There is so much happening in Chuck vs. The Cliffhanger that I could spend about five thousand words just recapping the story-line. That’s a bit dumb, because you know it so well. The short version is that Sarah is dying, and Chuck has to save her without any help, without the Intersect and without hope.
I have a question for you, though. Was anyone surprised at how it turned out?
Joe Reminisces About All The Changes
Before the last commercial break, Sarah looks like she’s beyond recovery, Chuck is begging It’s not too late. It’s not too late. Please – please. and Ellie bows her head as if in prayer. The camera comes back to the sign at the First Church of Saints, and it reads: Funeral and Viewing – 3PM. Were you surprised at all to see it pan down to reveal “Bartowski Wedding – 4PM”? Not me. There was not a moment that I thought this episode would end without Chuck and Sarah getting married.
There hasn’t been that doubt in my mind since season 4 began, and if you press the issue, I’d probably say that I knew it was inevitable after Barstow.
I don’t consider this predictability to be a fault. Instead, the wedding was a release, just like General Beckman was relieved to pointedly tell the couple “Off the record, I’d say it’s about time!” way back in The Honeymooners (3.14).
There’s a brief segment in Cliffhanger that reminds me why I’ve enjoyed this so much. It’s in how we got here. The segment shows us brief flashbacks from as far back as the Pilot. Trust me, Chuck. That’s what Sarah asks. We see Ellie’s beach-wedding, kisses before the bomb explodes and golden morning light in a dirty motel room. We see a desperate invitation to run away from everything, this time from Union Station and recall the times when Sarah could not say yes, the times when Chuck could not say yes and even the times when neither could, though they wanted to. It’s all different now. We see the flashback to Sarah saying “And if you ask me for real, then my answer would be ‘yes.'”
In the beginning Sarah was very different, and very much in charge. Chuck was following along, much like a puppy. Is that girl gone? Not exactly; Sarah never was one to express her feelings, you recall, and she’s still like that.
Chuck: Are we freaking out? We’re freaking out! That’s normal, though. It’s normal to freak out a little bit the week before a wedding.
Chuck: …it’s cold feet? [pause] No. NO! No, because I WANT to marry you.
Sarah: And I really want to marry you too. It’s just, the church and exchanging intimate feelings in front of a crowd…
For just a moment, Sarah seems so stilted, like she’s cringing at the idea of saying her vows publicly. Sarah doesn’t sweat when there’s shooting involved, but some things, we know, make her nervous.
We get to see Chuck and Sarah practicing their vows as they try to calm themselves. Between you and me, I’ve seen Yvonne play a lot of emotions for us now. I’ve seen tough, sweet, tender, hard-as-nails, despondent and even regal. I’ve seen her do desperate in love too, and all of those things convincingly. But seeing Sarah Walker with a doily on her head (to mimic a veil) and giggling – that was new and special. That was, for a moment, a more girlish and softer thing then we’ve seen before, except maybe when Agent Walker was deep into her cover. And when Agent Walker was that deep under cover, it was a lie. Not so now. Not nearly.
Chuck: That’s all ya got there? I mean, these are our wedding vows, after all. So…
Sarah: I think I covered the bases…
Chuck: Okay. Cool. Yeah. Good-good. You go, then I’ll go and we’ll have a little note session afterwards.
Sarah: Okay. I’m just gonna go and…
Chuck: Yeah, you go and – um-hum..
Sarah: Ahem. [Reading from a single page] “Chuck, you’re a gift. You’re a gift I never dreamed I could want or need and every day I will show you that you’re a gift that I deserve. You make me the best person I could ever hope to be and I want to spend, and learn, and love the rest of my life with you.” Talky?
No, it’s perfect. The girlish giggle dissolved to femininity and openness that Bryce Larkin, Cole Barker and anyone else could only hope to see. It wasn’t for them – it was for Chuck. This is the real girl, not Langston Graham’s Pinocchio.
Chuck is even more changed by all that’s happened. Picture him hanging by his heels as Luther Colt threatens to drop him from the roof. You may remember that Chuck tried to explain who he was to that guy, and even tried to reason with him. In this episode, Chuck tries to reason with Decker too, but it comes out slightly differently this time.
