Sunday, 29 January 2012

CHUCK, 5.12 & 5.13 – "Chuck Versus Sarah" & "Chuck Versus the Goodbye"

Sunday, 29 January 2012

"Chuck, tell me our story..." – Sarah Walker

Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) and Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) have always been the heart of this show, so after five seasons it was a perfect decision to have the potential loss of their relationship be the driving force behind a double-bill series finale. By having Sarah's memories wound back to before "Operation Bartowski" by villainous Quinn (Angus Macfadyen), re-programmed to believe she's spend the last five years deep undercover pretending to be Chuck's girlfriend/wife, the emotional stakes of the final episodes were some of the highest the show's produced. That all helped counterbalance the pretty simplistic plots, and naturally the show had some fun making references to its own history and giving fans a few parting gifts.

Zachary Levi was particularly brilliant here, especially in the scene where he made a heartfelt plea for amnesiac Sarah to believe his side of the story. You sometimes underestimate just how good Levi is on this show, but it was clear from that scene how much he really cares about his character's life and he was able to communicate all the pain, sorrow and desperation necessary. I don't mind admitting I was welling up on two occasions, although I never quite cracked into full-blown weeping. But there was always this anxious ache for the story to take the expected, cathartic twist and get its two lead characters back together. The wait for this breakthrough almost became unbearable. And, rather controversially, it never quite came as we'd expected. Showing some uncharacteristic plausibility, Sarah's memories never magically returned, with their final kiss on the beach leaving the lovebirds' fate ambiguous. Did Morgan's (Joshua Gomez) romantic idea that one kiss would make everything better work? Or will Chuck have to slowly win Sarah all over again, which at least feels likely given her acceptance of his idea to kiss her? We'll never know for sure, which I'm sure will aggravate many 'shippers.

For the most part, these episodes didn't really have much more on their minds than torturing fans over the Chuck/Sarah predicament, but both were fast-paced and exciting when they wanted to be. I'm not sure Quinn ever really worked as a Big Bad, mainly because he was introduced so very late in the season, but at least his goal to acquire a functioning Intersect by using Sarah against Chuck was one of the better evil plans a villain's had on the show. I also really loved the various callbacks to things from the show's past: like the return of the Wienerlicious (including Sarah in her iconic pigtails and miniskirt), Linda Hamilton reprising her role as Mary Bartowski (despite still being a charisma-free zone), the Buy More officially taken over by Subway (the show's biggest commercial supporter since season 2), and a brilliant Jeffster performance of A-Ha's "Take On Me" during a tense sequence where Chuck had to defuse a bomb under General Beckman's (Bonita Fiedericy) chair.

It was only right the show focus on Chuck and Sarah, but a part of me wishes some of the other characters were given better concluding moments. Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Devon (Ryan McPartlin) simply moved to Chicago for better jobs, Morgan and Alex (Mekenna Melvin) moved in together, and Casey (Adam Baldwin) left to find his beloved Gertrude (Carrie Ann Moss, sadly missing from this finale). The best farewell moment was arguably given to Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay), who were signed by a German music producer and are seemingly destined to become David Hasselhoff-style hits in the Fatherland.

Overall, for a show that's already given us about four different would-be finales in its hectic lifetime, "... Versus The Goodbye" wasn't the funniest or the most exciting, but by focusing on the Chuck/Sarah dynamic it was undoubtedly the most heartrending at times. Is it frustrating that the show didn't give us an unequivocal "happy ending" for the couple? Perhaps, but that's down to personal taste. I will assume that the kiss on the beach, after Chuck told Sarah their entire story, worked... but if not, I find it hard to believe they wouldn't just fall in love all over again...

As a wrap-up to the show, it did its job. To be honest, I haven't found Chuck as essential to watch since the end of season 3, but this final season had a terrific run of episodes and felt more focused than usual. I've never found Chuck especially funny, and often the drama doesn't always work because there are rarely any stakes, but there's always been an inherent likeability about the show that I've enjoyed. It exists to entertain, and is a great example of a fantastic cast making the material work in ways it probably doesn't on the page. You can always tell that the actors/writers are 100% committed to the show and very passionate about it, plus mindful of their fans and the role they've played in keeping it on-air. It's one of the best examples of a show that knows how to keep its fanbase on-side, through thick and thin.

And on a personal note, I've enjoyed reviewing Chuck. I haven't always had much to say that's vastly different, week to week, but it's always been one of the easier shows to watch and critique. So despite the fact I was never a big fan of the Buy More, or most of season 4, and I don't think the show is as amazing as most fans believe, it's been a fun and reliable place to be entertained. And if nothing else, I look forward to seeing Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski (especially) now get a chance to do something different, because five years is a big chunk out of an actor's career...


  • Things we learned: you can fit Sarah into an average-sized bag.
  • Did all the budget go on the sky diving sequence for Sarah? Or the helicopter landing sequence? Those were fantastic throwbacks to what the show could do in season 1 and 2.
  • There weren't many of the show's traditional guest-stars here, although Mark Pellegrino (Lost, Being Human USA) had a brief scene as a villain called Edgar.
written by Rafe Jenkins & Lauren LeFranc (5.12) & Chris Fedak (5.13) / directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (5.12) & Robert Duncan McNeill (5.13) / 27 January 2012 / NBC

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