With 24: Legacy set to debut this weekend after the Super Bowl, it seems like a good time to give a final ranking to the Jack Bauer years before we see what’s in store for new hero, Eric Carter. 24 has some of the highest highs and lowest lows of any modern TV show but it’s one of the reasons you’re reading this website right now, so let’s dive right in, going from worst season to best (Spoilers for all past 24 seasons).
Season 6: If you stopped watching 24 after or midway through Season 6, I completely understand, as it’s kind of a dumpster fire of a season. Completely wasting the shocking cliffhanger of Season 5 where Jack is captured by the Chinese, this season brings him back because a man named Abu Fayed will give the US the location of wanted terrorist Hamri Al-Assad in exchange for being able to execute Bauer for personal reasons. There’s so much wrong in this season like, for example, a nuclear blast going off in downtown LA and seemingly not having any sort of damaging effect or really brought up at all later in the season or the fact that Jack apparently has an extended family we’ve never heard from or seen until this season and, surprise, his brother and father (a wasted James Cromwell) are both evil. Wayne Palmer, brother of arguably the greatest president in TV history David Palmer, is also president and he’s so lame he’s put into a coma and forgotten about for the rest of the season. There’s also completely forgettable new CTU members, including an inexplicable attempt to make Ricky Schroder bad-ass. Only Kiefer’s sheer force of will allowed 24 to survive this nonsense.
24: Redemption: A special movie taking place between Seasons 6 and 7, Redemption was solid enough but definitely felt like the place holder it was as there a year long delay until Season 7 because of the writer’s strike in 2007. It setup the new characters like President Taylor and Jon Voight’s evil military contractor but there really wasn’t a lot there. There was some cool Jack moments where he kind of gets to unleash his Rambo side by fighting in the jungle but you could go into Season 7 and probably be fine, speaking of which…
Season 7: Drastic measures were needed to save the show after Season 6, so Season 7 finally shifted the focus away from Los Angeles to Washington DC and brought back the previously thought dead Tony Almeida, who is now the big bad of the season as he seeks vengeance for what happened to him in Season 5. This is an OK but not spectacular season of 24, with some solid recurring characters in FBI agent Renee Walker and President Taylor and Jon Voight chews scenery as the aforementioned evil head of a weapons contractor making a deadly pathogen, which Jack is exposed to at some point during the season and has to be saved by stem cells from Kim Bauer. There’s some attempt to kind of tie up everything since Season 5 with a big bad played by Will Patton who’s part of an elaborate conspiracy but it’s pretty convoluted and doesn’t really amount to much besides making evil former president Charles Logan even more of an asshole. This season also sends off one of 24’s best recurring characters, Bill Buchanan, who sacrifices himself during a raid on the White House.
Season 1: The season that kicked things off also had some growing pains it needed to get through and it set the precedence for “Kim Bauer gets kidnapped/does stupid things” subplots for the next two seasons. There also the extremely terrible “Teri Bauer gets amnesia for an episode” development late in the season but it does have Dennis Hopper as the late game villain (with a cheesily terrible Serbian accent) and a finale twist that is still one of the best in the show’s history, as we learn that Jack’s closest ally Nina Myers was the mole causing all the issues at CTU all day and she kills Teri Bauer during her escape when she’s found out. Season 1 was solid way to kick off the Jack Attack but Season 2 was when things gelled into the 24 we know and love (more on that later). Also, extremely blond Jack, very off-putting.
Season 3: Season 3 is a strange beast because on the one hand, pretty huge events in the 24verse happen, like Jack finally getting revenge on Nina, the introduction of Michelle Dessler and her relationship with Tony, Jack being forced to execute his boss Ryan Chappelle (but eventually letting him do it himself) to prevent a deadly virus from being released and, most important of all, the intro of Jack’s BFF and fan favorite, Chloe O’Brien but the show also tried to be even more edgy than normal by giving Jack a heroin addiction he develops undercover with the Salazar drug cartel and saddles him with sidekick in Chase Edmunds, played by James Badge Dale who did get significantly better in all the subsequent projects he’s appeared in but is pretty terrible here. Chase was clearly some sort of experiment to see if they could make a “new Jack” in case Kiefer wanted to bail but he was like the Poochie of the 24verse and failed pretty badly. After getting his hand cut off to stop a virus container from going off, he was never seen again and only barely mentioned in the following season as a throwaway Kim line, because they were secretly dating this season. Speaking of Kim, this is the season where she somehow starts working at CTU as an analyst and has a painful scene where she has tries to prove her worth against Zachary Quinto’s Adam Kaufman by taking over his computer.
24: Live Another Day: As far as sending off Jack Bauer, Live Another Day is a solid way to do it, as Jack heads to London to save Chloe and gets drawn into a plot by terrorist Margot Al-Harazi (a fantastic Michelle Fairley aka Catelyn Stark on Game of Thrones) to use drones to target new president James Heller as revenge for her husband’s death by drones sent by the US. Yvonne Strahovski is a surprisingly solid partner for Jack’s adventures and Jack is also finally reunited with Audrey Raines, now Boudreau, but like almost everyone who Jack cares about, she’s eventually killed by Chinese big bad Cheng, who has wanted Jack’s head since Season 4. Jack kills off both villains in suitably bad ass fashion, especially Cheng who he decapitates with a katana:
but the ambiguous ending where Jack gives himself up to the Russians for his crimes in Season 8 is not the most satisfying way to part ways with Jack, it was clearly open ended in case there was another season with Jack but now we’re getting 24: Legacy instead, so we’ll probably never get full closure on Jack’s fate. Still, extremely solid season.
