WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Monday's 24: Live Another Day finale. Read at your own risk.]
If it wasn't already clear after nine seasons, the 24: Live Another Day finale served as a reminder that Jack Bauer's life will probably always be one filled with tragedy.
Although Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) was tasked with locating and apprehending Cheng Zhi (Tzi Ma) in order to prevent China from declaring war on the United States, when he learned that Cheng had Audrey (Kim Raver) trapped by the trained eye of a sniper, Jack had to make a difficult choice. Ultimately, Jack followed the order of President Heller (William Devane) and sent Kate (Yvonne Strahovski) to rescue Audrey.
24: Live Another Day finale: Can Jack stop Cheng once and for all?
Unfortunately, Kate, despite taking out the initial sniper, was unable to save Audrey, who was gunned down by more of Cheng's goons in a separate surprise attack around the episode's midpoint. (Silent clock! Sniff.) Fueled by his rage, Jack — with an assist from Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), of course — tracked down Cheng, bloodied his eye, prevented World War III and... swiftly chopped off Cheng's head with a sword!
"I couldn't think of a better way to leave a show," Ma tells TVGuide.com with a laugh. "It's an absolutely glorious death. You couldn't ask for anything better."
But even after Jack saved the day once again, he soon learned that Chloe had been captured by the Russians, who, as they have all season, wanted Jack in their possession to exact (painful) revenge for his actions in Season 8. So, the season ends with Jack turning himself over in order to free Chloe, and the Russians flying Jack off to an uncertain future in Moscow.
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TVGuide.com chatted with Live Another Day director and executive producer Jon Cassar about why that ending is actually one of hope for fans of the show. Plus: He breaks down Cheng's brutal death and President Heller's heartbreaking speech about his fallen daughter.
From the outset of the season, you guys said you wanted to bring Jack out of exile and perhaps restore his place in the world. Why, then, did you choose to leave him in limbo at the end?
Jon Cassar: What's nice about it, just like with the ending we had before, is that it's still open. Whether 24 comes back or not, Jack Bauer is still out there. That's what I liked about the ending, and I think that's what a lot of people are going to like about it.
It's certainly a heroic move for Jack to make, trading his life for Chloe's.
Cassar: I think what's important is, after all is said and done, Chloe says,"'Look, I am the only friend you have left." That's one of the most poignant things we've ever written on 24, to have a character actually say that. So, he sacrifices his life at the end. Jack has done a lot of noble things in his lifetime and he's saved a lot of people, but because Chloe really is one of the last people that he has left — especially after what happens to Audrey — it is the ultimate sacrifice.
Right, Audrey unfortunately met her demise in this episode. Was that just a reminder that Jack's life will always be one of pain and tragedy rather than happy endings?
Cassar: Yeah, it's the payment. I think we said in an earlier season ... in essence, "There has to be payment." For someone to be Jack Bauer, for someone to save the country the way he does, you can't do that without paying for it. It's like war: You can't win the war without losing some soldiers, unfortunately. I think in Jack Bauer's world, that's the payment he has to endure, and that's the payment that he always gives.
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Do you think he blames himself for her death? Or at least regrets letting Kate go instead of going himself?
Cassar: I think he'll blame himself, but not because Kate didn't do her job. I think he blames himself that obviously she was taken because she was associated with him. One of the things that we talked about was that we set up Kate in a way that the audience and Jack would never blame Kate for what happened. By that point, she really was a Jack Bauer clone. We established her and did enough with her over the season so you believed she had the Jack Bauer talent to do things and that he trusted her with it. The fact that he trusted her alone with Audrey's life was pretty amazing. It was important to us that Jack did trust her and that the audience believed that if Jack went, it would have been the same outcome, unfortunately.
Cheng's death by decapitation was pretty memorable death, even by 24 standards.
Cassar: It was just one of those big, giant 24 moments. We knew that it couldn't be just Jack shooting the bad guy or arresting the bad guy. We needed that last sweeping moment, especially because this [could be] the last of 24. No one knows the answer to that quite honestly. I have great stunt people who had the ability to put that fight together, and the actors both had enough talent to pull off most of the fight themselves. Then, that last moment with the sword, I think the hardest thing was trying to build a sword in place that didn't feel like, "Gee, look there's a sword!" We made the set a little area where obviously the people who used this boat had moved around the world and collected stuff. And then we just had to make it look realistic in a way that is acceptable for network television, which is one of the biggest challenges for 24. I think we did it in a way where you think you saw it, but you probably didn't see as much as you thought you saw.
Did you also want to show the rage Jack had towards Cheng for Audrey's death?
Cassar: Yeah, and Audrey gives him permission in Episode 11, and that was part of it. When we decided to have Audrey meet her fate, in Episode 11 we realized that they didn't really have a last moment together. So we built in that phone call, and we could have done a lot of things with it. It could have just been, "Jack, I love you," but it was really this intense moment of her giving him permission if it ever got to that stage. She was so hurt by this man — and so was [Jack], really — that she didn't want him walking on the planet anymore. It's kind of a cruel, mean thing, but on the other hand she was hurt so deeply. We thought the fact that she gave him permission was another extraordinary moment for 24.
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President Heller's speech about not being able to remember Audrey at all someday was very moving.
Cassar: That speech was written for the first episode, and we shot it for the first episode. It was something that he says to her while they're driving in the limo, and it was such a great moment. But it felt off point first up in the show, so we cut it out the first episode. We liked it so much, and we liked his performance so much the first time he did it, that it reemerged at the end. And Bill Devane is just such an incredible actor. I think he really grew into his part even more this year, and that last moment is really heartbreaking.
So, Jack's definitely not flying off to his death, right? Kate and Chloe have to go save him! Given the open ending, do you feel there's still life in the franchise?
Cassar: I wasn't really sure there was life in the franchise after Season 8, and I proved mysef wrong. It's so hard to say, especially with TV audiences. Usually, there's a real decline year by year of watching a show. Rarely do ratings go up; they usually go down. The fact that we came out after such a long absence and still struck a nerve and were relevant, I think it's pretty exciting. In saying all that, it's really hard to think we might not come back. It's really hard to say, "This is it." So, it's always a possibility.
What did you think of the finale? Sad to see Audrey go? And do you want more 24? (Rewatch this season here!)