Next Monday sees the return of 24 to our screens in the limited 12-episode series 24: Live Another Day, which sees counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer shooting his way through another action-packed adventure, this time in London for some reason. The show has been off the air long enough that people are legitimately excited for its return, probably remembering 24's earlier, more glorious seasons and not its slow, grueling decline. When 24 was canceled, barely anyone noticed or complained, but just a few years prior it had been the most talked-about show on television and collected a Best Drama Series Emmy for its fifth season.
Its real-time gimmick (which is not being abandoned for the miniseries—each episode will cover one hour, but there will be time jumps between some episodes) was important to its energetic following, but the real reason people tuned in year after year was Kiefer Sutherland's performance as Jack Bauer, who was for a few years America's premiere action star, on big screen or small. Much has been made over the show's twisted politics, which would point Bauer at a terrorist knowing he was indisputably evil and that he had only minutes to get information out of him. 24 consistently created situations that required Jack to do terrible things for the greater good, and dared us to argue with them.
In doing so, 24 made Jack a Job-like figure, a hero who bore all of America's darkest sins on his freckly back and suffered endlessly to protect our freedom. Here's some of the most ridiculous ways the show punished him over the years.
His wife got killed
The first, and perhaps most devastating twist 24 ever pulled off was the end of the first season, when after Jack foiled an assassination plot, rescued his kidnapped daughter and killed scores of (mostly Balkan) terrorists, he got back to HQ to realize his poor wife Teri had been murdered by his co-worker Nina. This was the first of many "loss of innocence" moments for Jack that drove him into hiding/retirement/endless grief-walking, a common end to seasons of 24. The next year would often have to begin with CTU trying to drag Jack back into service somehow.
Dooming his friend to nuclear death
Jack actually shot boss George Mason (Xander Berkeley) with a tranquilizer dart in the pilot to get what he wanted. But the two were good buddies, and George was the man to bring him back to CTU in season 2 after his wife's death. Note: if you are friends with Jack Bauer, it will mean your death. For George Mason, it came on a helicopter he piloted into the Mojave desert to safely blow up a nuke. Jack, of course, volunteered for the suicide mission, but an ailing George told him to jump out of the plane.
Becoming a heroin addict
Jack is an anti-terrorist agent, but for some reason, between seasons two and three, he went undercover at a Mexican drug cartel and became Smack Bauer, trying to kick a serious heroin habit in the early hours of season 3. Spoiler alert: he does, but by the end of the season, he's fired from CTU for his supposed drug "weakness." Jack has no weaknesses. America is weak; Jack is simply America.
Shooting another friend in the head
Midway through season three, Jack had to shoot his squirrely boss Ryan Chappelle in the head because terrorist Stephen Saunders was threatening to unleash a deadly virus if he didn't. The President of the United States signed off on this crap. Jack handed Ryan a gun so that he could do the deed himself, but poor Ryan didn't have the guts, so Jack sucked in a deep breath and growled, "I'm sorry we let you down, Ryan. God forgive me." Bang! God may forgive you, Jack, but he'll never bring you peace.
Faking his own death
At the end of season four, the Chinese government wants Jack Bauer turned over to them because he did what he HAD TO DO to PROTECT HIS COUNTRY (i.e. he carried out a covert kidnapping of a Chinese scientist from their consulate which led to the death of a Chinese diplomatic official). Rather than fall into their evil claws, Jack faked his own death and walked into the sunset, which was kind of a happy ending if you knew the show was ending forever, but, uh, it wasn't. Also this meant his daughter Kim thought he was really dead.
Getting kidnapped and tortured by the Chinese government
After a grueling season five that saw his friends David Palmer, Michelle Dessler, and Tony Almeida killed off, Jack brought down an evil president and looked to be ending the day under pleasant circumstances, reuniting with his girlfriend Audrey. Then he's kidnapped by masked men and tortured for many months. In season six, he returns and tries to get her back, but realizes every second he's with her, she's in danger.
Have to listen to sniveling elected officials criticize him DOING THE RIGHT THING
At the beginning of season seven, Jack is dragged before the Senate and asked ridiculous questions about the morality of his actions as a CTU torturer and assassin. Jack, of course, sets the record straight, informing them that he did what he had to do for his country, but still, for these stuffed suits to dare criticize his judgment must have been sheer torment on a par with Chinese water torture.
Losing every single woman he cares about
There's his wife Teri Bauer, shot to death in season one. There's Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter), who breaks up with him because of his job. There's Audrey Raines (Kim Raver), who also gets kidnapped by the Chinese and tortured into a catatonic state (although she's back this season!). And there's Renee Walker (Annie Wersching), a bad-ass special agent who works with Jack in seasons seven and eight before dying at the hands of Russian assassins. That causes him to go on the warpath and start killing everyone associated with her death, almost beginning World War 3.
When all else fails:
Remember Jack's words at the end of season seven, justifying every ridiculous plot twist and secret mission they sent his character on.
"I see fifteen people held hostage on a bus, and everything else goes out the window. I will do whatever it takes to save them, and I mean whatever it takes.
Laws were written by much smarter men than me. And in the end, these laws have to be more important than the 15 people on the bus. I know that's right. In my mind, I know that's right. I just don't think my heart could ever have lived with it."