SPOILER ALERT: This article reveals key details about Monday's episode of 24, so if you haven't watched yet and don't want to know who died and why, stop reading now!
On Monday's episode of 24, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) started off his laser-focused vengeance plan with a bang, shooting and killing shifty mole Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff) at point-blank range for what he perceived to be her role in the death of his girlfriend Renee Walker (Annie Wersching). Executive producer Howard Gordon knows that the fans won't be mourning Dana, but with only four hours left before Jack doesn't ride off into the sunset (see below), Gordon thinks it's important to explain what Dana's death represents in what he calls Jack's "descent into darkness."
TVGuide.com: Jack didn't have to kill Dana. Why did he?
Howard Gordon: That's exactly the point. In this episode, everybody is taken to a place that they've never been. We struggled with writing it; the actors struggled with acting it. It goes to the core of what Jack is experiencing right now: He's the judge and jury and executioner. He's taking what he perceives to be justice in his own hands. Dana has culpability in what's happened on this day. It defines the level of darkness he's descended to.
TVGuide.com: Why would you say this episode is important?
Gordon: To me, this is the episode where Jack's trajectory really gets defined and comes into focus, what we're going to see for the balance of the season. This is a very crystallizing moment. When Jack kills Dana unarmed, that's the first execution in his train of justice — or vengeance, depending on how you look at it.
TVGuide.com: Do you think Dana's death carries any sort of redemption for the character?
Gordon: Whatever redemption there is for the character is in that very sad moment where you realize that she actually did love Cole. For the first time, the onion is peeled down to the nub and you see her vulnerable for the first moment. It's pathetic because she's obviously a sociopath, but she meant to reverse the position she put herself in.
TVGuide.com: You've had to do your share of defending Dana to the fans.
Gordon: She became an early target for certain people. People love to hate her, and they didn't quite know why. Very early on, this story became this crazy improvisation. We always knew she was someone with a past; we didn't quite know how deep that past went. [Executive producer Alex Gansa] had an idea: What if she's a mole?
TVGuide.com: Because that never happens on 24!
Gordon: That's one of the hazards of the show. We were all so scared to say it. We don't even allow ourselves to use some of the more obvious tools in the arsenal, but once Alex said it, it clarified the character for us. So we were able to back-trace it so she'd have a double-secret identity. It all came to the fore in Monday's episode. You realize that this woman fell in love with Cole. That was real. She tried to get herself out of the situation she got herself in. It really explains the improbable nature of how a juvenile delinquent from Rock Springs was able to manufacture an identity and insert herself into this top-secret organization. As improbable as it is, in true 24 fashion, it made its own kind of crazy sense.
TVGuide.com: Do you think the fans were too hard on her?
Gordon: I think the fans were a little too hard on her. We all have Starbuck [Sackhoff's character on Battlestar Galactica] in our mind. She's played these strong roles, and here she was playing this demure, almost prim, goody-goody analyst in direct counterpoint to Chloe. There was something that was too good to be true about her. We had this hidden card that nobody knew we were playing. People were judging her prematurely.
TVGuide.com: What about the parole officer stuck in the wall? Is he just going to rot there?
Gordon: We made various attempts to reintegrate the fact that there's the body in the wall, but we justified it by saying the body wouldn't start to smell for another couple of hours. Right around, say, hour 25.
So is this Jack's lowest point? Or does it get worse?
Gordon: Jack is as about as emotionally damaged as he's been now. He's descending right now. The finale is a complex ending. It's not as tragic as it could have been. It's not entirely unhappy. But he doesn't walk off into the sunset.