Wednesday, 18 May 2011

'CHUCK' 4.24 - "Chuck Versus The Cliffhanger"

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Going in, I knew NBC had renewed Chuck for a fifth and final season, but still suspected this finale wouldn't risk ending on an actual cliffhanger, as that would have infuriated fans if NBC had axed the insuperable series. As it stands, Chuck has managed to survive a good three years longer than its ratings justify--and, while the show's definitely past its prime, after this rejuvenating finale I'm more open to a 13-part swansong.

Continuing from last week's shocking climax, Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) has been hospitalized after Vivian Volkoff (Lauren Cohan) targeted her with the Norseman super-weapon, leaving fiancé Chuck frantic at her bedside. Upon realizing he only has 12-hours to find an antidote for the poison that's killing his betrothed, Chuck enlisted Casey (Adam Baldwin) and Morgan (Joshua Gomez) for a rogue mission to free the only man capable of saving Sarah: supervillain Alexei Volkoff (Timothy Dalton), the Norseman's creator. Unfortunately this meant going up against the mighty CIA itself, with Agent Clyde Decker (Richard Burgi) under orders to keep Volkoff incarcerated at whatever cost. Matters were further complicated when Decker removed the "Alexei Volkoff" persona from sneering Volkoff, turning him back to affable scientist Harvey Winterbottom.

A problem with "Chuck Versus The Cliffhanger" was the confusing way the CIA became the enemy, as it felt ridiculous they wouldn't help Chuck save the life of his fiancée--a renowned CIA agent who's saved the country/world on more than one occasion! Does General Beckman (Bonita Fiedericy) have no sway? What's the big deal with letting Chuck interrogate Volkoff for the whereabouts of an antidote? Why was Decker in such a rush to erase Volkoff's personality, beyond a need to make Chuck's life more complicated? The reasoning was a rather woolly point that Chuck knows too much about the Agent X programme (whereby the CIA accidentally created the world's most notorious terrorist), so he's too much of a security risk. Sorry, but I don't buy into that.

It felt like a lapse in logic that writers Chris Fedak and Nicholas Wootton simply couldn't answer effectively (they just needed an organisation to put in Chuck's way), so they plowed ahead and hoped most people wouldn't notice, or care. They're lucky so much of the finale was entertaining enough to forgive that flaw, but it was still annoying to me. Unfortunately, this ragged and nonsensical aspect of Chuck has become more prominent in late-season 4, as the writers have scrambled to keep the story going an additional nine episodes.

It's also true that the bulk of "... Versus The Cliffhanger" followed a fairly predictable path: Volkoff being redeemed after getting his original identity back, Chuck managing to convince Vivian to turn her back on supervillain-y, etc. But there were interesting flourishes along the way. I particularly liked the way Chuck had the Intersect wiped from his mind by Decker and spent the majority of the episode using his own skills, experience and humanity to save Sarah's life. In many ways this was the angle that gave the episode a sense of finality, as Chuck effectively threw away his mental crutch and walked unaided as a true spy. "Charles Carmichael" became Chuck Bartowski, as they're now one and the same.

Second of Strahotness: the blushing bride

This was the least action-orientated finale of Chuck I can remember, but the stakes were arguably highest. Sarah's life has been threatened before, sure, but the whole situation felt more tense because of the against-the-clock element and dependable hospital drama. The occasional flashbacks to Chuck and Sara coping with pre-marital jitters by rehearsing their wedding vows also worked very nicely, plus it gave Yvonne Strahovski something to do in a Sarah-lite hour. The fact the actual wedding only happened in the last five minutes, and was reduced to a relatively brief scene, didn't seem to matter too much. We've already seen a big ceremony with Ellie's (Sarah Lancaster) wedding in season 2, and all you really needed was to see Chuck and Sarah in their finery and saying "I do" for the moment to work.

