Chuck 5.12 / 5.13 Series Finale ReviewA tv review article by: Samuel Salama Cohén, Kyle Garret
5.12 After a harrowing mission, Sarah returns to Chuck with a huge secret. Meanwhile, Ellie and Awesome are presented with a new opportunity that could change their lives.
5.13 Chuck enlists his family, friends and some unexpected allies as he races to stop Nicholas Quinn from destroying everything Chuck has built over the past five years.
Chuck aired Friday nights at 8:00 on NBC. It is over now. Farewell, Chuck.
Kyle Garret: I will admit that I am wearing my heart firmly on my sleeve in this review. This was the end of a series I was greatly invested in, so I knew that I would, at the very least, be a little sad. Then again, I was really invested in Battlestar Galactica, and all that finale did was make me angry. There was no guarantee that just because this was the finale of Chuck that either episode was going to be good.
Sam Salama Cohén: So, here we are, writing Chuck’s final review. The review of a two episode-finale which, though managed to tie mostly everything together, went with one bold move after a whole hour of teasing. I loved this series because of its unique mix of craziness, nerdiness, stupidity, great homages to pop culture...oh, and to the spy genre thing. But as Kyle says, reaching the finale, it was not about how much you loved the particulars of the show, but about those characters that you had grown to care for have a happy ending. But, did Chuck and Sarah? And, the question to the writers is this: why put the main two characters, whose relationship was perfectly fine three episodes ago, undergo a torture more suited for a penultimate season? It’s what they decided, and though it’s not the perfect or desired ending by all means, it is an ending. Or, to be more precise, a “to be continued”, a so long.
Kyle: I guess the best way to approach this would be to break it down by episode, so we’ll look at “Chuck vs. Sarah” on its own first. I think I made a prediction last week that Sarah would get her memories back by the end of the first hour of the finale and, boy, I could not have been more wrong. I really like how this episode stood on its own and set up a new kind of status quo for the show.
Sam: The situation was tense, as you could emphasize with both Chuck and Sarah, each of them trying to solve their puzzle, their last mission. I also expected Sarah to regain her memories in full by the end of the first episode, and when I got to the heartbreaking goodbye at Chuck’s patio, I felt like this was dragging on too much. And boy, did they drag it.
Kyle: I’m getting the feeling that you didn’t like how the show ended, Sam! But I guess we’ll get to that in a little bit.
Of course, this episode was heart breaking and nerve racking. I would imagine that anyone who has ever been in love was devastating by what was going on. When Chuck goes back to his apartment at the end of the episode to spend the night alone, I could only think about what that would be like for me, having to spend the first of what was potentially many, many nights without my wife. It's a testament to how this show has established the Chuck and Sarah relationship that their situation hit me so hard.
Sam: We got a badass, conflicted Sarah, who doesn’t think twice before threatening Ellie or kicking Chuck’s ass. That was hard for the viewer to see! I really liked the episode, and the idea of the confrontation and mind-swipe is a nice one, if a bit cliché, though I still don’t know why the writers didn’t play their cards other way. If their intention was to homage the core spirit of the characters and by that I mean the characters we met on the pilot, then goal achieved. But after building the Sarah-Chuck relationship for over 5 years, why erase it all just before the ending?
That’s one burning question, though on the other hand I have to say kudos to the creative team for making me miss so much these well-built characters. Chuck was its own series and its ending, though unexpected, felt kind of a new beginning for the couple. On that side of the coin it’s beautiful, because how many times do we get a clean slate to start over? But what about all the beautiful memories that are gone and might not come back? It’s an open ending, left up to the viewers to believe or not that Sarah’s memories will eventually come back...We certainly got hints that indicate that they might, so there’s a plus.
Kyle: Yeah, now I definitely have the feeling you didn’t like how the show ended!
Sam: Don’t get me wrong, I really liked how they handled the double finale, and was happy with most of the endings/new beginnings. I’m all up for open endings, thing is I expected something different for Chuck and Sarah. It left me a bit sad, and as I say it looked as a nice so long but not as a conclusive goodbye.
Kyle: As I say later on, I don’t think those memories are gone, and I know that the feelings aren’t. I think a nice, pat finale would have struck the wrong tone for this show.
Sarah reverting back to the spy she used to be worked on so many levels. It gave the show a nice circular feel and really underscored how much she'd changed in five years. And it was torture to watch her pretend to be the woman Chuck knew, when she was really looking for opportunities to take him down.
