After eight days of Jack Bauer (Emmy-winner Kiefer Sutherland) saving the world, the real-time clock on the Fox series "24" stops ticking tonight with a two-hour series finale. Going into the finale, a seemingly unhinged Jack again is trying to conquer the bad guys including former President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzen) who knows a thing or two about the recent murder of Jack's love, Renee Walker. The crafty Logan has also been leading current President Taylor (Cherry Jones) down a dark path as she tries to cover up some of her own worldly missteps. In the meantime, Chloe O'Brien, the interim head of the Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) is working against (not for) Jack in order to bring his rogue methods to justice. Will Jack meet a tragic end, as Executive Producer Howard Gordon said earlier this month? Or will the end of the series only serve as a bridge to the eminent big screen version of the Emmy-lauded series? Our Jim Halterman talked with Executive Producer David Fury about how the creative team went about wrapping up this intense series.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following contains comments about all episodes of '24' aired to date and references to potentially spoilerly statements recently made to the press by fellow executive producer Howard Gordon. Read at your own risk prior to tonight's finale.]
Jim Halterman: You've worked on 'Lost,' 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel' before '24.' Since those were very different genres, how did you make that transition?
David Fury: It was definitely a big difference going to '24' from the others shows I had been on. '24' is a runaway train of action, conspiracies with interweaving in [and] it was a challenge. They brought me in to try to find the more human stories within all the action and to try to track and find emotional life in these characters even while they're disparaging orders in CTU. By the time I came on in year 5 of '24,' Jack had been through so much. One of the reasons I was there - [Co-Creator/Executive Producer] Joel Surnow told me - was they had watched one of my 'Lost' episodes and I did so much with nothing. What he was referring to was there was no real plot in the elements of 'Lost.' It might just be a scene between two characters and he found that compelling.
JH: We all love Jack Bauer as a character but stepping back there are a lot of reasons not to like him due to his actions and his duty to his country. How do you work that in the scripts?
DF: That's one of the things about Jack. He is an anti-hero. He's a guy who will do whatever it takes but it's always for a just cause. His methods aren't always legal and sometimes it can be cruel and certainly in this last season Jack has completely stepped over the line. He has done things like killing Nina (Sarah Clarke) in year 3 but it was a just cause because she murdered his wife so nobody faulted him for that. Now we have a Jack who is a man on fire. He's on a revenge tear and after all the tragedy of Jack's life we're seeing him go off the rails. This seemed right and we were confident very early in constructing the season, which is rare for the show. We often don't figure out where we're going until we're already in the season. In this case, we knew from the beginning where he was going to end up and we were excited about it.
JH: Howard Gordon said in a press call earlier this month that Jack Bauer would not end up in a happy ending but instead more of a tragedy...
DF: Well, I know Howard said that and I will say that some of us would have wanted Jack in a happy place. I have love for the character and he's been through a lot. A lot of characters end up unscathed. Some could argue that 'Taxi Driver' ends with a happy ending. After his murder spree, [Travis Bickle] is hailed a hero, goes back to his life and suddenly the woman who he had pined for is now pining for him. Now, of course, he is an unbalanced guy but there was a lot of discussion whether we could see Jack at the very end of the episode trying to regain some happiness and have a hopeful end. We liked it, we tried different versions of it but slowly and surely the darkness started creeping back in and we eventually said, 'No, it should end here. We can't wrap it up in a nice bow. We need Jack to be perpetually in a place of tragedy.'
JH: Is it safe to say that the series technically ends or is there a cliffhanger that is going to lead into the movie?
DF: One could argue it's a cliffhanger but it is not a pat ending, let's put it that way. As for the bad guys of season 8, we will know they get theirs and justice will be served but as far as Jack's journey, it's open-ended. That was something we always knew we wanted to do regardless of which ending we did. We wanted to be able to say 'Jack lives on to fight another day.'
JH: You just mentioned when Jack killed Nina and he just killed Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff) a few episodes back and while I know she wasn't a fan favorite, I thought she was a great villain. Can you talk about that character?
DF: I know a lot of people were frustrated with that story. We had made a conscious decision that we would not reveal her true story until much later. Very often when we show a mole within CTU or the FBI they're uncovered within an episode or two and then we race through it. This time we thought 'What if she has secrets? What if she is threatened and we feel for her that she's being threatened by something in her past?' Then you realize she's been playing everyone all along. A lot of people were frustrated with her back story but I thought it was very satisfying that it was all a big rouse and she was more nefarious than we thought.
