It is just about impossible to kill "24" hero Jack Bauer, but Kiefer Sutherland, the actor who plays him, came as close as anyone about a year and a half ago.
He told a small gathering of critics on the high-tech "24" set here about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles that he was asked for approval of a Jack Bauer action figure. He took it to dinner and drinks with some friends while filming the movie, "The Sentinel."
"Then we lit him on fire in the parking lot," explained Sutherland. The next day he got the kind of call that ended as frantically as the ones Bauer has often gotten from presidents.
"Did you like the action figure?" he was asked. Sure, he said and approved it. "You need to send it back," Sutherland was told. It was the prototype. "Apparently, it took a gentleman in Japan a year to do it. It took another year to actually do it (again)."
Now the Bauer action figure is available, further proof that you can't permanently kill Bauer.
"Yeah, Jack's mythology has definitely grown," said executive producer Howard Gordon. "It has gotten pretty epic."
Over six years, Bauer has faked his death and often appeared to be on his last legs before miraculously rising to save the world. Early in last week's season premiere, Bauer was stabbed in the shoulder, had alcohol poured over the wound and then was stabbed by a sharp object in his back before recovering quickly enough to get back into action figure mode.
Gordon conceded the suspension of disbelief required for the audience might have gone too far. "I think the one thing we could have taken out was the stabbing in the back," said Gordon. "Everyone said to me, "I was OK with everything except for the stabbing in the back. How did he walk away out of that one?' I think that was an editorial mistake on our part."
"I wasn't surprised by that," defended Sutherland. "He's a very strong cat and he can get through a lot. The real transition for me from Episode 1 to 4 was really emotional. You're taking a guy who has absolutely surrendered his existence to a guy who now wants to fight for something ... And that was an emotional shift."
The audience will decide if Bauer's increasing superhero powers and the incredible plot lines have gone too far. But Gordon and the show's writers have carefully thought about everything from the decision to let a nuclear bomb go off in Los Angeles to Jack's killing of agent Curtis Manning (Roger Cross). It's time to listen to an explanation of past and future events:
The Bomb Going Off: Gordon said the explosion at the end of the fourth hour was needed to get Bauer back into action after having to kill Manning to save the life of a former terrorist leader who is now helping the CTU get the bad guys.
The Killing of Curtis: "From the point of view of Jack Bauer, what would be something that would be so repugnant to him, such a final straw in his tragic story that it would make him really want to throw in the towel and only make his return even more meaningful," said Gordon. "Curtis was in a sense the sacrificial lamb to sort of illustrate Jack's awfulness."
Naming Wayne Palmer (D.B. Woodside) President: After having a "great, wonderful noble president" in David Palmer and the creepiest president in Charles Logan, Gordon said David's younger brother was the perfect choice. "Basically, we sort of exhausted these two archetypes and we needed someone important to the mythology of the show. No one was better than Wayne Palmer, who was going to have to be uncertain and living uncertainly in the shadow of his brother. And who better to have to sacrifice Jack Bauer than the guy who basically owed so much to Jack Bauer?" Unfortunately, the line that explained Palmer's election was cut. "He said, "I rode to the presidency on my brother's back and I feel counterfeit and blah, blah, blah,' " explained Gordon.
The Age of the Muslim Terrorist (played by Kal Penn) Next Door: He looked much older than his high school buddy for a reason. "We cut out a scene where he was the kid's tutor," said Gordon. "He's in community college."
The Future of Jack's Love, Audrey Raines (Kim Raver): She'll be back. "I think she represents all of (Jack's) hope," said Sutherland. "It's the one thing that he's going after, it's the one thing that matters and eventually it would be the one thing that would save him."