So Many Storylines!
Chuck has a habit of telling more story in a very short span of time. It did exactly that during the last half of season 2 (at a world-class pace, actually), and does it again at the end of Season 4.
I struggle to recap it briefly. Chuck and Sarah are going to be married, but there’s a long road ahead. We already saw (in Chuck vs. The Wedding Planner Gary Cole as Sarah’s lovable but rapscallion father Jack Burton and Lisa LoCicero‘s great performance as Daphne Paralta (not to mention Yvonne’s equally brilliant impersonation). But there was one thing left hanging – two mentions of a mysterious Agent-X.
Whomever Agent-X is (and we all thought he might be Chuck), Vivian Volkoff wants him dead. That could pose a problem for the wedding.
Well, there are bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, trips to Las Vegas Las Vecas and Reneaux Nevada, stolen and damaged laptops and much fun to be had in the first episode of our Winterbottoms arc, Chuck vs. Agent-X. But something terribly important happens too. Because of Ellie’s secret (she’s kept Orion’s laptop), Riley (played by Ray Wise) and Jasmine (India de Beaufort) nearly killed them all.
Even more important, Chuck realizes that his secrets have endangered them even more than Ellie’s. Chuck has, at Sarah’s urging, decided to tell Ellie the truth about him and the CIA.
Chuck: I know about dad’s laptop and his research. Mom told me.
Ellie: So why are we here? You’re still a spy!
Chuck: Wait! Wait! Wait a second. I had a whole speech and you just figured that out. You can’t figure that out by yourself!
Ellie: I think I just did.
Chuck: You just Rubic’s Cubed me, sis.
Ellie: Of course you still work for the CIA. Sarah is as spy. You’re clearly built for better things than the Buy More. [Chuckles]
Chuck: You’re not mad?
Ellie: I’m not mad that you did it. I’m mad that you didn’t tell me. I mean, I get it. It’s the same reason I kept dad’s computer a secret from you. [sighs] Us Bartowskis. When we’re good at something, we just jump right in. Don’t we? No more secrets, though.
Chuck: One more little secret.
One dishonored shirt later, Ellie knows Chuck is still the Intersect too. But for all that, I can’t help but think that the real significance of Chuck’s admissions to Ellie, is that she has now been able to choose a side. Instead of choosing a safe route, instead of choosing to be Chuck’s mother like she’s always been, Ellie chooses to let Chuck be who he is. That makes her part of Team B.
Oh, there’s so much more in this jammed packed episode. Chuck repairs Orion’s laptop (damaged in the fight with Jasmine), and comes across the same picture of a Somerset cottage that Ellie uncovered. But there’s more information in the Intersect, if only a first name – Hartley.
Casey, Chuck and Sarah are off to Somerset, England to find the lovely Mrs. Winterbottom (played by Millicent Martin, who I must add, is also famous for her role of Daphie’s mum on Fraiser), resident of that cottage. She’s a woman after Casey’s own heart. Vivian’s henchmen and Riley follow TeamB to Somerset and fight a pitched battle, you remember. But they’re simply outgunned by Mrs. Winterbottom’s arsenal. Ya gotta love that!
In the fracas one artifact is uncovered. It is, of course, Hartley’s spy-will. We learn Mrs. Winterbottom’s son was a victim of the CIA, MI-6 and some pretty odd experiments that their scientists performed. Mrs. Winterbottom was asked to take sides, and in the memory of Hartley’s best friend, Stephen, she chose Chuck.
Finally, at the very end, we learn the identity of the mysterious Hartley. Agent-X is Alexei Volkoff. He was Stephen Bartowski’s best friend, scientist, victim, Intersect and father of Chuck’s deadly enemy. Is that a twist too far? I don’t think so. The great Timothy Dalton is able to carry off a role that also includes the name Tuttle.
In Chuck vs. The Last Details Chuck and Sarah are taking a week off before the big day, enjoying a cozy bed in the morning light and wondering how to get over the last of the wedding jitters. What could go wrong?
Well, we all know the answer to that, and it isn’t that Morgan will end up hanging upside down from the roof, suspended by a string of twinkling lights. The real problem is that Mary Bartowski has taken another mission upon herself, one that includes cleaning up a bit of the mess left by Chuck and Sarah the last time they messed with Volkoff.
There’s this leftover weapon, you see, capable of killing with 100% accuracy from anywhere in the world, called the Norseman. Vivian’s got it and is, apparently, putting it up for sale to the highest bidder. Mary, however, gets herself captured in the jungles of South America, and Team B is sent off to rescue her.
Mary doesn’t like needing to be rescued, and Sarah doesn’t exactly appreciate the interruption of their week off, so things get a little tense. Even though Chuck has already defended Sarah’s honor by punching out a rather large guard who insulted her, Chuck has a harder time choosing sides between his mother and his soon-to-be wife.
Casey: Interesting choice, choosing your mom over your fiancée
Chuck: Oh, c’mon, man. I was just trying to make everyone feel… Wait a minute, wait, wait. Is that really how it looked?
