Compared to Lost, 24 didn't try to do too much. While it was cancelled in plenty of time to craft a series finale, it still felt very much like just a regular season ender. Up until the last five minutes there was nothing broader-reaching than ending the season's plot. No references to earlier seasons, no surprise returns of previous characters, just...well...about what you'd expect.
I admit that I was behind for most of this season, and spent the past few weeks rapidly catching up so I could watch the finale on time. And overall it was uneven. After a very slow start and one of the stupidest storylines in 24 history with anything having to do with Dana Walsh, the middle of the season kicked it into gear as the Hassan assassination plot came back with a vengeance, and it felt like vintage 24 was back.
That momentum carried in briefly to phase 2 with the return of President Logan, 24's Benjamin Linus or Arthur Frobisher, and one of its most enjoyable villains. But as Jack got a little too into his crazy revenge killing spree, something happened that frequently happens to long running shows: everybody lost their likability. Jack's always walked a fine line between good and dark, but even if he was trying to expose the truth it was clear he had just straight-out lost it. Since most of us watch the show to see Jack be badass, crazy Jack just isn't as much fun. With President Taylor having gone crazy in the opposite direction and most of the cast already written out, that pretty much left Chloe as the sole person worth rooting for.
So much of the finale was about bringing everyone back to sanity. Chloe talked Jack down off his Russian president-assassinating ledge to get him to expose the conspiracy. President Taylor called off the peace treaty at the last second to announce her involvement in the cover-up. Even Pillar wanted to call off the hit on Jack....before Logan went full-out crazy and shot him because...oh, who knows. Was it believable Logan would kill his trusted aide just to be extra sure nobody would find Jack on time? Not so much.
If Logan's end didn't make a whole lot of sense, it was at least somewhat surprising. For a show that's prided itself on its big twists and shocks, these final two hours were surprisingly by the book. The biggest character death was Pillar's, since we were led to believe Logan would survive. There were no shocking reveals or reversals. Even ending with Jack in exile isn't anything new. Previous seasons have seen him fake his own death and go into hiding, be captured by the Chinese, and wander around the world hiding from a government investigation. Other than setting up the movie we all know about, Jack's end didn't accomplish much.
For me though, what brings 24's end from unambitious to disappointing was the relative lack of Jack Bauer throughout its running time. He basically spends the second hour in a gurney. There's no awesome Bauer moments where he does something crazy and badass. He doesn't outwit anyone in any clever way. He starts off crazy, and ends just sad and depressed. There's something wrong when the finest moments in the episode are between President Taylor and Dahlia Hassan. This is Bauer Hour, and Jack didn't go out on top.
I wish 24 had gone out with a bit more of a bang. I wish we could have had a surprise visit from Mandy, or Tony, or at least Aaron Pierce. Seriously, how was the final season the only one out of eight to not feature our favorite secret service agent? But it just goes to show that this was the right time for 24 to end. It didn't overstay its welcome with an embarrassing end, just an unexceptional one. I'll have more to say about the 24 legacy eventually, but this final season certainly didn't harm it. It may be awhile until any show comes close to matching 24 for action, suspense, and daring, but until then we can look forward to the movie.