That was an odd, truncated, bifurcated season for “Chuck,” wasn’t it?
“Chuck” premiered in January with three episodes over two nights. It vanished for the Olympics. It returned and forged ahead through “Chuck vs. The Other Guy,” which walked like a finale, quacked like a finale, had webbed feet like a finale, but wasn’t actually a finale. Then, after a couple weeks away, “Chuck” returned for a five-week, six-episode mini-season.
It’s been a scheduling and recapping roller-coaster and for fans, it’s been even bumpier. Two months of Shaw and Hannah as impediments gave way to exactly two weeks of happiness before the Intersect started devouring Chuck’s brain and it turned out that shooting Shaw multiple times in the chest wasn’t actually an effective way of killing him.
When Season Three (and Season 3.1) of “Chuck” come out on DVD, the tag should be “Don’t get too comfortable.”
I’m sure Sepinwall will have done an in-depth job of recapping, so I don’t know how detailed I’m going to get, plot-wise, but I definitely want to give my reactions to the finale and possible to the season as a whole…
Click through for my thoughts on “Chuck vs. the Subway” and “Chuck vs. the Ring, Part II”… Spoilers, obviously…
Funny thing: I really, really liked the two-hour “Chuck” finale that aired on Monday (May 24) and yet it may only have been my third favorite “Chuck” finale in the past 13 months, behind “Chuck vs. the Ring” last April and “Chuck vs. the Other Guy” this April. That’s not a slight against either of tonight’s episodes, just a reflection on how well the “Chuck” team handles big episodes.
The A-plot of Monday’s episodes unfolded marvelously.
First off, kudos to the “Chuck” team for the cheeky “Chuck vs. the Subway” title to the opener. Admit it, you expected extended plugs for tasty sandwiches, but instead you got a reference to the one thing no sane human would ever suspect: The Los Angeles Subway System. [Note: While the episode “The Subway” featured no Subway promotion, the in-episode commercial for Subway breakfast sandwiches in the final was an all-time low for “Chuck” and its integration of product and content. I get that Big Mike loves his Subway-based products, but still…]
The Subway, the one place no one would ever think to look, turned out to be the general location of the Ring offices were Justin was holding Ellie and where Chuck and his team were able to track the not-dead-at-all Shaw. One catch: The Ring headquarters? Not-so-much the headquarters of The Ring so much as CIA headquarters! Shocker, right? Not nearly as shocking as Ellie discovering Chuck’s secret, first through a meeting in the CIA hallway — “Chuck, I thought you quit kung fu in the third grade.” — and then through Captain Awesome’s inability to keep a secret — “You don’t know? I just told you.”
Ellie’s reaction was perfectly in-character, as she was worried frustrated by being out of the loop — “Morgan Grimes, the boy that took my pillow as his date to junior prom, knows more about my family being spies than I do?” — and worried for Chuck’s well-being.
The episodes focused on the final consolidation of Chuck’s pre-Intersect and post-Intersect families, with a specific emphasis on the sacrifices we make for ourselves and the sacrifices we make for our families and how sometimes the choice that looks like it’s the most selfish might actually help the greater good, except for when it doesn’t, like when Chuck thinks he’s showing his love for Sarah by fleeing with Daddy Bartowski, only to realize that the way to show your love for someone is to actually be with them and help them, except that in turning around and coming back for Sarah, Chuck gets his father killed.
Yes, R.I.P. to Daddy Bartowski.
As Chuck explained to Ellie, “He wasn’t crazy. Our dad was a hero. He was a great man who did amazing things. He was not perfect, not as a dad, no. But he was great. That’s the secret I most wanted you to know.”
The emotions of this shattering scene were well played by Scott Bakula, Zachary Levi and, in particularly, Sarah Lancaster, who has always been an expert crier.
The awful finality of Daddy Bartowski’s death miserable, but it set up one of my favorite action set-pieces, as Awesome, Ellie and Morgan went off to rescue Chuck, Sarah and Casey in a truly pleasurable reversal that bridged the gap between the two episodes. In the second episode, I also enjoyed the return of Chuck’s high school theater experience, Morgan quoting “Cobra” and wielding an empty gun and the integration of Casey’s daughter Alex (lest you thought she was forgotten) into Chuck’s ever-expanding Scooby Gang. I was cool with the mood and choreography and swagger of the climactic mano-a-mano between Chuck and Shaw, going Intersect-to-Intersect in an evocatively lit Buy More. I wouldn’t have minded a little more finality to Chuck’s victory over Shaw, but so it goes.
