For the past two days, it seems all anyone can talk about is the finale of Lost, and while I respect the rabid fan base of that show, I must admit that I do not watch it and therefore have focused my attention on a different, but no less worthy series: 24. This venerable espionage thriller has more or less served as a companion piece to the turbulent 2000s, and as such, it’s sort of a shame that its grand finale has been totally overshadowed by those shenanigans over on The Island (same goes for Law & Order, whose historic twenty-season run ended Monday night too with barely a send-off from NBC).
I suppose one reason why 24 didn’t garner as much buzz leading up to its finale is because unlike Lost, it wasn’t setting out to answer a myriad of questions that had been lingering for years on end. Sure, there are definitely questions out there (where is Mandy????), but they stem more from curiosity, not a simple desire to know WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. Perhaps even more significant is the widespread awareness that 24 will soon head into phase II of its life as a movie franchise. Sure, we’re saying farewell to Jack, Chloe, CTU, and countless others, but there’s a comforting feeling that this isn’t goodbye, just see you later. That being said, I did get a touch emotional at the end of this final episode, and quite honestly, I don’t care what the haters have been saying about the season: the 24 finale was truly excellent, and in many ways it was one of my favorite series finales of all time. I felt utterly satisfied (save for my constant desire to see past characters incredulously resurface), and ultimately, my only complaint is that we don’t have another season to look forward to.
Finale or no finale, Monday’s episode of 24 was awesome. My heart was racing for nearly the entire two hours, despite there being any over-the-top machine-gun action sequence. Instead the suspense came from a mixture of sources — Jack going off the deep end, Chloe trying to expose the conspiracy, President Taylor’s increasingly untenable situation, and Logan nearly getting away with it all. All the plots dovetailed beautifully, and thanks to some great acting on the parts of Cherry Jones, Gregory Itzin, and Necar Zadegan, we had some thrilling interpersonal moments. The producers owe a special debt of gratitude to Itzin, whose President Logan elevated an otherwise solid but generally unremarkable season. From the instant he returned to the show, 24 became the gripping moster we knew and love.
That’s not to say that this eighth go at it had been a bad one. I thought the season was more or less pretty damn good. The only real problem it faced was the ridiculous Dana Walsh subplot that plagued the first twelve hours of the day. Until she was revealed to be a mole, Dana seemed to be off in bizarro Kim land, and as a result, her entire story somewhat torpedoed the credibility of the season. It’s remarkable how many people were willing to write off the entire show thanks to one bad subplot. Then again, such a silly story line only serves to highlight some of the weaknesses of 24, and when people are unable to suspend disbelief, the entire machine falls apart. Suddenly, recycled conceits become that much more apparent (and that much more wearisome). This eighth season certainly featured its share of greatest hits moments: Cole confronting his lover-turned-mole Dana in the CTU garage (just as Jack did to Nina on season one), Jack murdering said mole in cold blood (just as he did to Nina in season three), and President Logan losing everything thanks to a secret microphone (just as he did in season five, also planted on him by Jack after a rough interrogation). That being said, I was one of the few people who simply didn’t mind the retreads. We’d seen the conceits before, but always in a different way each time. It’s sort of like music, if I may be so pretentious. Same notes, different arrangement. Right? Right??
Nevertheless, while there were those who got sick of 24, I still loved it dearly, and this send-off was just perfect. For an hour and fifty minutes, it was pure suspense, even if we knew where things were going. Of course President Taylor was gonna back out of the peace treaty, instead confessing to her crimes. Of course Jack would survive the day, thus paving the way for the movie. And of course we’d lose yet another fantastic character, this time President Logan who committed suicide (or attempted to) as his dreams of redemption came shattering down around him. What I didn’t anticipate was how moving the final minutes would prove to be.
With Jack hauled off to a yard in Williamsburg (with nary a hipster in sight), it looked like he might finally meet his end. President Logan’s goons had captured him and were prepared to murder him once and for all while Chloe, Cole, and Arlo could do nothing but helplessly watch. I pretended that I didn’t know about the 24 movie and allowed myself to believe that this might just be the way 24 ends: with Jack dying. Heck, even Chloe seemed to be at a loss for ideas. She did, however, mutter something ambiguous, which led me to believe she had some crazy ace up her sleeve. What could it be? I’m not gonna lie: I really thought Tony Almeida was gonna burst onto the scene and save the day. It would have been a great nod to the fans, even if it were totally implausible.
Sadly, Tony did not make one final appearance. Instead Jack was saved the old fashioned way: by the last-second phone call. Somehow Chloe was able to connect the President to one of the henchmen’s cell phones, thanks to microwaves and those infernal drones that we’re always hearing about. Prezzy Taylor ordered the guys to stand down, and thus Jack was saved. I was a bit puzzled though. We only had a few minutes left of the entire show, let alone the series, and I couldn’t imagine how this scenario was gonna play out in any vaguely cinematic way. Maybe, just maybe, Jack would do something horrific like killing himself (heck, he already tried once in the episode).
Ah, but I should have had more faith in the producers. President Taylor ordered Jack be left alone with nothing but the cell phone. Then, as Chloe, Cole, and Arlo continued to watch from a vacant CTU (it had been evacuated for security reasons), the Prez told Jack that she had ceased the peace talks. She was gonna tender her resignation and accept whatever charges might come her way. President Taylor then noted that Jack should also have to face the consequences of his actions, but in his case, that would probably mean death at the hands of the vengeful regimes. Truthfully, his best bet was to leave the country once and for all. The Russians would be after him, and so would the Americans. He would have to go off the grid. President Taylor informed him that she would let him get a head start, but nothing more. And that’s when the lump started to appear in my throat. The noble escape to obscurity — how classically cinematic after all.
President Taylor then hung up the phone, leaving Jack to address Chloe one last time. And let me tell you — there’s something about men baring their souls to Chloe that just gets me. There was the infamous and heartbreaking death of Edgar in which the portly systems analyst let out a desperate and sad “Chloe…” in his final breaths. And now there was this: Jack, his head oversized on the CTU monitor, talking to his loyal sidekick via a drone for perhaps the last time ever. He became uncharacteristically nostalgic for a moment, saying that when Chloe came to CTU all those years ago, he never thought that it would be her who would stay most loyal to him all this time. Coupled with soaring strings and Mary Lynn Rajskub’s flowing tears, it was the perfect sappy emotional note to strike — a simple thanks; not just to Chloe but to all the fans.
Chloe said “Good luck” — one of those great optimistic sentiments for moments like these — and then announced to Cole and Arlo that none of this had happened. As Jack started to move away, she then ordered them to “Shut it down.” The big fancy new CTU monitor turned to snow before going black, and we saw that famous clock one last time as it counted down — for once — to zero.
And then I may or may not have cried, but we don’t have to get into that.
Ultimately, the 24 finale hit all the right notes. It didn’t try to get too cerebral or cutesy. There were no tepid outcomes or annoying diner scenes set to Journey. It simply gave us what we wanted: trademark suspense, explosive violence (ear-chewing Mike Tyson style), intense acting, and a sense of closure that managed to paradoxically hint at future adventures to come.
What did you think about the finale? Did you find it as excellent as I did? And will you see the movie (if it ever gets made)?