Season 8: The last full season (Live Another Day wasn’t a full 24 episodes), Season 8 shifted things to NYC and found Jack trying to unravel a conspiracy by Charles Logan and the Russian Foreign Minister to stop a peace treaty between the US and the Islamic Republic of Kamistan from being signed. Jack reunites with Renee Walker, who has been kicked out of the FBI, and they consummate their romantic feelings but Renee is killed by a Russian sniper shortly after and Jack goes fully on the warpath, killing everyone he believes is involved in the conspiracy and delivering what is arguably his most bad ass moment when he attacks the motorcade of Charles Logan:
Logan eventually is faced with being charged for all the crimes he’s committed by President Taylor and kills himself, ending his weaselly reign of terror. The ambiguous note this season leaves off on is, to me, a lot more satisfying than the Live Another Day ending and if 24 had ended here, it would have been fine.
Season 5: Season 5 literally kicked off with a bang and let you know that things were serious right off the bat as David Palmer and Michelle Dessler were both killed off and Tony was left in critical condition. Jack arrives out of hiding just in time to save Chloe and Jack learns that President Logan is behind a conspiracy to launch a series of nerve gas attacks across LA. Along with Logan, Robocop himself, Peter Weller, and Julian Sands aka Lucius Malfoy, are the ones doing the dirty work for Logan and the former is the one who seemingly kills off Tony until his return in Season 7. There’s a crazy setpiece where Jack has to take over a plane and then land it on the LA freeway before Logan has it shot down and there’s a devastating gas attack that kills CTU director McGill (Sean Astin) and cuddly teddy bear and Chloe’s BFF, Edgar. Kim also only shows up very briefly, now dating her therapist played by a smarmy C. Thomas Howell and Aaron Pierce, one of the all time greatest movie/TV secret service agents, gets lots of chances to shine as he helps the First Lady and Jack get evidence of Logan’s evil doings. The shocking cliffhanger ending where Jack is kidnapped by the Chinese is also one of the best endings of any season but, as we talked about before, Season 6 completely dropped the ball with the follow up.
Season 2: Let’s get this out of the way first, Kim’s subplot in this season is one of the worst things in TV history, as her job babysitting somehow escalates into her almost getting eaten by a cougar and then abducted by crazy doomsday prepper Matt Dillon. The rest of the season is so strong though that it basically nullifies all that nonsense. When Jack ends the first episode by walking into CTU, shooting an informant and then demanding a hacksaw, you know things are going to be intense and Season 2 delivers:
David Palmer is at the height of his presidential powers in this season and manages to both help Jack handle the nuclear threat they are facing and takes down a coup against him by his Vice President and cabinet after a fake recording implicating three innocent Middle Eastern countries is released but Palmer refuses to act on it until it is verified, leading to the 25th amendment being invoked because of his apparent weakness. Among all the Jack moments, at one point, he’s killed and brought back while being tortured by the terrorists and then manages to still take down the eventually revealed mastermind, Peter Kingsley (played by Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell) and his goons while basically having mini heart attacks and he survives a plane crash with Nina (who is given an immunity agreement in exchange for her help) and kills a mercenary with a flare gun. George Mason, who throughout most of Season 1 and the first half of this season, was the insufferable douchey head of CTU but, after he’s exposed to radiation, he actually becomes extremely sympathetic and gets to go out as a true American hero when he pilots the plane carrying a nuclear bomb that cannot be disarmed into the desert instead of Jack, who was going to sacrifice himself.
Season 4: This is it, the best season of 24, Season 4 is a goddamn freight train of action that just keeps getting bigger and crazier in the best way possible. Featuring an all star CTU team, including Michelle, Chloe, Tony, Edgar, tactical team leader Curtis and Bill, Jack is called back into action when his new boss, Secretary of Defense Heller and Audrey are both kidnapped and things get more and more intense as the plot by Habib Marwan (villain all star Arnold Vosoloo) eventually involves melting down nuclear power plants, blowing up Air Force One and trying to use the nuclear football to launch a nuclear missile. There’s also the sleeper cell family The Arazes, led by terrifying matriarch Dina. Charles Logan also makes his debut this season, becoming president after a president who’s too boring to even mention is put into critical condition following the crash of Air Force One. Logan is so terrible he has to call David Palmer back in to basically be his proxy president and he gets right back to trusting Jack to kick ass and do what needs to be done, which includes raiding the Chinese embassy that causes a Chinese national to be killed and making Cheng Zhi Jack’s mortal enemy, along with Logan, for the rest of the series. The action, the cast and the plot were all at their peak this season and it’s the prime example why Jack Bauer and 24 will go down in the history of TV action.