24, Season 6

Over the course of this series, Jack Bauer has gone from being merely an American James Bond to being an excellent example of the tragic hero. This transformation is no more surprising than the endless plot twists which plague Bauer and his comrades every season. This season serves to cement Jack in the role of the tragic hero. His amazing talents and dedication are both his greatest strengths and his greatest failings. His hubris and superhuman skill have led him from a life of government service into the life of a cursed, disgraced, broken man. Please be warned, this article contains spoilers.

Gasp!

This transition was set up by the show’s writers to be a twist. Jack had been a fugitive since the fourth season, having faked his death to avoid the consequences of some unsavory tactics. Though not truly a fallen hero yet, Jack is brought out of hiding by a scheme masterminded by his father. It isn’t Greek yet, but we’re getting there. This metamorphosis, which takes place over the course of these first six seasons, is peppered with similar sympathetic twists along the way. In almost every season of this show, CTU is in some way attacked, a mole is revealed among their ranks, within the White House, or both, and the President, whoever he may be, works against Jack in some capacity.

All of these things have the hallmark of being some kind of deceit or betrayal, another common theme in Greek tragedy. In this last season, it is revealed that the masterminds of the previous season’s arch were Jack’s father and brother. Betrayal by a family member is considered the ultimate crime. Jack’s life is fraught with betrayals. Not only is he betrayed numerous times, but he betrays his own ethics by using illegal tactics against terrorists in order to safeguard the lives of American citizens. As many characters have noted, Jack has done a tremendous body of work for his country, but that cannot excuse his wildcard vigilante behavior.

Hubris

Those actions, which are Jack’s signature, are what is universally always best for the country even if government officials disagree. These actions always skirt or cross the boundaries of ethics which most law enforcement personnel are sworn to uphold. Because of this, Jack is further forced to work outside the law in every season, half the time himself being the target of government operations.

Though Jack is always right, the show sets up few immediate consequences to his actions. This arrogance is what pushes him further every time, entertaining the audience with his skill as a master spy. As with all tragic heroes, the consequences of hubris comes in larger, later doses. For example, in the fifth season, Jack violates the sovereignty of a Chinese embassy in order to secure information regarding a terrorist plot. The Chinese, in turn, seize Jack and hold him hostage for a year. This torture goes on without end, as Jack is too well trained, perhaps for his own good, and does not divulge any secrets which would end the torture.

The Fall

At the end of the sixth season, Jack’s former lover Audrey Raines is recovered from Chinese custody where she was also held and tortured. Audrey went to China to search for Jack, and because she had none of his training, is broken and traumatized by the experience. The death of Jack’s wife in the first few seasons was a crippling blow, but like the death of the family of Hercules, it only sparked an adventure, rather than destroying the hero.

The damage done to Audrey, however, cannot be written off as easily. Her father, the former secretary of defense, tells Jack that everything he touches dies. He draws out the pattern that has begun to emerge in which people Jack loves, like his wife, his friends Tony, Michelle and Chloe, President David Palmer, and finally Audrey all suffered because they knew him. This is a crippling blow to Jack’s already diminished spirit. He steps outside into the light of the new day, and goes off back into hiding.

How Jack’s story goes next is not certain. The writers of this series will put him in further danger, and some of the same patterns from the past will emerge again. Jack may continue in the path of a tragic hero, however this series’ cyclical nature tends to indicate he will suffer this pattern repeatedly over each season– being betrayed, betraying his own ethics, winning the day, and suffering a loss, all over again. This, however, truly is new media and that presents some unanswered questions. How will Jack’s narrative survive further repetition in the tragic model? What will Jack’s final destiny be? Only time will answer these questions. If this character continues to suffer in the way that he has, what will be years for the audience and days for the show, will be an eternity for Jack Bauer.

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