The return of Jack Bauer

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The first time I met Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), the circumstances were different. I was entering my teenage years; he was trying to save his family and the president of the United States. As we both aged, the stakes were amped up. I got my driver’s license; he was now charged with saving Los Angeles from a nuclear bomb. My grades started to seriously matter for the first time in my life; he was faking his death in order to escape a pissed-off Chinese government. But then, just as I began the college application process, he disappeared for good.

The last time I saw Jack Bauer, it was through the eyes of a CTU drone. My memory is a little hazy — maybe because the drone feed was a bit fuzzy or maybe it was because tears were beginning to well up in my eyes. But there he was, staring up at the sky, broken and bruised in every way imaginable, telling his only friend, Chloe O’Brian, that he wouldn’t be alive without her. Then he was gone, the screen splintering into pixels.

On Monday night, four years after the “24” countdown dissolved into a series of zeros, I finally got to see Bauer again.

Honestly, I was nervous as Monday night crept closer. This was my favorite TV show returning after a four-year break. Not even I can deny that the last three seasons of “24” fell a little short of the expectations that the first five seasons built up. Without the element of surprise left — we all knew the twists and turns were coming in the later seasons — the show had lost a significant element of what made it so damn good. I was afraid “Live Another Day” would tarnish its legacy. Here was another star not knowing when to call it quits.

When the show first debuted just a couple months removed from 9/11, Bauer was an easy hero to get behind. Countless times, he saved the country from terrorists intent on destroying America. Now, nearly 13 years removed from 9/11, the game has changed for “24.”

I shouldn’t have doubted Bauer though. The show, while beautifully utilizing an ever-changing plot that always seemed to play on fast forward, relies almost solely on its protagonist. In fact, Bauer is the only character to appear in all eight — now nine — seasons. For a decade, Bauer was TV’s greatest hero.

On Monday night on Fox, Jack was back. He was back when he allowed himself to be caught by the CIA just so he could break Chloe out of its custody. He was back when we realized he was the only one who could save the president. And, of course, he was back when he finally allowed a “damn it” to escape his lips.

By now the plot is familiar, and for that matter, so is Bauer. When Bauer was captured by the CIA? I knew that he let himself be captured and that he’d find a way out of the shackles. When the CIA tried to extract information out of Bauer? I laughed.

But the predictability doesn’t matter. Jack is back, and I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. Today, I’m less than a year away from graduating college, he’s a fugitive of the United States trying to save its president, who also happens to be the father of his former girlfriend and a man who once told Bauer, “Everything you touch, one way or another, ends up dead.”

The stakes have been raised yet again. And, like the middle schooler I once was, I’m content watching Jack Bauer save the world one last time.

Contact Sean Wagner-McGough at [email protected].