Today’s cuppa: Birdwing blend coffee

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On Friday, I headed over to 20th Century Fox Studios for a screening of the two-hour "24" prequel, called
"24: Redemption," which airs on Sunday, Nov. 23 on Fox.

As in the series — the seventh season of which premieres on Fox in January — the story is told in real time. Shot in South Africa and Los Angeles, it fleshes out the new season’s Africa-based plotline, introduces the incoming president (Cherry Jones) and reveals just how and why Bauer winds up before the U.S. Senate, facing a variety of charges for his activities while repeatedly saving American lives.

Without giving too much away about this terrific movie — I’ll be doing a syndicated feature story to coincide with its premiere — here’s the gist of it (and it won’t come as a surprise to "24" fans): Bauer is given, more than once, the choice between self-interest and saving others. Again and again — not quickly, not easily, not without intense internal struggle — he opts for the selfless every time.

In the end, one more selfless decision puts him at the tender mercies of elements within the government elected to represent the people Bauer has tried to serve, including a senator who wants 24 bauer 7821abrf 2 The Last Cowboy: Jack Bauer at High Noon
Bauer’s head.

We’ll have to wait until next spring to see how all that turns out.

But one thing is clear to me — in a TV world full of metrosexuals, nuanced intellectuals, overcapitalized playboys and commitment-phobic arrested adolescents, Jack Bauer is the Last Cowboy.

Seems to me we’ve never needed one more than right now.

In an entertaining and insightful Web essay called "Cowboys and Secret Agents," published Oct. 3,  Los Angeles-based writer Bill Whittle offered a lively defense of the classic American cowboy.

"You don’t evolve past being a cowboy. Being a cowboy is the
pinnacle of evolution. Once you’re at cowboy, there’s nowhere to go but
down. Cowboys don’t look for fights, but they don’t run away from them
either. They do what they have to do, when they have to do it. And they
usually have to do it alone, because everyone wants Black Bart’s gang
out of town, but no one wants to walk down the street alongside the
sheriff and get shot doing it.
"

Of course, the type of cowboy Whittle’s referring to could be lifted whole from director Fred Zinneman’s 1952
Western, "High Noon," starring Gary Cooper as Kansas Marshal Will Kane, who has just married a Quaker Garycooper80_3

(Grace Kelly) and decided to pack it all in. When a condemed crook (Ian MacDonald) Kane sent to jail — but who was pardoned on a technicality — heads to the town to seek revenge, the locals urge Kane to go even faster, for fear his presence will set off a conflict.

But Kane cannot bring himself to abandon his duty and returns, hoping the town will stand with him. Almost no one does — and even his wife disagrees with him — and in the end, Kane must stand alone against the gunmen.

Kane ultimately prevails, but disgusted with the cowardice of the townspeople, he leaves after all.

(On an interesting side-note, "High Noon" is almost told in real time.)

In similar moments in "Redemption," the scarred, haunted Bauer, who has steadily traded pieces of his soul and his humanity to protect his nation, friends and loved ones, has the chance to escape with his skin and his freedom. It’s clear on his face that there’s nothing he wants more. Every atom is his body is screaming at him to leave it all behind, get on that noon train and head out of town (sadly, Grace Kelly is not part of the package).

You already know what he decides.

There are those who thank him, but they are not in the United Nations or sitting as chairman in the Senate committee. Those forces would either leave Bauer to his fate or seek his blood. And because he works in the shadows, Bauer will not even get the thanks of a grateful nation.

(Of course, since he winds up in a Senate hearing room in season seven, maybe that will change. Don’t know. We’ll see.)

So why does Bauer do it? Obviously, he does it because executive producer Howard Gordon and the "24" writers tell him to. But the reason his choices resonate is because there’s something in the American psyche that knows that evil cannot be allowed to stand, that avoiding suffering is not always a virtue, that one man can make a difference, and that in the end, it doesn’t matter who besides yourself knows what you’ve done or who gets the ultimate credit.

Jack Bauer stands alone, but in doing so, he just may stand for the best — and the cowboy — in all of us.

UPDATE: Click here for newer post on "24: Redemption," with link to my syndicated feature story.