there.

    Sherry's death bothers me as well, it's a bit of a crappy way to go as well.

    It's hard choosing between 6 and 8 as the bottom because they really are boring or stupid on a whole other level.

    I think Day 6 is just ahead of 8, despite Jack's Crazy Eeeeevil Family. At least we had a continuation of Cheng, and heard more about Audrey after she went to China to find Jack. The episode where Martha Logan pops up and shoots Charles is a great moment. Even if they both dropped off the radar after that for the rest of the season. Oh well.

    Day 8 is perfectly competent action, but the actual storylines are snoozers. I also feel that, aside from Chloe, it's probably the worst batch of characters CTU ever had.

    It's not bad enough having an incompetent director, who is questioning every move. Dana Walsh is both a terrified ex of someone she committed a murder with, whilst at the same time, she's a ruthless mole? I think by the end the writers were fully out of gas

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