We’ve almost become accustomed to Chuck finales: the shock, the awe, the music, the laughter, the tears and all of these within 43 minutes. Chuck versus the Subway and Ring Pt. 2 was all that and more, except it’s a 2 parter. 85 minutes and 14 seconds of utter devastation, helpless laughter and exhilaration. Oh and there was a mustache! Join Joe and me (Faith) for a look back and maybe on the way, you’ll shed some tears with us. If not, at least experience Jeff’s creepiness like you’ve never before. Muhaha.
Chuck vs. the Subway | I’ll get this out of the way right off, I’m not a fan of bringing back Shaw, in any capacity, much less from the dead. I think if there ever was a person that needed to stay dead he was it, but (and this is a pretty big but), if it had to happen I’m glad it happened the way it did. There really isn’t a more loved recurring figure on Chuck than PapaB and just having him back elevated everything about this storyline–from the call to family to the strength of emotion, to the stakes, PapaB’s return had it all. A fitting farewell from three of Chuck’s beloved writers: Ali Adler, Matt Miller and Phil Klemmer. Although Klemmer would eventually return, this still served as a strong showing for him, and a well told farewell when it needed to be.
The credits lists it as “Story by: Matt Miller, Teleplay by Ali Adler and Phil Klemmer,” and as you’d expect from a collaborative effort you see the strengths (more strengths than weaknesses though that too is present) of each individual writer within the whole. And as we’ve come to expect from Matt Miller, it was a melting pot of thematic elements that all built to an grand finish. Colonel was such an episode, one that gave us suspense, drama, romance and comedy and this was (though not as good), as well executed. Though Miller didn’t have a hand in the dialogue (that’s where teleplay comes in), we can assume that the plot and maybe the pace was his construction. From Ali Adler, we got some romantic dialogue, some humor and just a little Jeff-centered creepy. Jeff’s “Ellie is like Chuck but with lady parts,” says it all. Phil Klemmer’s strength lies in the mythology, and this didn’t disappoint. PapaB’s return to Orion, complete with hacked system and flickering lights, brilliant. All of these and a Star Wars homage to boot: [General Beckman:] “You are our only hope.”
Perhaps the only negative I could think of was the idea of burn notice. It was foreshadowed in earlier episodes, and in fact one of the reasons why it was always such a big deal when Sarah attempts it (First Kill), or almost attempts it for Chuck (Marlin) and even in this one it was well established but it didn’t quite hit the right note.
Casey: “We got to get out of here, we walked into a trap.”
Sarah: “What about Chuck?”
Casey: “There’s nothing we can do for him, not after that stunt.”
Sarah: “No, we have to call Washington tell them what’s really going on.”
Casey: “Most of Washington is in that room. Shaw and the Ring have taken over the CIA, he’s got the whole chain of command eating out of his hand. God only knows how many agents are on the inside. It’s only a matter of a time before they burn us too.”
Sarah: “So what, you’re just going to run?”
Casey: “It’s not just us they’ll come after. They’ll come after the people we care about. You coming?”
Sarah: “No, everything I care about is inside this building.”
Sarah: “If you run, they won’t ever stop looking for you.”
Stephen: “If you stay, everyone you love will be in danger. You have to choose, who do you want to protect, you or her? You have to run Charles, you have to run to protect her.”
Chuck: “I’m sorry Sarah. But if I have to choose, I will always choose to protect you.”
So they run, PapaB said it best, sometimes to protect the ones you love you have to leave them behind. It’s actually one of the answers that Ellie never got but was promised (more on this later). So Chuck’s been “burned,” Casey’s taking off to protect his family, what about Sarah? Why is she staying? Why didn’t she just run with Chuck? Wouldn’t that have made the most sense? By staying she’s no more protected than he would be had he stayed (as we saw later on when Shaw got her arrested). Though that sucker punch was a thing of beauty, and not to be missed (replayed, even), especially after Shaw uttered the words, “Sam.” In any case, as a dramatic and romantic element, it worked. Chuck’s doing what his father did before him, protect the ones he loves. He’s a “Bartowski” after all. “Don’t know when it happened but our boy became a man.”
Speaking of, there were two lines in this episode, related to family, that sticks. As Stephen and Chuck drive back to save loved ones, Stephen remarked, “if we do this, we got to be smart. Not think emotional. We can do this, we’re Bartowskis.” A familiar sentiment that was said not that long ago, by Ellie: “if you love her, if she’s the one then you don’t stop. You don’t quit, you never go too far. You’re a Bartowski, start acting like one.” In an episode where the strongest emotion was between Stephen and Ellie, this was a great call. “Bartowskis” indeed. The second line was “there’s always a choice!” This was uttered by Chuck to his mom in season 4. A nice full circle from one Bartowski to another.
