Originally published in 2010 prior to the end of 24‘s original broadcast run. Updated to include 2014’s 24: Live Another Day, as well as some additional content.
“Nice work, Jack. Have you noticed that there’s always a body count wherever you go?” — George Mason
“He said you were a born killer. Is that true?” — Jonathan Wallace
During his time on 24, Jack Bauer killed a lot of people. Main characters. Supporting characters. Featured stars. Unnamed Extras. You name it, Jack has probably killed it. As such, it was very difficult to narrow down the list of Jack’s greatest moments. And let’s face it. He also had plenty of badass moments where he didn’t kill anyone – instead relying on his wit, charm, resourcefulness, and powers of persuasion.
So, in honor of one of my favorite shows, I give you “Jack Bauer’s Greatest Hits” (A/K/A “The Moments that Made Amnesty International Cringe”).
Day 1: 10:00 AM-11:00 AM: Jack Bauer Goes Old School on Ted Cofell
Season 1 is full of badass moments from Jack Bauer. For instance, he single-handedly took down Ira Gaines’s compound to rescue his family, thwarted multiple assassination attempts on then-Senator David Palmer, and conducted a one-man rampage of revenge against the Drazens after being told his daughter was dead, to name a few. But the moment that stands out is when he interrogated Ted Cofell, a wealthy CEO with ties to the Drazens. Jack had switched places with Cofell’s chauffeur, a change that had gone unnoticed by Cofell. See what happens when you ignore the help? Sure enough, Jack soon made his presence felt and demonstrated extraordinary resourcefulness in light of the scarcity of effective “interrogative tools.”
Jack Bauer: You ever heard of the Russian gulag?
Ted Cofell: What?
Jack Bauer: A string of prisons in Northern Siberia. Russians didn’t have a lot of hi-tech equipment up there, so they had to make do with what was around, sort of like what I’m doing right now. You probably don’t think I can force this towel down your throat, but trust me I can, all the way. Except I hold onto this one little bit at the end. When your stomach starts to digest it, I pull it out, taking your stomach lining with it. Most people, they take about a week to die. It’s very painful.
Ted Cofell: What kind of man are you?
Not the kind of man you want to mess with, Ted.
Day 2: 8:00 AM-9:00 AM: Jack Farts in the General Direction of the Bill of Rights
Of course, that could describe Jack’s entire attitude during the course of the show.
The entirety of Season 2 is a testament to Jack’s superhuman powers. Jack survives a plane crash, a nuclear bomb, nearly dying during an interrogation, and dealing with a daughter so incompetent that she gets stalked by a cougar (something that was hilariously referenced on Elisha Cuthbert’s later show, Happy Endings) and captured by Johnny Drama. The best moment, however, happens early on in the season. Jack is recalled to CTU to stop Second Wave from setting off an atomic bomb in L.A. He interrogates an inmate in federal custody for information, and decides that, rather than ask a bunch of stupid questions and getting some half-baked responses, he’ll shoot the inmate in the chest and then cut off his head. “I’m gonna need a hacksaw,” he says nonchalantly as George Mason looks on in horrified disbelief. And, in what soon becomes a 24 cliche, Jack gets away with it and suffers no repercussions whatsoever.
Day 3: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM: Jack Plays Russian Roulette in a Room Full of Armed Prisoners and Somehow Manages to Escape
Day 3 was the first of several “uneven seasons” in 24 history. There were way too many subplots and “men behind the men” (or women) to keep track of. Additionally, several characters were clearly getting stale while tropes from earlier seasons were being beaten into the ground (How many times can Kim get captured? Or how many times is David Palmer, an intelligent man, going to trust his scheming and vindictive ex-wife, Sherry?). There was also poor writing, as Jack’s substance abuse problem (something which probably didn’t require Kiefer Sutherland to do much acting) looms large during the first third of the season and is mostly forgotten about until the end of the last episode. By then, the plot had strayed so far from where it had started that the last six episodes of the season seem like they happen years after the first six. The producers seemed to agree and cleaned house afterwards, cutting loose several beloved series regulars, including Dennis Haysbert (President Palmer), Carlos Bernard (Tony Almeida) and Reiko Aylesworth (Michelle Dessler) (Elisha Cuthbert was cut too, but she was never “beloved”).
Nevertheless, there were some bright spots. Joaquim de Almeida (who always seems to play a druglord or gangster) is fantastic as [checks notes] druglord gangster Ramon Salazar. In a scene straight out of The Deer Hunter, Jack and Ramon are forced to play Russian Roulette in a room full of prisoners. Unlike the movie, there is no little Asian guy yelling “Mao!” at the participants in the game. Nor are there three bullets in the gun. Instead, Jack has to make do with just the one bullet and that’s more than enough for him. He shoots one of the prisoners and then escapes with Ramon just as Jack’s partner, Chase Edmunds, and his team hit the scene.
