For a show so frequently mocked, criticized and/or praised for being ideologically right-leaning, how surprising to discover that the seventh season finale for FOX's "24" would be all about the freedom of choice.
It sure wasn't about excitement or twists or action-based cliffhangers, or even about justice, or at least not justice for all. It was a very peculiar season-ender for a show like "24," but maybe not so peculiar if you consider that several seasons have now ended with Jack in full existential crisis. Those finales have always been somewhat less embraced than the show's more conclusive endings, though, so I'm guessing there will be some rather great disapproval from some segment of the fanbase.
Me? I was amused, because Monday's (May 18) finale was almost "Grey's Anatomy"-esque in terms of how hard the writers worked to make sure that the thematic points hit home. I almost expected the producers to whip out some over-expressive Imogen Heap or Shins song over the closing credits to seal the deal.
[Thoughts on the season's last two episodes after the break...]
After nearly "24" hours, nearly a third of them with a deadly bioweapon slowly killing him, Jack Bauer finally became the Buddha, achieving serenity, retrospection and a status as a wise elder, imparting his great wisdom to Agent Walker.
"I guess the only advice I can give you is try to make choices that you can live with," Jack told Agent Walker, who's become Bauer's Missy-Me after initial moral reservations.
Make choices that you can live with. The finale was entirely about people making tough choices, sometimes the right ones and sometimes the wrong ones.
Let's look through them, shall we?
Making the Wrong Choices
Tony Almeida: So Tony was good all along, right? Yeah. Sure. You can look at it that way. If you like your good guys with plenty of innocent blood on their hands and no actual aspirations to help anybody but themselves. It turns out that Tony wasn't actually working for CT-New or the Evil Businessmen's Terrorist Alliance. He was just out for pure vengeance and allied himself with whichever side was most likely to help him get closer to killing the man responsible for Michelle's death (and the death of his unborn son). He was just working all available resources and killing anybody he needed to to accomplish his goals. That the man allegedly responsible for Michelle's death happens to have been a Bad Guy is pure luck. If he'd thought President Taylor was responsible for Michelle's death, he'd have killed her, too.
[Side note... How many people have now been responsible for Michelle's death and for calling in the hit on President Palmer? It seems as if half of the world, from President Logan on down, has been blamed, but "24" keeps whipping that out as a seminal event. It's a bit like all of the people who have come after Jack stemming from that one blundered mission in Eastern Europe.]
Tony tried arguing that he'd saved more lives than Jack today, but Jack very correctly called him on his willingness to unleash the bioweapon on the subway.
"You're not honoring Michelle's life. You are reveling in her death. She would despise you for this," Jack told Tony. And since Jack is the Buddha, he gets the last word. Tony's choices? All wrong. Especially killing Amy Price-Francis' Cara. That was one bad, beautiful woman.
Evil First Daughter Olivia and her Daddy: It was bad enough when she opted to have Jonas killed, but then to try strong-arming Ethan to keep the information secure? And going all Nixon on what she thought was the digital recording proving her guilt? Boo.
And for First Husband Taylor to try convincing his wife to just let Olivia skate? Another wrong decision. It wasn't really President Taylor's fault that her son died anyway. He was poking his nose into Hodges' affairs at his friend's urging, wasn't he? That was just professional nosiness, though the friend only asked for his help due to his position. Still, though, not President Taylor's fault.
Will Patton: No, not Alan Wilson, the character we're saying was involved in all of today's terrorist activities as well as several other Jack Bauer-related tragedies in recent years. I'm talking about Will Patton, the actor, who will have to live with the odd half-smirk he gave the character and the bemused line-reading on every speech. At no point did he give off the vibe of being a man smart enough to have done all of this masterminding. And if he actually was the man responsible for Michelle's death, he ought to have guessed that Tony might have wanted revenge, right? So maybe he's actually innocent. Or relatively innocent. Bad choices all around, though.
