NEW YORK — How many more ways could Jack Bauer have saved the homeland from a world of terrorists?
How many more times could he inflict and suffer injury in round-the-clock cycles?
How much can any man take?
Well, Jack operates at a superhuman pitch, judging from eight seasons' worth of counterterrorism derring-do on "24." His endurance is amazing. No coffee breaks for him. No wasting time on small talk. The clock is always ticking, so he says what he says fast, in his vigorous purr.
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In the hands of series star Kiefer Sutherland, Jack has done a bang-up job. So has "24," boldly shaking up serial drama with its ambitious and demanding formula. Even so, fatigue is evident, a condition apparently shared on "24" by Jack with the show's creative team and its audience. All have come to seem a bit weary from the unforgiving pace of this high-rev Fox thriller.
"24" ends on Monday at 8 p.m. ET with the final two installments of this last day's 24 sequential, real-time hours. But what was once groundbreaking and breathtaking about "24" has come to feel, well, sort of yesterday.
Sure, there have been oh-lordy moments this season. Like last week, when Jack realized a cell-phone SIM card with the data he needed had been swallowed by the Russian terrorist he had been grilling. What to do? Jack knifed open the guy's midsection, grabbed the SIM card from the yowling man's innards, wiped it off and popped it back into the phone. As Jack likes to say, he had no choice.
But too much of "24" today is mired in rapid-fire routine. By now, the audience is well-versed in the "24" protocol: a wildly dramatized view of our nation's response to the threat of terrorism as it takes the form of nerve gas, bombs, snipers, bioweapons or what-have-you, tightly framed within each season's frenzied 24-hour window.
Jack’s sad love life
This season, it's nukes that have fallen into enemy hands and threaten a piece of Manhattan — plus the assassination of a Mideast leader deemed essential to an all-important peace accord negotiated by U.S. President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones).
Jack is in the midst of all this hoo-ha, of course, including pushback from evil Russian operatives who secretly are dead set against the agreement.
Meanwhile, Jack has chalked up yet another lost love.
Count 'em: In the first season Jack lost his wife, who was killed by a former flame and trusted fellow agent of Jack's in the Counter-Terrorist Unit who was shockingly exposed as a cold-blooded mole. A few seasons later, another colleague-paramour was left in a coma after undergoing torture to save Jack's skin.
And this season, gorgeous Renee Walker (Annie Wersching), a former FBI special agent, was offed by the Russian sniper with whom Jack later dealt, shot through a bedroom window as she and Jack were savoring post-coital bliss.
No wonder Jack went rogue after that. He even defied his loyal CTU ally Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) in his wild-eyed escapade to avenge Renee's execution.
On this week's episode, Jack went really ballistic and forcibly abducted the man who had ordered the hit. That man was none other than treasonous, resigned-under-pressure ex-President Charles Logan.
Played by Gregory Itzin, Logan was key to the events of Day 5 several years ago, and his return to "24" has been the happiest twist in this current twisted season. Logan wormed his way into President Taylor's peace process as a ploy to repair his ruined image and, as he puts it, get back in the game. Like every game he plays, the wretch has cheated throughout it.
The waning eighth day is more than a decade removed from the first day tracked by "24." Premiering in the fall of 2001, it was a scripted drama's answer to the red-hot reality genre spurred by "Survivor." Here, on "24," was hyper-real action, documentary style, with preserving Americans' security the challenge. It seemed perfect for the time.
Then the rules changed just weeks before "24" went on the air. Thanks to Sept. 11, the sense of cautionary dread that fueled the series' suspense struck many viewers not as slick escapism, but as a wrenching echo of their own altered world. On its premiere, the series had a particularly bumpy start when a terrorist blew up the jetliner in which she had been a passenger after parachuting to safety. It was an unsettling flashback to real life less than two months earlier.
But that first day, Bauer successfully foiled an assassination plot against David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), a U.S. Senator on the fast track to the Oval Office. "24" overcame the specter of real-world tragedy.
It also managed to work within the unlikely confines of its snugly packaged format. Time and physical constraints conspired with plausible absurdity: cell phones that never burned out, bladders never needing bathroom breaks, Jack's variety of wounds that seemed to always heal themselves by the following scene.
Sure, why not? At their best, "24" and Jack moved way too fast for such trifles to distract the audience.
Just a sample from one trying day: Jack had a wooden stake driven into his thigh during a plane crash, parachuted from another plane within sight of a nuclear eruption, suffered electric-shock torture, died, was brought back to life, withstood more torture and then lived to tell about it.
At the start of the current season, Jack was healthy and happy — a miracle after his coma last season that resulted from exposure to the bioweapon meant to bring Washington, D.C., to its knees. Now he was claiming to be eager to put his hectic heroics behind him.
Then he answered the fateful knock at the door. Faster than you could say "I'm out! I don't work for the government anymore," he was pressed back into service. Once again, his government needed him. In the hours since, he's been making every minute count, painfully.
But after two more hours Monday night, that ends. The clock stops for good. After eight high-anxiety seasons of "24," Jack's got everybody tuckered out. It's time to finally give it a rest.
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