Masi Oka by Trae Patton/NBC
If you'd told me back in January, when 24 premiered with a riveting four-hour blast of breakneck suspense, that on the last Monday of the regular season I'd be looking more forward to Heroes' finale than 24's, I'd have frisked you for your crack pipe.

Funny how things work out. As I've written in my Review column and elsewhere in my online columns, as Heroes' narrative tightened in late January and February before going into overdrive in this final May stretch, 24 began to crumble and ultimately fell apart. Leaving me wondering: When's the last time I approached a season finale of 24 with anything less than breathless anticipation? The answer: Never. Until this season. And my low expectations for Monday's two-hour finale (it felt longer) were pretty much rewarded.

The problems with 24 can be pretty well summed up in a woeful line of dialogue from Nadia, after Doyle is blinded by a faked circuit board that explodes in his face, the latest casualty who zigged where Jack would have zagged. "We should have listened to you, Jack," said the temp CTU leader. Well, duh. Later, when VP McEvil also pondered how he could have got it all so wrong when Jack got it all so right, I couldn't help but read current events into his apologia for an administration of incompetence as he muttered, "Until you sit in this chair, you don't know anything. You can't know." Whatever, loser.

Let's leave it with Karen Hayes, who told Tom Lennox: "[Jack's] been more right than we have today." To which Tom could only shrug: "I'll give you that." Can you give us back this day while you're at it?

When Chloe passed out at the end of the first hour- she's pregnant, if you care (I didn't)- in what I guess was meant to be a cliffhanger, I was reminded of the little nap I had inadvertently taken during the show's first half-hour. (I blame jet lag from my flight home from L.A. on Sunday. Thank God for my DVR.) I almost missed meeting Milo's brother Stewart, who clearly got the good genes in that family.

I will give the finale props for the impressive pyrotechnics on the oil rig, and for letting young Josh Bauer get a shot off at Mad Gramps before Jack stopped him from killing the old man. (The F-18s took care of Phillip a few minutes later.) Bringing Bill Buchanan back for Jack's rescue was also a good touch. And knowing that both Bill and wife Karen have been forced to resign (without fear of prosecution) makes me think that when Jack goes solo as he must next season, characters like this may be brought into the action to help out our lone-wolf hero.

Just promise me we'll never be stuck in that CTU bunker again, or hear those beeping phones.

That the show will be starting from scratch next time around was made clear in the final scenes, as Jack bid his sleeping Audrey farewell for good, staring out at the dawn of a new day. "I'm at a crossroads," said Jack. So's the show. For him to do another vanishing act is not only good for him, it's good for 24 and ultimately for the fan.

"We'll never find him, not if he doesn't want us to," Buchanan declared.

Run, Jack, run. Forget this day ever existed. I know I will.

As dreary as 24 was, that's nothing compared to the awesomeness of Heroes' thrilling and mystifying climax. I was initially put off by the reprise of Mohinder's pretentious blah-blah meaning-of-life white-noise voice-overs (the overwriting of Tim Kring, who's not exactly a natural at this genre), but soon settled into the groove as everyone stepped up to their destiny most magnificently to stop the threat of Sylar. Including Noah. Who, you say? Noah Bennet. That's right. HRG has a first name, and I like it.

But is our malleable arch-villain actually dead? Did Officer Parkman survive being peppered with his own bullets? Did Nathan and Peter really vaporize when flying brother transported glowing brother up into the sky to detonate? "What happened to them?" (good question) wondered an awestruck Niki, who had finally learned to channel Jessica's strength without losing her own heart. Heart was a major theme of this episode, with Peter's visionary flashback to Richard Roundtree's dying Charles Deveaux going all Wizard of Oz with pronouncements like, "This world won't be saved with strength. What it really needs is heart." Or, to Peter (perhaps confusing him with Dorothy): "You needed to hear the truth before you could save the world. You had the power all along. You just needed to learn how to use it." (Was I the only one hoping they'd show us Peter's ruby slippers at that point?) Why Peter, Peter asked? "Because there has to be one that's good. Your heart has the ability to love conditionally."

Actually, it looked to me that it was Nathan's heart, awakened to his love for his brother and his natural daughter Claire, that saved the day. "You saved the cheerleader so WE could save the world," Nathan said before taking flight. That was one hell of a dramatic sacrifice, gotta say. Even Jack Bauer would have been impressed by that gesture.

Also loved every single moment of Hiro's storyline. His rescue of the truly heroic Ando was a blast, and I choked up at their parting, as Hiro told his pal, "You have shown me what bravery is," and Ando responded with the thumbs-up "You look bad ass." "Really?" Hiro wondered. Really. And even though Hiro insisted, "It is not the sword. It is the man. This man is ready," it was the sword AND the man that took Sylar down for the count. And what can you say about Hiro's final leap, setting up "Volume Two: Generations" with a glimpse of an eclipse in 1671 samurai Kyoto, except: Bring it on.