24 – 00:00:00 [series finale spoilers]

From the sly reappearance for the final two episodes of the original introductory “events occur in real time,” it was clear that 24 was going to end the way it was always meant to, with a deeply fulfilling and thrilling sense of natural conclusion. Led by Howard Gordon, Kiefer Sutherland and the rest of the heroic 24 writers’ room, the creative team brought 24 home through an emotionally brutal season that stripped story down to its bare bones and allowed it to rocket brutally to the beautifully played final moments. The writers of this show outdid themselves, and they have set extraordinarily high standards throughout the last 8 seasons. From the opening scenes of Day One, 12 a.m., the show has blended Jack’s emotional life with the larger forces of threat and danger. Both strands have always been intertwined in the name of the series’ true god: intensity. It was a writer’s dream in some ways: complex inner lives played out against critically high stakes that threatened not just our central characters’ lives, but frequently the fabric of America itself – and all of it having to be delivered with the pedal to the metal in a race against that elegant digital readout. This was always a digital show, blurring technology just into the future, fetishizing it, but only in service of the plot. Even the emotions of the final moments needed advanced technology to play out – and in its ending, 24 demonstrated in a virtuoso fashion how to use high-tech devices to perfectly understated, devastating effect. As the seasons progressed, the streamlined future-glow of the set design increased (seasons 3 and 8 marked particular increases in the sophistication of the surroundings), and some of the more domestic aspects fell further back, in favor of the more fascinating psychological journey taken by Bauer as his pain and emotional wounds accumulated, as pieces of his soul were chipped away by the actions he was forced to take to save us. These writers broke story like no-one else. By the end of the series finale, the story was like Jack himself: brutally beaten but unyielding. There was more plot in one episode of 24 – hell, in one act of the show – than in whole seasons of some other shows. To write a season of 24 was a demanding exercise in brutal dominion over story. The writers earned this finale; it was hard-fought and hard-won. It was the ending that the show demanded, and arose only from what went before. Everything was important in the end, every moment of those 8 days led Jack to this point. The end of 24 seemed to contain the entire series in a powerful distillation of its entire ethos and reason for being. It was a cathartic release that was entirely necessary. 24 raced headlong and demanded furious precision with every second. The show contained powerhouse performances, in the final season particularly. Kiefer Sutherland: the man is a true legend – never dropping the intensity level, never yielding. He fought, hard, for every single scene, and found new reservoirs of emotional pain for these final episodes. Gregory Itzin as Charles Logan: the personification of shifty, shady immorality. There was something Shakespearean about the sheer psychological detail of his deceptions: his face a shifting sea of complications and machinations. The only response to this was the one taken by Jack as he suited up in full body armor and face mask, like a dark knight or future warrior stripped for those moments of even Bruce Wayne’s humanity: Jack became pure, faceless vengeance. Of course, by the end, Jack was stripped of everything that he held dear. In some of the series’ finest acting, he spoke with Chloe and said goodbye in a simple scene that was heartrending. In their own platonic way, Jack and Chloe had the longest-running and purest relationship on the show; seeing the show end on them was perfect storytelling. Mary Lynn Rajskub, who has been for many years the essential heroine of this show, truly delivered the emotional goods, just as Annie Wersching had a few episodes earlier (Renee Walker’s arc was tragic and haunting, and Wersching nailed every moment). Watching Rajskub slowly disintegrate as she realized she might never see her friend again was one of the great moments of recent television. Mention must also be made of Freddie Prinze Jr, who delivered a convincing and honest performance as a by the book CTU agent who is ultimately torn away from his rules. 24 pushed the boundaries of network drama: with its real-time structure, the split screens, the fact that its lifeblood was relentless intensity, the way it allowed a movie star to rise again as a force of TV nature, and in the way it could shift gears from crescendos of violence to deeply emotional arcs and back again without ever slowing down. It always had a force and intensity that made other shows seem slow. But it was time to say goodbye, for now. The show had explored many kinds of threats: the final season took the lessons learned from the previous seasons and harnessed every trick in its book plus a whole new set of techniques to power through its final day. It was a show at the height of its powers. We already know that Jack will be back on the big screen. In the meantime, the show gave us a perfect finale that still kept moving. The show like a shark remained in perpetual motion, even after the final clock  ticked down to 00:00:00.

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