Sam: Like the cold feet scene, that sure was hard. And yes, I loved the circular feeling of things, as Sarah went back to his cold-blooded CIA agent roots and Chuck had to lean on all his family and friends, like at the very beginning. Those were all nice touches.
Kyle: Despite all this tension -- or perhaps because of it -- we got some of the best comedy we've seen from the show in a while. While the idea of Morgan as a spy is sometimes a hard one to accept (particularly since his supposed training all happened off camera), the scene with him and the "cloak of invisibility" was comedy gold. Honestly, the addition of Morgan to the team really shone in this episode, probably because Sarah was now working against them.
Sam: Haha, yes, Morgan was perfect in these final episodes, because it felt like the original Morgan playing spies and was definitely the comedic foil the show needed, to relieve the tension building because of Sarah’s status. I admit I needed my girl’s assistance to get the Harry Potter invisibility thing, but it was really fun anyway, and that’s because the serious Casey-stupid Morgan/Chuck is a great dynamic that the writers have exploited to perfection. In my opinion, some of the best dynamics of the show come from Adam Baldwin’s Casey.
Kyle: Of course the climax of this episode was the face off between Chuck and Sarah in their dream house. If it hadn't been clear before, it was really obvious that both Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski had been crying a lot. And I don't mean the crying on cue, Hollywood tears. I mean actual crying because the show was ending. Both of them had red, puffy eyes. It really added to the drama of the scene, to the tragedy of the whole thing. You can't ask for better motivation for an actor.
Sam: The fight scene was really sad, as Sarah was fighting a CIA traitor and Chuck was holding off his wife, trying to get her to remember in his own romantic way. It was a bit obvious that Sarah would react to some memory of the house, but the way that scene developed, with Chuck getting between Quinn’s shot and Sarah, allowing her to escape, was romantic, tragic and bittersweet, all at the same time. This episode was proof that when the writers are at it, they can make of Chuck the best it could be.
Kyle: In the aftermath, we get the rather brilliant "Operation Bartowski" video log that Sarah had made and that Casey gives to her. I love the fact that she continued to record updates to it because she didn't have anyone else to talk to -- it rung incredibly true. And it was absolutely heart breaking to see her profess her love for Chuck (it also kind of underscored how awful the first half of season three was).
Sam: Nice tidbits on that log for longtime fans, like the pizza without olives thing. That was the day when Chuck told Sarah that he felt he didn’t know anything real about her, but that he knew she didn’t like olives. Those were the touches that started off the assignment/love affair dynamic between Chuck and Sarah; and here, on the penultimate episode, writers give us what we hadn’t seen before: the other side of it; how Sarah was feeling about “Operation Bartowski” all the way through. Nicely done.
Kyle: When Chuck was walking from Ellie's apartment to what was once his and Sarah's, I wondered aloud if Chuck would get the Intersect back or not. My wife responded with "I don't care about that, I just want Chuck and Sarah to be okay." Because as much as this show was about a nerd who got an upgrade and became a spy when it started, in the end it was a love story, and a freaking great one at that.
Sam: Believe it or not, my girl felt exactly the same way about it all. Actually, she didn’t seem happy at all with the way the ending of the first half of the finale played out. However, there was still room for hope. Me? I only wanted Sarah to get okay, though I’ve been wanting Chuck to get back the Intersect for so long that I’ve forgotten already...
Kyle: And this brings us to the last episode of Chuck.
It's hard to find fault with anything in this episode. The best I could come up with is Chuck shooting down the helicopter, but I'm willing to let that slide with the homage to Chuck's red test. I mean, Sarah's trip out of the plane looked like something out of season one, back when they had a budget. The entire hour was classic Chuck from start and mostly certainly to finish.
And how great was the scene with Morgan, Ellie, and Awesome (and baby Clara!) trying to get Chuck out of bed? "How many people are in my room right now?" "You're one sit up closer to getting the girl back!" The sense of family in this scene is fantastic, and a wonderful reflection of how the show started-- and a great barometer of how far it has come.
