Was Season 4 of Chuck your favorite? We’ve been having that conversation with more than a few people these past few weeks, and come to the conclusion that the answer is (and I say this with all intended irony): It’s complicated!
Complicated, yes, but it’s not hard to tell you what we feel and what we think.
Thinkling: My Favorite Things
I could talk at length about the episodes and arcs and layers, the character growth and guest stars and why this is my favorite season. But I’ve already done that. So I’ll just tell you my favorite moments and lines from Season 4 … the memorable things that touch me or make me laugh or smile. My challenge — no more than 2 scenes and 2 lines per episode. Some episodes are so good it’s hard for me to pick highlights. I’ll mark them with a “*” and do my best to pick two highlights. These are a few of my favorite things:
Anniversary: General Beckman and Chuck in the Buymore … Sexting … They are ghosts who expertly use public transportation to avoid being tracked.
Suitcase:* The first scene and Morgan outing Sarah … The break-in … You’re my home, Chuck. You always have been.
Cubic Z: Sarah’s first awkward attempt at the chat … Do not let her get under your skin … Sorry, foot slipped. … The real chat.
Coup d’Etat:* The van scene … That love that you had in the cave; that doesn’t have to change. … The mediation scene … If you ask me for real, then my answer would be yes.
Couch Lock: You could have told me that before I crawled under those lasers … Morgan Grimes, expertise: None … The fountain scene.
Aisle of Terror: I’m going to eat your dessert and blame it on Morgan … The first meet … And I will [shoot] you again, if you don’t get in this car right now. … C/S teamwork and affection.
First Fight: Sarah and Morgan — stiletto … Sarah/Ellie/Mary scene … The bank fight scene … Protect him.
Fear of Death: Sarah’s slo-mo into the Buymore … It looks like he’s hitting you … But then there’s no safety net … The last scene.
Phase 3:* Morgan’s talk with Sarah … The pit fight … Sarah’s rescue confessions to Chuck. Yvonne’s superb(!) performance, absolutely unforgettable!
Leftovers:* Kids love me … The dinner and charades … Scene with MamaB saving Sarah.
Balcony:* Romantic Sarah … Sarah taking over the sub-mission … The last proposal.
Gobbler: Sarah’s first scene with Volkoff … I love a good suicide mission (and one knows this how?) … Castle reunion … I have a hard time with disappointment.
Push Mix:* Sarah/Mary interaction … Chuck taking down Volkoff … Sarah’s rescue of MamaB … The family reunion/birth … The proposal … (I know, that’s pretty much all of it.)
OK. Some episodes I exceeded my self-imposed quota of favorite things. I just couldn’t help it. This is my favorite season. First, I have little patience with wt/wt, so I have loved Chuck and Sarah together and the progression of their relationship. Sarah’s growth has been stunning. Volkoff is certifiably the best ever Chuck villain. I liked the mom story, the family feel of it all, and Sarah’s full investment in it. I love the Mary/Sarah dynamic. LH and TD have been absolutely amazing — individually, together, and with the main cast. I’m so glad they’ll be around for the back 11. Zach and Yvonne are fantastic together and individually. A special Emmy-deserving shout out to Yvonne for her amazing range and depth of performance this season. No one packs so much into 40 minutes of television, absolutely no one.
My verdict … season 4 is genius.
Dave’s a Happy Boy
Season Four is certainly my favorite Chuck yet. I can appreciate that Season Two might have been better in certain objective ways. But this season is the most fun I’ve ever had with a show.
Volkoff is the best villain this show is ever had. Timothy Dalton can play funny and terrifying at the same time — I mean how many actors have you seen who can be intimidating while eating an ice cream cone; WOW I loved that scene. Now I’d say almost the same thing about Chevy Chase, I did think he was awesome too. But Dalton cranks it up to eleven. I’ve laughed while sitting on the edge of my seat, what an experience.
Linda Hamilton has been wonderful as Mary Bartowski. It is truly a shame we never got see the Bartowski parents on screen together because the casting of both was inspired. I look forward to seeing how she develops in the back episodes.
Of course the main event to me was watching Chuck and Sarah grow into a more mature couple. We’ve had so many wonderful moments between them this season (Thinkling already did an awesome job finding most of them) there’s been something to be happy about in absolutely every episode.
We’ve all agonized over some of the emotional cliffhangers this season. I’ve made no secret about not being a huge fan of the technique. But on balance, I can honestly say I haven’t really disliked A SINGLE episode this season. I think Anniversary remains my least favorite, I’d still give it about a 6.5 out of 10; so seriously, not bad!
Heading into the back order, I have no particular anxieties. Except maybe if we can get a Season Five.
View From Joe’s Seat
There’s no law that says Season 4 of Chuck has to be your favorite. Likes and dislikes are ultimately personal, and my wife’s love of Brussels Sprouts no way reflects on me. 😉 There are also certain analytical and objective standards that can be applied to the performing arts that can be – and are – used to dissect and rate each episode or season or series.
If you push the logical analysis enough in order to formally (and politely) convince others, the results of your logical approach are almost always guaranteed! You’ll get a big “Who cares?! I liked [or disliked] it anyway. So there! TTTHHHHPPPPP!!!”
The preceding sound effect is created with thumb firmly affixed to nose.
