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'24' tonight: Is one big reason you keep watching because you know it's canceled?

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It makes sense. You want to know how 24 ends, right? No matter how ridiculous, exhausted, or suddenly inspired that conclusion turns out to be.

This occurred to me as I approached last week’s edition of 24 as a matter of duty-not-pleasure, that the primary reason I was seeing this lousy season through to its end was that I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t — that as repetitive and predictable as 24 has become, I had to be able to say I’d seen Jack Bauer through every single hour of his (in our universe) nine-year-long agony.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Unlike Lost, whose brilliant decision to announce the end of the series has only increased fan fervor and speculation, the 24 cancellation comes as some combination of relief, sorrow, inevitability, and tease. It was pretty clear, when this season began with Jack dandling his grandchild in New York City, that Bauer was not in the midst of a cliff-hanger, as he’d been in some seasons before. Indeed, Jack’s disconnection from his action-hero life mirrored ours. Even if you remain an enthused fan of 24, you’re now watching it less for the story itself but for the way the methods of storytelling are playing out — what variations in the formula are being introduced.

Lately, those variations are at once surprising (Chloe taking over at CTU?) and predictable (Cherry Jones has never been given much to do as president except worry, so why not bring back the most eccentric, jittery President of all, Gregory Itzen’s version?).

Shooting Renee last week deprived us of the season’s sole interesting character — what Annie Wersching was doing with Renee’s mixture of anger, vulnerability, and despair was fascinating — but it was also totally in keeping with the old Jack-cannot-ever-be-happy theme.

Now he’s — what else? — “out for revenge,” as Fox puts it. So we’ll sit through a few more weeks of watching Jack run and shoot and wrestle with the way his rage-fuelled sorrow contradicts his patriotic duty and tortures him more than any mere terrorist could. Bauer’s inner conflicts have always been compelling. It’s the repetitive procession of foreign enemies and allies, the bombs and the bureaucratic red-tape, that has become stultifying.

Plus, we know we have to stay to the bitter end because it’s not the bitter end. There’s the announced 24 feature film to ponder. How will the show leave Jack so that he can transition to the big screen?

How about you? Will you be sticking around until the show ends on May 24? Are you watching out of pleasure, habit, or both?

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