Episode(s) [and Series] Post-Mortem: 8×23 & 8×24 – “Shut It Down”

May 25, 2010 11:50 AM
Episodes 0 Comments

Well, friends, fans and fellow Almeidaists, here we are. We made it. 24 is officially done as a television series. It’s hard to believe that at this time 8 years ago, we were all weeping and shellshocked over Teri Bauer’s death, and hoping that our favourite little show that could would be renewed for a second season. Time flies when you’re having fun, and both us as fans and the show itself have come a long way since then. 24 started off as a cult hit hanging on the verge of cancellation by a thread in its first season, and eventually became a worldwide blockbuster sensation that propelled FOX into a real prime-time player and flagshipped the network for the next 8 years. My fandom of 24 started off as a few chat sessions with my friend Matt in Ottawa, and became the pseudo-religion of Almeidaism that propelled me into a career as a website developer.

I’m not going to spend much time here waxing poetic about the lasting impact 24 has had on the landscape of network television over the last decade (which it has), or the ways in which being a fan and being part of a community of fans via the Internet has impacted my life and livelihood for the better (which it has). There is no denying that Jack Bauer (as well to a lesser extent his network of compatriots, allies and enemies) has become an indelible cultural icon, a Great American Hero. There have been and will continue to be pieces flooding the Internet about the overall impact of 24 as a series and its perspective on the world. I will probably write one sooner or later.

What I would really like to focus on now is these final two hours, and how they worked as a conclusion to both Season 8 and the series as a whole. Unlike other series with a less defined or concrete structural premise (the real-time concept), 24 did not have the luxury of revisiting old themes or old events or old characters in a significant way with its swan song. There could be no flashbacks, no dream sequences, no overt exposition to tie up all the loose ends. The writers of Season 8 faced a unique challenge in that they were expected to successfully resolve the plot of this season while adequately paying tribute to the roots of the show … where it came from, its overriding thematic statements, the many evolutions of its protagonist. All in the final 2 hours. And I feel that for the most part they succeeded.

There is no doubt in my mind that 24 is simply not the show it used to be. There are many reasons for that, ones which I have discussed ad nauseum in other posts here and on the site’s forum as well. I don’t say this as a criticism right now, but when anything transforms from a diamond in the rough into a juggernaut over the course of a decade, it is going to round its edges a little. I knew going in that my relationship with the show had changed, and on the heels of the disappointing news that Tony Almeida would not be part of the season, my expectations were pretty middled out. For the first part of Season 8, despite the compelling performances of Annie Wersching and Callum Keith Rennie in the Renee Walker Russian mobster storyline, I was left a little cold. The acting on the series has always been first rate, and that was the only thing that made the first half of the season legitimately watchable. A seemingly bizarre subplot involving the secret past and psycho ex-boyfriend of CTU agent Dana Walsh was dragging things down into bad melodrama, and the first half of the season’s plot was mundanely derivative of seasons past. Middle Eastern terrorists and nuclear materials and Russian conspiracies and Jack getting pulled back in just when he thinks he’s out. Not that any of us were going anywhere, because if we’d made it this far we were sticking around until the end, but the magic seemed to be gone. I was very concerned that if this was going to be the last season (which at that point was still unconfirmed), they were not doing justice to the show’s epic legacy.

However, somewhere around the 2/3 mark of the season, something wonderful happened. The writers killed President Omar Hassan in one of the most gruesome and affecting deaths of the series, they made Dana Walsh a mole desperate to cover her secret past with her idiot boyfriend because she was afraid it would expose her connections as a Russian spy, they resolved the story arc with the dirty bomb and innocent lives, and they re-introduced the series’ most beloved villain, disgraced former President Charles Logan, pathologically eager to manipulate his way back into the political arena at Allison Taylor’s expense. NOW, we had something on our hands.

And thank Almeida for that! The writers finally got their shit together just in time to send the series out in style, and gave us a thrilling “mini-season” for the final third of the run chock full of political intrigue, uncompromising violence, blurring ethical lines and a near-psychotic Jack Bauer who snapped when the “game” took things just one step too far by killing newly anointed lover Renee Walker moments after he disentangled himself from his first time in her arms. In other words, the stuff 24 is *really* made of.

I’m not going to sit here and write that Season 8, or the final third of Season 8, or even the final two hours of Season 8, were the “perfect” sendoff for this landmark series. My sentimental fan lovefest on how this is the greatest TV series in the history of the world now or ever and can do no wrong ended the day 24 (fake) killed Tony Almeida in Season 5. Both the Season and the finale had their flaws, but in the end (particularly the very end), they were a fitting tribute to the place 24 has held in the cultural landscape and in the hearts and minds of fans.

And now after that long and pontiferrific introduction, let’s talk about the actual finale.

Jack Bauer

So at the last moment, Chloe and her invocation of innocent lives at stake got to Jack and helped him regain his conscience, pull the plug on his attempted assassination of Russian President Suvarov, and avoid starting a war. Great, but it was a little pat. Jack has been on a murderous rampage for the last 6 hours, killing almost everyone and anyone remotely connected to the conspiracy in the most brutal and inhumane way possible, for no reason other than he was mad at them for taking out his girlfriend. I was annoyed that during this emotional confrontation between Chloe and Jack, there was absolutely no credence paid to the hypocrisy of Jack’s actions in light of his position vis a vis Tony last season. Then, in the space of 5 minutes, he changes his mind. For all the lead up to this moment, Jack didn’t really put up much of a fight. Perhaps in the end, deep in his heart, he wasn’t so convinced what he was doing was right or ethical all along, which is what made it so easy for Chloe to call him off. But it still seemed too easy. I’m still not sure that this late turnaround is enough to redeem Jack of the crimes he committed in Renee’s name. If he was not willing to forgive Tony, why should we forgive Jack? No doubt, the epic heroism of his character was tainted by his little revenge spree.

