Warning: contains relentless, trigger-happy spoilers for most if not all seasons of 24.
Most people, if asked, would probably say that they strive to be good. To be moral, kind, compassionate, caring, enlightened, peaceful, accommodating, diplomatic, law-abiding, righteous, pure of spirit and friendly. Most people, unfortunately, are lying. Deep down, we all strive to be ruthless, borderline indestructible killing machines who will stop at nothing in the service of the greater good (it’s okay because we’re still good guys), and hopefully, through proving that our heinous methods are necessary, to obtain get-out-of-jail-free cards with which we can continue to stop at nothing with impunity. Don’t shake your head. You know it’s true. From builder to businessman to Avon lady to nun, it is the tragic secret we all share.
It’s the reason that characters like 24’s Jack Bauer not only exist, but endure. Bauer is perhaps the Platonic ideal of the unstoppable, hard-as-nails, iron-testicled badass, the man who will stop at literally nothing to achieve his ultimately noble (or are they? Yes, of course they are) ends. Through eight seasons and one TV movie, and with another series – the twelve-part, London-set Live Another Day, due to air in May – incoming, Jack Bauer has sprinted, driven and walked purposefully from one horrendous crisis to another, armed only with his wits, a mobile phone (with unlimited battery), several metric tons of heavy weaponry, multiple armed tactical teams, a highly advanced government surveillance apparatus (sometimes), a whole bunch of awesomely situation-specific gadgets, Chloe, and his own unshakeable belief that he was doing the right thing.
Thus he could merrily beat, torture, maim, shoot, blow up, stab, decapitate, bully, shout at and ignore the Miranda rights of such diverse sons of bitches as terrorists, terrorists’ families, terrorists’ neighbours, random people who might have known something about terrorists, foreign diplomats, US presidents, representatives of “Amnesty Global” (yep), his friends, his bosses, his brother, his girlfriend’s ex-husband and more terrorists, unencumbered by such pesky barriers as weakness, mercy, the US constitution, international law or basic human decency. And we at home could watch with barely concealed glee, safe in the knowledge that any moist commie pinko who suggested that maybe we should feel a bit uncomfortable cheering on this sadistic, jingoistic psychopath was simply trying to cover up the fact that they wanted to either be him or sleep with him. Or both, however that would work.
So without further ado, in no particular order, here are the ten most badass Jack Bauer moments, in my opinion. Spoilers live herein. If you disagree with my choices, feel free to post your own in the comments section. But don’t be rude, or even suggest that I might be wrong. Not unless you want me to get my hacksaw.
Day 2, 8:00am to 9:00am – Jack’s gonna need a hacksaw
Speaking of hacksaws, this scene not only features my favourite line of dialogue in 24, but perhaps my favourite use of a hacksaw in all of literature. Having spent his summer growing a beard and brooding about the cold-blooded murder of his wife by his ex-lover who turned out to be a traitor (jeez Bauer, get over it, there’s worse to come), Bauer ends up back at CTU, because there is literally nobody else in the country (or the world) better qualified to deal with a major terrorist threat than a possibly unstable ex-agent whose wife was cold-bloodedly murdered by his ex-lover who turned out to be a traitor. Luckily, Jack shakes himself out of his funk by shooting a suspect dead and demanding the aforementioned hacksaw, which he promptly uses to cut off the suspect’s head, because apparently that’s the only thing that will help him to re-establish his cover with some bad guys.
Maybe it was his only option. Maybe it wasn’t. But the key question is – who cares? ‘Cos if Jack hadn’t gunned down and decapitated that man, America would have been destroyed by a nuclear weapon.
Your move, due process.
Day 1, 11:00pm to 12:00am – Jack wastes the Drazens, also everybody else
Pop quiz, hotshot – you think that your daughter has been murdered by a brutal nutjob played by a dodgily-accented Dennis Hopper. What do you do? Collapse on the floor, shaking uncontrollably, probably. Maybe do a little sob. That’s fine. Tough guys and gals gotta cry too, ain’t no shame in that.
But anybody who wouldn’t very quickly stop crying, load up on guns and absolutely, positively, totally waste those responsible – plus a whole bunch of guys who weren’t directly responsible but were nonetheless connected with those who were – is, to put it bluntly, less than human. Anybody who would wait for backup is a wimp, and obviously didn’t really care about their daughter. Anybody who would use one gun at at time, rather than engaging in one of the most righteous displays of dual-wielding in TV history, is probably a communist. And anybody who wouldn’t shoot the responsible (and unarmed) party over and over again until long after the gun’s empty… well, they probably supported Hitler.
And the best part? Jack’s daughter was alive the whole time! Oh, how we laughed.
Day 3, 05:00pm to 06:00pm – Jack starts a riot
This is one of those moments where Jack Bauer’s at-all-costs badassery dovetails so perfectly with the ERMAHGERD DID THAT ACTUALLY JUST HAPPEN nature of 24’s real-time endless-cliffhanger format that it’s hard to articulate without including a picture of me with my mouth hanging open, having just said “shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit”. It’s exhilarating. Almost operatic.