Jack also showed that he was an excellent Russian Roulette player. He passed the first round easily and then knew he had a bullet in the chamber so that he could shoot the guard when it was his turn to go again. Clearly, he has a future on the pro circuit – especially if he has to leave the country after this season’s killing spree. Then again, knowing this show, he’ll probably just get a Presidential pardon.
Day 3: 2:00 AM-3:00 AM: Jack Follows Liam Neeson’s Advice from Batman Begins and Minds his Surroundings
Also known as “Nina Gets What She Deserves.” I never bought Nina Meyers as a villain. The plot twist in Season 1 where she was revealed as the mole in CTU after they spent much of the season building her up as a dutiful and loyal sidekick to Jack who was probably in love with him (and had been suspected and cleared earlier in the season) seemed forced. Plus, she was more of a desk agent and didn’t seem like someone who could hold her own in the field, unlike Henderson or Tony. As a result, the entire sequence where she deliberately jammed her head into a needle in order to escape from CTU just didn’t seem realistic.
Still, there’s no denying her ability to get under Jack’s skin. You know, killing a guy’s wife will do that. Jack managed to get Nina cornered, and knowing that someone was surely watching him, he stepped in the front of the surveillance camera and shot her to death. In his official report, he claimed Nina was going for her gun even though she would have needed to have extendable arms a la Inspector Gadget or telekinetic powers to reach it.
Day 3 11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Jack “Reasons” With Stephen Saunders
When Jack’s former partner, Stephen Saunders, turned up after years of being presumed dead, he was really pissed off at the world. Apparently, being presumed dead turns you into a bad guy (just like it did for Tony). I would think that people would find it liberating, like Jack did when he was presumed dead. He seemed to have a nice life living with Diane Huxley and pretending to be an oil rigger.
Saunders, however, decided that he was going to deal with it by unleashing a dangerous virus in L.A. One of his underlings set off the virus in a hotel, causing the deaths of hundreds of unnamed extras, as well as Gael Ortega and several CTU agents (though curiously, Michelle Dessler was fine). Jack eventually captured Saunders and knew he wasn’t going to break him in time to stop the second wave of attacks. So, he took Saunders’ daughter and ordered Chase to take her into the hotel, thereby exposing her to the virus. Of course, what makes the scene is the sadistic smile on Jack’s face as he tells Saunders: “When your daughter is infected, I’m gonna make you watch her die.”
Saunders also marked the last time that 24 producers would have a villain that was much taller than Jack appear in the same frame as him. From then on, all villains would either be shorter (Abu Fayed, Tony) or would be shown crouched over, lying down, or sitting (Henderson).
Day 4: 2:00 AM-3:00 AM: Jack Shows Us How to Deal with a Love Triangle
Day 4 has its critics, and I certainly agree that the plot was a bit contrived when it came to bringing back old characters — especially at the expense of newer ones, like CTU chief Erin Driscoll (Alberta Watson), Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane), President John Keeler (Geoff Pierson) and, most importantly, Vice President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin). It was also tiresome watching main antagonist Habib Marwan consistently escape capture just so he could stick around for the entire season. Also, this is the season where they really started to embrace the whole “torture is an effective means of interrogation that always yields truthful information” school of thought. I’m pretty sure John Yoo based his torture memos on watching Jack Bauer.
Nevertheless, this season has always been one of my favorites. I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between Jack and his new girlfriend, Audrey Raines (Kim Raver). But like all good things in his life, it was never going to end well. In this case, Audrey was still hung up on her wimpy, sniveling husband, Paul. When Jack had evidence linking Paul’s company to Marwan, he cornered Paul in his hotel room and started to interrogate him. Because Paul didn’t have the foresight to check into a CTU holding cell instead of a four-star hotel, Jack had to, once again, make do with his surroundings. This time, he took apart a lamp and used the wires to shock Paul until he got his answers.
Eventually, the two buried the hatchet and Paul even saved Jack’s life. However, Paul took a bullet and Audrey started to feel sorry for him. So much so that she began to rethink her relationship with Jack. Now, Jack has been in enough love triangles to know that the best way to solve the problem is to cut the Gordian knot, so to speak. As such, he forced doctors to stop operating on Paul so that they could revive some Chinese terrorist who was involved with Marwan. Oh sure, Jack used national security to justify it, but let’s not kid ourselves. He just wanted Audrey all to himself.
