What would 24 have been without Jack Bauer? It was a revolutionary approach to small screen espionage with its real-time narrative, split-screen visuals and controversial portrait of terrorism in the wake of the attack on New York City’s Twin Towers in September 2001, yet it was the ‘do or die’ attitude of tortured protagonist Jack Bauer that convinced audiences to return season after season as he risked both his life and freedom to achieve the impossible, serving as a one-man army against threats both foreign and domestic.
While Die Hard‘s John McClane would save hostages in a tower block or an airport under siege, Bauer thwarted masterplans to release pathological toxins on the population, unleash dirty bombs in metropolitan areas and, in one of the show’s highlights, bring down a corrupt Commander-in-chief. created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, previously responsible for adapting Luc Besson’s Nikita as a series, Bauer was the ultimate anti-hero; a man who would stop at nothing to fulfil his mission; sacrificing, torturing or even murdering those who served to impede that agenda. Yet his actions were always in the best interest of the country and its citizens, his hands covered in blood in an effort to preserve the integrity of the government and the safety of its people.
Through nine seasons and a made-for-TV movie Jack Bauer was the driving force behind 24 and its fictional government agency, the Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU). Despite having been a star for the last fifteen years due to an array of memorable performances in the likes of The Lost Boys, A Few Good Men and Dark City it would be Bauer that would prove to be the definitive Kiefer Sutherland role. At the time of his casting, a movie star headlining a television show was considered career suicide, yet Sutherland – along with Spin City‘s Michael J. Fox and The West Wing‘s Martin Sheen – proved that with the right role the small screen can give actors even more creative opportunities than motion pictures.
‘I’ve never done a television show before and never done a project that spanned ten and a half months of working. All the films I had done had been in the three-to-four month range,’ explained Sutherland upon first being cast in the role at the age of thirty-four. ‘To have it come to an end now has been very sad for us.’ Little did Sutherland know, however, that following the phenomenal success of the first season in 2001 he would return to the role a further nine times over the next fifteen years, sharing the screen with an eclectic selection of character actors that would include Jon Voight, Michael Madsen and no less than four actors from the sci-fi classic RoboCop.
In retrospect the first season of 24 which, like the subsequent seven runs, would span the course of a day, would be seem relatively small-scale with its central plot surrounding Bauer’s attempts to save his wife and daughter from kidnappers while foiling the assassination of a Presidential candidate, but it would be these initial twenty-four episodes that would lay out the blueprint for the entire show; a mole in CTU, one dangerous villain is merely the puppet of someone more powerful and those closest to Bauer will always be in danger from the criminals he is trying to defeat.
When he is informed in the pilot episode that one of his colleagues is working alongside the terrorists behind the attack he is forced to suspect everyone around him; his most trusted ally and former lover Nina Myers, her current boyfriend and sceptic Tony Almeida and even his superior, the ambiguous George Mason. This format would continue through the show’s entire run, with each season featuring either a mole inside 24 or the President’s inner circle, someone who has continued to impede the hero’s efforts to defeat the antagonists and once again save the day.
What would make 24 stand out from its contemporaries would be the lengths that Bauer was willing to go to go complete his objectives. In the first season, when he is trying to save his family from kidnappers, he abducts a waitress and holds her hostage while he searches for a way to escape from government agents, while in subsequent seasons he turns his back on his oath to uphold the law by executing several dangerous people, including the woman who had murdered his wife. With each passing season Jack Bauer became more tortured and unstable, even going against the instructions of both CTU and the White House, his actions often for the greater good but at the risk of violating not only the Constitution but also his own moral code.
‘Earlier today you said that I was cursed, that anyone I touched ended up dead or ruined,’ he said in a confrontation with James Heller, the Secretary of Defense. Yet his constant service and sacrifice to the country would ultimately result in Bauer having to fake his own death, being imprisoned in both China and Russia and facing a Senate hearing, where his violent and questionable methods would be scrutinised and dissected. But, as he told Heller, ‘The only thing I did, the only thing I have ever done, is what you and people like you have asked of me.’
