‘24: Live Another Day’ Showrunners on the Finale, the Dangers of Drones, and Jack Bauer’s Future
Jack Bauer going H.A.M. on London has finally come to an end. Showrunners Manny Coto and Evan Katz discuss that wild finale, the show’s politics, and where we’ll see Bauer go next. [Warning: Spoilers.]
It had been four long years since we’d seen Jack Bauer, the hell-hath-no-fury rogue CTU agent, wreak havoc on all matter of terrorists and other assorted scum. But, after talk of a Hollywood feature film and even rumblings of a Die Hard/24 crossover mega-movie, we were treated to 24: Live Another Day—an action-packed 12-episode Fox miniseries.
Set in London, the series saw Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) pop up to foil an assassination plot on the president. You see, unbeknownst to the commander-in-chief, a drone strike he ordered killed the terrorist-husband (along with many children) of Margot Al-Harazi, played by Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley. So, Al-Harazi hired a group of hackers to tap into U.S. drones, gaining control over the flying killing machines to do her bidding—namely, knocking off the president and anyone else who gets in her way. Add Chinese terrorists and Russian mercenaries to the mix and, well, things weren’t looking so peachy for Mr. Bauer.
The season finale, which aired July 14, saw the gonzo story come to a close. Bauer’s former (and current) love/the president’s daughter, Audrey Boudreau, is assassinated by a Chinese hit squad controlled by Chinese dissident Cheng Zhi, who previously tortured Bauer for a year—thus halting a full-on nuclear attack between U.S. and Chinese warships. But Chloe O’Brian, Bauer’s only friend, is captured by the Russians, who want to take Bauer in for trying to kill their president while on a revenge-rampage. So, Bauer sacrifices himself in exchange for the freedom of his “only friend,” Chloe, and flies off in a helicopter in Russian custody.
The Daily Beast spoke to 24: Live Another Day co-showrunners Manny Coto and Evan Katz, who also served as executive producers on the original 24, about the wild miniseries, if we’ll ever see more of Jack Bauer, and much, much more.
How did you arrive at Bauer’s ending—of his being apprehended and taken into custody by the Russians in exchange for Chloe’s freedom?
Coto: In the back of our heads, I think we always knew that there was going to be some sort of a tragic ending—that it was going to end, more or less structurally, how the finale ended.
Katz: I think in large part, Kiefer does have a deep sense of the character, and he did have a very strong feeling that Jack never gets a break; that he’s a true hero who has to pay for not only his sins, but everyone else’s. It’s out of that sense of the character that the ending was developed. There’s an odd sense of peace on his face when he goes over to the Russians—it is, in a strange way, his idea of paying his debt for Audrey, and for Chloe. There’s a sense that he’s not getting away from this unscathed, and that he’s paying a part of it back.
Coto: In terms of Chloe, I think his statement to her at the end—that she’s his only friend—is really powerful, and honest. And Jack’s sacrifice at the end isn’t for Audrey, it’s for Chloe, but part of the smile and sense of peace he feels is because he thinks he owes this. I’m not sure he’s right about it, necessarily, but he feels it. Deep down, he feels he’s paying for a lot of sins.
Why did you decide to kill off Audrey, and have that be the “tragic ending”?
Katz: We liked the irony. Even though he came to London supposedly to save the president, Jack really did come for Audrey. There’s this perfect-circle tragic irony of Audrey dying. He ends up saving everyone else, but the person he really came to London to save doesn’t survive. So basically, you don’t want Jack Bauer to come and help you. [Laughs]
In the finale, I saw shades of The Usual Suspects—as far as trying to apprehend Cheng on the boat—as well as Pulp Fiction, with Bauer using the samurai sword to decapitate Cheng. Were you consciously aware of those little tips of the hat?
Coto: Not consciously! And with the samurai sword, we just wanted it to be awesome. We felt we could work it in more or less believably.
Katz: There was a debate between decapitating Cheng with a fire axe or samurai sword, and we like to think that this is the only show where you’d have that sort of debate. [Laughs]
How do you guys get away with so much violence on this show? We literally see every moment of Bauer decapitating Cheng.
Katz: Look, compared to some of the stuff on the procedurals and shows like The Following, we don’t think we really raised the bar one way or another, and with broadcast standards, you always shoot those things with options of how much to show/how not to show, but we have a sense of that. Our aim isn’t really to gross people out—it’s to have an impact.
Now that he's been captured by the Russians (again), where do you see the saga of Jack Bauer going from here? There was talk about this miniseries spinning into an actual TV series. What’s the plan?
Coto: There actually is no plan. This was conceived as an ending. This is not to say there won’t be anything else, but right now, this is the end. I will point out that, as Jack walks off, there is a silent clock. I’ll let you make of that what you will.
Katz: And, as many like to say, there’s a lot of stories out there, but the stars have to align.
Coto: Oh listen, we could keep going—and we would keep going because it’s fun to do, and we really love this character and the show itself. Now, with Jack in Russia, I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with Jack in Moscow. My fantasy is that Jack arrives in Moscow and the Russians tell him, “We don’t want to actually incarcerate you or screw with you; we actually need you,” and he’s off on a whole other adventure. There are infinite stories. But right now, this is it.
How close were you guys to making the 24/Die Hard crossover film? There was plenty of talk about that, but then I heard it was put to bed and they came out with A Good Day to Die Hard.
