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May 25, 2004


24 Season Finale: The Rise of the Anti-Hero +

24 axe

24 is a corny, manipulative, and outrageous show, but Kiefer Sutherland still manages to transcend it and bring us places television has never really gone before. Based on last night's season finale, we can conclude Kiefer's character, Jack Bauer, is perhaps the greatest hero in the history of TV.

In case you missed it, he uses an axe to chop off the hand of his partner/daughter's boyfriend [screen shot] and saves the day by throwing the hideous-virus-spreading device into the faculty room refrigerator. This bloody act is the coda of a season (a day, even!) in which Jack also shoots his boss in the back of the head, allows his partner to be tortured, and kills at least one federal prison guard during a jailbreak. Never mind that Jack probably could have just thrown a garbage bag over the dispersal device instead of amputating Chase's arm to get to it. What matters is that Jack will do anything to save America.

Emotional detachment is a theme of the episode, and we see how that quality allows him to what needs to be done, under any circumstances. Unlike more conventional heroes (Superman, for instance) who are both inspired and crippled by their emotional attachments, Jack takes a simpler approach: whatever action saves the most lives -- no matter how cruel it may be -- is the moral action. Neither Tony (who committed treason to save his wife) nor Chase (who thought he could have it both ways) can achieve what Jack does, because they both care too much. Jack is the man with nothing to lose, and is therefore the strongest.

In the episode's maudlin but brilliant closing moments, however, we see that Jack remains detached only as far as the mission takes him: when the world is saved, Jack has a private moment as he weeps [screen shot] -- for his dead wife, the horrors he's seen and committed, and the emotional life he abandoned long ago. -ADM

I would say that much of this entire season was about the enormous sacrifices people make to save the most lives, and the emotional detachment that this requires. Kiefer obviously has exhibited this quality the most: not only did he shoot his boss in the back of the head, he also had to shoot his field partner in the face (with what turned out to be an empty gun,) and he convinced his love interest Clow-dia to escape her evil drug lord boyfriend's clutches, which resulted in her death. And, of course, he amputated Chase's hand, and became addicted to heroin as part of a sting operation. Clow-dia also sacrificed herself for the sake of her young brother and father. Michelle shot and killed the panicking guy as he tried to escape the Hotel of Death, and Gael put himself in position to have the deadly virus capsule explode in his face in his efforts to save the world. That's a lot of sacrifice.

The full weight of the season does fall on Kiefer's shoulders in those final despairing moments in which he cried in his SUV. Kiefer has had a number of breakdowns throughout the show, but those were prompted by specific traumatic events, such as in Season 1 when he thought Kim was dead, and spends a good 3 minutes weeping on the dock in L.A. harbor, or when he picks up his wife's body in the final shots of the same season. This time, he cries for less specific reasons, I guess because of all the horrible things he and everybody else has had to do for the good of humanity, but I think this makes it more powerful. I would be happy if next season, Kiefer gets to spend several episodes relaxing on that lounge chair at Mrs. Palmer's fabulous beach home that we briefly saw her enjoying before she gets shot. -Amy

categories: TV
posted by adm at 10:20 PM | #