For me, it comes down to what I feel, emphasis on the “I”. Now, that may seem like a trivial statement (I hear the “Duh!”s coming in my general direction!) But there’s really a bit more to it than that. You can see it when you meet with someone who’s come down the same path as you and reached that same end-point. You know something is good when many recognize a thousand little points that sparkle, even if they’re microscopically small. You find a shared understanding that’s hard to put in words.
Those tiny details all seem to bring out smiles (or sometimes tears, I suppose) when they do come out, like a snippet of a song, or lyric. A favorite scene or a favorite scene that contains a favorite line, or smile, or glance, or touch. The fans of Chuck get a lot of those shared moments.
Gee. In an attempt to quickly compare, say, S2 to S4.0, I started mentally counting off some of my “moments” this season. Ran out of fingers and toes in Anniversary! Sarah grinning as she sashayed up to Marko before decking him… Casey saying “Thank you!” before jumping (mimicking Sarah in the process) – you get the idea. It gets even harder for me when I start to consider the music and the lyrics. I’m not afraid to say | We’re here to save the day | Hey hey-hey hey-hey HEY!” Of course, by the time we get to Sarah throwing her arms around Chuck, wearing a huge smile that we cannot see but can most definitely feel and giving him the kiss of his life – again – I’m deep into the emotional places intended for me by TPTB.
They’d consider that a success, I’m sure. And so do I. But then, there are the BIG moments of GENIUS that smack us over the head and makes us shout GIVE YVONNE AN EMMY!!! Dave and Thinkling (and really, all of us in comments) have talked about those. I also see great television in the larger themes this season.
The MamaB Arc
In a word, it was exciting. That was almost incidental, because it didn’t have to be that way. I mean, the Orion arc from S2 was exciting mostly because that one came off as a complete surprise to most of us. We had very few clues prior to Perseus telling us who had been the brains behind the Intersect in Lethal Weapon. It built rapidly like a runaway locomotive. This time the excitement was built up more gradually, and never really drew it’s strength from a rapid build up. It’s source of strength was elsewhere; in the depth of the bonds between all the characters, starting with the bonds between Chuck and Ellie and Mary Elizabeth Bartowski.
Mary: And who might you be?
Sarah: Wow. I didn’t even hear a twig snap.
She need not have been an accomplished, even fearsome spy. Being a mother would have sufficed. But from the first moment we saw her facing off with Sarah, we knew she was a great one. Sarah knew this even before Chuck did.
I detect a difference in colors between S2 (at least, the last six or seven episodes) and the first half of S4. It seems very much related to the differences in the relationship between father and son and between mother and son. A father is respected; a mother is loved. That’s a stereotype and no where near universally true, of course. But it’s a truism that carries with it some meaning. I feel that here, and I enjoy the differences.
Unlike the Orion arc, S4 has been about coming together. We all knew that Chuck & Sarah were going to be part of that (OR ELSE!), right? But Casey and Morgan? Alex and Morgan? All that was icing on the cake. To me, the wonder of it all was in how long I was able to be uncertain that Mary Elizabeth Bartowski would join the clan. Given this was TV, given that this was Chuck, and given that we knew from the beginning that it could end up no other way, having mother reunite with son, daughter, their families and even the revelation that even after 20 years apart she still loved Stephen above all others was – heartwarming.
That’s code. In English, it means I wanted to burst. Add the sweet reunion between Mary and Morgan over Rice Krispie Treats and it becomes sublime. There’s very little in this world that’s more important and meaningful than the birth of a child, and we had that too. Welcome to the group, Clara. You’ve changed things already.
So Was It Good For You?
There’s been one story here that’s spanned four years for most of us, and that’s Chuck&Sarah (with no space between them any more). Was that in “real time” or in Slo-Mo? I can’t tell any more, because it was all that and very quick too (as I’ve said repeatedly), for television. What ever it was, the story was so sweet we were tempted to want it to be exactly the same, forever and ever, television-romancing with out end, amen.
It had to change, though. Stagnation and sameness would have been deadly, or at least, likely not holding my interest. Instead, we have a sequence that grows and swells with a recognizable rhythm. At least, it’s recognizable if you have an ounce of romance in your soul and have spent some serious time adjusting to life with someone you care about. The experiences build on what we had and often make the past seem even better than we remembered. Sarah’s question “What about me?” in First Date becomes “What about tonight?” in Balcony.
We lie beneath the stars at night
Our hands gripping each other tight
You keep my secrets hope to die
Promises, swear them to the sky
You can be sure this felt very much like a series ending to me. There were questions raised this season (like what’s up with the PSP?) for which we never got answers. I have to admit, some of those questions seem a little secondary now.
We should also not forget that we *did* get answers to some questions – What is *her* name, after all? “Sarah Walker. And don’t you forget it.” It hardly matters – Sarah has consented to change her name once more.
Others, like “Why again did MamaB spend 20 years away from her family?” are more troublesome, because it takes a lot to swallow the answer that was given. We have to accept that this is her character. If it’s important, it reflects the fact that a secondary character has become important enough that we care.
A conclusion has been reached, but the story is not over. There’s time still for more answers, if we want them. As happy as I am now with the results, I’m not so sure I need them. I’ll be very happy to start brand new adventures and to see where Chuck, Sarah, Casey, Morgan and all the rest go next.