Still perhaps the crowning glory of this episode was PapaB’s demise. It’s not so much that he died (though I’m sure there are those that believe it didn’t need to happen), it’s the devastation, the loss and the risk that came with it. Ellie and Chuck were left by their father once before but it’s different this time. He’s gone for good. And this time, Ellie was about to get answers. “Devon, an actual legitimate answer exists as to why my father has been missing for my entire life and you didn’t think to ask that question?” A bit of foreshadowing before the fact, but the moment? Devastatingly brilliant. Perhaps one of the best dramatic moments in all of Chuck.
Ellie: “I need to hear you say it. I need to know that there was a reason why you left us.”
Stephen: “It’s a long story. I want to tell you everything but I got to take care of this first okay? This is the last time I’m going to walk away from you.”
It turns out it was the last time Stephen walked away from Ellie. Just like it was the last time Chuck heard the words, “Aces, Charles” from his dad. (Side note: if you’re not tearing up just reading about this, and hearing the song, you’re a better person than me!)
Stephen: “I love you, baby.”
The scene was well shot, well constructed and above all, well acted. It’s very rare for us to see Sarah Lancaster show off her talent, much less dramatic talent but this is definitely one of them. Her face, when she turns around, just a picture of anguish, grief, devastation. Even better in contrast to the smile she had when talking to her Dad not that long ago. Zachary Levi face was also an illustration of debilitating loss, but Sarah Lancaster takes the Emmy in this one. In portrayal and in stories like these, despair can be delicious.
So PapaB is gone, it’s all Chuck’s fault and all hope is lost. Enter Menew’s “Don’t Give Up on Us Now.” Apart from PapaB’s soundtrack “One October Song” (brings a tear to my eye whenever they bring it back to remind us of PapaB), and Neighbor (song plays when Chuck and Stephen run away), Menew’s composition is one of the best things about this episode. All the more so because of the message within the song. (A bit of a background on the song, back during the filming of this episode, Chuck’s fate was still undecided. So the “don’t give up on us now” was a good message to the fans of the show).
“When the feeling is gone
At the breaking of dawn
I will never look back
With the wind at my back
Dont give up on us now
Dont give up on us now”
Chuck’s lost all hope and for a change, Sarah’s the one that’s trying to give him hope, trying to uplift his spirits but Chuck, he can’t see past losing PapaB and “feeling is gone.” He’s numb from the grief, hopeless. “It’s over. There’s no one left to save us.” Enter Ellie on the phone with Devon. Just like once before when PapaB left, and Ellie and Chuck only had each other to rely on, Ellie’s here for Chuck. And she’s not alone.
Chuck vs. the Ring Pt. 2 | We’ve reached the end of our list. Chuck vs. The Subway and Chuck vs. The Ring Pt. 2 together are our reader’s top pick for best episode(s) to date for a reason. Several, actually. For me, it wasn’t about technique or crisp writing (this, even though the episode was technically excellent and showed some extraordinarily tight story-telling). It wasn’t even about love for the characters. That was established long ago.
For me it was all about being caught-up in the moment and in the story. It was about being emotionally involved, once again, in the character’s inner lives. They had me at “I’m sorry.”
Chuck: I’m sorry guys. Shaw has won.
Sarah: Oh my God. I’m so sorry.
Casey: Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll get Shaw.
Chuck: No, we won’t.
That’s despair. We expect a lot from our heroes, but one thing is expected most of all. We expect them to not give up. Despair is one of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ for a reason, and we’re left at the end of Subway on the verge.
It’s worse than that. Chuck’s been shown that his father’s dictum – “You always have a choice!” – is just plain wrong. Stephen is dead, defeated, and there’s no one left now to get Chuck out of the hole he’s in. Faith, you’re absolutely right when you point out that Menew’s lyrics, “Don’t give up on us now,” are directed at us, the fans. Although I know the words could be seen several ways, from the writers as a general plea for a bit more patience with Chuck & Sarah for instance, they’re also seen from Chuck’s POV and ours to be about the immediate predicament and despair. We are deep in a hole now along with Chuck.