That being said, I truly enjoyed the scene where Jack records a goodbye video to Kim explaining himself. Though he never names her, it is obvious who he is talking to, and even though Kim was not there in character, she was there in spirit in a nice nod to the entity which functioned as Jack’s last (and often only) link to his humanity throughout the duration of the series. On a related note, the scene where Jack shows mercy on Pillar because he claims to have a daughter sees Jack putting himself in the other man’s shoes, reminding us of who Jack was in Season 1, and allows his white hot rage to blur back to grey just a little.

His final conversation with Chloe in the last scene of the series was very touching, and paid great tribute to the unique and compelling dynamic between these two characters throughout 6 seasons of the show. I loved how Jack’s image on the screen in CTU loomed larger than life over Chloe, mirroring the way that Jack’s presence has loomed larger than life for us fans.

Although the end was slightly anti-climactic because it was already a foregone conclusion that the efforts of Jack’s adversaries to take him out would fail, watching him walk away into next untold chapter, ready to fight another day as the drone’s feed blooped to black was inspiring and highly reminiscent of his departure into the sunset at the end of Season 4, about to be reborn into yet another new life.

Chloe O’Brian

Our awkward and badly dressed little tech nerd sure has come a long way, baby! One of my long-standing complaints about this season overall was the failure of the writers to make Chloe’s character matter, to get her heart and soul involved in the action. Once Jack went rogue and Chloe was promoted to CTU Director, all that changed. At last there was a moral and emotional conflict for this character, and Mary Lynn Rajskub did a beautiful job once she finally had some material with a little soul to work with. These final two episodes were the culmination of that. We Chloe as sure of herself and committed where she once was insecure and hesitant. This character finally came into her own during the final act of the final season.

The scene where Jack is urging her to shoot him was breathtaking.

Charles Logan

Charles, you are a horrible, selfish, manipulative man who is willing to sacrifice anything to reclaim your tainted glory, but you saved this season. Gregory Itzin’s portrayal of Logan’s patent weakness and fear and utter disgrace was spellbinding, and it was great to see Jack tangling with somebody toward whom he has a long-standing grudge. It made the action personal again, which is what a large part of the season was lacking.

I was very disappointed with the writers’ decision to make his suicide attempt unsuccessful. Though grimly humourous in that Logan has failed miserably at everything he has ever tried to accomplish, including blowing his own brains out, I thought it was a weak choice and reeked heavily of a deliberate attempt to leave the door open for the character’s potential role in the upcoming movie franchise. If the show had stayed true to its roots, Logan would have successfully offed himself.

President Taylor

Though Taylor’s eleventh hour crisis of conscience and subsequent decision to come clean and resign the Presidency was incredibly obvious and surely we all saw it coming, it was still the appropriate outcome. Throughout this final act, I have questioned the realism of Taylor succumbing so completely to her own goals and ambitions, as well as the manipulations of a disgraced and dishonest ex-President, that she would cross every ethical line in the sand she has ever drawn for herself.

Nonetheless, Cherry Jones sold the story from top to bottom with her performance, and it was gratifying to see her story mirror that of David Palmer’s from Season 3. Though Taylor’s fall from grace will be much more public and humiliating, at the end of the day these were two Presidents who sacrificed their own moral values in pursuit of their own self-interest, and then just as quickly regained them to renounce their right to their Office in light of their selfish failure. They went out as the good guys.

Other General Musings

I thoroughly enjoyed every scene involving Dalia Hassan. Necar Zadegan was the surprise breakout in both the finale and the season. Her rage at Taylor’s betrayal was epic, and I was rooting for her the whole time when she was layin’ it down.

Although I think making Dana Walsh a sociopathic villain with no moral conscience was the right move, let’s be honest: her actions and demeanour during the Kevin Wade debacle, most especially the scenes where she was alone and stalking Kevin, don’t make a lot of sense in light of it. During that time, she was playing the scared girl from the midwest with a checkered past who doesn’t wanna lose her fiance and let things go too far. There was no trace of the cold blooded killer and highly trained operative she was later written as. Which is fine, because it actually gave the brilliant Katee Sackhoff an opportunity to play something other than the wet and wide eyed victim cliche.

Sean Callery’s score work was outstanding as always through the finale. A beautiful mix of the majestic and orchestral which evoked shades of much of his most wonderful work from seasons past, and the more modern, electronica-driven feel of his more recent contributions.

I was disappointed in the lack of reference to Tony Almeida, and the absence of Aaron Pierce. It would have been nice to see these two tour de force characters in the world of the show get their due in the final hours. However, 24 has often been criticized for bringing characters back just for the hell of it in forced storylines, and while it would have been nice to see Pierce or hear Tony mentioned, was it absolutely necessary to provide closure to this season’s story? Probably not, so I guess I applaud the show for sticking true to its vision of the season and not coddling the fans. As much as I truly wanted to be coddled.

I didn’t think the “countdown” clock at the end was necessary. I would have preferred the traditional silent clock, a moment of silence in respect to the series as a whole.

All in all, it’s been a hell of a ride. For now, just as Jack Bauer embarks on a new life post-CTU and post-TV, I too embark on a new life post-fandom (at least until the movie comes out). Almeida Be With You!