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'24': Goodbye Jack Bauer ... for now

May 25, 2010 |  7:00 am

24-ep824_sc2439_0123 Spoiler alert: Do not read if you have not seen the series finale of "24."

The following took place between Nov.  6, 2001, and May 24, 2010.

HBO’s exclusive reign over complex, meaningful series that had the Big Screen’s production values ceased the moment Jack Bauer and his ticking clock were introduced to TV viewers.  An undercover government agent who fought terrorism at a time when that term had gained painful meaning in the United States, Jack Bauer easily became the action hero of the decade — in large part because of Kiefer Sutherland’s alternately vulnerable and ferocious performance.

That Sutherland even wanted to be on TV at the time was big news, but what he did with the role, transforming a federal agent into a TV icon while giving his own career a complete makeover, also inspired ambitious, serialized storytelling across the TV dial.

For that, I thank you very much, Jack/Kiefer Sutherland. But enough with the show-biz blah blah blah.

Dammit! “24” ended Monday night!

No more Jack Bauer to look forward to in January, but somehow I still feel protected. Jack is out there, running, sweating, bleeding, and taking care of us. I know this because Jack looked back at me through the giant CTU computer screen and telepathically said, “I have to run, but everything’s going to be OK.”

“That’s exactly right,” executive producer Howard Gordon told me last week, when I said I was sad “24” was over but that I felt oddly optimistic. “You don’t have to be too sad.”

For one thing, we all know there’s a “24” movie in the works. But franchise afterlife aside, all season long Jack seemed to be hurling himself toward a horribly tragic ending. I never thought we’d see him die. But with all of his horrific acts — killing an unarmed woman, dissecting a live man’s abdomen to retrieve a SIM card — it all seemed to point toward a truly depressing ending for him, perhaps in solitary confinement or commitment to a psychiatric ward.

Instead, Jack is on the run. And yes, we’ve seen him on the run before, but this time his status as a hero is seriously diminished, and his sense of self-worth is completely in the toilet. Even worse: There will be no Grandpa Jack. President Taylor (the unstoppable Cherry Jones) has given him a head start to flee, but that comes with the price of solitude. So this is not a happy ending.

But it sort of is for the fans — because we still have him. Right?

“I’ve often said, like with Tony Soprano: He could either get whacked, get arrested or live another day,” Gordon said. The possibilities of things that can happen to these main characters is really finite. So I think you have to look at it on a more emotional level — what do you want the audience to feel in the last couple of moments about your character? And I think in the case of 'The Sopranos,' it was a little bit more complex and up for grabs and abstract.  Here, Jack still lives in your mind, whether you ever see him again or not, you know he’s out there somewhere. I liked the idea of the medium of this big screen mirroring our experience, our looking in at Jack, I felt it was a very conscious artistic flourish. This is it! And we’re turning off the screen. That was the idea.”

Once Fox announced this would be the series’ last season, the writers began working toward the final moment and considered giving Jack a pardon and reunion with his daughter and granddaughter in Los Angeles.

“Our first instinct as writers was that we’d gone to such a dark place and taken Jack to such a dark place, it was going to be too hard to bear, and Jack needed some kind of happy ending,” Gordon said. “And we tried on for size this idea of Jack returning to the bosom of his family and being pardoned by the president as a last act. It was just too facile and too unreal, and the president wouldn’t have the authority to do that. It just didn’t feel right, so we decided not to do that. So we went to this darker, more complex place — this grayer ending. Jack’s gonna live to fight another day but arguably on the run and outside the welcome and appreciative embrace of society.”

One person who will always love Jack is Chloe O’Brien, who in a surprising twist this season became the head of CTU and had one of the finale’s best lines: “Whatever happened here didn’t happen.” Actress Mary Lynn Rajskub broke my heart with her portrayal of Chloe’s utter sadness as she said goodbye (again!) to her friend Jack.

“Things aren’t good for Jack,” Rajskub said. “But it’s the kind of stuff where you look forward to the possibilities of what could happen. And him trying to get himself out of the mess and be redeemed. It’s a good setup, and it’s satisfying.”

The final scene was filmed exactly as the viewer saw it, with the image of Jack longingly looking back at her, after thanking her for her loyalty and support through the years. The phone conversation too was filmed as a full two-way conversation between Chloe and Jack — not one side first and then the other.

“There’s so much acting that I’ve done on that show that I’m looking at a screen or on the phone and those parts hadn’t been shot yet,” Rajskub said. “But for the ending, it was really important to have it all in place so that I was definitely reacting as it was happening. That single image of him looking up like that made it more stark. It was very interesting to be reacting as my character, and underneath that, it was affecting me too. And then also the crew, because it was the series ending, and all of that factored in. The whole week was very heavy, which was fitting because it was a major experience in all of our lives.”

Jack’s increasingly violent rogue streak gave Chloe a huge action moment: the scene in which she shot her dear friend to make it look like they were on opposing sides. Rajskub, who recently joked that if Chloe’s in the movie, she’d like her to be muscular, tanned and sporting hair extensions, said the intense scene between her and Sutherland made her appreciate why actors were drawn to action roles.

“It was very emotional, but there was a moment after the first take, where you get an adrenaline rush, and I was like, ‘Oh, I get it now,’ ” Rajskub said. “I’m assuming it’s the same rush you feel when you watch it, that ‘what is happening?’ It’s a rush to live on the edge like that and execute that.”

24-824_Sc32_0097 No one knows about Jack Bauer’s edge more than Gregory Itzin, the actor who plays slimy former President Charles Logan.  This season, Jack, in full Robocop gear, ambushed Logan, kidnapped him and had his special way with him to extract information from the beleaguered ex- president.

“It’s very, very intense, the doing of the scenes, and it’s very, very intense, the results of doing the scene,” said Itzin who is now rehearsing for “King Lear.” "We entered another zone in the filming of this. When Kiefer is on Jack Bauer’s verb like that, he’s on it intensely, and so you hopefully feel fear for your life.”

Though Sutherland is soft-spoken off camera, watch out when Jack Bauer’s in the house, Itzin added.

“When Kiefer’s playing Jack Bauer, he’s Jack Bauer,” he said. “That’s what makes the show what it is. On a lot of shows, people stand and talk and get a little silly outside of the cameras and turn it back on when they say ‘places’ and ‘action.’ But on ’24,’ you keep your character close to you. You’re sort of ready all the time. That’s what I loved about the show, that necessity to be there, play your game, shut up, and do the job right now.”

For Gordon and the writers, the “trick” of the finale was the show’s last image.

“It kind of plagued me: What’s the last few seconds?” said Gordon, who wrote the last hour of the finale. “That to me was maybe more important than on other finales because of the real-time aspect of the show. When we came to the idea of Jack being watched by Chloe on the big screen and Jack looking at Chloe, that was an image that I knew instantly would be our last image, so I wrote to that image.

"And I do think that the idea of Jack’s last moment is a very fine last moment for this year," he added. "But I think, because we all know now that it’s the end, it’s even more poignant than it would be if there were another season coming.”

Goodbye, Jack. We'll miss you.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

Photos, from top: Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in the finale. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox. Mary Lynn Rajskub as Chloe and Kiefer Sutherland as Jack. Credit: Kelsey McNeal / Fox. Gregory Itzin as former President Logan. Credit: Kelsey McNeal / Fox


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