“The following takes place between 10pm and 11am”. WHOA. Thirteen hours?
Anyway, with minimal fuss Chloe’s back on the team, “backdooring” a satellite in order that she can access the usual “schematics”, allowing her to get back into the old routine of talking Jack through a building: this time, it’s the one where Cheng and his team are waiting to be shipped out of the country. And while they’re doing that, Kate’s trying to rescue Audrey. It’s all against the clock, of course, because the Chinese armed forces are getting closer and closer to the American base in Okinawa, which in turn runs the risk of starting a nuclear confrontation. The effect is only spoiled a little by everyone obeying what must presumably have been a Presidential edict to pronounce it “nucular”, in the approved Dubya style.
Kate manages to rescue Audrey, which is good news for Jack, still shooting Chinese people with the assistance of the faithful Belcheck. At one point they pull off a “synchronised shot”, which basiucally means that they shoot one person each at the same time (it’s not the gun and meat cleaver incident. It’s still to come), which they’re able to do because Chloe’s watching on her laptop for what I think are called “heat signatures” in 24-speak, thus enabling her to predict when Jack and Belcheck will be encountering redshirts. And just as I was idly wondering why Cheng couldn’t do something similar, one of his tech drones backdoors the backdoorers, and all of a sudden they know where Jack is.
Still, back with Kate and Audrey, the sniper who was keeping Audrey pinned down has been taken out, and everything’s ticking over nicely. Until – OMG! – a second shooter appears, and kills Audrey, who at least gets the honour of the silent 24 countdown. But Jack has to be told about this, and he just crumbles, in a way we’ve rarely if ever seen: once again, he’s forced to confront the fact that more or less everyone he loves eventually dies, precisely because of their connection to him, and that even if what he does is necessary it means that he can never have anything within hailing distance of normal human relationships. He seems to contemplate suicide for a moment, but then remembers that there’s still work to be done.
Now, students of 24 will recall that when Renee – a woman he shagged once – was killed Jack went absolutely apeshit, (inaccurately) banging on all the while about how close they were. It’s therefore no surprise that the killing of Audrey – someone with whom he did actually have a relationship – is, ultimately, bad news for Cheng and his team, or at least the ones who wanted to live more than a few minutes. (It’s here that we get the gun-and-meat-cleaver killings, inter alia. And there’s a lot of alia.)
So Jack proves to the Chinese Detective’s satisfaction that Cheng is indeed still alive, thus averting a Sino-American war, then cuts Cheng’s head off. Ouch. That’s the main plot done, although the Russians haven’t forgotten about Jack: they abduct poor old Chloe and ask Jack to trade himself for her; which, eleven hours later, he does. For shippers it includes a lovely moment where Jack and Chloe hold hands; theirs is the most enduring bond in the show, and it means that Jack can permit himself the merest hint of a smile as he’s helicoptered to Moscow.
The real coda, though, is an astonishing scene on the airport tarmac, beside Air Force One and his daughter’s coffin, in which POTUS calmly explains to Prime Minister Stephen Fry that the intolerable grief he, POTUS, is feeling will pass soon, as his illness means he won’t be able to remember anything about it. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the history of 24 – hell, it’s one of the most haunting things I’m going to see on TV this or any other year – and William Devane acts the heck out of it. As I love, love, love 24 I hope I can be forgiven for saying that in concept and execution it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a critically-acclaimed cable drama with an audience in the low hundreds.
All of which provides a fitting end to a wonderful episode, and a triumphant season. Kiefer Sutherland has, of course, nailed it, as he always does, but there are a few other factors which made the season work. As I suggested in my comment on episode 10, the characterisation of Mark Boudreau has been more nuanced than the usual bad-guy-working-from-within. It’s actually possible to see him as a good guy of sorts: Jack, after all, was an international fugitive, wanted for very good reasons by the Russians, with whom America would be keen to maintain a working relationship. And his apparent subverting of the Presidential decision-making process was really nothing more than a well-intentioned attempt to cover for a President who wasn’t entirely capable of discharging his duties. In another world you could see Boudreau as 24’s next President-in-waiting; and, given the circumstances, I’m not entirely ruling it out. And it would be good to see Tate Donovan back.
The big winner from this season might well be Yvonne Strahovski, who has been outstanding from first to last. We’ve seen her develop her American serial drama acting chops on Chuck, where she got better year by year, then emerge with considerable credit from the wreckage of Dexter. (It’s also worth saying that, for a show which is frequently criticised for its ideological stances, 24 has rarely fallen into the trap of unnecessary sexualisation of its – admittedly few – female characters; Strahovski is a very attractive woman who wasn’t required to play it up.) She’s now a proper star, and I hope she gets parts worthy of her.
Which, for the avoidance of doubt, would of course include a reprise of her role as Agent Kate Morgan in a future season of 24. No decision about renewal has been announced yet, although in a sense that hardly matters; after all, the show has been cancelled once already, and if this season proves anything it’s that the concept is robust enough to be revived whenever everyone’s in the mood to. I thought this season was fantastic, and I’d watch the shit out of another one.