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In 'Live Another Day' Finale, The Clock Runs Out on '24'

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire July 14, 2014 at 10:00PM

As "24's" final (for now) half-day comes to a close, the show feels like it's asking to be put out of its misery.
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Kiefer Sutherland in "24: Live Another Day"
Kiefer Sutherland in "24: Live Another Day"

This article discusses the entire season of "24: Live Another Day," including the final episode, "Day 9: 10 p.m. - 11 a.m."

If watching a TV show for years is like a long-term relationship, and binge-watching like a whirlwind romance, "24" was an ex- you took too long to break up with and came back to years later to wonder what you ever saw in them. It's difficult to quantify what made "24: Live Another Day" such a dispiriting experience: the comparatively threadbare scope of a 12-episode one-off as against an ongoing series was one factor, as was the failure to introduce any memorable new characters or do justice to the ones they'd brought back. But mostly it just felt tired and out of place, a relic of a more paranoid era that could survive as long as the thin thread between seasons was never severed outright.

However often it wavered or conspicuously padded out an episode here or there, "24" ended almost perfectly, as Jack Bauer vanished in a cloud of static, dissolving into the world like a freedom-loving pestilence. "Live Another Day" ended with a victory that felt in almost every way like a failure. Audrey Raines was dead, her Reagan-esque father stricken with grief and Alzheimer's, and Jack, who'd only just escaped the Russians, gave himself over to them in exchange for Chloe's freedom. The cliffhanger obviously sets the stage for more "24," although Fox hasn't announced plans one way or another, but it also felt like the show crying "Uncle." They've taken everything Jack has away from him so many times they'd have to build up a whole new life to give him something to lose.

"Live Another Day" was, even by "24" standards, a grim and ugly half-day: In the ninth hour, Jack shoved a visibly handcuffed terrorist out a window so she fell to her death, and no one even bothered to object. There was no visceral thrill in him beheading Cheng Zhi with a samurai sword, no moment of exultant vengeance; it happened because it had to happen, and it changed nothing at all.

In the years Jack was away, TV became the province of so many Bauer-spawned antiheroes that the show was forced to double down when it returned, turning Mary Lynn Rajskub's Chloe from a comic foil into a Gothed-out hacktivist who seemed to spend more time being rescued by Jack than assisting him, let alone kicking any ass of her own. Her character resolution consisted of learning that her husband and son had been killed in a car crash by accident rather than as a result of her anti-government actions, which is about as much consolation as you can offer someone whose husband and son were killed in a car crash. Likewise, Yvonne Strahovski's Kate was finally freed from thinking that she'd been blind to her own husband's treason, but her lack of faith had already helped drive him to suicide, and she couldn't save Audrey from Cheng Zhi's gunmen, either.

So yes: The U.S. didn't go to war with China, and good for us. But everyone who took part in the operation — everyone Jack Bauer touched — ended "Live Another Day" ruined in one form or another: Dead, drained or simply disillusioned. It was a terrible conclusion, and yet it was strangely perfect. The complain about "24" has always been that it soft-pedaled the "anti-" in antihero, that even though Jack broke laws and crossed moral boundaries in pursuing his goals, he was always proven right in the end. He was right this time, too, but his victory felt like a loss. He saved the president's life, but he destroyed it, too; if his mental deterioration is inflamed by stress, then it's safe to say we've just lived through the last day of his presidency. Even the uncharacteristic time jump in the episode's final minutes felt like it a capitulation, surrendering to the timeline dictated by "24's" immutable title.

The ratings for "Live Another Day" have been solid enough to make more "24" a possibility, but it feels like it's time to let it go. This was once a show with a lock, however ugly, on the Zeitgeist — one people argued over, even blamed for U.S. government atrocities. Now it's irrelevant, (apparently) watched but barely discussed, its impact on the cultural landscape virtually nil. The hourglass has run out of sand.

More reviews of "24: Live Another Day"

Zack Handlen, A.V. Club

This has been a terrific season of television, sharp and well-plotted throughout. Jack Bauer returned pretty much the same as ever, if a little worse for wear, and the show’s creative team made the shortened running time into a major boon. What could’ve been a misplaced excuse for nostalgia turned out to be one of the summer’s best surprises, with a good cast, great action, and a story that holds together better than maybe any other story in the history of the series.


James Poniewozik, Time

While I would not have predicted that the franchise could have this kind of power after more than a dozen years, damned if this finale didn’t deliver. As usual, Kiefer Sutherland deserves much of the credit; "24" hurtles along on such a rocket engine of silliness that if it hadn’t cast someone capable of being emotionally believable in the midst of it, it would be a far worse show.


Ryan McGee, Boob Tube Dude

By halving the overall amount of plot, “Live Another Day” turned from an exhausted marathoner into a lean, mean middle-distance runner, able to deploy its hallmarks twists and turns within a more limited framework. Rather than make the story smaller, making this season twelve-hours forced the writers to only focus on the most important elements of the story.


Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

At this stage of the franchise's lifespan, Jack has either done every action or endured every trauma possible under this basic format with these usual character types, and most of them three or four times over. Formula is a key part of any long-running TV show (on "The Simpsons," Homer has done or said everything at least six or seven times over), but what made "24" so exciting at the beginning was how unformulaic it seemed. "Live Another Day" felt like Jack Bauer's Greatest Hits — some played with enthusiasm and vigor, others tossed off because it's what the fans expect to hear in concert.


Aaron Aradillas, Vulture

As Jack Bauer heads for a miserable existence in a Russian prison, we realize to our dismay that he seems almost fine with this outcome. Jack Bauer has done his duty and he still doesn’t get a thank-you from the people. No matter. He’s heading home. It’s all in a day’s work.



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