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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Season 8 of 24: Meet the New Jack Bauer

You have probably watched the first five episodes of Season Eight of 24 and thought something like, “Haven’t we been down this road before?” And while the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, Jack Bauer is a markedly different character. In fact, the Jack Bauer we are seeing is most like the Jack Bauer from Season One, and since that is so long ago now, it would seem as if this Jack is the “new” Jack Bauer. Instead, it is really the Jack Bauer we first came to appreciate many years ago.

The threats seem to be very familiar. There is an assassination attempt of a major figure, President Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor), president of a fictional foreign country called Kamistan. There are bad guys to the right of us; bad guys to the left of us. There is a new CTU with some good looking new cast members, where there is always still the threat of a mole as well as hanky and some panky among the workers there.

Despite all this annoying and obvious stuff, the one reason why I keep watching 24 is Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. Jack is the show and the one person who makes it worth suffering through stupid story lines like the one about Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff) and her abusive ex-boyfriend or even the inept new head of CTU ( Mykelti Williamson), which makes me wonder what exactly is the hiring process for this government agency?.

This season Jack has all the personal reasons in the world to want to live. In some previous seasons we have had the “Jack wants to die” mode, with Jack sacrificing himself because he has no reason to live. Well, in the very first moments of the first episode, we get to meet little Teri (Jack’s three-year old granddaughter named after his late wife). The tender moments between them remind the viewers of the Jack from Season One who played chess with his daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert). It’s a brief but powerful reminder of Jack’s humanity and goodness.

Jack has had to do many terrible things over the years. Whether it is killing someone on the President’s orders, torturing someone (including his own brother) to get vital info, or cutting off a head to get himself inside the terrorist’s door, Jack’s actions have been sometimes worse than what we would expect from a bad guy. Yet to be honest, we know that to get the bad guy, sometimes the good guy had to be as bad, or even worse, in order to succeed.

Jack lost his wife at the end of the first season, and her death obviously took a toll on him. In each subsequent season, Jack has fallen deeper into a chasm of darkness and despair. He does keep fighting against the darkness, and it seems that despite all the trials and tribulations he suffers like the Biblical Job, Jack doesn’t lose faith in the system or the country that seems to have failed him so many times.

Long-time 24 fans know all the details of Jack’s spiral out of the light. He becomes a drug addict, he kills people who were once his friends, he even does a long stint in a Chinese prison for a crime committed on behalf of the President of the United States. Jack is always the good soldier; Jack never complains, and yet he also lives in another dimension in the sense that his attempts at real life after the loss of his wife and estrangement from his daughter are all unsuccessful.

In Season Eight we get the new-old Jack Bauer. This Jack has something to live for and we know it. He is going to LA to start a new life with Kim and her family, but poor Jack is pulled back into the action by an old acquaintance. Apparently Jack knows this fellow from his undercover days with the Salazars (Season Two). The wounded man seeks Jack out because he says, “You’re the guy who always does the right thing.”

That’s our hero Jack. Jack has become a very mythical figure even within the confines of the show’s universe. When he meets Agent Cole Ortiz (Freddie Prinz Jr.) for the first time, the young man vigorously shakes his hand and says, “It’s an honor to meet you.” Jack’s got a reputation for being a hero, for being one of the good guys, and the only people too stupid to know this are usually the ones running the show.

Jack does seem to have an ally in President Taylor (Cherry Jones). We probably can expect him to get on the phone with her at some point and discuss the actions that need to take place. This will also remind viewers of the old Jack, who took his orders from President Palmer and spoke to him with deference and respect all the while getting his hands dirty as necessary while keeping the White House clean.

After five episodes of the new season, I am interested enough to stick around for the remaining nineteen hours. Jack Bauer has and always been the reason why I watch 24. This season, much more than in seasons past, I find Jack Bauer to be a guy with a mission but also a guy with a life he wants to live. Hey, bad guys, better watch out: that makes Jack more dangerous than he has been in a long time.

Until next time, Klaatu Barada Nikto!