The beginning of this season of â24â delivers a message that should have surprised no one. Jack Bauer is getting old. Itâs not so apparent when looking at Keifer Sutherland in general, but itâs hard to ignore when watching Jack hang out with his granddaughter. Thatâs when the weariness in his eyes and the huge leaps in the â24â timeline suddenly register. When it seems like Jack is getting a little tired and worn down, thatâs because he really, really is.
Itâs just another reason why the writers are clearly laying the groundwork for a conclusion to the Jack Bauer saga. Jack is on the cusp of retirement age, and heâs pretty much dealt with every variation on the terrorism theme that one can imagine. In fact, looking back on the âmiddle yearsâ, during Jackâs accelerated descent over the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons, thereâs a compelling argument that the writers were running out of good ideas.
The depth and consistency of â24â was restored during the seventh season when the writers finally abandoned the âseat of their pantsâ approach to the season arc and planned out the story well ahead of time. Some didnât like the idea of actually debating the ethics behind Jackâs methods, but it proved to be the perfect vehicle for addressing Jackâs restoration. The writers made a strong case that within the world of â24â, there is a place for operatives like Jack Bauer and a role for an organization like CTU: those who can step outside the boundaries of the law to achieve a moral end.
By the end of the previous season, it felt like the writers were making a case for the resurrection of CTU with Jack Bauer at the helm. The current approach feels a bit more organic. Jackâs redemption was the restoration of his reputation and a second chance at everything that he lost before his exile. With everything stripped away, Jack had to find a reason to grant himself forgiveness for doing what he felt had to be done.
But had Jack achieved a perfect balance between his commitment to service to his country and his second chance at a family, then it would have been too much, too fast. As currently framed, living near his family and enjoying the fruits of his labors is a very real reward for fighting for peace. Itâs the light at the end of the tunnel. In essence, Jack had something to die for, but now he has something to live for, and thatâs all the difference.
Showing Jack as a devoted grandfather delivers that message that should have been obvious: Jack isnât the right person to lead the counter-terrorism fight anymore. Jack is a little bit like Brett Favre. Heâs well past his prime, but heâs still one of the best at what he does. Sooner or later, another agent will come along and take his place as the elite counter-terrorism agent, but that day hasnât come yet.
That same struggle against the slow but steady ravages of time has caught up with Chloe. Once the best ops agent in the business, in and out of the office, Chloe is struggling to keep up with new technology and new protocols. Unlike the end of the seventh season, Chloe canât even play the wise mentor to an FBI analyst with personal political blinders. Circumstance has forced her to find a place in a world that has passed her by, and itâs not going well at all.
The question is: who will emerge as the Peyton Manning to Jackâs Favre? Frankly, the writers have tried to introduce Jack Bauerâs successor more than once, and itâs never worked. Had they kept Chase Edmunds in the mix after the third season, he could have led the charge of the next generation. On the other hand, he probably would have been killed off like everyone else Jack once knew in the old CTU.
There were indications that Agent Renee Walker would follow in Jackâs footsteps, but she doesnât seem to be a part of the new CTU. If anything, the end of the previous season left her moral compass in a whirlwind. She seemed to understand that Jackâs methods were sometimes necessary, but there was some question as to where she would draw the ethical line. Hopefully the character, and those questions, will return in due course.
The lack of a solid agent with Jackâs kind of intensity is, perhaps, the point of the new CTU. It seems fitting that a CTU without Jack Bauer to shape its character would have a rough response to its first big crisis. It all starts at the top. Hastings is trying to overcome questionable credentials with quick and easy political points, and itâs clearly going to make things much harder for Jack over the course of the day.
Agent Ortiz seems to have the right blend of ethics and purpose, but much remain to be seen, including whether or not Freddie Prinze Jr. can deliver a sustained, solid performance. He did well enough in the first two hours of the season. As did Katee Sackhoff, who will likely be panned for daring to play against type. Unfortunately, much of the criticism against her character is valid, and exposes one of the many weaknesses that the writers have allowed to creep into the season already.
While Dana Walshâs personal issues could end up being relevant to the themes of the season eventually, right now they bring up some fairly basic questions regarding the vetting process of the new CTU organization. They donât seem to be any more thorough than the protocols used by the old CTU, which seemed to hire terrorist moles on a regular basis. Dana doesnât appear to be a mole, and her reasons for adopting a false identity donât seem to be treasonous, but if some redneck hick can uncover the truth, why not the United States government?
For that matter, the writers tread all too familiar ground with the revelation that President Hassanâs brother is working with assassins to derail the peace process. It was quite predictable, so much so that it felt ludicrous that Hastings would ignore Chloeâs protestations regarding Meredith Reed. It definitely felt like the audience was supposed to recognize that Hastings was being blind, especially since Jack and Chloe are almost never wrong, but a more subtle approach would have been better.
It undermines what has emerged as the initial theme for the season: learning from the wisdom of past history. Chloeâs suspicion is right, proving that even an agent that no longer has up-to-date technical skill still has a wealth of important perspective. Similarly, Jack has a wealth of experience to trump Hastingsâ self-important ambitions. Ethan Kanin may have health issues, and might only be an advisor now, but his successor still has much to learn before taking his place. And the peace conference as a whole represents the notion of learning from past mistakes. (Which only makes the reliance on familiar â24â tropes all the more ironic.)
All of which makes perfect sense when one returns to the notion of Jackâs personal journey. Jack can only rest when he is confident that his country will be safe without him. That can only happen when he feels that the torch has been adequately passed. It remains to be seen if this season will represent that final step in the Jack Bauer saga.