So if I loved the primary thrust of the episode, what didn’t I love?
Well, to put it frankly, I’m through with the Buy More and, if the end of the episode is any indication, the writers may be as well. It’s not that I don’t love Mark Christopher Lawrence and Vic Sahay and Jeff Krinsky and it’s not that the Buy More hasn’t provided a great service to the series over three seasons. It’s just that Chuck has probably outgrown the Buy More and “Chuck” has certainly outgrown the Buy More.
Too many times this season, with only a small percentage of the Buy More crew available, Jeff and Lester or Big Mike were wasted on a one or two scene appearance. The thematic symmetry that the writers used to love bringing to the Buy More storylines hasn’t worked as well with this reduced screentime. The finale Buy More plot — Big Mike, Jeff and Lester stage a going-out-of-business sale to placate Buy More corporate without any logic at all — was just an excuse to set up Jeff suggesting they burn the story to the ground, followed by Morgan accidentally detonating a large quantity of C4 and blowing the store up, leaving Jeff and Lester as fall guys.
Also, and I *really* hate to say this… I’m over Jeffster! I know. Blasphemy, right? I’ve just found that there have been diminishing returns to taking Jeffster! from a twice-a-year treat last season to four appearances in 10 episodes. Yes, I laughed at Lester-as-Cowboy and Jeff-as-Indian in “Blaze of Glory,” but not the rest of the video (though I was amused to see the source of the Twitter avatar Josh Schwartz has been using for weeks). I’m not saying that I won’t someday laugh again at Jeffster!, but if Cookie Monster has been forced to learn that cookies are a sometimes food, I’ve had to discover that Jeffster! is only a sometimes treat.
And I guess I lastly need to touch on the hints at “Chuck 4.0” Know that Ellie, and presumably everybody else, is under the impression that Chuck has quit the spy game, but a computer message from his late dad sends him to his childhood home and to the basement, where we discover that Daddy Bartowski had been doing some off-the-books investigations. The names on his files include astronomical favorites like Orion, Hydra, Corvus (Phase Two), The Aries Papers, The Triangulum and Cygnus.
Daddy Bartowski’s message ends with, “Chuck, it’s time you learn about your family. Because I did it all for her.”
Cut to the necklacks from earlier flashbacks, a file reading “Mary Elizabeth Bartowski” and a woman’s back and somebody saying “We’re going to have to move you.”
Next season’s “Chuck”? The Hunt Mommy Bartowski! A little bit like “Alias”? Yeah. A little bit like “Alias.”
Other thoughts on this week’s episode:
*** My pick for Mommy Bartowski casting? Mary McDonnell. Or just Lena Olin. Who do you like?
*** If Big Mike had a direct line to Moses, the Buy More founder, how did all of the confusion in “Chuck vs. The Beard” go by without additional clarification?
*** I’m all for romance between Morgan and Casey’s daughter Alex, because the idea of Casey as disapproving father ought to be good for a dozen episodes of chaperoning fun. The Casey-Alex hug was excellent as well.
*** Nice “Pineapple” callback to “Chuck vs. the Nemesis.” Lots of callbacks in the episode, really, including the return of Casey’s newly negotiated Crown Vic.
*** I also liked Big Mike’s “Sweet Lord, they did it. They actually did. Those crazy nerds blew up the freakin’ Buy More.” But did Big Mike narc on Jeff and Lester? How did they come to be the only suspects?
*** Brandon Routh? Much more interesting as an utter psycho than as a hero/love interest. How much did we enjoy his sardonic super-villain “Muwahaha”? I actually rewound a couple times. However, in the second episode, Chuck drops his own “Muwahaha” reference to Shaw, which makes no sense, since Chuck wasn’t with Shaw, Casey and Sarah.
*** I need more details on the original Intersect that Chuck downloaded as a child. Because I don’t quite know what to make of what it was, what it did and how it helped him reboot and win his showdown with Shaw. I also need a little more information on what The Governor does or doesn’t allow Chuck to do, flash-wise.
OK. Enough of my blathering. I have to go read Sepinwall’s interview with Chris Fedak to see what he has to say!