Chuck’s somewhat-anticipated final season begins tonight. And although I already wrote a piece to celebrate the series’ return, I thought it would be best to stray away from the negative and focus a little bit more on the good times. In that vein, I figured the best way for me to do that would be to pull out a praise-worthy list! I strongly considered ranking all of Chuck’s episodes, but then realized that would require me to remember/watch/read about on Wikipedia all the episodes from season three and four that made me sad. Plus, I actually don’t have all the time in the world to make lists for you guys. I know. It’s tough for me too.
Before we get started, just a few regular reminders: Obviously, this is my list and I have certain preferences and thoughts about what makes a great Chuck episode. So if you hate it, I understand and please, by all means, let me know. I’d love to hear your top group of episodes. Also, I want you to know that I tried to balance out the seasons as much as I could. I pretty much adore season two and could have stuffed this list full of at least 10 season two episodes, but I did my best to rein it in and consider the context and importance of other episodes. Just so you know. Anyway, here we go. The top 15 episodes of Chuck thus far, presented in reverse order.
15. “Chuck Versus the Seduction Impossible” (S4): I’m on record as a fairly stringent opponent of season four. It just didn’t work and I think this list will reflect that. However, thanks to the return of John Larroquette’s Roan and the unveiling of his past relationship with General Beckman, this episode kicked off the second half of season four with a substantial amount of charm and energy. There is no big melodrama, the stakes aren’t that high, but “Seduction Impossible” is just damn fun and purely entertaining. I hope much of season five follows this mold.
14. “Chuck Versus the Intersect” (S1): When I was doing some research for this list, I stumbled upon a few negative reviews of Chuck’s pilot episode and was a bit shocked. I love the pilot episode. I think it does a wonderful job of setting up the series’ world, explaining enough of the admittedly complicated mythology and providing engaging introductions to the main cast. Zachary Levi exudes Chuck-ness from the very beginning and Yvonne Strahovski is lovely.
13. “Chuck Versus the First Fight” (S4): I wasn’t always happy with the way season four handled Chuck and Sarah’s relationship (or anything else, obviously), but this one managed to get it right for at least one 42 minute spree. The two have issues and yet, “Fight” explores those issues on the job and with a much more light-hearted tone than usual. I don’t mind drama, but sometimes Chuck gets a bit too bogged down. A reprieve, this one.
12. “Chuck Versus First Class” (S3): Once Chuck had his Intersect upgrade and had embraced becoming the world’s greatest super-spy, it was only a matter of time before he went out on his own and it was only a matter of a few more seconds of time that Chuck going out on his own would turn ugly. “First Class” is exactly what I would expect from an episode structured around that conceit, but I love that it doesn’t shy away from it. Stone Cold Steve Austin is rock-solid in his guest spot, Kristen Kreuk is similarly good and the quasi-battle for Chuck’s self-reliance between Sarah and Shaw worked really well.
11. “Chuck Versus the Ring: Part II” (S3): As a whole, the two-part season three finale is one of the series’ highlights. However, I think that the first hour is the much better of the two (and therefore you’ll see it momentarily). “Ring Part II” suffers mostly because it has to spend a lot of time explaining the Ring mythology that never made sense, had much time to develop or was that compelling. Nevertheless, I liked Brandon Routh’s performance on the series better than most and having him in full-blown villain mode her works for me. The final fight between he and Chuck is damn awesome.
10. “Chuck Versus the Nemesis” (S1): Though I love the Chuck pilot quite a bit, this is definitely the shortened first season’s best episode, right? After a number of good standalones, this one answered some big questions, introduced a dozen more and brought us more of the wonderful Bryce Larkin. “Nemesis” does everything that you want the first post-pilot mythology-heavy episode to do and then some, really.
9. “Chuck Versus the First Kill” and 8. “Chuck Versus the Dream Job” (Both S2): It feels really pointless for me to try to pick one of these episodes over another, they’ve always felt like a two-parter anyway. Scott Baukla and Zachary Levi feel like they were born to play father and son and even though the Orion reveal could be seen from a mile away and is a bit on-the-nose, the two actors make it work. Just so much great stuff in these two episodes: Chevy Chase is having a ball as Ted Roark, “Dream Job” provides a lot of great material for Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin, Jill returns, Chuck’s first official kill is played with the right level of complexity and humor and Chuck and Sarah going off the grid is one of my top-five moments in the series’ ever. Just fantastic television.
