William Devane and Kiefer Sutherland
It may have taken a circuitous route, but on Monday, Fox's 24 franchise will air its 200th episode.
"It's fantastic," series co-creator and executive producer Robert Cochran told reporters of reaching milestone. "It's something that makes us very humble and very thankful for the fans around the world... that have supported us all these years. I can promise you when we started the show, this thing wasn't even in our minds. We were trying to get to Episode 2. We're very thankful for it."
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Added executive producer Howard Gordon: "It represents over a decade of all of our lives. ... I look at the box set, and often [say,] 'Put it on top of my tombstone, because that was my 40s.' ... This was a wonderful opportunity to revisit that and top it off."
In fitting fashion, Monday's episode (9/8c, Fox) is a powerhouse hour. However, the two men spearheading the Live Another Day chapter, executive producers Evan Katz and Manny Coto, say they weren't even aware of the milestone when they conceived the episode. (They blame fuzzy math skills and the TV movie for complicating matters.)
"We really were not conscious of the milestone of it at all, frankly," Katz tells TVGuide.com. "The fact that we're only doing 12 episodes, I think, unconsciously informed Manny and my process of making sure things were happening quickly enough." Added Coto: "I personally felt that this was going to be a big episode in the season. The real thing we knew we wanted to do was Heller giving himself up to Margot. We knew this was going to be a big story. It presented an opportunity for a really moving episode, and [one that was] different than the episodes that preceded it. I think it was stories reaching their [high] point at the same time, rather than anything planned."
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Indeed, the centerpiece of the episode involves President Heller (William Devane) agreeing to hand himself over to terrorist Margot Al-Harazi (Michelle Fairley) in order to stop her continued attacks on London. Eventually, Heller asks Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) for his help, which doesn't exactly go over well — until Jack learns of Heller's illness.
"Jack's first reaction is to say, 'Absolutely not. We don't negotiate with terrorists. We'll find another way to do this, and I'm not going to be a part of it,'" Coto says. "But Heller is determined. Heller invokes the fact that he is ill and I think that's what basically tips Jack. We also liked [that] being the payoff for the Alzheimer's story we have been telling."
But will President Heller actually go through with it? After all, for much of the season he's been presented as a weak leader. Could this act change people's opinion of him? "I don't think it was to counterbalance [the weakness]," Katz says. " But it is a very strong statement of heroism and nobility. How many of our presidents would do that, you know? We loaded the dice in our 24 way, where he knows he doesn't have that much time left, and he thinks this woman will keep her word."
Whatever happens with Heller and Margot, Jack will also have to answer for his role in this situation to Heller's daughter, and Jack's former lover, Audrey (Kim Raver). "She will be very prominent [in the rest of the season]," Cochran said. "She'll play a very important role." Added Gordon: "If you look at the [list] of people Jack has lost and who mean something to Jack, Audrey is one of the less than a handful of people who are still alive and mean something to Jack. So, because of that... Jack's intersecting with her life will have a tremendous impact."
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But could this most recent action mean the end of Jack and Audrey's relationship? "Jack, unfortunately, loses a lot, and sacrifices many of the few people he's come to love and who've come to trust him," Gordon said. "He loses them, and that scar tissue has built up over the years, and has made him an increasingly complicated and tragic character."
So, in other words, Jack can't ever be happy? "That's the big question the series poses," Cochran says. "That's a question we ask ourselves in the story room all the time: What is Jack's ultimate fate? Can he achieve some sort of personal peace and happiness? Or is that simply not his destiny?"
Whatever Jack's destiny, it remains to be seen if he'll be around to save the day for future milestone episodes. In fact, it seems the saga might end with Live Another Day — at least for now. "We learned to never say never," Gordon said. "But I think everyone is feeling the appropriate bruises and wear-and-tear that the show takes. So, right now is probably not the best time to answer that question!"
24: Live Another Day airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox. (Watch previous episodes here.) Would you watch more 24? What are your favorite moments from the 200-episode run?