I haven’t written about Chuck since the murder mystery episode and I’d like to say that’s because I have been really busy. But it’s not. I no longer have the desire to write about Chuck on a weekly basis, just like I basically don’t have the desire to watch Chuck on a weekly basis. The second half of this season hasn’t been bad at all, but it’s been completely innocuous. The wedding thread has been fine, the Volkov stuff less so, but in general, I just find it hard to really muster up much enthusiasm for this series anymore.
I actually decided to write about the season four finale for those reasons. Although this is one of the season’s better efforts, it still exemplifies my problems with Chuck overall. I’m fine with the obvious plot holes, the leaps in logic and the terrible budget (there was more glorious/horrible green screen here!). I watched Smallville for 10 years, after all. But more than anything, Chuck annoys me because it likes to pretend to mix things up with its formula or its characters, but never actually accomplishes those goals. The cliffhanger to this episode is something of a surprise, but not dramatically so. And after the previous 40 minutes suggested something different for the fifth and final season, the moments leading up to that final cliffhanger more or less re-established the status quo the series has been working with for 78 episodes. It’s all false change, for the most part.
Sure, Chuck, Casey and Sarah get fired here. That’s a big deal. But by the end of the episode, they’re already thrusting themselves back into the spy world with their own private agency or group or whatever. Moreover, Beckman already proved that she’s going to be willing to help the team, so that part of the formula doesn’t really change either. Although the team won’t be supervised by the government in an official capacity, they’re still going to be going on the same kind of (poorly structured) missions. Chuck might not have the Intersect and Morgan might have it and the writers might want us to think that’s a cute little bit of circular storytelling, but “going back to season one roots” shouldn’t just mean “doing season one stories over with Morgan in the Chuck role.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I expect season five to be.
The thing with Chuck is that nothing really ever changes. Season three had the most change with Chuck learning his new abilities, but that wasn’t explored as much as it could have and should have been. When Chuck wasn’t supposed to be a spy anymore at the beginning of season four, the series was exactly the same and then Chuck eventually just became a spy again. They’ve done similar things in the middle of seasons or arcs as well, like the 191 times Chuck has lost, damaged and then subsequently regained the Intersect. I understand the formula is the formula, but the regular suggestions that things will change only further reinforce that they actually don’t. At this point, whenever a character says “I know Kung-Fu,” I just want to bang my head against a wall. It’s supposed to signal some sort of game-change. It does not.
Listen, I could be wrong. Hell, I want to be wrong. There is the possibility that this series-long conspiracy that’s dropped into the conclusion of the episode will actually be awesome. Maybe there is a good reason that all these things have been happening to Chuck, Sarah and Casey from the very beginning. And maybe Morgan having the Intersect in his brain will actually serve as an interesting entry point into that story. That would be really great. The problem is that if there’s one thing this series has never done well, it’s the long-term arcing of a spy-related story. Chuck works because it’s such a fun, strong character dramedy, not because it knows how to craft a cunning, compelling story about spies and subterfuge. Choosing to build its final season around the thing the series does worst is risky, and maybe it pays off. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
In any event, the first 32 minutes of “Versus the Cliffhanger” are much better than the last 10. Putting Sarah’s life in danger was obviously a bit cheap, but it worked masterfully. Chuck’s willingness to give up everything in his life, his job, his identity, his freedom, whatever, was really, really well done. Zachary Levi doesn’t always get the best dramatic material to work with, but he nailed this whole episode and I totally believed that Chuck was legitimately willing to do whatever it takes. The wedding was downplayed more than I expected, but it was still pretty good. I enjoyed Chuck and Sarah’s test run and the random flashbacks to their time together. Simple, but effective storytelling there.
But it’s probably troubling that I could only muster up one small paragraph about the things I especially enjoyed about this episode and wrote 700 words on the things I didn’t really care for. I’ll still be watching Chuck when it debuts its fifth and final season in the fall, and I’ll probably even write a review of that episode. But I don’t expect much to change, even though the series wants to convince me things will.
- The conclusion to the Volkov story was pretty inane and dumb, if you ask me. Timothy Dalton has been tremendous all season and I guess it was nice to confirm that Chuck’s dad didn’t totally create a monster, but the whole ending felt like an easy cop-out.
- Similar things could be said about the use of Linda Hamilton as Chuck’s mother. What was really the point of all that again? Does anyone wish that Chuck’s dad was still alive?
- Morgan had a number of great moments in this episode, from his “Let him in douche” line, to the bit in the limo about not being able to let go. If it weren’t for Joshua Gomez, this series would be at least three times less enjoyable.
- Good use of Ellie and Awesome here. That is all.