Chuck: Let me explain. [Throws a chair through the monitor, setting off alarms.] That guy might think he’s a hard-ass, but I’m the Intersect.
Oh, I love this. Chuck, the whiny, simpering nerd-of-a-dweeb is still there, somewhere, and beloved of Sarah, actually. She didn’t fall in love with James Bond, after all.
Sarah’s giggle is only a small part of her, and that nerd-herder in Chuck isn’t gone, like I once thought. He is only a trivial part of the man, and he always was. We get to see the hero part a lot more often now, and I wonder why I ever questioned that Sarah would see him completely. Sarah recognized the complete man before I did.
Would so we could see ourselves so completely.
There’s something else, though, besides the heroism and romance that makes this episode, and this show, great. It’s in the gentle humor. It’s in Chuck being mildly annoyed that his mother doesn’t want him driving a motorcycle at 250 mph (and Mary being mildly annoyed to think he’s been on a motorcycle before – isn’t that just like your mother???). It’s in Morgan having powers vested in him by the United Federation of Planets, and in Casey welcoming “So many Russians!” as they come to their aid. It makes you want to blink away the same tear Sarah does when Chuck throws away his vows and speaks of their children being little superheros with little capes. It’s in twisty rings.
I started by asking if you ever had a doubt. I tell you now that as ridiculous as some of the situations have been, I always believed every absurd, fantastic minute.
Dave’s Two Cents
This is one of those episodes that really makes us think about how far we’ve come. A favorite activity of mine recently has been watching S1 and S4 episodes back-to back. I love seeing the change in the characters over that time. Obviously this is the farthest extreme of those points we can get (so far!). The change in some of the secondary characters is just as dramatic as the leads. Casey is no longer the cold killer; he will now go against orders to protect his team and friends, and his daughter’s idiot boyfriend. And speaking of idiot boyfriends, Morgan gets my vote for most growth. While he still may still be a man-child at heart, he’s become (somewhat) responsible and no longer spends more time avoiding work than actually doing it.
But of course the changes in Chuck and Sarah rightfully get the bulk of our attention. Chuck is now reaching his potential. Chuck has become a leader of something far more significant than the Nerd Herd. And Sarah has become a real girl quite aware of her feelings and priorities. What’s even more interesting to me is how much I loved these characters from the start, how proud I am of the ways they’ve grown, and how pleased I am to have been able to see it all (well okay, I wasn’t actually happy to see all of it, but I’m pretty darn happy now!).
Cliffhanger itself was an excellent episode for me, pretty much for the same reasons already spelled out by Joe and Thinkling. As usual, I could find a few things to nitpick; from why the weapons on the Nighthawk were fired remotely, to no real “party time” for our favorite cast of characters with a huge epic reception. But the major notes were played just right. From the very sweet pre-rehearsal, to the heartfelt showdown with Vivian Volkoff, to the post-wedding montage. And I particularly like Decker as a villain. I’m pleased he’ll be back in S5; I think he brings enough menace to the conspiracy threat to keep us on the edge of our seats. Well, the edge of our seats when we’re not laughing or enjoying some quality family time.
While I must honestly admit I have a few concerns leading into S5, they are mostly pretty low key. More than anything that is the legacy of Cliffhanger (for now). I have never been more excited, with fewer reservations, leading into a new season of Chuck. This will be Awesome!
Ernie’s Last Word
I don’t have a lot to add to what has already been said, so that means 1,000 words or less, right? Well we can dream.
I’ve said that the Chuck crew does endings well, and each season they seem to have to do two more. Chuck Versus The Other Guy, Chuck Versus The Ring II, and Chuck Versus the Push Mix, each takes the journey to a final destination, and then sets up the next layer, the next step, and the next destination.
I’m already on record with what I think the destination will/should be next season, so for now I’ll concentrate on the journey that ended this season. Chuck has always been about family, and it was appropriate that the wedding included the entire Chuck family, together and happy in what could have been their final moments on the air. And then there was the prologue… But before that I want to cover some of the journey that I saw this season.
