Chuck played by the numbers: it set up a big event (Chuck and Sarah’s wedding) for its big finale, an episode which you can consider even bigger as we now know it also sets the table for the show’s fifth and final season. It wasn’t the whiz-bang finale I was expecting after all the hype, but it was one that was true to what the show stands for, and that’s good enough for me.
To save Sarah, Team Bartowski must get the antidote she needs from Alexei Volkoff, which pits them against hardened CIA operative Clyde Decker (Richard Burgi of Desperate Housewives and The Sentinel). True to form, Decker is an emotionless dude, and he represses the Intersect in both Volkoff and Chuck, leaving both of them trying to figure out who they are without it. Along the way, both have to deal with the pieces of their families: Chuck has to say a final goodbye to his mom (Linda Hamilton), while Volkoff, now having returned to being Hartley Winterbottom, must convince daughter Vivian (Lauren Cohan) that she’s not a lost cause. The underlying themes of the season all come together quite nicely.
“Chuck Versus The Cliffhanger” returns to a note that Chuck the series has hit often over the last four seasons: the idea of this ragtag group of spies and civilians being a real family. That part, the show does very well; I got sentimental over Morgan telling an unconscious Sarah about Chuck coming to his rescue, and Devon helping Morgan knock out a CIA agent on guard at the hospital. Those kinds of scenes showcase the heart of the show – literally. What makes Chuck so special is that positive feeling in a world that’s often very negative.
The episode also has some great acting from Zachary Levi and Timothy Dalton. I talked last week about how the show might rely a little too heavily on Levi’s talent for screwball comedy, and conversely, he’s at his best when he’s allowed to get serious. Chuck’s heartbreak and desperation were incredibly poignant throughout the bulk of the episode. The scene in which Chuck walks into Vivian’s office and is willing to surrender his one shot at freedom in order to save Sarah’s life is sniffle-inducing. It also shows some great work from Dalton, who plays Hartley Winterbottom with a great sincerity and vulnerability. As fun a villain as he was, he’s almost better when we see him trying to make amends for all the things he’s done. It’s a nice twist that we learn Chuck’s dad wasn’t responsible for turning him into an Intersect, but that it was a choice he made himself; it makes him a kind of tragic hero.
It’s a great reward to the fans that the episode didn’t cheat us out of the Chuck/Sarah wedding at all. There would have been a lot of seriously angry people if it hadn’t happened for some reason or we’d only gotten some brief glimpse of it. While I normally hate montages, it was nice to be reminded of Chuck and Sarah’s relationship history.
Then there’s the matter of a few last minute surprises: Chuck and Sarah get a whopper of a wedding gift in the form of a whole lot of money which they use to purchase the Buy More, but Castle is empty and Team Bartowski’s days with the CIA are numbered. Decker shows up to taunt him with the idea that everything we’ve known over the course of the series was part of a grand plan. And I just go, “Really?” I’ve seen that ‘everything is a conspiracy’ thing one too many times, and can’t help but groan. At least it does give us the interesting idea of our heroes as a sort of freelance spy team, a modern-day A-Team, except with cooler toys.
But Morgan as the Intersect? Well, that’s a new one…and one that’s going to upturn the entire dynamic of the show as we know it. Since I’ve been a fan of the show for so long, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I also worry that things like that and the conspiracy idea are falling into some of the traps of shows running out of steam. Will Morgan becoming the Intersect just lead to the show recycling the “clueless superspy” jokes that we saw early in the show’s run? Are we going to see the same tired conspiracies that we’ve seen on other shows? I certainly hope not. At least, since the Chuck team knows their time with us is limited now, they should have the time to write and plot out an appropriate conclusion, instead of having to quickly write for additional episodes as they’ve had to do for seasons now.
While I’m not blown away by this finale, I still am satisfied with it, because it represents the values we’ve come to expect from Chuck: the ideas of hope, family, and sticking together in the face of the most adverse of circumstances. Like Nikita, I’m not quite sure where this is going, and that makes me nervous. But at least, unlike that series, we know that the end is near and we can all be ready.