7. “Chuck Versus the Subway” (S3): Say what you will about Shaw, but killing Chuck’s dad is most certainly the evilest, darkest and most dramatic thing the series has ever done. I kind of would have preferred if the season just ended right there, had Fedak and Schwartz knew they were coming back for a fourth season.
6. “Chuck Versus the Other Guy” (S3): Season three had three episodes that felt like not only season, but series finales and although the first dozen episodes were a bit rushed and sometimes sloppily executed, I still prefer the first ending in “Other Guy” versus what happened in “Subway”/”Ring Part II.” Chuck finally sacking up and realizing that the only way to protect Sarah was to kill Shaw is a thrilling plot moment, but also a substantial character one – even if the series negated it by bringing Shaw back from the dead later. The hotel in Paris scene is pretty much perfect for shippers as well.
5. “Chuck Versus Phase Three” (S4): Sarah Walker and Yvonne Strahovski’s greatest episode, by a country mile. She gets to kick ass, she gets to be funny and she gets to be a little bit emotional. If there was any justice in the world, she would have at least been nominated for an Emmy for this episode. I thought that Chuck losing the Intersect again was a dull, non-starter of a storyline, but this episode basically makes it worth it.
4. “Chuck Versus the Beard” (S3): Crafting the perfect situation and reaction for an unknowing character to be let in on a big secret can be difficult. “Beard” makes it look easy. This episode expertly weaves all the characters and their multiple, disparate stories together (something the series has had trouble with in recent years) and provides sizable laughs and fine emotional beats. Morgan discovering much of the secret for his own worked wonders and I can’t help but smile when thinking of the sequence where Chuck actually reveals the rest of it to him. This is just a fantastic episode that underscored the importance of Chuck and Morgan’s relationship.
3. “Chuck Versus Santa Claus” (S2): And now we’ve entered the stretch of glorious season two episodes. Josh Schwartz loves holiday episodes and when given the opportunity (which isn’t often because of the constant scheduling changes), Chuck does them just as well as Schwartz’s O.C. did. Season two’s Christmas episode is the tops, though. “Santa” makes great use out of trapping everyone in the main cast in the Buy More during what initially appears to be a stick-up but eventually turns into a much more deadly threat. Nearly every character gets a great or fist-pumping moment, from Morgan saving the day with the snow machine to Jeff calling his mom to Big Mike’s reunion with his cousin Big Al. Oh, and the tree farm sequence where Sarah kills the agent to protect Chuck while he secretly watches on? Unbelievably great.
2. “Chuck Versus the Colonel” and 1. “Chuck Versus the Ring” (Both S2): I hope there wasn’t any question about which episodes would take the top two spots on this list. If there was, I’m confused. The final two offerings of season two intelligently pulled all the season’s storylines and character arcs together and together, “Colonel” and “Ring” are the primary reason I ever wanted to save Chuck in the first place. The series often works very well when one of the team-members is temporarily on an opposing side, not because they’re evil or villainous, but because of a legitimate disagreement in ideology. “Colonel” is the best representative of that theme, with Casey temporarily deciding that he needs to work with the government to hunt down fugitives Chuck and Sarah. We knew he wouldn’t go through with it in the end, but when Casey does decide to help his friends, you’re forced to do nothing but clap or cheer. The finale “Ring” perhaps has one too many “endings” or reversals, but far be it for me to judge that kind of storytelling when each one of the said endings/reversals is fantastic. The “Mr. Roboto” wedding sequence is certainly the most entertaining sequence the series has ever pulled off and the “I know kung-fu” moment is amazing, but I’ve always been privy to the episode’s slightly quieter moments, like Awesome and Ellie’s second wedding or the moment where Chuck flashes back to all the heroic things he did with the Intersect before deciding to uphold into his head again. These two episodes are the epitome of Chuck’s greatness: They’re often hilarious, constantly thrilling, regularly moving and just flat-out entertaining.
Your thoughts? Which episodes did I underrate? Overrate? Forget?