Making the Right Choices
Kim Bauer: There was Kim, playing victim again, being held hostage by the Fake Couple From The Valley, being used to make Jack do bad things. And there was Kim, unable to keep her cool when she was talking to Agent Walker on the airport phone. And there was Kim making the stupid decision to go running after the exiting hostage-taker, sprinting after him in high heels. Those moves are all vintage Kim, as was rushing over to the first available authority figure and telling him everything, even though he almost inevitable would turn out to be working for the other side anyway [He wasn't...]. But credit Kim with understanding that the hostage-taker's computer could be used to find her father's location. And credit her for saving the computer from the burning car and know what to advise Chloe to do. That's as resourceful as Kim gets.
And then, at the episode's end, credit Kim for coming back and offering her magic stem cells for the magical fictional surgery that has a low chance of saving Jack's life. Somehow, I'm guessing that it just might surprise the doctor and work. That's just my hunch.
Ethan and Agent Pierce: Agent Pierce can do no wrong, but Ethan has always given off the vibe that he could just as easily go dark. Instead, he orchestrated saving the memory card, exposing Olivia and putting the choice in President Taylor's hands. Ethan was really one of the heroes this season and if he hadn't be forced out by Olivia, several things that happened later in the day might have been prevented.
President Taylor: Other than distrusting Jack Bauer, President Taylor tried hard to do the right thing all day, even if I didn't always get her politics. Turning in Olivia was right. And bringing Ethan back was right. The season was built around two evolving and platonic love stories, Jack and Agent Walker, but just as much Ethan and President Taylor. Ethan's respect for President Taylor has been pretty much unconditional and she betrayed him by trusting her evil daughter. Lesson learned, I guess.
Janis and Chloe: They ended up working together to save the country, learning a valuable lesson about... um... collaborative snarkiness? Chloe found a way to thank Janis in the end and even compliment her ("Yeah. It was interesting. Given what you have to work with, you're doing a pretty good job.") and she left with a small Chloe-ish smile.
Jack Bauer: Jack found Islam on his not-quite-deathbed. Good for him. We all need a little spirituality. He didn't find Islam? I guess not. But with the help of Ravi Kapoor's Gohar, he found peace of some sort, peace in his own mortality. As he lamented his unforgivable deeds, Gohar interrupted with, "We live in complex times, Mr. Bauer. Nothing is black-n-white. but I do know this, I see before me a man, with all his flaws and all his goodness, simply a man."
It's a bit crazy to call Jack Bauer "simply a man," but if that was one of this season's major arcs, so be it. The season eventually decided not to take a stand on Jack's misdeeds or his heroism, giving the wishy-washy response that maybe some of his choices weren't the most legally or officially appropriate, but they came from his heart. Jack told Gohar he was ready do go and then Kim had to come along and ruin everything. Again...
The Jury's Still Out On
Agent Walker: Did she go torture a confession of some sort out of Alan Wilson? Would she even know how to? Everything else she did was right out of the Jack Bauer playbook, sticking Janis up, cuffing her to a shelf, leaving her badge outside of the interrogation room... What choice did she make, though? And which choice would be the right one anyway, at least the right one in the "24" universe?
Other thoughts on Monday's "24" finale:
*** The warehouse where Tony and Cara were taking Jack to have his spinal fluid tested was spooky and "Hostel"-y, but then the doctor reminded me of Dr. Leo Spaceman from "30 Rock," so it became spooky-funny, which isn't the same thing as spooky-scary, which would be a Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.
*** You make the call, readers: Was Carlos Bernard's delivery of Tony's glory line -- "It wasn't just my wife you murdered. She was carrying my son. You killed my son! My son! MY SON!!!!" -- camp-tastically hilarious or intense and Emmy-worthy?
*** Best little moment: In the midst of the entertainingly over-the-top airport shootout (the "24" producers don't think much of post-9/11 security), did Kim Bauer let out a "Damnit!"? That's the sort of thing that Bauers are genetically predisposed to say under duress.
*** So how far in the future do we think we'll pick up? Should the producers have closed with a silent clock, just to make us believe Jack might be a goner?
Thoughts on the finale? Thoughts on the season as a while?