TV Recap

Shanghai Surprise

On the season finale of ''24,'' Jack saves Los Angeles from nuclear destruction, and a grateful nation tries to put him in a Chinese prison

24, Kiefer Sutherland | SURVIVOR: MEXICO Jack will be hiding south of the border until next season
Image credit: Kiefer Sutherland: Anthony Mandler/FOX
SURVIVOR: MEXICO Jack will be hiding south of the border until next season

''24'': Jack's disappearing act

Okay, this was so much better than the Desperate Housewives finale. In fact, I wish it were a TV rule that all of our favorite shows have to treat us to two-hour season finales. Frankly, we deserved it. We waited patiently through 22 hours of 24 for this final payoff. We put up with all the burning questions surrounding the whereabouts of Behrooz, the stealth fighter pilot, the body of Dina, the lack of CTU potties and regular meals. We stomached Chloe's moods and Audrey's sniveling. We deserved this heart-stopping ending, so thanks a bunch, guys!

Now, this is where my role as a journalist gets in the way of writing this TV Watch. I know — hell, most of you know because you feed off the Internet — that 24 was just renewed for two more seasons and Kiefer Sutherland has a standard seven-year contract. And for once, I wish I didn't know this behind-the-scenes stuff. (I've learned a bit more, too, but I'll share it later.) Had I been naïve to business details, I'd have watched that finale thinking Jack Bauer and Sutherland were both gone for good. And you know what? I would have been okay with that! Sure it was a little Hollywood, watching our Jack walk slowly into the sunrise [thanks for the correction, readers!] after saying goodbye to Palmer and adding that ''it was an honor'' to serve him. But I still wanted him to survive this day, and now I want him to go in peace.

This is the way you end a great run. Free Jack! Free Jack! No one thought the show could go this long, and it did. And surely no one thought that Jack could save the nation again this season, and yet he did, during what was, quite possibly, 24's best season. But face it — there were moments when it got pretty damn ludicrous this year. How much sillier is it going to get next time when they have to explain why Jack is back in action? Why not let Sutherland go out on a high? Increase his chances to win that Emmy in September? Let the TV Academy think he's history so he'll become the sentimental fave?

Alas, time to get real. The network has made it clear that there is no 24 without Jack. So now the writers really have my sympathy. Jack, as President Palmer said, is for all intents and purposes dead, so now the scribes will have to figure out a clever way not only to bring him back to the U.S. but to give him enough power (or at least a reasonable amount of security clearance) to save another million lives. Talk about moving heaven and earth — which is why I remain somewhat skeptical over whether they'll be able to pull it off. It would have been so much easier to let the boy head off to enjoy margaritas and chips in Mexico.

Okay, now to Marwan. I actually expected the finale to come down to some dramatic mano a mano between him and Jack — Marwan's hands tied up to some electrocution device and Jack powering him up with enough juice to light the Mohave Desert. So I was pleasantly surprised when it actually came down to Marwan just dangling off the side of a building and Jack holding him by one arm before he had to let go. We never really got to know Marwan or learn more about his motivation to destroy Los Angeles — not that it mattered. It was better this way. But I do wish that before he slammed into the cement below, he had told us why he didn't kill Dina in full view of the camera.

Anyway, so long, Habib. You were the best villain ever (though your talent for picking cohorts sure sucked).

I don't want this TV Watch to go on forever, but there are some things we just have to cover, like the bomb. We knew that Jack and CTU would stop it, but I must quibble over the notion that CTU was able to salvage the tracking device that Marwan had just destroyed and use it figure out the precise location of the bomb (over Nevada, on its way to L.A.!). Speaking of miracles, we're also supposed to believe the Chinese happened to have a satellite that could focus on CTU at a moment's notice? That allowed the Chinese to not only capture the man they identified during the raid on their consulate but threaten him with imprisonment near Siberia (ooh, that hellhole always seems to get everybody) unless he ratted out Jack. Kudos to all of you out there who guessed this was the way Logan and Co. would get out of the whole Chinese nightmare. Logan, you weasel — passively ordering your security guy Cummings to have a Secret Service guy kill Jack! How in the hell would you have explained that little development to both the country and the Chinese?

Favorite moments? Tony with his shirt off. Audrey (finally!) breaking up with Jack. The way Mandy swung her skinny leg up on the counter so she could pull her gun out of its holster and tuck it in the back of her skirt. Damn, that girl kicks ass. And speaking of kicking ass, hoo-ya to Michelle for picking country over Tony and not following his lead from a previous season and committing treason to save him. Mandy anticipated this outcome, lining up a couple of decoys to walk out of the apartment before her (and subsequently get themselves killed). Fortunately, Jack had her number and managed to capture Mandy in the garage, where she gave up Marwan and got herself an immunity deal and a possible return for season 5. Because, well, that's what Mandy does — she just suddenly appears. I sure wish we knew why.

And a final favorite moment, next to that Jacko sunrise scene: Tony and Michelle reuniting — though I worried for a spell that we'd get a Romeo and Juliet moment when we saw Michelle sitting alone in her car, looking like she wanted to commit suicide because she thought her man was dead. These two don't seem to be coming back next season, and frankly that would break my heart. I adore them.

And now, a few burning questions. Turns out the producers did plan to show one final scene of the poor put-upon Behrooz being told that his ma was dead. But the scene was edited for time in the finale, so we'll never get to say goodbye. And the producers' explanation for Dina's mysterious death off-camera? They did confirm our suspicions that they wanted to leave the door open to bringing her back, but obviously they never did. Damn.

So what's to become of next year? Besides Sutherland, only Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe) has signed as a series regular. When it comes to securing talent, 24 is unique in that its creators never completely know where the story is going, so they can't grant full-season contracts to the stars. This can be problematic, since their recurring talent will often secure other projects — like William Devane in the sitcom Out of Practice and Dennis Haysbert in the drama The Unit, both for CBS next fall. Personally, I think Haysbert should keep his distance from season 5, though his return seems inevitable given that final conversation between Palmer and Jack. (What's more, Haysbert is only contracted to do 13 episodes on The Unit, which will make it possible to moonlight on 24.)

Anyway, we can't wait for next season after watching the coming attractions, in which the narrator said that in the first season, Jack saved the president; in the second, a city; in the third; a nation; and in the fourth, the world. Presumably, next year Jack will save the universe. Just imagine the nifty space-age gadgets!

So what did you think of the finale? Were you surprised when the threat switched from the bomb to the Chinese prison? How are the writers going to put Jack back on the job? And who else do you want to come back?

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Originally posted May 24, 2005
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