Basically, in order to get back undercover with some sleazy geezers who are involved with a bio-weapon threat, Jack a) incapacitates his partner and locks him in a prison cell, b) opens all the other cells, releasing hundreds of dangerous criminals and starting a huge riot, and c) does all of the above while going cold turkey for heroin addiction.
There are no words.
Day 6, 12:00pm to 01:00pm – Jack tortures Graem
Day 6 is, to put it bluntly, not that great. However, it does have its moments, and this particular episode effectively illustrates one of the main themes of 24, that of adoloescent power fantasy manifested as grand-scale conflict (results – ownage).
So Jack has a brother, Graem, and a father, James Cromwell. The brother, it turns out, is evil. So is the father, but we don’t know that yet. Here, Jack has caught up with Graem and is ‘interrogating’ him the only way he knows how – by shouting in his face and ordering an agent to inject him with increasingly batshit quantitites of some torture drug or other. Suffice it to say that Jack’s methods pay dividends, and it turns out that Graem is responsible for a whole mess o’ crap, including killing loads of Jack’s friends. Understandably, Jack wants to keep torturing his brother, and only a hauntingly disapproving look from his father stops him.
Let’s break this down. Jack tortures his brother horribly. No doubt there is at least an element of Jack (possibly subconsciously) working out some childhood issues here, albeit on a psychopathic scale, but mostly it’s to get the job done. It turns out that not only is Jack entirely vindicated in visiting brutal pain upon his brother, but their father actually secretly approves, and ends up killing the brother. Revenge on a sibling, plus approval from the patriarch (who Jack leaves to be blown to bits later, as if to say ‘I can take or leave your approval, actually, asshole’), and it’s all in the service of saving the world. Is that badass? Or not? It’s confusing, granted. I’ll leave it to you to decide.
But in order to give you some help deciding, we also find out in this series that Jack totally used to bone his brother’s hot wife, who only settled for Graem because she couldn’t have Jack. And she still wants Jack.
Day 7, 10:00am – 11:00am – Jack drives a car off a multi-storey car park
Day 7 also isn’t that great, although it’s better than Day 6, and let’s be honest – you’d rather be watching 24 than not watching it, even if it’s below-par. To be fair to Day 7, it boasts plenty of great moments, and this one is just viscerally satisfying in the way that only driving a car off somewhere that a car shouldn’t be driven off of can be is (re-order this sentence and remove words according to your grammatical preference).
It’s elegant in its simplicity. Jack has been pulled out of Senate hearings (where the creators can pretend that torturing the shit out of people is somehow ambiguous in terms of morality) to help track down his presumed-dead friend Tony, who is now a bad guy. They’ve brought him to FBI HQ for questioning. It turns out that the presumed-dead-but-not-actually-dead-and-presumed-bad friend-turned-enemy, Tony, is actually a presumed-dead-but-not-actually-dead-and-presumed-bad-but-not-actually-bad friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-again, and Jack has to get him out of FBI HQ, because of some reasons.
Naturally between the two of them they manage to bust out of one of the most secure buildings in DC, and end up shooting it out with some FBI guys in a multi-storey car park. Jack tells Tony to run away. He then gets into a car, hotwires it, mutters ‘this is gonna hurt’ for no-one but the audience’s benefit, and drives straight through the wall. The car falls several storeys and crashes onto another car, and the whole time, Jack is doing that sustained crazy yell that heroes do when they do things like this. It looks like it causes Jack some pain, but he walks away anyway.
Lesson: the FBI are rubbish, and driving cars off things is great, so long as you don’t die.
Day 1, 12:00am to 01:00am – Jack tranquilises Mason
Considering the lengths to which Jack has gone as the series (not to mention this feature) has progressed, this one is pretty minor, unless you were to do it in real life, in which case it would be pretty major. For our purposes, it serves to set up a recurring theme of 24, and an important lesson for everyone to learn – that people in charge, no matter how far up the ladder they may be, are idiots. The police, politicians, and (most importantly) your boss are just people. Stupid people, who are wrong pretty much all of the time. And if they stand in the way of you doing what you have to do, you should tranquilise them.
Jack’s superior, George Mason, is – Jack thinks – keeping something from him. Something important (although even if it wasn’t, the principle would presumably be the same). So obviously he uses the aforementioned tranquiliser on Mason, in his own office (which later becomes Jack’s office, and if that isn’t a testament to something I don’ t know what is), and then gets someone to find some dirt on Mason so he has leverage for when he wakes up. All of this works out just fine.
Day 3, 06:00am – 07:00am – Jack kills Chappelle
Jack’s actions throughout 24 work as an extremely effective barometer of just how inadequate you are as a person. Would you go as far as him? No. Would you meet him halfway? No. Would you sort of start things off then leave it for him to do the rest? Unlikely. Would you, at all costs, avoid getting into a situation in which you would run even the slightest risk of encountering the most minor choice that he has had to make over the years? Likely. Deep down, do you hate yourself for that? That’s not for me to say. But yeah, probably.
