This will be a tricky post to write. I have so many conflicting and confusing thoughts on this I have a hard enough time knowing what I think, never mind explaining it. The huge range of reactions to this episode have me “switching sides” depending on the specific issue (and for the record, I’ll be looking at both 5.12 and 5.13 here) So I’m sure as I work through this most readers will both agree and consider me utterly wrong at different times. And make no mistake, this is completely about my opinions. I make no claim to represent anyone else or any group. I know from discussion we’ve already had I’m not completely in line with many of the ‘shippers I’ve so often lined up with in the last few years; and I seem to be closest to some old friends of this site that I’ve rarely seen eye to eye with before!
My deepest hope, is that by the time I post this, no one will actually still be reading our site… (kidding!)
I want to start with the good. There was plenty here I liked and am even enthused about. No doubt the starring performances were brilliant. Zach was incredible in bringing us Chuck’s pain and grief. Yvonne’s performance was more complex and subtle; we not only had a throw back to Graham’s enforcer in 5.12 and a somewhat confused, off-balance character in most of 5.13; but we also saw some stages of her affection for Chuck in the personal logs and the final happy scene as she gave in to what she was feeling. The rest of the cast gave the excellent performances we’ve come to expect.
I thought 5.12 was particularly well written and at every step I could believe Sarah’s actions and the conclusions she seemed to be drawing. She always seemed to have just a hint of doubt; which I took to be a combination of missing five years (knowing she didn’t have the whole story) and her deep seated feelings for Chuck. Yet just as in early S1, Sarah could control these feelings and follow orders.
At this point I have to add I was most disappointed in the characters of Ellie and Casey. They gave up on partner and sister-in-law far too easily. Shame on them. But it did make Chuck look good, he would try anything to get his wife back. The house scene was painful yet well constructed. The conceit of Chuck suddenly being alone in trying save Sarah leaves him isolated with no other option than talking to her. Well the talking part didn’t work, but the house itself provided a bit of a clue. Of course Quinn spills the beans quickly enough and there’s now no doubt that Sarah has been used and had her memories stolen.
Overall I thought this episode was well thought out and clever. The only real problems I had were the previously mentioned character abandonments and then Chuck not at least offering to accompany his wife in her quest to get the man who tried to steal their future. And Sarah would have understood the offer; she might not have “felt” it yet, but she knew Chuck was her husband. I believe Sarah at this point would have refused the offer, but Chuck should have made it.
I’m less enthused with 5.13. The idea was clever enough, and some of the call backs were a lot of fun. I laughed out loud at the return of Weinerlicious, Chuck accidentally downing Casey’s chopper, and of course Jeffster! But I needed more of Sarah falling for Chuck again. What we saw was too subtle by far, and the hiccups along the way seemed more pronounced than the “falling for” part. We know it was supposed to be there; writers and Yvonne have all mentioned it, but the hints need to be more clear. Perhaps this will be better in the extended cut we’re supposed to see when the discs come out. I hope so, this struck me as a pretty serious deficiency.
I also didn’t care for Ellie and Devon’s farewell scene. Nothing wrong in itself; but the undercurrent was all messed up. Let’s see; the little brother Ellie raised just sold his company and is professionally finished, oh and it seems his wife just left him. But hey, we’re heading to that mythical land where the pizza is really good so… see yah!
Which leads to the beach scene. You know what, I thought this was the best scene of the night. Beautiful, well acted and well conceived. This was the moment. Sarah had left Chuck with the comment she needed to find herself. So she wound up on their beach and was ready to open herself up to Chuck when he approached her. We’ll never be sure how much she might have remembered at this point; but she knew she’d lost something with her husband and she wanted it back. I think she already knew she loved him, for pretty much the same reason she fell for him the first time way back in the Pilot. Remember she admitted this in Other Guy? “I fell for you between fixing my cell phone and disabling bombs with a computer virus.” So Sarah fell for Chuck in the same time frame again. Even a slightly different, more mature Chuck. Maybe it wasn’t fully developed love yet, but she could feel the pain of what she’d lost. So Sarah asks Chuck to tell her their story. And she loves the story. She was moved to tears and joy during the telling. Clearly she feels it now. So she believes that Chuck is her husband, and now she feels it too. When Chuck brings up the idea of Morgan’s magic kiss she clutches at the opportunity. She wants those memories back. We can see she liked the kiss too. It was sweet and tender, and showed no signs of letting up at the 15 second mark.