It's a shame the Vivian Volkoff story didn't work this season, as I think it was a decent idea that just needed more time to cook. That's perhaps why Vivian was underused here, as the emphasis was instead placed on her father--restored to his original self. The realities of Volkoff's situation were obviously swept under the carpet by a lighthearted show like Chuck (this is almost like waking up to realize you've been Osama Bin Laden for 30 years!), but it was still a fitting way to end the Volkoff storyline. Dalton's been great value this season, even if I mostly disliked the Volkoff story arc.

"... Versus The Cliffhanger" also ended with a surprising amount of setup for a fifth season, which it will fortunately be able to explore now. The Intersect-less Chuck, Sarah and Casey have been fired from the CIA, Castle has become an empty shell, but Volkoff has decided to make amends by giving Chuck and Sarah an eye-watering $877 million from his dismantled criminal empire. Enough money to start their own freelance outfit, now that Chuck's bought the Buy More and outfitted Castle, and investigate the insinuation from Decker that Chuck's whole life has been more determined than destined...

Even better, Morgan unwittingly downloaded the Intersect via some snazzy shades and has essentially inherited Chuck's geek-to-spy role--in many ways restoring the show to its fish-out-of-water origins. A truncated season without governmental restrictions, but with Morgan as a novice spy out in the field doing Kung Fu? That could be fun. I just hope Chuck doesn't take too much of a sidekick role, as it would feel weird having the show's lead character play second fiddle to his best buddy all season.

Overall, this wasn't my favourite season finale Chuck's done, but it was a great one by this show's dicey standards, and easily one of the misfiring season 4's best episodes. It essentially relied on our fondness and connection with Chuck and Sarah to earn its emotional peaks, and they're still a TV couple who can tug at your heartstrings.


  • Great scene with Devon (Ryan McPartin) helping Morgan incapacitate a CIA operative at the hospital by agreeing to be his distraction, but after seeing the fear in Morgan's eyes deciding to punch the spook out himself.
  • I was glad to see Sarah's C.A.T Squad return as her bridesmaids, but unless I'm very much mistaken they had to recast Mircea Monroe.
  • Jeffester didn't get the Sarah/Chuck gig? I had my fingers crossed for Billy Idol's "White Wedding", too.
  • The idea of there being a huge conspiracy that's been influencing Chuck's entire life is, of course, a ludicrous idea to swallow--but I'm interested to see how the writers try to make that feel plausible in season 5. I suppose we've already discovered a lot of the random events regarding Chuck becoming the Intersect weren't so arbitrary after all, so maybe it'll work. But how deep does the conspiracy go? Was his relationship with Sarah pre-planned by someone, too?
  • Will Chuck reveal to the Buy More staff he's the owner of the business? I'm predicting not, because there would be too many questions asked about how he can afford that. Likewise, it's unlikely Chuck and Sarah will be moving into a palatial home--agreed?
  • Did anyone else get the feeling from Decker's chat to Chuck on the Castle videoscreen that his murdered father Stephen may not actually be dead? I certainly hope that's true, as it would be great to see Scott Bakula back on the show--together with screen wife Linda Hamilton.
  • Any other predictions for the final season? Sarah's mother has got to make her long overdue appearance, right? Will they have time to squeeze in a pregnancy storyline for Sarah, or would that incapacitate her character too much? Will Casey rekindle a romance with his ex-fiance Kathleen McHugh? Will General Beckman somehow get screentime? Will the CIA become a thorn in Team Chuck's side? Will the show be retitled Morgan--at least for one alternative opening title sequence, please!
  • Chuck's being moved to the disreputable "graveyard slot" of Friday nights next season, which ordinarily means it will die there. But could Chuck's small but loyal fanbase turn it into a surprise hit, by Friday night standards, and see the show renewed for a sixth season? With this show, you can't discount anything!
written by Chris Fedak & Nicholas Wootton / directed by Robert Duncan McNeill / 16 May 2011 / NBC