Katz: We weren’t involved in that, and I heard that it was mentioned, but I don’t think a script was ever actually written for that.
There was that rumor, and then the rumor that Tony Scott was interested in directing the 24 movie prior to his death.
Katz: I haven’t heard that one. There were definitely multiple scripts and multiple attempts to do a movie, and who knows, maybe this miniseries will reinvigorate that.
Coto: There may be room for a 24/Planet of the Apes crossover. We’re lookin’ for Fox properties here! [Laughs]
Katz: I also think, in terms of the Die Hard/24 crossover, if you really think about it as a writer, Jack Bauer becomes John McClane’s straight man, and I don’t think it would ultimately do a service to the character.
24: Live Another Day is really one big commentary on the dangers of drone warfare. What was the message you were trying to communicate?
Katz: I think we communicated it! It’s a not-very-concealed parable.
Coto: We were communicating that this kind of technology can be extremely dangerous if put into the wrong hands, but also this kind of power concentrated into one individual is never a good idea.
The villain hacks into drones and gains control of them, which does seem like a pretty feasible scenario.
Coto: It’s totally feasible, and we based it on research we read about real Defense Department fears about weapons systems being hacked into. We also read a lot about nuclear warfare and how close the U.S. and Soviet Union came close to destroying each other over the years.
Katz: The Iranians captured one of our drones four or five years ago, and they did it by hacking into the communications between the drones and its control. Obviously, the U.S. has improved their systems since then, but this was before they knew about the override device.
How freaked out are you guys by drones? Being an American citizen, it seems, doesn’t make you immune from the “kill list.”
Coto: Evan, you’re probably a little more scared than I am. I’m not that freaked out by them, personally. There are issues there. They are a part of warfare, and there are arguments on both sides for drones. You can argue that they take out civilians and they’re dangerous, but all military action takes out civilians. You can make an argument for both sides. The question about drones is that it’s a very easy system for abuse; there’s no human element in between.
Many people were critical of the original series for promoting torture and Islamophobia. For Live Another Day, did you make a concerted effort to not stoke those fires?
Coto: I think we really just looked for a story we hadn’t done before. It’s more storytelling. We weren’t going to cover the same grounds. It’s more that than not wanting to push any buttons.
As far as the torture goes, though, it seems like on Live Another Day, Bauer is clearly on the other side of the torture debate. There’s a moment early on in the hospital where he twists Simone’s figure to get an answer out of her, and then immediately expresses regret over his actions to Kate.
Katz: I would say without much doubt that Jack has gotten tortured and beaten up—he’s taken in more than he’s dished out. I just think Jack does whatever he has to do to save lives, and this year, we didn’t put him in situations where that ended up being the most efficacious route. And part of that was by design to not repeat ourselves.
Aside from executing Cheng, Bauer’s decision to throw a bound and apprehended Margot out the window seemed like one of the biggest moments where things got pretty… extralegal.
Katz: Kiefer had input into that. You know, Jack has changed a little bit in that he clearly seems to have less patience for process; he never had a hell of a lot of patience for it, but because of what this woman did, he just went for it.
It must have been pretty nuts during the original run of 24, seeing people like Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia discuss the show publicly. Scalia even politicized the show, saying Bauer had the right to torture in the interest of national security, saying, “Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer?”
Katz: Yeah, Scalia twisted it into something. I think that, for the vast majority of its run, Clinton and some of the other people who enjoyed the show were fans because of what the show was. In its last few seasons, when torture—at Abu Ghraib in particular—became public, some of the things that happened on the show got conflated with what was going on in a way that many of us didn’t think was accurate, or fair. People tried to blame us for Abu Ghraib in some quarters, but before that, it was great to be involved with a show that was a cultural phenomenon and had that impact. But then the debate shifted. We still submit that the show is entertainment and isn’t responsible for people’s behavior. What the show is responsible for is invigorating debate, which is a good thing.
You guys were really ahead of the curve in casting John Boyega in this as a drone operator, who’s now, of course, the lead in J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII.
Katz: We were lucky we got him. We’d seen him in Attack the Block, and he’s just a great actor. It’s effortless, real, and his accent is bizarrely perfect.
Was the “free information movement”—the group of hackers run by Adrian Cross who, it turns out, are up to no good—based on WikiLeaks?
Katz: It was definitely inspired by all that. One of the gifts of history was, when we sat down after four years, we said, “Other than that people have iPads, what’s really different?” We didn’t have to go very far to land on WikiLeaks and the drone wars, which were both heavily in the news. As soon as we said, “Chloe is more Snowden,” because it fit so much where we left the show having been the one to have let Jack go, it just made a lot of sense for her to have been punished, and then to turn against the government. And then the drone thing was just sitting there for us.
With Live Another Day, the show really seems to have gotten more liberal with regard to torture, etc., with the absence of co-creator Joel Surnow, who was the show’s biggest conservative presence. Bauer seems much more conflicted about these issues.
Katz: Manny and I both ran the show as partners and he’s substantially more conservative than I am—I’m a moderate—and we never disagreed in terms of storytelling. It never was a right-wing show or a left-wing show, but at one point, Joel gave an unfortunate New Yorker interview that served to politicize the show, but it was always a healthy mix of conservatives, liberals, and moderates. All of us, including Joel, view the show as apolitical on some level.