ANDRE AND VICTOR DRAZEN (season 1)
With the growing threat that Serbian monster Victor Drazen faced against his people, Senator David Palmer had authorised a Delta Force mission to locate and execute the military leader. Two years later Drazen, who had survived the attack but had lost his wife and daughter, launched a retaliation against those he felt responsible by organising the assassination of Palmer, a candidate for the U.S. Presidency. As Bauer was called into CTU to oversee the protection of Palmer his own wife and daughter are kidnapped by mercenaries and Bauer is forced to participate in the assassination attempt.
His most trusted ally, Nina Myers, is eventually revealed as an agent who had been planted in the government and in an effort to lure Bauer into a trap Myers informs him that his daughter’s body has been found washed up in the ocean. Overcome with grief and a single-minded desire for retribution Bauer storms the port where the Drazens have been hiding out and, when Victor and his son Andrew surrender, they are both executed in cold blood by Bauer, without realising that his daughter is still alive.
MARSHALL GOREN (season 2)
Following the murder of his wife at the hands of Nina Myers, Bauer had retired from the government and lost touch with his daughter Kim, who was struggling to cope with the death of her mother. But when data reveals a potential attack on Los Angeles and a connection with domestic terrorist Joe Wald is discovered, Bauer is called back into CTU due to his previous association with suspect. In order to regain the trust of Wald and his men, having been the man responsible for sending him to jail, Bauer orders CTU to bring in Marshall Goren, a federal witness who has been granted immunity in return for testifying against Wald. Wasting little time with negotiations, Bauer shoots Goren and then decapitates him, offering the head as a symbol of peace to Wald in order to resume his cover.
NINA MYERS (season 3)
Nina Myers had been the ultimate betrayal. While Bauer had remained somewhat sceptical of both Tony Almeida and George Mason, when it came to Myers he trusted her with everything, not only when it came to National Security but also his failing marriage. They had even embarked on a brief affair while he and his wife were separated but once he had rekindled their marriage Myers had been pushed aside. Yet when the attack against Palmer is revealed Myers still remains at his side, the seemingly ever-loyal partner, but when his wife learns the truth about Myers she is murdered. Bauer finally captures Myers but is convinced not to execute her so she can stand trial, only to be released a year and a half later as part of an immunity agreement. Three years later and a biological attack threatens the city; during the undercover investigation Bauer discovers that Myers is one of the potential buyers. She is finally arrested and forced to assist in the capture of the deadly virus but when she tries to escape and once again threatens his daughter Bauer traps her in a room and, making sure they are out of sight from the security camera, shoots her several times point blank, despite having relinquished her weapon.
RYAN CHAPPELLE (season 3)
Following the murder of Nina Myers, Bauer comes to discover that the man responsible for the threat against Los Angeles is a former colleague, Stephen Saunders. Having served alongside Bauer in the mission to destroy Drazen, Saunders had been captured and believed dead, but following years of torture he was finally released and set about taking revenge against Bauer and the government that he felt had betrayed him. Among those assisting Bauer at CTU was Regional Director Ryan Chappelle, whose experience in following money trails proved invaluable in attempting to locate the terorists, but when Saunders discovers this he orders President Palmer to have Chappelle murdered or more Americans will lose their lives. Despite his reservations Palmer orders Bauer to carry out the mission and Chappelle is taken to a rail-yard and forced to his knees, where Bauer places a gun to the back of his dead and reluctantly pulls the trigger.
CHRISTOPHER HENDERSON (season 5)
Prior to the threat against Senator Palmer from the Drazens, Bauer had been the head of an internal investigation into corruption inside of CTU which had resulted in the prosecution of, among others, Director of Field Operations Christopher Henderson. Almost a decade later when Bauer is investigating the theft of a nerve gas that could be released on the population he finds an association between the suspected terrorists and Omicron International, a powerful company overseen by Henderson. Despite claiming to be a patriot Henderson had formulated a plan to assassinate former President Palmer and sell the gas to terrorists with the participation of President Charles Logan. After helping to secure the gas Henderson tries to double-cross Bauer but realises his gun is empty, thus being shot dead by Bauer instead while a Navy officer watches on in horror.
