Tuned In

The Morning After: 24 Stops (or Pauses?) the Clock

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Spoilers for the series finale of 24 coming up:

24 came onto the air in 2001 as a form-breaking serial that looked strikingly different from anything else on TV. As all successful insurgents do over time, though, it became another institution, with its own familiar forms, tropes and patterns. And last night, 24 said goodbye—to TV anyway—with a closing that was much more like just another season finale than a series finale.

The makers of 24, of course, have been open about the fact that the want to continue the franchise in movies, so it’s certainly reasonable for them to end the series in a way that leaves that possibility open. But it’s also reasonable to say that the finale lost some power from the necessity of doing so, not even achieving the level of the gut-punch that ended season one (with the death of Jack Bauer’s wife), much less anything like closure—or even the beginning of a new phase. What we had at the end, instead, was something like the end of season 4, with Jack having saved the day but having to go on the lam as his reward, one righteous man against the world.

That’s how it read as a series finale. I can’t fairly judge season 8 as a whole, because—owing to the usual TV-critic triage, because it’s physically impossible to watch everything—I missed much of the middle of the season. I will say that the finale had some strong moments, and finally offed one of the show’s most enduring villains, Logan, in a way that would seem irrevocable even by 24. (I think. You can’t blame me for being suspicious at this point.)

The strongest part of the finale for me, though, was how it came around to the partnership between Jack and Chloe, which has evolved into the most important relationship in 24. Mary Lynn Rajskub has grown in the role as the character has developed from a semi-comic support nerd into, in many ways, the heart and soul of CTU. Jack and Chloe’s armed standoff, with Jack ordering her to shoot him, has to go down as the most memorable moment of this finale, and it was fitting that we should last watch Jack on a satellite screen, escaping, as Chloe literally watches his back.

It looks like he’ll be back, though. 24 came onto the air as an unusual kind of new TV show. It leaves with an unusual kind of finale: one that might as well be labeled, To be continued…

For a different, and very thoughtful, look at the meaning of 24, critic and filmmaker Matt Zoller Seitz and Aaron Aradillas have created a series of video essays on 24’s significance in entertainment and politics. Part one is embedded below; for the rest, click here.

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