As the closing seconds were ticking down on 24, I began to wonder, “How is Jack going to get finished with this and get across to California to be with his family? They have to tie this all together really quickly.”
Then as I saw Jack’s bloodied and wearied face fade away on the CTU screen, I realized this was the only way it could end for Jack Bauer. Anything less would not be true to the character.
I complained that President Taylor, who had such moral integrity that she destroyed her family by sending her daughter to jail, had suddenly decided to lose all of her morals and follow former President Logan into the abyss. It did not ring true for who she was. They did not make that same mistake with Jack.
He was the unheeded prophet. Threats would surface, Jack would analyze them and explain what was happening behind it all, but no one would listen. Ever. No matter who was in charge of CTU, they never listened to Jack from the beginning. They always listened to Jack at the end. His prophetic conclusions always came to fruition. Why should the final season be any different?
In Season 2, President Palmer is relieved of his office because he trusts Jack that a recording implementing three countries in an attempted terrorist attack on the US has been faked by someone else. All of the President’s cabinet and most of CTU do not believe Jack’s instincts. Finally, after almost attacking innocent nations, Jack is proved to be right. Again.
He was the beaten and bruised savior. Even though his superiors refused to listen to his advice, Jack repeatedly and willingly suffered for their mistakes. He put his body and mind on the line for others. He endured countless beatings at the hands of terrorists, enemy nations and sometimes his own people. Yet, he always got up and did it again.
In the finale, President Logan convinced President Taylor to have Jack “dealt with” because locking him away would not stop him. He told her, “He will always find a way to crawl back up.” In that last frame, Jack’s blood, tear and sweat stained face looked wearied and tired, but not broken.
He had endured more physically and emotionally than anyone should, but if need be he would do it again tomorrow. One of my favorite season finales was Season 3, where Jack is seen breaking down emotionally in his car, until he hears that CTU needs him again. He dries his face and goes at it again.
He was the unwanted messiah. How often was Jack deemed an enemy of the state? The very state that he sacrificed so much to protect and serve. He gave up his life, his well-being, his wife, any love interest he ever had and a relationship with his daughter, all so some self-serving Washington bureaucrat could push the blame away from himself and declare Jack to be rogue.
In Season 4, Jack is forced to fake his own death because the Logan Administration was trying to blame him for the death of the Chinese Consul on American soil. Later, the Chinese capture him and torture him for 20 months while the Americans do little to rescue him. They only secure his release when they need to use him again.
It would not fit for 24 to end in any way besides Jack fading away, trying to avoid both the warranted spotlight and unwarranted blame. Though he may often seem like it, Jack is not Hercules. He is Sisyphus.
He tirelessly rolls the stone up the hill, but when he reaches the top someone else pushes the stone back down the hill. But unlike the Greek myth, Jack chooses to go to the bottom and start again. His punishment is self-inflicted or more accurately self-sacrificial.
Jack Bauer’s day could not have ended with fanfare and glory. It could not have ended with a walk into the sunset holding his granddaughter in his arms. It could not have ended with him holding his arms open wide for someone to excited rush into them.
It had to end with a fade to black as Jack walks down the hill yet again, resurfacing only at the moment the stone needs to be pushed back up.
I wrote this on Twitter right after the show: “I’m not sure how the series ending of 24 was any different from half of the season endings. Maybe that’s the point.”