On the other hand, what if your boss (bonus points if he’s quite slimy and condescending, and only really helps you out if it benefits him too) needed to be executed in a train yard in order to save the country, and possibly the world, from a deadly virus? Could you do that? Could you look him in the eye and tell him that there is no getting away? That he is going to die, at your hand, on the President’s orders? Could you pull that trigger?
More importantly, could you then go on to kill loads more bad guys, blow some stuff up, and then chop off the hand of your partner (who is also your daughter’s boyfriend), keeping your true feelings at bay until you’re 100 per cent sure that the whole nightmare is over, and then – and only then – allowing yourself a little cry in a jeep?
Just think about that.
NB: This whole episode with Chappelle is actually pretty bloody harrowing, and quite hard to make jokes about. Unlike torture.
Day 3, 02:00am – 03:00am – Jack kills Nina
While we’re on the subject of executing people, here’s one from earlier in Day 3 that is pretty much unjustifiable in terms of the broader mission – Jack murders Nina Myers, the aforementioned traitorous former lover who killed his wife in cold blood, in cold blood. Well, maybe you could argue that she was reaching for her gun. But really? Who cares.
Lesson: murdering people is absolutely fine. If it’s for the greater good. Or failing that, if it provides you with some sort of emotional catharsis. Bonus points if it’s totally dramatic.
RIP Ms Myers. We’ll miss your cold, dead eyes that actually looked less dead when you were actually dead.
Day 5, 06:00am – 07:00am – Jack confronts Logan
Day 5 is one of the very best days, largely due to its big twist (if you haven’t seen it you shouldn’t still be reading, therefore I take no responsibility for ruining it here) – the main culprit behind all of the day’s events IS NONE OTHER THAN THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, CHARLES LOGAN. OMG #jawonthefloor
While there’s plenty of torture-y, shoot-y and blow-y up-y badassery throughout the day, my favourite moment is actually a comparatively quiet scene in which Jack, having pulled off a fiendishly complex plan to kidnap THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, ON AMERICAN SOIL (these two things are important and must be shouted), confronts the disgusting weevil of a man, and basically schools him in how things are. He tells him how much suffering he has caused Bauer personally, as well as the country. He tells him that he’s a disgrace. He tells him, in no uncertain terms, that he is an irredeemable mollusc of a man, and that he is unfit for the office he holds (this last point is debatable). He then very dramatically does not kill him, and it all turns out that this was an elaborate sting that leads to Logan confessing his sins and getting hauled the hell away.
Jack also gets hauled away a bit later – to a Chinese prison, where he gets the living shit tortured out of him for months.
BUT HE COMES BACK. So torture can’t be that bad, am I right? Who’s with me? Is this thing on?
Lesson: urm… shoulda killed Logan, maybe?
Day 8, 01:00pm – 02:00pm – Jack performs Ultimate Ownage™ on Logan’s motorcade
Day 8, like Days 6 and 7, has its problems. However, it does feature one of Jack Bauer’s crowning moments of badassery, and once again it involves Charles Logan. We should actually be thankful that Jack didn’t kill the slimy bastard on Day 5, because if he had, we’d have been deprived of this scene.
So Logan, as is his prerogative, has wormed his way into the plot, giving President Taylor some pretty poisonous advice, and generally being about as horrible, smarmy and evil as it’s possible to be. He is also, once again, responsible for the death of someone Jack cares about, which is never not an awful idea. Jack has discovered the location of Logan’s motorcade (by torturing a guy and cutting open his stomach to retrieve a SIM card that the guy swallowed, naturally) and, as is his prerogative, goes full Terminator, donning body armour and mounting a one-man assault on the motorcade.
There is so much to love about this scene that I could probably dedicate an entire feature to it: the way Jack methodically works his way through the various guns he’s carrying; the moment where he – looking quite terrifying in his blank bulletproof mask – shares a brief moment of eye contact with Logan; the way he breaks through a bulletproof window, drops a gas grenade into the car then calmly places his foot over the hole and waits. But perhaps the best aspect is the reaction from Logan’s car. Snivelling around in the back seat like the vile, pustulent sack of repugnance that he is, Logan instantly knows who’s marching towards him. ‘That’s Jack Bauer, it’s gotta be,’ he whimpers, mewling and possibly wetting himself (to be fair, I would, and so would you). Then, when the two guys in the front don’t immediately respond, he shouts (still in a mewl-y way) ‘DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID? THAT’S JACK BAUER!’
The “oh shit” look on the driver’s face is priceless.
Lesson: ownage is as ownage does, and although maybe we should take a long hard look at ourselves for tacitly endorsing this behaviour, the rush is undoubtedly dizzying.
Honourable mention: The scene from Live Another Day that only exists in my mind, in which it turns out that Prime Minister Stephen Fry’s deputy (played in my mind by Hugh Laurie, in the style of George from Blackadder Goes Forth) has been behind the whole plot, and Jack has to fight him on top of Big Ben, eventually kicking him off the clock face. Laurie then explodes on the way down, and Jack goes on to win the Superbowl. With torture.