It is to Chuck’s eternal credit that when they finally committed to taking the characters somewhere other than the end of the WT/WT that Hollywood conventional wisdom says has to run up to the last episode (because stable couples are apparently boring) they really let them grow. And regress. That’s important too. It was Chuck and Sarah seeing each other minus the romantic blinders they both still wore well into season 3, and allowing the other person see the real person that really started this season’s journey.
In a theme that goes back to the premier Chuck and Sarah’s problems have always come from the two worlds they try to inhabit. At first Chuck wants his old life back, or so he thinks, and Sarah is afraid she doesn’t fit into that world, while Chuck wants to be with Sarah, yet doesn’t believe he can be a part of hers and be with her. At this point, the awkward teen years let’s call it, they are both trying to be something or become something so that (they think) the other will love them. They are trying to present themselves as the end product, the destination. Sarah cares deeply for Chuck, and he knows it, but while he is her charge they can’t be together, So Chuck seeks to return to his world, hoping she will follow. Sarah yearns for a family and a home, and sees Chuck as a way to have that, not thinking that he may be meant for greater things, not trusting that she may be meant for greater things too. At this point Sarah is just a spy, and Chuck just a regular guy, not a hero, and so that first false hope of making themselves into the destination, the partner, or the life they think the other wants goes disastrously wrong.
When their paths re-join they have learned one thing. Waiting for that destination, that end product, waiting until you or the other changes into what you each think you need to be doesn’t work. If you ever want to be together, you need to decide to be together. The rest is details to be worked out along the way. Being together is the journey, not the final destination, and so the end of the honeymoon serves as a good start rather than the end of the story. But with the honeymoon over they still aren’t ready to let the other see the real person, out of fear that person isn’t enough, and so even on and after the honeymoon, Sarah can’t put herself out there and say the three words she meant when she answered yes, and Chuck can’t confide that their future might be a tough one for fear that Sarah will do what seems her go to solution and run. But they are working on it.
Season 4 was where that all changed. Sarah learned she could tell Chuck what bothered her, and with her reassurance that she loved him he could actually help. Chuck learned he could push Sarah a bit, as long as he was there to catch her when she stumbled. And so we started to see parts of Chuck and Sarah long hidden from each other.
We always knew Sarah had a temper, but cool icy season 1 Sarah Walker rarely let anyone get to her, and she most definitely didn’t let Chuck see that temper unless he was the focus of it. But suddenly, Sarah can be emotional, and can let loose on Heather Chandler, or Josie for poking at that insecure part of her, because Chuck is there, and he has her back. Suddenly Chuck can take on the role of team leader, the man who can confidently plan an operation such as Casey’s funeral or Carmichael’s weapons buy, because Sarah has his back. Yes, there’s the regression of the intersectless arc where Sarah puts back on her handler hat to try to protect Chuck, and where Chuck is worried about losing Sarah having lost his mojo and his confidence again, but this time neither is hiding that from the other, and they see each other fully, through wide open eyes, allowing themselves to be seen as the real Chuck and Sarah. And it is Chuck, who is a hero, and Sarah, who does need help, the last two people on earth you would have expected to see in season 1 who decide to tie the knot.
And so we are brought full circle to the wedding, where Sarah is an emotional articulate schnook, and Chuck is at a loss for words, and has to be an I’ll show you kind of guy. The parts of each other they always touched are now fully in the open.
We come to the end of one journey, where we’ve arrived back home, and now we see what the next chapter holds for our heroes. The epilogue has to be one of my favorites, for one simple reason. As he re-enters the BuyMore, looking around with both nostalgia and love Chuck seems to realize he’s home. His life is changed so much, but it wasn’t that he needed to leave home, Burbank, the Buy More, or his family to live the life he was meant to live. He just had to be the Chuck he was meant to be. As Chuck re-enters the Buy More and talks to Jeff and Lester, it seems he realizes, finally, and perhaps for the first time, that he is right where is supposed to be, doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. He just needed to give it time.
The rest is details.