JH: With the power of the Internet where you can immediately get viewer feedback did you ever rethink a story's direction or are the stories already too far along at that point?
DF: Frankly, it is too late. We were done with much of the season before it aired so it was certainly too late. This is true of every show I've been on including 'Buffy' and 'Angel.' Fans are very vocal to us about different story points and Joss [Whedon] was loath to do anything that was pandering to the audience. He was giving people what he thought was the best story. Despite anyone complaining, I've come away from all these shows feeling we have to commit to the ending we have. Some people end up liking it but for us to allow the audience to dictate which story we're going to go with, we knew what we were doing and knew people would be frustrated with this but we were also trying to actively build the season differently than how we did in the past. We usually start very big and exciting and then the show tapers off to the middle of the season and viewers become a little tired so this was a deliberate choice to start slower and smaller, to almost think back to year one with Jack, but our attempt was to do a slow build eventually to this story of the straw that breaks Jack Bauer's back.
JH: In Dana being killed, I thought about how audiences react to women getting killed off as opposed to a man. How much thought goes into a decision to kill a woman on the show?
DF: There is a difference seeing a woman get shot and killed, especially by a man on television regardless of whether they're evil or not. Last season, we had a woman terrorist grabbing Kim at this airport and Kim frees herself from the woman by stabbing her in the leg and then she's cut down by a hail of bullets. It's definitely more powerful sometimes in this society to see that kind of violence inflicted on a female character.
JH: '24' has had some very recognizable guest stars like Jon Voight, Dennis Hopper, Jean Smart and even Cherry Jones but did you ever worry about that taking audiences out of the show?
DF: The wonderful thing about the show is that people are able to bring so much to these characters. To be perfectly frank, the scripts are sometimes very dry and that's all a part of '24.' It can be very mechanical at times. We try to bring character traits into the dialogue but as it's moving along sometimes we forget to do that. So when we cast great actors like Jon Voight or Dennis Hopper or Cherry they bring so much to the dialogue, which is simply 'Jack Bauer is on the line' or 'We need to call to take this person prisoner.' These are all very dry lines but these actors are able to put spins and color in them that the scripts don't afford.
JH: Do you know more about counter intelligence and that world than you ever thought you would?
DF: I do certainly know a little bit more than when I started though so much of what we do on '24' has been made up. Many of the writers here are aficionados of spy thrillers so a lot of ideas are inspired from there. It's interesting that people who do work in law enforcement have said how many things we have gotten right. A lot of time we're making up these so-called protocols and making up some of the way these things would be handled. Overall, we capture the general feel of what it would be like.
JH: Talk to me about pitting Chloe and Jack against each other. Since they've been working together for so long and there's such a bond, were you worried that viewers might not buy them being on opposite sides?
DF: There's no question that there was a lot of discussion whether people would buy into this. We justified it by saying that Chloe was provisionally in charge until they found a suitable replacement. She was simply somebody who was there for the interim and that was given the fact that the show is done in real time. Using that as a device it becomes a little more plausible for someone like Chloe, who has spent years and years working for CTU, to be put in a supervisory role. We thought it could be plausible and certainly we knew that some people wouldn't buy it. A larger issue was whether Chloe would pit herself against Jack after being so loyal to him for so many years and going behind her bosses' backs to help Jack no matter what he was doing. We needed to find another place to go with her and her relationship with Jack. We thought with Jack acting a little out of character, more revenge minded, it was an opportunity for her to say 'I want to protect Jack so I'm going to have to stop him.'
JH: You're moving right into 'Terra Nova' but did you have maybe a little bit of a craving to do a comedy?
DF: [Laughs.] Oh my God would I love to do a comedy! But Terra Nova is set for midseason and we're in the midst of finalizing our first scripts right now.
JH: How's the process been with 'Terra Nova' after spending so much time on '24?'
DF: It's pretty amazing after five years to go back to writing a script of a different kind. I've been stuck writing in the real time of '24' and to be able to use flashbacks, time cuts, being able to add different perspectives... it's almost like relearning the craft of writing because '24' beat it out of me.
The final two-hour episode of '24' airs tonight on FOX starting at 8:00/7:00c.