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The future of the Corey Hawkins-led Fox drama remains on the bubble as executive producer Manny Coto already has a plan for a potential second season. [This story contains spoilers from the 24: Legacy season finale on Fox.]

Almost two decades ago, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) ended the first worst day of his life holding his wife’s limp body in his arms. For his inaugural real-time trial by fire, 24: Legacy’s Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins) ended things on a considerably happier note.

Yes, there was a tragic main-character death on the 24: Legacy season finale, in the form of Eric’s mentor and friend Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto), who died taking a bullet for him. But Eric’s marriage remains alive and well, with a tearful Nicole (Anna Diop) passionately swearing to stand by her husband’s side despite his deadly line of work. The final image of the season — Nicole watching Eric enter a debriefing session, an uncertain expression on his face — hints that perhaps this ending isn’t as happily ever after as advertised, but for now, Eric’s marital status remaining what it was at the start of the day automatically makes the Legacy conclusion the happiest ending in 24 lore.

For more on why the season ended on such a “happy note,” showrunner and executive producer Manny Coto spoke with The Hollywood Reporter for a rundown on how the finale played out, the big Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) action scene and the ultimate fate of 24: Legacy. Where did you start when you began breaking the story of the season finale?

The story of the finale really started back in episode 10, when we revealed that the Director of National Intelligence engaged in a covert program to grab the families of terrorists. We knew this was going to be the last few episodes of the season, where we would resolve that issue and turn the season on its head. That’s where it was. When that idea hit, the final episode we realized was going to be about Eric Carter setting this right — and in doing so, he would try to get Rebecca back alive. Can you speak more about the origin of this storyline, about the program targeting families of terrorists?

It was something I came up with, suggested from the campaign, when it was floated: the idea that we should target terrorists’ families. It occurred to me that that might be an interesting thing to explore, the idea that somebody might take this up, and actually go after terrorists’ families. We thought it would be more a program where multiple families had been taken, but we ultimately decided to narrow it down for narrative reasons to the one person.

The first season of 24 ends with the death of Jack Bauer’s wife. This first day for Eric Carter ends on a much happier note. Eric and Nicole seem to be on the same page in trying to make their marriage work, despite Eric’s dangerous career.

We didn’t want to redo what we did with Jack [in season one]. We wanted to end on a slightly hopeful note. The Jack Bauer storyline and seasons became very much Jack having to end in darkness: his wife dying, or his daughter not wanting to speak with him, or some personal horrible tragedy. We wanted to take that away and go in a different direction with Eric Carter. The season swims in a pretty dark place, but we thought it would be interesting to end in a happier place. That was the original conception for Live Another Day. I always wanted to end it on a happy note. But creatively, things went a different direction, with Bauer going to Russia. In this incarnation, I was bound and determined that that wasn’t going to happen, that Carter was going to find some happiness at the end of all of this. Although, carting Carter off to Russia could have been fun as well.

I agree! If you watch the episode carefully, you’ll see there’s a moment where Eric and Nicole look at each other, as he’s about to go into the room [for his debriefing]. The idea there was to inject a little bit of doubt into the whole scenario. He has promised her that there will be no more secrets, and when she sees him go into that room, part of her realizes it’s a promise he won’t be able to keep. He understands it as well. I think they both know in the moment — at least, that was the intention: “This might not be as easy as we think it is, and it might not work after all.”

So that final shot of the season, a lingering image of Nicole’s face … that’s supposed to raise questions about their marriage, and that’s it? There isn’t a more nefarious subtext, like Nicole being a mole? That’s not the way we’re going, no, with Nicole as a mole. But it’s a pretty good idea! I might steal it from you. (Laughs.) But I will also say, and I want to point this out: We were bound and determined not to have any moles at CTU. We achieved our goal.

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