Sam: This episode was as final as you can get for all the plots and all the characters, even the supporting ones from the Buy More. Everybody got to have a line on this final episode, and each appearance meant something. Special mention to Jeffster, which not only saved everybody’s asses (doing something both genuinely heroic and genuinely stupid for the second time this season) but they also fulfilled a 5-year long dream; performing live for a big crowd, and getting everyone’s applause. That felt like a testament to the show’s true essence. Heck, almost all the crazy in this episode felt like it.
Kyle: The comedy in this episode was some of the best we've seen. Jeff and Lester have never been better and it was great to see some of the silent Buy More employees get a few lines of dialogue.
Sam: Creepy monitoring dudes, those Buy More employees! It was fun how Sarah ended up going to the Buy More after all that searching and creepy camera surveillance!
Kyle: I will admit that I've watched the finale a few times since it aired, and I've realized that everything from the point where Casey decides to work with his old team instead of the CIA is about as good as it gets. From the return of Chuck's mom, to the plan to save Sarah, to Jeffster buying them time -- all it was wonderful. It all worked. On a show that lives and dies by its ability to balance its disparate elements, everything went together perfectly.
Sam: And, as always, it was Morgan the voice of reason/or rebellion that won’t ever shut up, and that poor Casey had, of course, to listen to, getting the band back together for one last concert. Morgan has played this role, whether he knew it or not, since the very beginning of the series, starting with those times when Chuck would come to him with a moral dilemma and they would chat it out like buddies, without Morgan realizing he had helped his friend on a CIA mission.
Kyle: And, of course, Chuck is faced with an impossible choice, but one he makes with very little hesitation. Of all the ways I've imagined Chuck getting the Intersect back, this was not the way I wanted it to happen. I will admit that it was nice to see Chuck flash again. I've missed that.
Sam: It was great having him back with the Intersect for the final goodbye, though wouldn’t him having the Intersect mean that Team Bartowski had to stick together? Or after five years of protecting a government asset in Burbank now General Beckman and the CIA are getting soft? They didn’t address that new status quo, if I’m not mistaken. And strangely enough, Beckman said goodbye to the team, just thanking them for their services. The only explanation would be that Sarah wouldn’t tell the government about Chuck uploading the Intersect, and it “died” with Quinn. However, it’s a dilemma that we didn’t see posed on screen.
Kyle: With good reason, I think. It would have raised more questions than answers. And, honestly, the government has always been pretty soft when it came to Chuck and the Intersect. He really should have been locked in a bunker somewhere as soon as he got it. They also let them keep Castle!
Sam: Fair point. My point was that maybe he didn’t need the Intersect to dismantle that bomb, and the glasses could have been used as Ellie suggested on Sarah. However, I liked Chuck’s decision, he was a real hero, while getting back to his porno virus roots!
Kyle: We get one last scene with the team, as General Beckman tells them they always have a place at the CIA. And the waterworks began! As each of them left, you knew it was the last time they'd all be in that room together. Casey walked out, then Sarah followed, and Chuck was left alone, just as he'd been when the show started.
Then came the happy endings.
Sam: Or new beginnings, for most of the characters. That is always a nice way to wrap things up, with evolution. Evolution and movement, because that’s what life is really about.
Kyle: Jeffster got a record deal in Germany and left the Buy More (with new owners, Subway, of course) behind. Alex and Morgan decided to move in together, which Casey was fine with, as he was off to find Gertrude. Ellie and Awesome were packing their bags, preparing for a new life in Chicago. Everyone was moving on with their lives. Everyone could. But not Chuck.
Sam: This was the part where I started feeling sorry for Chuck, and wondering why the writers hadn’t taken the, ok, clichéd way out. An ending where Chuck gets a lot of money from selling the Buy More (which actually had to happen off camera), they find a new pair of Intersect glasses and upload there the memories Sarah needed to be a bit more of herself again. It is kind of sad that everyone thinks about themselves and their future but don’t break their heads to help Sarah get well again. They seem like they do so at the beginning of the episode, but then again it is a red herring. It is obvious, then, that the writers wanted to end on a different than expected note, and so they went with a different angle.
Kyle: I don’t think there were any other options for helping Sarah aside from what Ellie said at the beginning of the episode: time. Time and help from Chuck are what would bring Sarah’s memories back. I don’t think there was anything else for anyone to do by the end of this episode.
And I would have been really disappointed if Chuck got the Intersect, saved Sarah, and made a bunch of money selling the Buy More, because there’s no story there. It would have been too pat for my taste.