Day 4: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM: Jack Teaches Basic Human Anatomy
And of course, we get to Season 5 — the crowning achievement in 24. Starting with a truly shocking season premiere, the season featured a compelling plot, outstanding acting and writing, and one of the best plot twists in the show’s entire history. This season was excellent from start to finish and got monster ratings and tons of awards (including Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series and Best Actor).
This scene is just incredible. When he learned that his old mentor, Christopher Henderson, was involved with the Sentox nerve gas conspiracy, he committed a home invasion burglary to get intel. When Henderson arrived home, Jack was ready, holding both him and his wife, Miriam, at gunpoint. He tried to get Henderson to talk, but he refused. As a result, Jack needed a different strategy.
Jack shoots Miriam Henderson in the leg
Jack: I shot her above the kneecap. She can still walk! You make me shoot her again, she’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life!
And, in keeping with the theme of this piece, Jack not only escaped blame but even caused Miriam to be angrier at her husband after he refused to talk. That’s talent.
Day 5: 5:00 AM-6:00 AM: Jack Never Skips Leg Day
Jack and the above-mentioned Henderson take a trip onto the submarine where Jack manages to 1) talk an inexperienced crewman through cutting a guy’s throat, 2) fool Henderson, the guy who taught him everything he knows, by giving him an empty gun, 3) hold terrorist Vladimir Bierko’s neck between his legs, wait for Henderson to disarm the missiles, and the nonchalantly snap a now-expendable Bierko’s neck his legs and 4) shoot Henderson to death. Jack then went to President Logan’s retreat so that he could hijack the Presidential helicopter and take Logan hostage. In other words, just another day at the office for Jack.
Day 6: 6:00 AM-7:00 AM: Jack Goes Hannibal Lecter on Some Extra
And now the rot sets in. Season 6 was a gigantic mess from start to finish. Between the incoherent plot, ridiculous retcons (that would only get worse in subsequent seasons), pointless deaths (most 24 fans still hate how Curtis Manning went out) and a messy subplot that somehow managed to make the Bauer family, which included Jack’s terrorist sympathizing father and brother, his sister-in-law who not-so-secretly pined for him and his nephew who may or may have been his son, boring, Season 6 is often seen as the beginning of the end for the once great series.
There weren’t too many awesome scenes in Day 6, but this one sticks out. You would think that after being a captive of the Chinese government for two years during which time he was subjected to endless torture would make Jack as harmless as a little puppy. You would think that Jack would be so disillusioned after his government negotiated for his release for the sole purpose of turning him over to Abu Fayed that he would have as much fight left in him as a tranquilized panda bear.
You would be wrong.
Jack got away from Fayed by ripping out some redshirt terrorist’s throat with his teeth. A few hours later, Jack finished the job by taking out Fayed’s entire army before wrapping a chain around Fayed’s neck and hanging him from the rafters of his warehouse. After Jack finished his one-man rampage, CTU agent Mike Doyle summed up how everyone felt by saying: “Damn, Jack!”
24: Redemption: Seriously, Jack Never Skips Leg Day.
Filmed as a one-off TV movie, 24: Redemption set the stage for Day 7 and the rest of the series by introducing several important characters and plot arcs. New president Allison Taylor made her debut and would serve as the Chief Executive for the rest of the original series’s run, while antagonists Ike Dubaku, Benjamin Juma and Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight playing the most cartoonishly evil villain in the 24-verse since Dennis Hopper’s Victor Drazen) would set the stage for the Sangala/prion variant conspiracy that dominated Day 7. Stealing the show was Robert Carlyle, who played Jack’s friend and fellow former Special Forces soldier Carl Benton, who was performing humanitarian work in Sangala, as well as shielding Jack from a Senate subpoena to testify about his many misdeeds while at CTU. Maybe he was just sparing us from what would, surely, be one of the longest hearings in American history.
In this scene, Juma’s rebels capture Jack and one of the soldiers uses a heated machete to torture him for information. The rebel soldier holds it up to his face one time and Jack pretends to crack. This soldier, not knowing who he’s dealing with (and not knowing that Jack has seen Carl signaling to him via sunlight reflecting off a mirror), thinks he’s broken Jack and leans in to hear what he has to say. After tricking his assailant into sending his backup towards Carl (where they are promptly gunned down) Jack then pulls a Bierko and uses his legs to snap the guy’s neck. In doing so, the man learned a valuable lesson: Torture doesn’t work on Jack Bauer.
