The series finale begins with a heartfelt message from Kiefer Sutherland, thanking the audience for being there for the past eight seasons. It's actually been nine years, which is hard to reconcile. "24" has been a staple of the post-9/11 television world, and it's hard to believe that Jack Bauer is now fading into legend. Frankly, the character and the franchise deserved a much better sendoff.
Actually, Jack comes off a lot better in this episode than just about anyone else, save perhaps Chloe. But then, Chloe has been the only constant this season, and especially during this ill-advised final turn towards insanity. Considering that Chloe has been around since the third season, and Jack's most loyal ally, it makes sense that she would come through and help Jack in the end. (And to think: many fans hated Chloe with a passion when she was first introduced!)
The writers did everything possible to bring Jack back towards the light, but frankly, it was too little, too late. Jack had already slaughtered people with needless brutality, and it's not enough for him to admit that he has to atone for his actions. Having him die at the end of the series wouldn't have worked; if that was going to happen, it would have needed to have happened after a string of heroic choices that led to a moment of cathartic, character-defining sacrifice. And that was no longer a possibility.
Granted, Jack held back from killing Piller, and he listened to Chloe's pleas, when all his instincts told him to kill Suvarov and Logan. And Jack was willing to die for his sins, which would have been an even worse ending. But it's disappointing to realize that the resolution of the crisis and the end of the series wasn't tied to Jack's active participation.
While it's been implicit thus far, Jack openly states that his actions were based on Renee's death, because she was someone that he cared for deeply. And as stated several times in previous reviews, this is the biggest problem with the rationale for Jack's descent. Jack is justifying his actions on an emotional attachment to someone he didn't bother checking on for over a year and a half. Had Jack not run into Renee at CTU at the beginning of the season, would he have even looked her up? It just doesn't hold water, and that's coming from someone who accepted the notion that they would fall into a relationship!
As has been the case since the killing of Renee Walker, Jack is not the only one acting out of character based on questionable logic. President Taylor has inconsistently written since the moment Charles Logan reappeared on the scene. In the penultimate hour, Taylor actually threatens to level an ally's country to preserve a peace accord, just to protect her presidency. Taylor effectively becomes Charles Logan, and just one of them was enough of a blight on the series.
Perhaps the best moments, as already more or less mentioned, came between Jack and Chloe. Their brief standoff was the one moment of true tension in the entire finale. It was a little convenient that Chloe, barely willing to shoot Jack to save his life, would be capable of aiming her shot with such precision to ensure his survival. But then, "24" has always been an exercise in accepting the convenient and ludicrous; it's often a matter of degree.
It's been well reported that Kiefer Sutherland was fine with the direction of his character and the progression of the season. Frankly, as much as he has been perfect as Jack Bauer, his personal track record just might suggest that his judgment is flawed. But at least he was happy with his character's direction.
I can't imagine how Cherry Jones must feel. After a wonderful turn in the seventh season, her character was sidelined for expositional purposes for most of the eighth season, only to climb back into the limelight long enough to have her principled character utterly eviscerated. She did her best with the material she was given, but there had to be some moments when she wondered why she wasted the past year of her career.
The finale lacked actual resolution in a number of ways. The season arc was more or less concluded, but the writers seemed to be avoiding the final word on just about everything. Consider Logan's suicide: even there, he was probably going to survive, and he might have brain damage. While it's fitting that a slimeball like Logan would screw up his own suicide attempt, why not give him a definitive fate?
But what about the Russians? What consequences did they incur? And what about the fallout from Taylor's threats against the IRK? Taylor mentions that she will resign over her role in the cover-up, but that doesn't exactly leave the world of "24" in the best of situations. If the writers really had taken the original plan for the season and revised it to serve as a conclusion to the series, why did it seem like the writers made the ending more vague, instead of more definitive?
The final moments of the episode were frustrating. It was great to hear Jack make certain that Kim and her family understood what happened and were protected, and it was appropriate that the last two characters standing would have that moment. But does it really make sense to have Jack on the run, being hunted down by law enforcement around the world? Doesn't this effectively leave Jack in the same position he was in back at the end of the fourth season (and the sixth, for that matter)?
A number of critics and fans have made the assumption that this was all setup for the eventual film franchise: that Jack's current situation will be resolved in the eventual film. Unfortunately, that ignores the admission from Howard Gordon and other producers that the film script does not, in any way, adhere to the continuity of the television series. In other words, unless the producers are lying about the intentions for the film (and why bother doing that?), "24" will end on this unresolved note.
And frankly, Jack Bauer deserved better.
Overall, this was the finale that the fans were given, not the finale that they (or the characters) deserved. While there is a film franchise to look forward to, the producers have already said that it will not be a direct continuation of the series, so it makes this ending even more frustrating and anti-climactic. This is not how the series should have ended.