2 more hours on ’24,’ then Jack Bauer clocks out

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NEW YORK — How many more ways could Jack Bauer have saved the homeland from a world of terrorists?

How many more times could he inflict and suffer injury in round-the-clock cycles?

How much can any man take?

Well, Jack operates at a superhuman pitch, judging from eight seasons’ worth of counterterrorism derring-do on “24.” His endurance is amazing. No coffee breaks for him. No wasting time on small talk. The clock is always ticking, so he says what he says fast, in his vigorous purr.

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In the hands of series star Kiefer Sutherland, Jack has done a bang-up job. So has “24,” boldly shaking up serial drama with its ambitious and demanding formula. Even so, fatigue is evident.

“24” ends on Monday at 8 p.m. EDT with the final two installments of this last day’s 24 sequential, real-time hours. But what was once groundbreaking and breathtaking about “24” has come to feel, well, sort of yesterday.

Sure, there have been oh-lordy moments this season. Like last week, when Jack realized a cell-phone SIM card with the data he needed had been swallowed by the Russian terrorist he had been grilling. What to do? Jack knifed open the guy’s midsection, grabbed the SIM card from the yowling man’s innards, wiped it off and popped it back into the phone. As Jack likes to say, he had no choice.

But too much of “24” today is mired in rapid-fire routine. This season, it’s nukes that have fallen into enemy hands and threaten a piece of Manhattan – plus the assassination of a Mideast leader deemed essential to an all-important peace accord negotiated by U.S. President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones).

Jack is in the midst of all this hoo-ha, of course, including pushback from evil Russian operatives who secretly are dead set against the agreement.

Meanwhile, Jack has chalked up yet another lost love. Gorgeous Renee Walker (Annie Wersching), a former FBI special agent, was offed by the Russian sniper with whom Jack later dealt, shot through a bedroom window as she and Jack were savoring lovemaking bliss.

On this week’s episode, Jack went ballistic and forcibly abducted the man who had ordered the hit. That man was none other than treasonous, resigned-under-pressure ex-President Charles Logan.

Played by Gregory Itzin, Logan was key to the events of Day 5 several years ago, and his return to “24” has been the happiest twist in this current twisted season. Logan wormed his way into President Taylor’s peace process as a ploy to repair his ruined image and, as he puts it, get back in the game. Like every game he plays, the wretch has cheated throughout it.

The waning eighth day is more than a decade removed from the first day tracked by “24.” Premiering in the fall of 2001, it was a scripted drama’s answer to the red-hot reality genre spurred by “Survivor.” Here, on “24,” was hyper-real action, documentary style, with preserving Americans’ security the challenge. It seemed perfect for the time.

Then the rules changed just weeks before “24” went on the air. Thanks to Sept. 11, the sense of cautionary dread that fueled the series’ suspense struck many viewers not as slick escapism, but as a wrenching echo of their own altered world.

At the start of the current season, Jack was healthy and happy — a miracle after his coma last season that resulted from exposure to the bioweapon meant to bring Washington, D.C., to its knees. Now he was claiming to be eager to put his hectic heroics behind him.

Then he answered the fateful knock at the door. Faster than you could say “I’m out! I don’t work for the government anymore,” he was pressed back into service. Once again, his government needed him. In the hours since, he’s been making every minute count, painfully.

But after two more hours Monday night, that ends. The clock stops for good. After eight high-anxiety seasons of “24,” Jack’s got everybody tuckered out. It’s time to finally give it a rest.

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