Tube Talk: Pair of Jacks: 24 and Alias both have Jacks

Now that we’re midway through the new season—excuse me, day—of 24, and Alias is back for its final run of episodes, I’ve been thinking about my two favorite Jacks: Bauer and Bristow.

What is it about government employees named Jack—especially those in high-risk positions and whose last names start with B?

If Bauer’s cool in a crisis, Bristow’s an arctic cold front. Both characters have killed dozens of people—occasionally some who weren’t bad guys, yet needed to be sacrificed for national security. Both are such skilled torturers they make Lost’s Sayid look like a rank amateur. And both Jacks are fathers.

Bristow’s daughter, Sydney, is a super-cool spy; Bauer’s daughter, Kim, is a super-annoying whiner.

When Alias began, the Bristows were estranged, barely on speaking terms. Through the seasons, Syd learned to trust her father—even if sometimes she probably shouldn’t have. Jack’s icy demeanor has thawed a bit where Sydney’s concerned, and this season saw the unimaginable: Jack Bristow assembling a baby crib.

In contrast, 24 began with a relatively happy Bauer family—with Jack and his ill-fated wife, Teri, trying to keep their rebellious daughter out of trouble. Sadly, Teri died while Kim lived on to annoy viewers for two more seasons.

They wrote Kim out last season, but brought her back a few weeks ago (to be told her father wasn’t dead after all). She couldn’t even hug him or rejoice that he was alive. Instead, it was all about her and how every time she’s at CTU, people die. (That was right before the sentox was released at CTU, killing dozens, while Kim, Jack and others were holed up in an airtight room. So maybe she’s onto something.) Once the danger lifted, Kim pretty much severed ties with her father and fled. And we thought Jack Bristow was cold.

This pair of Jacks is alike in other ways, too.

Both routinely—at times arrogantly—break protocol by ignoring their superiors’ direct orders.

Both believe the ends justify whatever means, lengths or actions are required.

Both have been arrested for treason or as a national security threat (Bauer’s the champ when it comes to frequency—he’s been taken into custody multiple times).

Both regularly risk their lives to protect others.

Neither bats an eye at breaking the law—American or international—when it gets in their way.

Despite the similarities, they’re very different guys.

The preternaturally calm and impeccably-dressed Bristow is seldom in a hurry. Racing the ever-present clock, Bauer’s usually breathless and disheveled.

Bristow’s old enough to be Bauer’s father.

Bristow thought he killed his enemy-agent wife; Bauer’s enemies killed his wife.

Bauer worked alongside a mole at CTU; Bristow was a mole at SD-6.

Capable of virtually anything, these Jacks keep millions of viewers wondering what they’ll do next. We’re pretty sure Bauer will save the day on 24, but as Alias wraps things up, I’m hoping Bristow will shock us by cooing and cuddling his new granddaughter.

Programming notes

Alias returned April 19 on ABC at a new day and time, Wednesdays at 7 p.m.

24 airs on Fox Mondays at 8 p.m.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications including American Bungalow, SatelliteORBIT and TVGuide.

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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