The ”24” season finale: Jack deals with Dad
And so the odd arc of 24’s day 6 ended with the inexorable stubbornness it had maintained all season long — it started with a bang (a really big bang, a nuclear attack that killed thousands) and went out with a whimper (Jack, having kissed his sleeping beauty Audrey goodbye, was left staring at the sea — and some very sharp rocks below him).
The season finale was, in general, a pretty good two hours, undeniably full of action — and also undeniably full of major characters working through some issues in the most maudlin way. At least Kiefer Sutherland finally got a chance to lower his voice to a conversational tone and do something besides point a gun and hit people. But hours 23 and 24 didn’t so much tie up loose ends as they set up some resolutions that were never quite resolved. It was as if, right up to the point of filming, the producers were leaving themselves the maximum number of options to go with. The results were sometimes exciting, sometimes predictable, sometimes tantalizing.
For example: the whole Josh-Phillip-Marilyn subplot. Early on in the first hour, Phillip said to his captive grandson, while planning his escape, ”I will have the means and the power to help you become the kind of man your father should have been.” Soon after, the scene changed to CTU, where a desperate, wild-eyed Marilyn, frantic over her missing son, yelled to Nadia, ”You have no idea what I’m going through!” To me, these two statements suggested that we were about to learn that Phillip was Josh’s father — as I said a couple of weeks ago, there were some strong semi-Chinatown echoes there, and Rena Sofer’s strenuous acting was giving off a lot of Faye Dunaway vibes. But nope — it played out as just ol’ foxy Grandpa wanting to teach his grandson to control his emotions (”You must never let them control you,” he said in hour 24) and a mom distraught for her boy. It was…kind of a letdown.
They say for every action there is a reaction; on this season of 24, for every action, there was emotionalism. Doyle got a faceful of explosives trying to make a trade for that darn ”component.” (I foresee an eye patch on Ricky Schroder next season!) By contrast, we saw Milo’s brother show up at CTU to clean out the dead agent’s locker. (Do you think they’d give a civilian clearance to do that at that point in the…Oh, I give up on being bothered by common sense.) Brother Stuart was really there in order to have someone tell Nadia that Milo ”was really in love with you,” so she could get all misty. Boy, if I were Marisol Nichols, I’d be pretty annoyed. She probably signed on thinking she was going to get to kick butt playing 24’s first prominent CTU officer of Middle Eastern descent, and she ended up being a damp-eyed softie who also had to become anxious about Doyle’s fate. (She had two crushes going simultaneously.) Plus, she was condescended to right to the very end, when Bill Buchanan told her she ”did the right thing” in agreeing to do what he and Jack asked during the oil-platform helicopter rescue and, later, when he told her, ”You did good work today; you should be proud.” No, she shouldn’t — she let a subordinate take a bullet for her, and she failed to stand up to some men until other men told her it was okay. Sheesh.
Speaking of action vs. emotionalism, it was super-fine to witness Bill in action mode helping Jack go after Phillip and Josh, piloting the helicopter with skill. And it’s only because the scenes between Karen Hayes and Tom Lennox were so strong — that Tom, he was dogged in making the vice president pardon those two squabbling lovebirds! — that the moments when Bill and Karen had to profess their love to each other weren’t excessively soppy. (And one more Bill and Karen observation: Karen was ready to resign from this misbegotten Palmer administration, but you know Bill isn’t looking to retire — this was not the tidy solution to their life situations that the writers want us to so blithely accept.)
Once again, Peter MacNicol earned the most-valuable-player award and the best dry-wit line of the night when he suggested to Vice President Daniels that he let go of the whole Hayes-Buchanan mess for the sake of ”whatever fragile faith the American people still have in this administration.” Vote Tom Lennox for president in your next alternate-universe election, please.
But back to the aw-gee moments. Chloe’s pregnant. Morris is going to stand by his lady. (Is he the father?) I’m not sure whether next season’s inevitable Chloe-brings-a-breast-pump-to-her-work-station scene will be a hoot to look forward to or an eye-averting embarrassment to be dreaded.
And Jack — oh, Jack, Jack, Jack. It was no surprise that we were going to end with Audrey and her pop — we saw Kim Raver and William Devane’s names in the hour-24 opening credits — but did they have to make Jack spill his guts and spell everything out quite so plainly? Again, Kiefer Sutherland’s innate instinct to underplay even his biggest speeches helped save the day more than his gun ever did. As he recited all the psychoanalytical reasons for why he’s the man he has become — the sort of hollow shell who could watch his father die and feel ”nothing….That man was dead to me years ago” — he also made more petty emotions run convincingly deep.
I’m referring to the fact that, when Jack went to see Audrey, he also wanted to see Devane’s James Heller one more time, to tell him how much he was hurt by Heller’s accusation that Jack puts a curse on everyone he loves. Why? Voilà — Heller is the father figure Jack has always looked up to. Jack was really in psychic pain, and Sutherland gave the sentiment weight, even when he had to recite whiny lines asking Heller why he didn’t try harder to get Jack out of China.
I also really liked Heller’s response to what Jack said; ever the beaky pragmatist, he snapped, ”Sooner or later, you’re gonna get back in the game.” Which is to say, sonny boy, I’m not your daddy, you’re gonna go off on some new adventure again because it’s in your blood, and I do have a daughter to protect from that.
”I’m at a crossroads,” said Jack near the end. No kiddin’. That was hammered home by the gazing at the water and the rocks in the final scene. The producers don’t really expect us to feel, even for a fleeting second, that Jack’s gonna jump, do they? No, they can’t expect that — just as they can’t expect us to care anymore about the aftermath of the nuclear explosion that started off this day, or the fate of the Logans, or the fate of President Wayne Palmer. (D.B. Woodside, see ya in Viva Laughlin, this fall on CBS.) No, this was a literal cliff-hanger that wasn’t a dramatic cliff-hanger. Jack is standing at the edge of a rocky perch, but he’s not in danger the way he was last season, kidnapped and on his way to China.
Instead, Jack is taking an inner journey. Let’s hope that, after he meditates on his future, he gets his head, as Heller said, back in the game — the game of 24, because next season, this show better take off like a rocket, and leave most of the musing, romancing, and slow subplotting in the dust.
I’ll be there. Will you?