Jack Bauer is a machine. He's a loner, a rebel and often ruthless when it comes to taking down his enemies. One could argue he's that way because of how much he's lost over the years, though the show doesn't spend much time analyzing these moments. When a new terrorist is always waiting in the wings, there isn't a ton of time to reflect. That changed, however briefly, in Monday night's season finale when Kate called Jack with devastating news: Audrey was dead.
Jack dropped the phone, slid to the floor and pulled out his gun. Cheng had made good on his promise to kill Audrey if Jack came after him. Another woman in Jack's life had been brutally murdered and it was, at least somewhat his fault. He pulled out his gun and for a second seemed to think about pulling the trigger. There was never really a moment when I believed Jack would end it all (it's not his style) but the moment (played brilliantly by Kiefer Sutherland) added some much-needed pathos to what would go on to become a very grim finale.
Once he snapped out of it, Jack was back in all his former glory. Taking out Cheng’s goons with everything from bullets to meat cleavers. It all led to an epic showdown between Cheng and Bauer, in which they beat each other bloody until Jack was able to give President Heller the proof he needed to dissuade China from going to war with America. Once the Chinese government was made aware of the evidence, Jack wasted no time disposing of his enemy, using his sword to decapitate Cheng and granting Audrey’s final wish.
The high from avoiding war was short-lived. Heller was informed of his daughter’s death and immediately collapsed. When we saw him next, it was nearly 12 hours later, the season's first and only time jump. He was boarding Air Force One with Audrey’s casket. Right before the plane left London, Heller confessed that his only solace was knowing that his Alzheimer's would take over soon and he’d forget all about his grief and, sadly, about Audrey as well. The now-widowed Mark suffered a dark fate, too. He was arrested for treason and carted to America, where he will be put to trial and undoubtedly found guilty.
Perhaps the only character who saw even a glimmer of hope was Kate Morgan. The anguish she felt over Audrey’s death was clear. She’d spent most of the season doubting her role as a CIA agent, constantly working to prove to herself and those around her that she could be an asset. While she was able to take out the sniper trained on Audrey, she hadn’t considered the possibility of a second shooter and watched in horror as the president’s daughter died in her arms. With a dead husband, a distaste for rules and some heavy survivor's guilt weighing her down, it's clear why many fans thought of her as the female Jack Bauer. By episode's end, she did something Jack no longer can; she left her badge and gun on her desk and left the CIA.
Giving up the life hasn’t been an option for Jack in many years. He may have flirted with the option when Heller offered him immunity earlier in the season, but when Chloe was kidnapped by the Russians while he took down Cheng, he decided to make the ultimate sacrifice. Both Jack and Chloe spent the season working to right the wrong choices they made. For Chloe, they were trusting the wrong man and creating a device that could have spelled disaster for the world. For Jack, it was about saving the lives of people he used to call his friends. With Audrey gone and Heller’s health deteriorating, there was no way he was letting Chloe go.
As he traded his life for hers, he got to say some final words to his partner in crime, namely that she was his best friend. They grasped hands briefly before he boarded the helicopter with the Russians, who promised he was "really going to like Moscow." As the helicopter took off, we had another quiet moment with our hero. He wasn't desperate or depressed like before, rather he almost seemed at peace. Jack may have lost the woman he loved, but the country isn't at war, multiple terrorists were thwarted, his daughter and his best friend both got to live another day. This served as a comfort to our hero who seemed to accept the bleak, violent future awaiting him.
For Jack Bauer, it was a small price to pay.