CURTIS MANNING (season 6)
Having succeeded Ronnie Lobell as Director of Field Operations following his death, Curtis Manning had remained an integral part of CTU throughout two major attacks but when former leader Hamri Al-Assad renounces terrorism and offers to form an alliance with the United States to help convert the radicals in his home county, the US government see this as a significant step towards peace. But Manning holds a personal grudge towards Al-Assad as several years earlier his military unit were ambushed and beheaded by men following Al-Assad’s instructions. Manning would be the only survivor and when they finally coming face-to-face and he witnesses the American government making peace with the monster Manning tries to kill him, forcing Bauer to shoot Manning in order to keep the peace process alive.
DANA WALSH (season 8)
CTU Los Angeles analyst Dana Walsh was more experienced at deception than even Nina Myers. Having been born Jenny Scott and convinced as an accessory to murder as a minor, Walsh had succeeded in avoiding a prison sentence and relocated to New York under a different identity to start a new life. There she had been recruited by CTU Director Hastings and had fallen in love with Fields agent Cole Ortiz. The two of them were set to marry when her former lover, convicted killer Kevin Wade, had returned to blackmail her in order to keep her past life a secret. But her deception had run further than that, having been placed as a mole inside of CTU in order to assist in future attacks against the city. But when the truth is revealed she offers to provide evidence of who is behind the attack in order to save herself but after attempting to escape from Ortiz she is cornered by Bauer and shot dead.
MIKHAIL NOVAKOVICH (season 8)
In the years following the death of his wife Bauer had attempted several times to form new relationships, first with Kate Warner, the older sister of an American terrorist and later Audrey Raines, the daughter of James Heller. But when the FBI are forced to remove Bauer from the Senate hearing in order to help assist against a new attack being orchestrated by one of his old friends, Tony Almeida, he is introduced to a no-nonsense agent called Renee Walker. Sharing more characteristics with Bauer than she would care to admit, Walker was eventually fired from the FBI after torturing a suspect in custody but eighteen months later she is recruited by CTU New York to infiltrate Russian terrorists in order to capture nuclear rods.
But officials in both the Russian and American government, including disgraced former President Logan, are behind the events of the day and an attempt to kill Bauer results in the death of Walker. Once again driven by the pain of losing someone that he loved Bauer obtains a weapons arsenal and embarks on a bloody rampage against those responsible, brutally slaughtering Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Novakovich and his associates. Unlike most murders committed by Bauer, however, the deaths of Novakovich would occur offscreen, with the cameras only showing the gruesome aftermath.
MARGOT AL-HARAZI (Live Another Day)
Bauer’s bloody massacre of Novakovich had made him an enemy of Russia and had forced him to once again go on the run. After being off the grid for several years he relocates in London just as James Heller, now the President of the United States, arrives in England to embark on a peace treaty with the Prime Minister. Bauer’s presence is at first deemed a threat towards the President by the CIA but when he reveals that he has information on a potential attack in the capital their investigation finally reveals that the mastermind behind this is Margot Al-Harazi, a dangerous criminal whose husband had been killed in a drone stike several years earlier that had been authorised by Heller. But when the CIA finally locate Al-Harazi and Bauer attempts to arrest her he realises that she has no further purpose and so throws her from the window onto the street below.
CHENG ZHI (Live Another Day)
Of all the recurring characters that would come in and out of Bauer’s life arguably the most complicated relationship he had was with Cheng Zhi. Initially introduced after Bauer had stormed the Chinese Embassy in Los Angeles, resulting in the accidental death of the consulate, the Chinese government had held Bauer accountable for the loss of life, causing him to fake his own death and go into hiding. But when he was forced to resurface following the assassination of Palmer he is abducted by Cheng Zhi and held in a Chinese prison for twenty months and subjected to brutal torture.
When Bauer is finally released following an arrangement with the American government he discovers that Zhi is in collusion with his father, Phillip Bauer, to steal a component that could help to arm decommissioned Soviet nuclear devices. Years later while in London Bauer once again crosses paths with Zhi and, following the death of Audrey at the hands of a Chinese sniper, Bauer extracts a confession from Zhi and, after declaring ‘This is for Audrey, you son of a bitch,’ decapitates him.