Casey: Yeah. Just remember, Bartowski. Sarah is the one you’ll be sleeping next to at the end of every day. She’s the one you protect.
It’s good advice.
The Norseman proves elusive, though, so after rescuing Mary from Vivian, Team B find that they have to infiltrate Vivian’s auction in Moscow. With Morgan disguised as an Italian arms-dealer who shoots puppies, they succeed in exposing Vivian’s plan to kill the competition and keep the weapon. All this and Chuck has to prepare a wedding video too! In the process, Vivian learns that Chuck is the one who sent her father to prison; she has a chance to choose between Riley and Chuck, and chooses Riley. In her anger, Vivian’s decided to make Chuck pay for his deeds, and to do that, she strikes down – Sarah.
All Those Leftovers!
I don’t think the fans had any fear that Chuck and Sarah wouldn’t be married, much less that Sarah Walker would die in the final episode of Season 4. Chuck is not that kind of dark show. In fact, since it was possible that Chuck vs. The Cliffhanger would become the series finale, we all wondered only about the details of how Chuck would save Sarah and what seeds would be planted to lead us into Season 5.
Alternately, we worried about the plot lines that would be left open, never to be finished in the show was not renewed! Episode 4.24 had a lot to carry on its shoulders, especially since we wanted to see every moment of The Wedding ™. So how to do that? I know they are a television and storytelling cliché, but flash-backs work for me.
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?
Not at all, Sarah. It’s perfect.
We’ve said so before, but this is not the Sarah Walker we saw in Season 1, especially not the character Chuck saw in his flashes. I recall on the boards how we used to routinely call this character an “Ice Queen”, and talk about how covered over she was. Yet somehow, the character we see now was always there, and we knew her too. We only saw the smile on occasion and made note of it every time.
I was more surprised than anybody when a whole new major character was introduced, Agent Clyde Decker (played by veteran actor Richard Burgi). This is no mere CIA agent, but the one they send to take out guys like the ones Casey was worried about at the end of Chuck vs. Agent-X. It takes him no time at all to neutralize (figuratively castrate?) Alexei Volkoff. In fact, he essentially does the same to Chuck, too. Decker promises to bury him.
No, I wasn’t anxious about that. For all the tension and pulse racing adventure in these final moments of the season, I really wasn’t worried that Chuck would find the antidote and that Sarah would survive. But what did take me by surprise, in hindsight, was how readily and how easily I accepted Chuck’s reaction to Decker’s taunts. He calmly and deliberately throws a chair through the monitor.
This is not the Chuck we met in the pilot. Not even close. He’s been transformed over the years, to something like the Chuck “we always knew he could be”, in Morgan’s words. Everyone, even Casey, knows it. Fact of the matter is, this is who I wanted Chuck to be, too.
So Many Russians!
After four years, there’s no denying the climax that’s coming. Chuck is not going to be denied by Vivian, or by Volkoff Industries, not by the CIA and certainly not by Clyde Decker. He’ll stand alone and offer his life to save Sarah, and he does just that before Vivian decides to choose a side, again. But it’s always worth remembering that, after four years, Chuck is simply not alone, ever.
He has Hartley now, all his friends and family, The Cat Squad, Gen. Beckman and even the Russian Army helping. Chuck is not the guy behind the nerd-herd desk, phone cradled between shoulder and ear, saying “Vic-Vic Vicky Vale. Vicky Vale.” For him, Decker is unprepared.
Decker: You’re done!
Chuck: I quit. Now get out of my way.
Even after the commercial break, when the camera is focused on a church sign-board that says the funeral will be held at 3:00, they failed to surprise me. The only surprise was that TPTB gave us a figurative wink when the camera quickly (quickly!) panned down to reveal the wedding was at 4:00. For this show, it was perfect.
The Fortnight After The Day Before
And so was the wedding. But I’ll let you revel in your own memories about that. I found Chuck’s return to the scene of the crime The Buy More to be much fun. He strolls in like nothing’s different but his wedding ring. Of course, it’s all different. He and Sarah are billionaires now (well, close to it, anyway), thanks to Hartley and Vivian, he owns the Buy More and the CIA no longer owns him. There’s opportunities all around and the promise of new adventures.
And there’s always danger lurking around the corner. Decker is still able to taunt him, leaving all these unanswered questions behind as he signs off “See ya never!” Of course there’s Morgan who still needs babysitting, especially since he suddenly knows Kung-Fu. It was satisfying and rather hopeful, because we were left to imagine that Chuck and Sarah were neither done with their spy-lives, nor quite started on their normal life together. Both, however, were still possible.
I’d like to apologize for the lateness of this post. I had profound nothing left to say, I think, except that this was not an ending for the head. It was an ending for the heart, and ultimately, I can’t help but think of it as both good and bad. It was a promise that, for Chuck and Sarah, there would be more of the same. And for four years, that had been a wonderful thing. All we had was a hope that it would continue.