NEW YORK – A sociopath father. A nephew in peril. A circuit board the Russians would declare war over. Counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer didn't have a second to spare as he wrapped another hectic day with the two-hour conclusion of Fox's round-the-clock action drama "24."
Go no further if you don't want to know the details of this sixth-season finale, which, airing Monday, covered 4 to 6 a.m. of the 24-hour, real-time cycle.
The episode found Bauer (series star Kiefer Sutherland) in his typical plight: stuck between a rock and a bigger rock.
His evil father, Phillip, had struck a deal with the White House to hand over the Russian government's valuable component (which he had acquired from the Chinese), in exchange for safe passage to the country of his choice — along with his teenage grandson, Josh, who was desperately counting on Uncle Jack to save him.
"I don't want to go anywhere with you," the frightened Josh told his grandfather.
"I don't expect you to understand everything," Phillip replied. "Someday you will, and you'll thank me for it."
So which was more important? Josh's safety, or that of everyone who would be injured or killed by the Russians' retaliation if their circuit board wasn't returned?
Another concern for Bauer: He didn't trust his father not to double-cross U.S. officials, and keep Josh without relinquishing the circuit board.
Just another day for Jack Bauer.
In fact, there has been much grousing from fans that this season's plot recycled old, familiar themes from "24" days past: terrorists with nukes targeting the United States; abductions of loved ones; funny business inside the White House (and an assassination attempt against President Wayne Palmer that left him gravely injured, with less-than-able Vice President Noah Daniels in charge).
The narrative also managed to dwarf past depictions of Bauer's superhuman endurance. At the beginning of the day (way back when the season began in January) he was returned to the U.S. after having been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for 20 months. For the season's first hour or so he seemed crazed and nearly broken by his ordeal.
But soon enough he answered his nation's call and bounced back into action: There were nukes to track down and bad guys to thwart.
A more interesting part of the story was furnished by Bauer's long-estranged father (played by James Cromwell), who was involved in the Chinese plot.
Later, Cheng Zhi, the same agent who kidnapped and tortured Bauer, had possession of the electronic component, which could provide access to Russia's defense codes. This threatened to trigger a global crisis — the Russian president had given the U.S. a two-hour deadline before his country would attack a U.S. military base.
Meanwhile, Cheng had a problem. The board was damaged and the information inaccessible. Who could repair it? None other than Phillip.
But then Phillip, apparently changing his mind and breaking with the Chinese, made his deal with Vice President Daniels — a deal Bauer was determined to circumvent.
Bauer was right about his father, of course. (On "24," Bauer is always right but somehow refrains from saying "I told you so.")
Still in cahoots with the Chinese, Phillip took temporary refuge on an offshore oil drilling platform with Josh, subversive allies, and the circuit board.
Then Bauer defied White House plans to launch an air strike against the platform (which would have killed Josh with the others), in favor of commandeering a chopper to mount his own rescue effort — moments before the U.S. missiles hit. Phillip was killed.
There was one final order of business for Bauer: A bedside farewell to Audrey Raines, who remained comatose from the torturing she suffered from the Chinese in her effort to rescue him.
"I love you with all my heart," he whispered and kissed her forehead. "I always will."
Then, the world saved but his heart broken, Bauer stepped outdoors into the melancholy dawn of a new day.