Sam: The story is a happy retirement for two ex-CIA agents that want to have a family and be normal people, much like Ellie and Awesome. I raised the point of making money so with that they could afford the dream house and therefore tie everything up. The ending we got, however, is much more dramatic than mine, I’ll give you that. And if they ever do Chuck 2.0 he’d now have the Intersect and Sarah would have her memories back, I’m sure.
Kyle: The penultimate scene is Chuck and Morgan sitting in front of the fountain in the courtyard. It's perfect. There needed to be a moment when it was just the two of them, the two best friends who have been with each other through everything. And it was Morgan, not Chuck, who was giving out the advice this time. He tells Chuck to go find Sarah.
So we return to the beach from the very first episode, the place where Sarah first asked Chuck to trust her. And Chuck says much the same to her. And the camera switches to a show of them from behind, from a distance, sitting side by side on the beach, and the score stops. And there was a beat, as if this was where it was all going to end.
Sam: I liked the beach scene. It is a scene that needed to be, in order to at least give us, faithful Chuck loyalists, a chance to say goodbye to the couple while tying everything together. It is, once again, the writers’ intent to go full circle, but my big complaint here is that the goodbye shouldn’t have an ounce of regret in it. There should be closure, because by human nature, that’s what all of us need to keep going. To me, not only did we not get the needed and expected closure, but a bittersweet ending.
Kyle: I have to ask: where’s the regret? If anything, this ends on a positive note.
We cut back and see them from the front, closer now. "Chuck -- tell me our story," says Sarah. And music, that earnest indie rock music that we have come to know oh so well on Chuck, begins to play. And Chuck tells her their story, initially with a few choice words, then in a montage of all the moments we've come to know and love. And we see them laugh and we see Sarah wipe away real tears.
Sam: Don’t misunderstand me. I loved the ending. Quiet, peaceful, the two of them together, closing the series in much the same way as they opened it. Being the optimist that I am, I wanted to understand that Sarah would eventually get better. It’s just that “eventually” that can get a little frustrating, most of all because it’s avoidable.
Kyle: And then Chuck tells her about Morgan's crazy idea, that if Chuck kisses Sarah, her memories will magically return. And Sarah tells Chuck to kiss her. And we end with them kissing.
There is so much going on in that last scene that I can't stop thinking about it.
Whether the kiss works or not (and, really, why would it?) isn't the important thing. The important thing is that Sarah tells Chuck to kiss her. She has heard their story and she wants him to kiss her, because she wants those memories back. She wants those memories back because the feelings are there, the feelings have come to the surface.
In that moment, Chuck gets Sarah back.
Sam: See? The difference there is that I see Chuck getting a chunk of Sarah back, something like an empty vessel of the Sarah she used to be. And I see a troubled Sarah, that after all of her friends’ intents to remember, has not. And here she is, hearing a thrilling, beautiful story that she can’t remember, from her husband, whose life together is just that, a story. So, with that kiss, they are basically starting all over, but I believe that she doesn’t have the feelings right then and there, though she might one day get them back.
Kyle: I don’t think she would have asked Chuck to kiss her – taking a chance on a ridiculous idea – if those feelings weren’t coming back. We saw earlier that Sarah's memory came back in bits and pieces, but only when she was in familiar situations. The potential for her to get her memories back is there, but the show has laid it out pretty clearly that doing so would require her to experience the last five years over again, or at least something similar. Chuck has to take her down that road again. And, in the end, she wants to go with him.
It is the perfect ending for this show.
Sam: Long live Chuck.
Sam is a passionate comic lover, who since an early age, found himself into the grasp of Marvel titles such as Conan the Barbarian, Captain America, Spider-Man, and, of course, his true love (after his girlfriend Natalia, that is), The Avengers.
As Comics Bulletin's Community Manager, right now a lot of his time is devoted to managing and improving the site's presence on social networks, and on building an active and interesting Community. Currently living in Madrid, he loves travelling around the world -- and getting comics wherever he goes. You can find him as @SamSalama on Twitter, and as Samuel Salama on Facebook.
Kyle Garret is the author of I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At, available now from Hellgate Press. His short fiction has been published in the Ginosko Literary Journal, Literary Town Hall, Children, Churches, & Daddies and Falling Into Place. He writes comic book reviews here at Comic Bulletin and blogs for PopMatters. He can be found at KyleGarret.com and on Twitter as @kylegarret.