Interview: ‘Chuck’ co-creator Chris Fedak on the series finale

So “Chuck” has come to an end. I reviewed the series finale here, and in addition to my 5-part interview series with Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz (which Fedak would later joke was “egregiously long”), I got on the phone with Fedak one more time to discuss the events of the finale.
I want to start at the end. They sit on the beach, Chuck tells Sarah the story of their relationship, she laughs, and we’ve gotten hints that she’s starting to remember her life with him. And he kisses her. Does Morgan’s magic trick idea work and she remembers everything instantly? Or is it just going to be a slow and steady process for her to get all her memories and feelings back?
I think I’m going to leave that up to the audience. I have my thought, and Josh has his. It’s a sweet, nice moment. A happy ending for those two. I think it’s up for everyone to judge that kiss at the very end.

Well, after last week’s episode, a few commenters were upset with the idea that Sarah’s memory had been erased, and that all her character growth we had spent the last five seasons was for naught. What would you say to that?

I would certainly say it’s not erased. It’s not all gone. It hasn’t been five seasons all for naught. It’s in there. And the fun will be remembering it and falling in love again. How could you imagine anything better?
In these final two episodes, there are a lot of callbacks to stuff from early in the series, particularly the pilot. How did you pick and choose what was going to come up?

It started with how we broke that episode. For a long time, that was one of the longest breaks ever for a Chuck episode, since it was the last one. We weren’t quite certain. How do we make this big enough? How do we make it about this season but also to echo all the seasons of the show? Once we realized that with act 2, and throughout the episode, there would be moments that echoed the pilot and other seasons of the show and our bad guys, that really helped me wrap my head around what this episode would do. My wife is a giant fan of the “remember when?” episodes. We didn’t want to do that. We didn’t want to give a lot of flashbacks – there aren’t very many in the episodes – but infuse into the story the history of the show. That helped me break the episode as a writer. And when it came to things we wanted to see in there, the first idea was, “Well, we’re in Berlin,” and it was El Compadre, which we shot at the real El Compadre in the pilot, which is a famous restaurant in Los Angeles. We shot there, and there’s a terrible photo of Josh and myself with sombreros on. Once you start thinking about it, you go, “What if in Germany there’s a restaurant that looks exactly like El Compadre?” And that was the first moment where we knew, “Okay, this would be a great thing for all of these scenes,” from Sarah and Chuck dancing at the Russian consulate to the Wienerlicious scene. We wanted to echo seasons past, as well as deal with all of the issues that Chuck and Sarah have been through. And, in a way, have them fall in love again.

Chuck gets the Intersect back in the end, but is still retiring, right?
Yes, he does have the Intersect back, but he’s still retiring. But I guess you never know.

We find out what most of the other characters are going to do, and Chuck and Sarah are on the beach, so we know they’re going to get back together. But what do you see as the rest of Chuck Bartowski’s life being?
Wow! Well, that’s a gigantic question. I will tell you this: I see Chuck and Sarah together, being a husband and wife, starting up that computer security firm. Hopefully they won’t find themselves dodging bullets for the rest of their lives. Of course, as a writer, now I start thinking, “You know what? They could get into a little bit of trouble.” That gets the story side of my brain going. But for now, they’re happy and they’re together and thinking about their future.
Was it important to you that he get the Intersect in the end?

No, it wasn’t the most important thing to me. That was something that we discovered as we went through the process. The way the story laid out, we began to see that it was important that he be given a decision. The idea of using the Intersect to give Sarah her memories back was a beautifully-structured thing: it makes sense, Ellie gets to help Sarah. But in that moment, Chuck has to make a tough decision, and he knows that saving the day is the thing he had to do. That was fundamental to the story. But from an overarcing perspective, looking at the last episode, Chuck putting the Intersect back into his head was not the most important thing to me.

So Chuck saves the day, but before that, Jeffster! saves the day.
(Laughs) Yessir!
Talk to me about what you got to do in these last few episodes in terms of bringing those two into Spy World.
It was something that we’d always wanted to do, but it was also the one thing you knew you would probably have to wait until the end. Because the show would be fundamentally different going forward. From the get-go, Vik and Scott brought such great comedy to the show, and such a great energy inside the Buy More, so from the Spy World, we thought it would be great to bring them in in some way. And we love “Sneakers.” We loved the idea of forming a team, and that’s something we always imagined happening. It was a great opportunity: exploring Jeff and Lester learning about the spy world and wanting to be a part of it and having their brains erased a couple of times. We just loved the idea in the Bullet Train episode of them going to Casey’s trunk and opening it up and taking all the wrong equipment. They have hero material in them. They have good stuff in there. That was exciting for us to tell the story. They didn’t figure into episode 12 all that much, so we knew in episode 13, we wanted to do something big, and we wanted to bring back Jeffster! in a big way.
So you basically build the climax around a musical performance.

We built it, the reference point is the Albert Hall sequence in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” In this version, it’s Jeff and Lester with the cymbals, but they’re going to use the cymbals to save the day.

You told me in the earlier interview that you guys often wrestled for a while with what the Jeffster! song should be. How much did you wrestle with this one?
We wrestled with this one quite a bit. The energy of A-Ha that I love is the positivity of it all. It’s such a great energetic vibe to it. We thought of going with more operatic rock, or something more metal-ish. What’s great about A-Ha is it has this fleeting, hopeful quality to it, and I love that song. The other thing that’s amazing about it is Vik hit all those notes. Usually in seasons past, we will pop out of the song and go back to the original recorded performance. This was the first time that Vik has done the entire thing. And it’s amazing, the notes he hits in there. We were shocked when we heard his and Tim Jones’ performance. It speaks to his growth as a musical performer. He’s amazing.

