[SPOILER ALERT: The following will discuss the last episodes of Lost, 24 and Law & Order.]
In a little more than 24 hours, three landmark television series came to an end. And in the world of cosmic coincidences, each had a major character named Jack.
The most ballyhooed conclusion was that of Lost, the end of which has been in the works for more than three years since the producers set a fixed target for wrapping up their story. Dr. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) was established as the hero from the very beginning (though there were originally plans to kill him off halfway through the first episode). Like all the other people who survived the plane crash, he had major character flaws. And, as in any good story, he overcame them and became a better person.
Opinions about the finale are quite mixed. Many fans complained that there were not enough answers. What was the deal with the electromagnetic energy? What was the significance of the numbers? What was the Island? Lost started out seeming to be a straight adventure show with some sci-fi elements thrown in (the monster) and we expected a logical explanation. We had to suspend our disbelief and accept a smoke monster, then time travel, then "magic."
But this was a show about people... and, as in real life, we will never get all the answers. There are plenty of things happening around us all the time and we will never know why or how they happen. And through it all, one thing remained logical and consistent -- the people. They evolved throughout the series and I don't think there is one of them that you could look at and say, "Wow, that's way out of character." That is the beauty of the story they told.
Unlike Jack Shephard, Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) of 24 seemed to be infallible... and indestructible. In his most recent "very bad day," he was shot, stabbed twice and beaten up numerous times, yet he managed to carry out all his plans. And, as usual, his understanding of the situation was always the right one.
This season's adventure seems to have received more jeers than cheers from fans. There were numerous elements that echoed previous seasons, perhaps the most annoying being the discovery of yet another mole inside CTU. For a government agency pressed to battle terrorists and uncover plots against the nation, they have the worst record for vetting potential employees ever. An ex-boyfriend and a county sheriff did better at finding the mole than the personnel department at CTU.
As always, Jack uncovered the plot behind the plot and forced the exposure of it all by the end. As a result, President Taylor is about to resign and former President Logan has committed murder and suicide. (Talk about out-of-character actions: Taylor went from being the most level-headed 24 president since David Palmer to being one step removed from whacko Charles Logan, who became her advisor.)
And, also unlike Jack Shephard, whose final reward really was a reward, Jack Bauer ends the series as a fugitive from both the American and Russian governments, with the possibility of a theatrical movie in the works. Of course, Jack could just change his name and apply for a job at CTU. Given their record, it is unlikely they would discover him.
The final Jack is District Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) of Law & Order. Though no longer a central player in the program, having moved up from being the tilting-at-windmills Assistant D.A. to barking-at-A.D.A.s boss, McCoy has been a mainstay of the program for sixteen years. (Does anyone even remember when Michael Moriarty filled the A.D.A. chair?)
Since the announcement that the show would not be renewed for a 21st season just came a few days ago, the season finale was not that different from many other episodes. It did bring to a close the career of Lt. Anita Van Buren, which they did know about because S. Epatha Merkerson announced she was leaving the series after seventeen years, but we get no other closure here.
I don't know that we will actually miss Jack McCoy the way we will miss Shephard and Bauer. Despite being part of our TV world for more years than the other two combined, we know very little about McCoy. Until recent years, the L&O formula did not allow for much character development, and what there has been since is minimal. Other than the promotion, the 1995 McCoy is not much different from the 2010 model.
Which is as it has to be. The police and the district attorneys will continue to protect the people of New York for many years to come, in reruns if nowhere else, so except for particular "ripped from the headlines" cases, what worked fifteen years ago should still be working fifteen years from now.
All three programs have made their mark. Law & Order established a format for police procedurals/legal dramas that has been successfully copied numerous times. 24 took the action/adventure format, glued it to the old movie serial concept, and provided a roller-coaster ride that often kept us on the edge of our seats, wondering what could possibly happen next. And Lost gave us a one-of-a-kind saga that is likely to be imitated but never equalled.
And for each, we say, "So long, Jack... and thanks for all the entertaining hours."