Did the magic kiss work? Well we don’t really know. In a way it doesn’t matter to me. I’d been saying all week my irreducible minimum was Chuck and Sarah together and happy about it. We certainly got that. Of course “irreducible minimum” means at least a “D” not an “F”. So it was a D or better. The scene was well done in its own right. And I am firmly in the camp with those who say Sarah did get her memories back (eventually). We had seen her having a little recall all along; Morgan got of his memories back in time; and Schwedak clearly said in post-show interviews that her memories were coming back! The question or ambiguity of the last scene was never even meant to be one of if, only when. This is clearly meant to be a happy ending; Sarah’s memories come back, they’re out of the spy business, they presumably have enough capital from the sale of the Buy More to buy that dream house, and maybe start Chuck’s dream computer company. That is actually a very happy ending.
But it still didn’t feel like enough. Sure I may have a big bias. Calling anything the end of Chuck is going to make me a little grumpy. But I really needed to see a little of that happily ever after. Maybe just Sarah suddenly remembering a little something during the kiss (some little thing like the proposal or wedding vows!); or saying “take me home Chuck” as the credits roll. Even better a flash forward of them moving into the dream house; or standing in the front yard a year later with a little bundle in Sarah’s arms. I needed something more. Like Sarah after watching her video logs, I believe they got their happy ending, but I don’t feel it. I can’t give this ending better than a C-. It was beautiful for what it was. But what it was wasn’t enough.
The Big Picture
So now that I’ve considered particular ups and downs in this finale what is my final judgement of this arc? Well I think it was a huge mistake and a slap in the face for many fans. Yeah those fans who bought sandwiches and wrote letters and voted in surveys and celebrated or cried all over the internet for this show every week for five years. The writers told the story they wanted to tell, which in my experience is rarely a good thing. I have certain harsh feelings towards Schwedak that have only intensified as a result of this. I find this ironic because I loved so much of their product.
A funny thing about this show and these characters; the first two seasons I strongly related to Chuck. It was through his eyes that I saw these amazing adventures. I think I was smitten with Sarah as soon as Chuck was; but for two seasons I was Chuck and he was my identity in this world. But that changed for me at “Guys, I know Kung Fu.” I never really related so easily to Chuck again. Don’t get me wrong, he was still a likable guy and a good character; but he wasn’t really me anymore. For much of the third season I didn’t even like Chuck, and Sarah was often nearly invisible; for me the show lost its heart entirely and if I didn’t have hope that the next arc would be better I likely would have quit at that point. But that changed at Other Guy. When something new and wonderful happened. When Chuck quit feeling sorry for himself, and Sarah became his partner in multiple senses of the word. I felt excited and enthused for this show again. But Sarah became my clear favorite character at this point. Especially when whiny insecure Chuck made his occasional reappearances. But watching Sarah’s growth over the course of S3.5, through S4 and S5 has simply been the most awesome television experience I’ve ever seen. That was magic and special.
So TPTB chose a finale story that took this fully mature Sarah Bartowski out of the picture for two full episodes, and they weren’t even completely clear about her recovery/prognosis. I feel ripped off. Again, I don’t buy for a second that they “killed” her or any such thing. They only “killed” her appearance in the last two episodes. Which I might point out they pretty much did in every climactic mid or season finale action sequence from 2.22 on. That alone makes me grumpy enough. And that leads me to conclude that these show runners categorically do not understand me. “So What?” you say. Well at this moment I have zero interest in any future projects they might do. I appreciate the cast very much, and I think some of the staff writers are brilliant. And I’m not going to say anything stupid like”I’ll never watch a Schwedak show again…” I might, if they come up with an interesting enough idea; or if they team with Zach or Yvonne somewhere down the line. But this will remain a huge strike against them to me.
I hate to end on such a bitter note. In spite of some complaints and reservations, Chuck has been the most completely satisfying show I’ve ever seen. Only a few other shows have ever held much of a place in my heart when I wasn’t actually watching them: Rockford Files, Star Trek: TNG; Babylon 5; SG-1; Firefly. Chuck is now at the absolute top of that list. Don’t be fooled by any of my whining; I loved this show, and my biggest disappointment is that it ever had to end. My first reaction to the finale episode was pretty strong disappointment. That may even fade in time. But I strongly believe we got a happy ending, and Chuck and Sarah are more in love than ever and fully appreciate what they almost lost.