Why Jack Bauer won't have a happy ending on 24

There's no doubting it's been eight long, long days for Jack Bauer on Fox's 24. And it's been eight riveting seasons for viewers who've watched Kiefer Sutherland's character, Jack, suffer through every heartbreaking emotion possible ... or so we thought. Executive producer Howard Gordon promises that there's more tragedy to come for Jack before the adrenaline-packed series signs off in its two-hour series finale on Monday, May 24.

"I think any number of seasons in years past, season four, season five ... I think even last year could have been a really, really cool series finale," said Gordon in a conference call with journalists. "Only the fact that this was our series finale did it really, I think, have the kind of context that, 'Wow, we're really saying goodbye to this character.'"

Still, there is one difference between this eighth season of 24 and all the possible season finales that came before. "There is a moment, a final moment, that is very, very specific to the series finale. It's not so much a plot moment, but it's a punctuation mark that I think is unique to the series finale," he said.

[Spoilers ahead.]

Gordon (The X-Files, Buffy) admitted that they tried a couple of "very different endings" to see what felt right as a way to end the series. "One thing we tried and didn't work was 'happily ever after' for Jack. What he's done ... forget about the last eight seasons, but what he'll have done in these last [few] episodes which you've not seen yet, leaves him in, once again, in a very compromised place morally and ethically and emotionally. This show's a tragedy, and so to give Jack a happy ending just didn't feel authentic. We gave him a happy beginning, and I really am very pleased with the way we started. And, of course, we gave him something to care about with Annie Wersching (who played Renee Walker) and his own family," he said.

While Gordon wouldn't part with many specifics about the last four hours of the season, "what we can expect ... the things that we're aligning, which is basically Chloe vs. Jack vs. President Taylor," he said. "We're taking all these characters to places that we've never seen them before and we knew it constituted a risk, and one that was frankly challenging to write, and among the actors pretty challenging to play. But it was one really that we think was worth taking, and we think it pays off really well in the end. But in the spirit of trying to take the series to a place where it hasn't been before, we've done this thing. And it's certainly not playing it safe, but it is very emotionally climactic and ... we're pretty excited by it."

As for some of the controversial elements that played out this season, such as killing off Jack's lover Renee or President Taylor's (Cherry Jones) going to the dark side with Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), nothing quite matches the much-hated character of Dana Walsh, played by Katee Sackoff. However, Gordon said he has no regrets.

"Every season there's something that people seem to fixate on. I got it, and I guess all I kept telling people was to please wait until the story had been told before you commented, and to me I think episode 20 answered that question. I was really, really proud of that episode. And I think what I liked about it too is that for the first time this very complex, and admittedly very labyrinthine and confused and crazy character ... this onion of a character got peeled down to the nub, and you finally really understand, a little bit anyway, who she is. Now, of course, she's a sociopath and, of course, it's kind of an insane story, but to have seen in that moment that she actually really cared about Cole, that she had really done this all to get out of a situation she got herself into."

And as for Sackoff, who played the beloved if equally difficult "onion of a character" Kara "Starbuck" Thrace on Battlestar Galactica, she pulled Dana Walsh off and did it "beautifully," Gordon said. "It really, really was a challenging part, and Katee was just completely game for everything we threw at her. And again, particularly in episode 20, I think that was her greatest moment. I really, really think [it was a] phenomenal and nuanced performance that she gave."

Beyond Dana, whose recent execution by Jack thrilled millions, perhaps the biggest question so far this season has been whether the writers have taken the iconic character of Jack Bauer too far as he seeks revenge for Renee's murder. Can he possibly come back from this particular day, which has driven him to some of his darkest moments yet in all his eight terrible days?

"The answer is ... no. The good part about Jack's character, and I really believe what's been a good part of the show, is that we never press reset," said Gordon. "You feel the accumulated scars of his experience and the weight of his actions for eight years, and Jack's never been able to sort of snap back even when he's happy, even with Audrey in season five. It wasn't like that didn't discount all the tragedy that had preceded it, and just like at the beginning of this year, Jack, for a moment, allowed himself a moment of joy or possibility of human contact with his own daughter and her husband and his granddaughter. You know it doesn't discount what's happened before. I don't think Jack is ever going to recover from what's gone on, and it just adds to the weight and to the complexity and to the darkness of this character. I mean the character is never going [to live] happily ever after. That's just not in his wheelhouse. And the show is ultimately a tragedy, and I think you have to really play that, and you have to honor that."

Despite Jack's tragic ending this season when 24 finally signs off, one thing we do know is that he's not going to die. A 24 movie is in the works, and there's a first-draft script, written by Billy Ray, that is being developed by Sutherland and the producers. However, Fox has not seen the script yet, said Gordon. "It's all very much speculative at this point. I think our preference would be to do it sooner than later, of course, and get Jack back out in front of people within a year or two. But I don't know. That would be just me speaking."

24 airs on Fox on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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