No good story would leave us there too long, and Ring Pt. II starts to lead us out immediately with a flash-back scene of Chuck and Ellie in Encino, 1991. Chuck’s broken his mother’s necklace and young Ellie is upset. There’s only Stephen’s words and guidance. There’s nothing broken in this whole world, that the two of you can’t fix if you work together. Chuck’s mission is to find glue. Ellie’s is to be there when Chuck needs her. He needs her now.
In fact, when Chuck says the words “There’s no one left to save us,” you know immediately that he’s wrong. Everyone’s helping.
Devon: What are we gonna do? We don’t have a plan!
Morgan: No plan? That never stopped me before.
Of course not. Thank you, little bearded man! If you didn’t feel better about Chuck’s situation at this point, just three minutes into “Ring II,” then you seriously lack a fantasy life, my friend.
I take that back. It’s faith that’s being sparked here. Just a kernel, and it’s wonderful.
Morgan and Devon find Casey’s car-borne rockets (I believe they come standard on most spies’ cars) and put a dent in Shaw’s fender. Uh, plans. The CIA? The NSA? Who needs them? It’s striking that when trained agents of the federal government want to give up it’s Ellie who insists otherwise. It’s not that she has a plan or any special talents to offer TeamB. Being “special” isn’t really what Chuck has ever been about. It’s about looking into the ordinary and finding the extraordinary.
What Ellie gives to Chuck is a direction. Thanks to her, he has a path to follow, and it’s marked by his father’s footsteps. In a fashion familiar to everyone who’s ever seen Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, Stephen, the man who’s had to fake his death many times, seems larger than ever now that he’s struck down. He makes his son seem larger than life.
It’s like seeing the sunrise after a night lost in the woods, isn’t it? Visualize Chuck in the pilot episode, man-boy, playing D&D games at his own birthday party and avoiding the women Ellie has invited. Visualize Chuck in The Marlin, cringing and even whining at the idea of being embunkered. Compare that to the Chuck who strikes down Justin (Ellie’s turn-coat CIA handler) or the Chuck who calmly sits in Shaw’s office, waiting to tell him how the Nerd Herd can help him with his on-line presentations (Muhaha). The Chuck we always knew he could be has emerged, and wow, does it feel good. I experienced a kind of pride when Chuck faced Shaw in his office.
Chuck: I’m sorry. Are you asking me to make the classic villain mistake of explaining my dastardly plot to you? Know what? I’d love to!
But wait! There’s more! Or so say the low budget commercials on high-numbered cable TV stations. There’s more, and it has nothing to do with Chuck. It’s about Sarah, and it has everything to do with her love for him.
Shaw: It’s a shame. I remember when nothing affected you. Now you’re as emotional as your boyfriend.
Sarah was a cold fish for three seasons. Oh, sure she was – just ask Bryce. You’ll recall she told him outright that his dancing was “rusty”. I found Sarah’s coldness hard to accept then, and in fact, I really didn’t want to believe it. All we saw was Sarah struggling (and mostly failing) to let out some emotional truth, a struggle that Chuck only saw dimly. She couldn’t get out her middle name, she couldn’t drop the cover under pentathol, and she couldn’t show that she wanted to keep the white picket fence of the suburbs, not to mention the home, the photo-shopped memories of happy times and the wedding rings.
Sarah was so controlled throughout that we often imagined a raging volcano inside. I never saw that volcano erupt until Sarah sucker-punched Shaw in the back of the head (speaking of feeling good).
There’s so much in this episode that’s about emotions. During the final confrontation Shaw taunts Chuck about being unable to control his. It seems like a mistake on his part, because from the moment he left Ellie in the car, Chuck’s emotions have been fully in control. In fact, they have been for most of the season. What struck me here finally was the certain realization that Chuck wasn’t the one who had problems with emotions. Sarah was.
Shaw: You have to do it. You have to kill me.
Chuck: No thanks. I’ve already done that once before.
Shaw: That’s what makes you weak.
Sarah: [Whack!] No. That’s what makes you great.
Sarah’s difficulties are well on their way to being addressed. The emotionless, pen-flicking, uber-controlled PITA is dispatched. More importantly, Chuck the man and Sarah the “real girl” have been unleashed.
Chuck vs. The Ring Pt. 2 might have been the end of the series. But I suspect that it might have ended slightly differently if that had been the case. There would have been no introduction to “The Orion Cave” I think, and no search for Frost (and indirectly, Alexei Volkoff). I don’t think Chuck and Sarah would have been left contemplating Chuck’s life without the CIA the way we were. I do think that we might have been given a generous hint that their union was about to become more permanent, like it did at the end of Season 4. We very well might have been given an indication that Mary was about to come home.