And now he’s going to be a pop star in Germany.
What about the tear? That moment sums up our show in a way: It’s crazy, it’s ludicrous, and there’s such incredible real emotion within it. Vik and Scott killed me in that scene. When you’re on set, you get hairs on the back of your neck as he’s losing it.

It does occur to me that on the show, everybody gets what they want in the end. Even Big Mike is still in the store that he loves, and he’s married to Morgan’s mom and has even easier access to Subway sandwiches.
Exactly. It’s a happy ending.

Did you at any point dabble with the idea of things going badly for anyone? Or is it not that kind of show?
There was definitely darker endings for every aspect of the show. We struggled with where we wanted to land these characters in the end. There were many iterations of the Thelma & Louise ending for Jeff and Lester, but that turned to them having their minds erased in the Bo Derek episode. But we loved the idea of them driving off a cliff, believing the cops were after them but being wrong. In the end, I just loved the idea of them going off to be German rock stars.

The other thing, too, is that early on in the season, there’s a moment where Casey hugs Alex and tells her, “I’ll always be here for you.” And the moment he said that was the moment I thought we were going to kill him. I thought we were going to do a “Star Trek II” thing. And Adam was pushing for that. He was of a mind that that was a good way to go, kind of like the Han Solo logic of “Return of the Jedi,” where it was clearly time for this person to die. I think in the end, the Gertrude Verbanski story was such a great story for the season, and Carrie-Anne Moss and Adam gave such life and energy to that, that that became his future.

Getting back to the store for a second, is it turning into a Subway, or is Subway just coming into the Buy More?
I’ll speak for Subway corporate at the moment. They’ve purchased the Buy More and they will be installing a Subway inside the store. I think they’re also getting into the big box store game with Buy More.
They also then own a spy base underneath the store. That’s a good deal.
There are many a time over the course of the show that we thought about putting a Subway into the store, just to make the integrations easier and quicker, but it never worked out.

I want to talk about the idea how these last few episodes become, as the next-to-last one is called, Chuck vs. Sarah. You could have built this entire finale around Shaw or somebody, and you didn’t. You introduced this other guy who is mainly there to put our guy and our girl against each other.
Quinn is important and is a good villain, and Angus MacFadyen did a good job for us. But I think the most important part of this season, and the show, is Chuck and Sarah and Casey and our characters. This was an amazing way to have these episodes be very much about them and their relationships. Unlike last season, when we had a villain who was incredibly important to our show and had many scenes with Timothy Dalton as Volkoff, and also his daughter, here in the end, we wanted to be able to focus these last few episodes specially about our characters and about the Chuck/Sarah relationship. And it’s the Chuck/Sarah relationship that saves the day.
And whether she had the Intersect or not in these last few episodes, Sarah got to do all these really superhuman things.

When we started looking at this season, the Intersect became this thing that would jump from Morgan, then we’d also see Shaw, then see Sarah with it, and realize just how dangerous it is and how it affects people. But it was also a great opportunity to see Morgan be a super spy, and see Sarah be an even greater super spy. I thought the strip kick action sequence inside the bullet train car was pretty amazing, and the final moments of “Chuck vs. Bo” where she goes crazy kung fu on all of those soldiers was just a great sequence shot by Jeremiah Chechik, one of our directors.

But even in “Chuck vs. Sarah,” when she pulls the Bryce Larkin move and crashes through the top window and takes out all the guards herself – Sarah without the Intersect is pretty impressive.

That’s the thing, too. We had to think about that quite a bit. She doesn’t have the Intersect in episodes 12 & 13, but she’s still an amazing spy in her own right. When we were doing the two scenes where she does fight with the Intersect, we had to cut them in a different way. We sped up the cuts. How do you differentiate between Sarah Walker with just her normal skills and Sarah who has the Intersect in her head? We brought more and more soldiers into the final scene of “Bo” for that reason.

Am I correct that the scene where Jeff and Lester are tracking Sarah is the first time that Fernando and most of the Buy More extras get to speak?
Yes it is. We also wanted to give all of our background artists a chance to have a line in the show. That’s the first time we’ve heard most of them speak on the show. “Unleash the perverts.”

Did you have any kind of checklist of things you wanted to do before the end, either from a character perspective or, like, “I really want to see Sarah fall out of a plane”?
The most important thing was the character component of the story. And then I’ve always wanted to do a skydiving sequence on the show. I loved the intercut between Chuck thinking he can get this girl back and she’s not out of his league and her doing just the most amazing stuff. Our production team went up, and we had a skydiver in a catsuit do a number of passes. It’s one of the craziest things we’ve ever done.
Very Roger Moore as James Bond.

Very “Moonraker.”

You’re at the end. You’ve done it all. You’ve done 6 finales, 7 finales, whatever. Is there anything now that looking back, you wish you could have done that you didn’t?

I don’t know. I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve done over 91 episodes of the show, and all our different finale. We talked, in your incredibly long interview – which was egregriously long! – with Josh and me, when we spoke, I think that the one thing I thought about, looking at season 4, we could have brought Ellie into the spy world more quickly. That was something where bringing Sarah Lancaster into the spy side of the show was an outstanding secret that we could have done earlier.

Certainly, having Awesome with Clara in the Baby Bjorn in Castle was very fun.

Yeah, and it was also so much fun to bring back Linda Hamilton for a spot on the show.

Is there anything else you want to say about the finale?

One of the things we’re working on for the DVD is a longer version of the finale. The episode was rather big, so you’ll get a longer cut on the DVD.

What might be on the longer cut?

Just more of everything. It was an epic episode. We did a lot of stuff. There’s a little more family, and a little more Awesome and Ellie.

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