Jack Bauer never seems to have a boring day. Whenever we see the fellow, he's always busy saving the world from terrorists, assassins, nerve gas, nuclear weapons, electronic sabotage and static cling—from dawn to dusk to dawn again. The bad guys change from day to day (season to season), but the action remains the same: Jack slogging his way from gunfight to gunfight, car chase to car chase, without so much as a Twinkie to keep him going. Bathroom breaks? Jack says they're for wimps.
"He's never won," Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Jack, told tv.ign.com. "Not one year has he ever walked out with his goal being accomplished, but he's a guy who's gonna give everything he can and try as hard as he can." And he does it in the face of gut-wrenching loss, staggering treachery and a mountain of red tape. He's a Wild West gunfighter in a 21st-century ethos, battling not just the black hats, but bureaucracy, politics and postmodern sensitivities, too. Put that in your TV juicer and squeeze.
All of this goes a long way toward explaining the enduring appeal of America's most tortured tormentor, a guy who sacrifices everything to save the day—along with his own humanity.
The show has its merits. It's an undeniable thrill-ride with unexpected nuance. Jack is, in some ways, a heroic champion. Some Christians have even labeled the Counter Terrorism Unit operative a Christ-like figure.
But he's also killed his supervisor, shot an innocent woman in the leg and bit out a terrorist's jugular. Not exactly Christ-like material. He's forced medical personnel to revive a nearly dead man so he could whisper unspeakable threats in his ear. Then, when the man falls senseless again, Jack cuts open his chest (blood spurting and smearing) to retrieve a buried data chip.
24 has other problems, too. Expletives fly right alongside the bullets. And never mind its one-day-equals-one-season structure, the series fills in gaps with an office soap opera—complete with casual kisses and forbidden affairs.
But 24's most cutting sin is its headlong embrace of murder, torture and gore to advance its plot points. And it's not just the guilty who pay.
"12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m."
As 24 nears its series finale, it's readying its most gruesome moments. Indeed, this episode may well be the most brutally violent in the show's entire run. And, as always, it's made worse by the fact that Jack's the one who's responsible.
After point-blank executing a woman in the minutes leading up to this hour, Jack—admitting that he's driven more by rage and revenge than his typical quest for justice—takes a pliers to the man who shot his lover. Then his fists. Then a knife. Then acid. Then a blowtorch. The camera spares us little of the gory detail. And before it's over, Jack has disemboweled the man to remove a cell phone SIM card from his stomach. (We don't see every detail of that.)
Jack has always prized results over process—even when process is translated to mean basic humanity and morality. The onscreen result are images that are truly awful. It's shocking, even in 2010, that they're included in any story at all, much less that they're proffered on TV during prime time in a series that's celebrated by so many.
"11:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m."
Captured and tortured by Russian terrorists, Jack escapes by jamming a live jumper cable into his tormentor's chest with his feet, then breaking the guy's neck. CTU tech Dana Walsh, blackmailed by a pair of petty thieves, decides to sever her connection with them once and for all—keeping her fiancé in the dark about her sordid past.
Around her swirls 24's standard spiral of violence: Jack's torturer shocks him several times with the jumper cables and also shoves one of his fingers into a bloody open wound in Jack's side. The indestructible CTU agent also gets grazed by buckshot. He mows down four people with guns, knives and his bare hands.
Characters blurt out "h‑‑‑" a half-dozen times, "d‑‑n" once and misuse God's name once. Dana's nemeses loiter at a strip club where, among other related things (both sexual and alcoholic in nature), the camera briefly catches the side of a dancer's bare breast. References are made to infidelity.
In a montage of clips from previous episodes, we see a policeman beaten with a baseball bat and Renee stabbing a Russian mobster to death.