‘Chuck’ – ‘Chuck vs. the Last Details’: Chuck Bartowski’s day off

A review of tonight’s “Chuck” coming up just as soon as I finally watch “Mannequin”…

“Just remember, Bartowski: Sarah’s the one you’re going to be sleeping next to every day. She’s the one you protect.” -Casey

Next Monday is a big day for “Chuck.” In the morning, NBC announces its schedule for next season, which may or may not include a fifth season for our pals at the Buy More. And that night, “Chuck” airs a season finale that may wind up having to double as a series finale.

With all the uncertainty about renewal, I’ve thought a lot about what I’d want out of next week’s episode if it winds up being the end – and about whether it matters. As we’ve talked about before, the show has already produced a bunch of episodes that the creative team thought might be the last one ever. Some have offered large swaths of closure, while others have left a lot of things hanging out of optimism for a new season. And given how many wannabe series finales we’ve gotten already, and how strong most of them were, I’d been telling myself that it almost doesn’t matter how next week’s episode ends – or even if its title, “Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger,” winds up being very literal. I’ve already gotten to see “Chuck” end, several times, I’d thought, and that should be enough.

But after watching “Chuck vs. the Last Details” – which was both one of the strongest episodes of season four and one that ended with a wicked, wicked cliffhanger – I fear that if there’s bad news next Monday morning, I may wind up having to burn my living room the way Schwartz and Fedak said I’d need to if “Chuck vs. the Ring” had been the swan song.

Do I believe Sarah’s dead? Absolutely not. These guys aren’t dumb; they know how much the audience loves Sarah, how great Yvonne Strahovski is, how important the Chuck/Sarah relationship is in the event the series continues, etc. This is too sweet and optimistic show to do that. “Chuck” might kill off a Bryce Larkin or a Stephen Bartowski, but it’s not gonna whack the the love of the hero’s life days before their wedding. So on that front, I’m not worried. But if the writers are willing to go this diabolical at the end of what could be the next-to-last episode ever, I’m starting to worry about what horrors they might unleash in what could be the actual last one ever. Because even if I can think back on my memories of Chuck and Sarah in the Parisian hotel room in “Chuck vs. the Other Guy,” or Chuck popping the question in “Chuck vs. the Push Mix,” or any of the other pseudo-finale moments, I don’t want the last images of the series to be ones that leaves the fate of one or more characters I care about in question. I can tell myself that a hypothetical fifth season would have saved them, but still… that would stink.

And it would stink that a show still capable of producing an episode as strong as “Chuck vs. the Last Details” wouldn’t get to come back, even though I recognize that the ratings are kind of hideous at this point.

Where the season’s previous high point, “Chuck vs. Phase Three,” succeeded by largely turning into a spin-off where Strahovski was the star, “The Last Details” was the exact show we’ve come to know and love for four years – just a very well-executed example of it.

Where sometimes, the attempt to turn spy missions into metaphors for Chuck’s latest life crisis can feel forced, turning this week’s op into a high-stakes version of the tug many grooms feel between their mother and their bride-to-be worked splendidly. Lots of good comedy moments for Zachary Levi, Strahovski and Linda Hamilton, and a nice emotional payoff where Mary spends most of her rehearsal dinner toast singing Sarah’s praises.

And the parallel story of Casey struggling to do his job the way he always has while keeping his word to Alex was also really strong, a good emotional showcase for Adam Baldwin and a logical story point given how deep Morgan has gone into spy world this season. And Morgan’s undercover work itself led to a scene that’s already going into my own video montage of quintessential “Chuck” moments: Chuck trying to pump up Morgan to play the bad guy by humming “The Imperial March” from the “Star Wars” films(*), until Morgan joins in and both are having a complete fist-banging nerdgasm while a befuddled Sarah watches. Just hilarious, and the sort of nerd/spy crossover moment the show used to do more consistently before the introduction of Chuck Fu. Bringing Morgan onto the team definitely brought some of the geek vibe back in the last season and a third, but the show is always at its most satisfying when Chuck himself gets to be a big ol’ nerd even as he becomes a more effective spy. Here we not only got that hilarious moment, but Chuck taking a deep breath and saying, “Honey, I love you” after Sarah completely fails to get his “Chewie” reference while they’re pretending Casey is their prisoner.

(*) Also, if your question is whether the great majority of a “Chuck” review can be written with “The Imperial March” playing on a continuous loop, the answer is yes.

It wasn’t a perfect episode, mainly because Vivian remains a fairly muddled, bratty villain, and because I don’t feel like the show ever really used Ray Wise to his full potential. But so much of it was so satisfying, both emotionally and comedically, that, until Vivian called Chuck during the rehearsal dinner, I actually thought to myself, “You know, this would be a pretty damn good finale in and of itself.”

Now, though, Sarah’s in big trouble, Chuck has to untangle the mess his parents made of the family Volkoff, we presumably need time for a wedding (depending on when/if Sarah’s revived), and we need to see what just what that title means – and we’ll see it all knowing already what NBC’s decision was.

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago how I would feel about a “Chuck” cancellation, I would have said that it would leave me sad but understanding. We got four seasons of a show that in different circumstances might have only gotten one, maybe two, the ratings had taken a pretty dire turn midway through the season, and while I still enjoyed the show week-to-week, it only occasionally brought my joy levels up to where they were so consistently in season two.

After this one, though? I’m going to be a very unhappy camper on Monday if the new schedule has, say, “Harry’s Law” but no “Chuck.” It’s like Mary says:

“May you have many more adventures together, and may you always keep each other safe.”

Damn right. And I’d rather not have to imagine those future adventures, if at all possible.

Some other thoughts:

• This week in “Chuck” music: “Everything Falls Apart” by The One AM Radio (Sarah and Chuck ponder their day off together), “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes (Lester screens his film), “The Imperial March” by John Williams (Morgan enters the meeting), “You Are A Tourist” by Death Cab For Cutie (Sarah gets her first look at the transformed courtyard, and the rehearsal dinner starts off swimmingly).

• I’m, frankly, shocked it took the show until the next-to-last episode of the season – particularly given that they weren’t sure they’d continue after the first 13 – to put Mary in a jail cell to do pull-ups from her bed frame, Sarah Connor-style. But better late than never, even though I imagine Hamilton’s arms aren’t nearly as sculpted as they were 20 years ago.

• Josh Gomez was awesome not only in the “Imperial March” scene, but earlier when Morgan’s trying out his horrible pidgin Italian to Casey, and sounding very much like Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda.”

• Lord, the house special at that outdoor cantina by the mine looked disgusting. I’m not sure there was a single component I could both get down and keep down. Well done, crew.

• Last week, I lamented that the show had largely left Jeffster and Big Mike behind, but they were all much more effectively used this week with the subplot about Jeff and Lester’s voyeur videos being turned into a romantic montage for the rehearsal dinner. Nip slips (of Chuck!), Lester with a giant heart over his crotch, Big Mike playing Hollywood agent and Jeff turning out to be a secret sweetheart? Excellence all around.

• While Morgan’s right that “Breaking Bad” is an incredible show, I’m not sure John Casey would dig a series where a budding drug lord is the central character.

• Also not entirely sure whether the geometry of Casey shooting wherever Morgan’s video glasses pointed would work, but it was still a cool sequence.

What did everybody else think?