Day 7: 3:00 PM-4:00 PM: Women and Children First
Helped, in part, by the 2007-2008 Writers’ Strike that delayed the season for a year, as well as the acclaimed Redemption setting the table for it, Day 7 ended up being a bit of a rebound for 24. The season featured a stronger plot, interesting new characters and a much-needed change of venue from L.A. to Washington, D.C. It wasn’t a perfect season, obviously. The Tony-as-a-bad-guy subplot was hit-or-miss. And there was one pretty bad piece of retcon where the mastermind behind the prion variant virus that drove much of Day 7 — a bland, mysterious guy in the shadows that we’ve never seen or heard about before named Alan Wilson — was suddenly revealed as the guy who had actually been in charge of Season 5’s Sentox Nerve Gas conspiracy.
One of the undisputed highlights of the season was Annie Wersching, who got rave reviews playing Jack’s new partner/love interest Renee Walker. This scene really illustrates their dynamic (and why they were meant to be), as they team up to break both the rules and a rogue Secret Service agent named Edward Vossler. Much like Season 2, when he seemingly killed a terrorist’s wife and children, or the aforementioned Season 5, when he sportingly shot Miriam Henderson above the knee, Jack has never subscribed to the hackneyed rule that women and children were off limits. So when Vossler wouldn’t reveal the kidnapped First Gentleman’s whereabouts, Jack and Renee took matters into their own hands. Renee held Vossler’s wife and children hostage while Jack did what he does best — convince Vossler that it was in the best interests of him and his family to cooperate. Too bad Vossler had to ruin it by daring to attack Jack. Obviously, that was going to end one way.
Day 8: 12:00 PM-1:00 PM: Jack Goes to Extreme Measures to Retrieve a Sim Card
And then there’s Day 8. This season was an absolute mess, featuring tons of incoherent subplots, bland characters, worse actors (three words: Freddie Prinze, Jr.), recycled tropes (CTU really has a mole problem) and years of character development flushed down the toilet for the sake of shock value.
In particular, Jack goes from patriot who always put his country first, no matter the consequences, to a violent psychopath who causes more damage to Manhattan than the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. No one bears the brunt of his anger more than Pavel, the Russian sniper who killed Renee. Jack sees Pavel swallow a cell phone SIM card, and, knowing how big a pain in the ass it is to re-enter those contacts, decides to do whatever he can to retrieve it. Jack apprehends Pavel, burns him with a blowtorch, throws gasoline on the wound, and then performs emergency surgery on his stomach in order to get it back.
You know, I’m sure most stores would have transferred your contacts for free, Jack.
UPDATE (01/15/2021): 24: Live Another Day: 10:00 PM-11:00 AM
After a four year hiatus, 24: Live Another Day was a welcome return to form for the show. Unlike other seasons, LAD consisted of 12 episodes, giving credence to the long running joke about how 24 seasons would only last 12 episodes if everyone just got out of Jack’s way.
This also allowed writers to keep things tight and more focused (at least when compared to previous seasons) — cutting down on filler subplots and superfluous villains. LAD featured some compelling and timely subplots, interesting new characters played by good actors, including Michelle Fairley as terrorist Margo Al-Harazi, Benjamin Bratt as CIA chief (and requisite mole) Steve Navarro, Yvonne Strahovski as Jack’s new partner Kate Morgan, and Tate Donovan as White House Chief of Staff (and Audrey’s husband) Mark Boudreau. They also brought William Devane back, this time as President. That, in and of itself, was historic — after all, no former secretary of defense has ever gone on to become President (although several former Secretaries of War, one of the Defense Secretary’s predecessor offices, have managed to win the White House).
They also brought back one of Jack’s most persistent and effective enemies, Chinese intelligence agent Cheng Zhi. Played by the inimitable Tzi Ma, one of Hollywood’s go-to actors for evil Chinese characters, Cheng was one of the only people to get the best of Jack more than once, capturing him at the end of Day 5, torturing him for two years, tricking him into divulging information despite the fact that Jack never said a word during said torture, breaking Audrey and rendering her catatonic and then killing her in LAD.
But you can only tempt fate for so long. As the Drazens and Russians found out, you don’t want to make things personal with Jack, and killing Audrey sent him over the edge and sealed Cheng’s doom. In true ninja style, Jack snuck onto Cheng’s boat, carved through his men like the redshirts they were, and then beat the crap out of Cheng before decapitating him with a samurai sword.
The season ended with Jack surrendering to the Russians in order to save his most loyal assistant, Chloe O’Brien. He didn’t play a role in the 24 reboot, 24: Legacy, and looks to still be in custody. I find that hard to believe. Much more likely is that he’s already escaped and is living off the grid — again. Or he put his CTU training to good use and became President.