omnibus omnia

Why Jack Bauer must die (an imitation of Aquinas), part 3 of 3

In Art, Criticism, Critique, Culture, Entertainment, Humor, Life, Literature, Logic, Media, Medieval, Opinion, Philosophy, Review, Society, Spoilers, Spoof, Television, Thomism, Thoughts, Writing on September 23, 2007 at 01:24

Previously on this blog, we discussed why Jack Bauer should be removed from 24.  The following continuation was written between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.


ARTICLE 3. Whether Jack Bauer must die

It seems that Jack Bauer must not die.

Objection 1: For, as reiterated by Sir Philip Sidney, literature must both edify and entertain.  However, it would not be edifying if the most heroic character of a television series should perish, when he should be portrayed as receiving his appropriate reward. Therefore Jack Bauer must not die.

Objection 2: Moreover, the killing of Jack Bauer would be dramatically superfluous.  For a character’s death is significant only if his survival matters to other characters.  In 24, however, Jack Bauer is alienated from all who may have loved him, whether by death or otherwise.  Therefore, killing him in the story would be a superfluity.

 Objection 3: Furthermore, it is more dramatically appropriate for heroes to disappear mysteriously, “into the sunset”, as it were, than to die.  A mysterious disappearance would keep his heroic aura intact, whereas death makes him seem ordinary, since all humans die, as stressed by the epic Gilgamesh.  Also, a mysterious disappearance retains the possibility of the hero returning where the portrayal of his death would not.  Therefore Jack Bauer must not die.

On the contrary, in the last episode of Season 6, James Heller told Jack Bauer, “You’re cursed”. Now what is cursed ends in death, and therefore Jack Bauer must die.

I answer that: Jack Bauer must indeed die.  Considering that, as shown in the second article, he must be removed from 24, the question remains as to how this will be done.  Now a character may be removed (1) by being exiled or by being told to leave by other characters; (2) by leaving of his own desire; (3) by simply vanishing; (4) or by dying. 

As to (1), Jack Bauer had been told to leave at the end of Season 4, and he had gone to exile at the end of Season 5, and another exit of this kind would therefore be unduly repetitive.  As to (2), this would be inconsistent with Jack Bauer’s devotion to duty, considering that his country would face new threats and he would certainly be called to action again.  Possibility (3) is dramatically inappropriate, considering the past centrality of Bauer in the story.  It would also leave matters unresolved, which would violate the need for katharsis in such an emotionally charged series.

Therefore we are left with (4), which would be appropriate, for 4 reasons.  First, Jack Bauer has been written and portrayed as a very intense character, and nothing less than death would suffice to end his role in 24 in a fitting manner.  Second, Jack Bauer is a violent anti-hero, and it is understood that such characters will end as they have lived, as happened in Scarface and Layer Cake.  Third, as Heller told Bauer, “[e]verything you touch, one way or another, turns up dead.”  Now for whatever tends to cause death, death is somehow part of itself, as the effect must be proportionate to the cause, and death is a fit destiny for it.   

Fourth, the whole story of 24 from the beginning has had, as an underlying theme, the tragedy of Jack Bauer, with his tragic flaw being his too-great devotion to duty, which he pursues at the cost of human relationships and standards.  The last episode of Season 6 operated as his catastrophe, which awakened him to what his life has become.  Being a tragedy, therefore, the Jack Bauer theme must end in a manner that inspires pity and fear, as Aristotle described in his Poetics; and for Jack Bauer, considering his violent and heroic life, this must be through dying in a tragic and heroic manner.  Therefore Jack Bauer must die.  

Reply to the 1st Obj.: Jack Bauer’s death would be appropriate to the moral universe of 24, for his tragedy consists precisely in that he saved the right of others to have normal lives by having none of his own, and that he saved social order by himself violating it. 

Now a violator of the social order may escape or suffer punishment.  If he escapes, this would disrupt its ethical universe, considering that Jack had at last betrayed his intrinsic loyalty to country by risking its welfare for the sake of Audrey Raines; but if Jack Bauer is punished, this would be unjust considering that his past service.  Hence, the only way to end things that is both satisfying and edifying is for Jack Bauer to die.

Reply to the 2nd Obj.: Though Jack Bauer is no longer important to any character (save Chloe O’Brien, in a limited sense), he remains important to the universe of 24, in view of his continuing role as the person best suited to save his country.  Hence, Jack Bauer’s death would not be dramatically superfluous.

Reply to the 3rd Obj.: A mysterious disappearance “into the sunset” is only appropriate for characters that are and remain mysterious, like the Lone Ranger and the Baron Munchausen, while for better-known characters, this is ill-fitting and inconsistent.  Also, the universality of death accentuates the fear and pity in a tragic heroic end, for it shows us why we can identify with a hero or heroine at the same time that we admire him or her, as witness the death of King Leonidas in 300.  Therefore, Jack Bauer must die.


(Clock in the foreground, moves silently to zero, fades.)

  1. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  2. tks for the effort you put in here I appreciate it!

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