It’s the end of this world as we know it.
At last we reach the end. The end of our hero’s journey and the end of the show. For this little show to have made it 5 seasons says a lot about its creators and their dedication to the fans, and the fans dedication to the show. I’ll tell you truly that even though this was my first foray into full-blown fandom, it feels like something totally unique. Will there ever be another Chuck? Can that lightning in a bottle feeling ever be recaptured? It still seems to me, even as it could be frustrating and depressing, that I was part of a giant family that extended out past the set where the Chuck family made our favorite show. But I’ll tell you a little secret, one I probably share with the on-set family, a part of me was glad to see Chuck end. Mind you I would have liked about 9 more episodes so we could get a few more Seduction Impossible or Muuurder-like bottle episodes, they were just fun to watch, but I thought the end was approaching for this volume of Chuck and Sarah’s stories. My big investment was always in their stories, much as I enjoyed each episode on its own merits. All stories have to have and end. I was ready for the end, sad as it would be to have all my Chuck friends and family eventually move on. In a way I was glad to see Chuck end on its terms in its due time. And wow, what an end it was.
Our readers pick for our final arc is the same one the Chuck crew ended on, odd how that worked out. And despite the controversial and somewhat polarizing ending a non-scientific sample of our readers rated this as their second favorite Season/Series Finale Arc, and some of their top episodes for season 5, with Chuck Versus the Goodbye grabbing the #1 spot with Chuck Versus Sarah coming in at #3. Join me for a look back at the little show that could called Chuck, the end of the line, and all that it meant to us with these final episodes.
The Revenge Of The Intersect Arc
Chuck Versus Bo
Chuck Versus The Bullet Train
Chuck Versus Sarah
Chuck Versus Goodbye
After the jump.
Season 5 was an odd duck to me at first. They started out with a bit of a meandering arc that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the show. It seemed that our heroes were more focused with finding houses, or with clients and margins or running the Buy More than catching bad-guys and saving the world. Morgan (Morgan, really?) had become the big damn hero, and Chuck stayed in the van. Willingly. However briefly… Had marriage turned Chuck and Sarah into just another old married couple so quickly?
Season 5 seems lighter to a lot of people because the main characters are all (slight Morgan detour aside) their fully realized selves. Especially our two main heroes. As Faith and Thinkling have shown so well there are no real issues between them that aren’t resolved quickly or easily (again, slight Morgansect detour aside). There are also visions of the future they want for themselves and the happiness they enjoy in their current lives, the fruits of their previous season’s work. It is not because of any personal failings or doubts that our heroes find themselves at risk of losing everything so close to the end of their spy career, they prepare to leave the spy work and life with no wrongs to right, no unfinished business, it is because of the intersect and the external forces swirling about that precious prize. Those aspects of the season are not dwelt on, especially early on, but they are set up both tonally and in the narrative.
I turns out that the Morgansect arc may have been a lot more important than we ever thought. There is a foundation established, and a lens through we will be able to see some context and the story under the story when the time comes. But before that time there is the setup for that final exit and Chuck and Sarah’s final decision to live a normal life, together. Building a family with Chuck will be adventure enough for Sarah, and Chuck will be satisfied to be a hero to Sarah and their children. But that life they are heading for may be harder to obtain than just deciding it is the one they want.
Think back to the jarring end of Chuck Versus The Business Trip, where the warmth and general lightness of both the mission and the family party is contrasted against the brutality of the spy world. Casey hears a death sentence pronounced on him, his daughter and his friend, and has to gun down 6 people to stop it. Then he goes to a dinner party. The coming darkness and danger is there, from how the Morgansect arc introduces the Intersect as something rather dark and evil in hands other than Chuck’s, to the risk that Chuck and Sarah may never be able to fully escape their past or their family history in Chuck Versus The Curse or Chuck Versus The Baby. Think of how much more visceral the fights were in Chuck Versus The Santa Suit or Chuck Versus The Baby compared to previous seasons more stylized ones.
In my view season 5 was constructed to build the drama and tension to ever greater heights, and showing the fluffy moments of marital bliss and their future plans was a part of that. What they had to lose had to be real and hit home. And nothing hits home as hard as possibly losing each other. But again, this isn’t about dysfunctional relationships, it’s about their pasts and external forces drawing them back and preventing them from having the future they so desperately want.
From the end of Chuck Versus The Business Trip throughout the rest of the series they were constantly upping the stakes and going more dramatic and occasionally violent as a setup for the finale. It was interspersed with the lighter moments where we glimpse the life they want to have after they leave the spy world to build a sense of what they risk losing. From the end of Chuck Versus The Business Trip, where a horrified Chuck tries to stop Clyde Decker from crossing the threshold into Casa de Walker-Bartowski (an amazing visual metaphor for the spy life invading their home-life by the way, just watch Chuck and Sarah’s reaction) there was a sense that the hourglass had been tipped, and old enemies were bent on preventing them from leaving the land of spies alive.
But here’s the interesting thing; after Chuck facing his family curse and Sarah re-living the sacrifices she made to keep people who couldn’t protect themselves safe, and both of them facing their greatest nemesis, it wasn’t anything either of them did or any enemy they made threatening to take it all away. It was something out of Morgan’s past, and the very thing that brought them together. The intersect.
In Chuck Versus Bo the intersect is back in Team B’s life, and that puts team B back in the field for one last mission (NEVER say one last mission Sarah!). This puts team B on Bo’s (and other nefarious spies for hire) radar. Since Chuck Versus Bo has already been discussed, or at least the lighter parts, I’ll concentrate on it as the setup for the final 3 episode arc.
Just a quick aside on Quinn since a lot of people complain he creates continuity problems. Here’s my take. Quinn was a top CIA spy, and a Fulcrum recruit. We know Fulcrum wanted the intersect and that they wanted to take over the CIA, NSA, government in general, and that they tasked Bryce with stealing the intersect for them. Quinn was the agent they intended to get the intersect. When Bryce sent it to Chuck instead, Quinn had to maintain his cover as a loyal CIA agent and Fulcrum had to delay their plans to take over the CIA. Quinn was, as he said, sent back into the field for “one last mission” whereupon he was captured and tortured for 378 days (as he says), then upon his rescue, (again as he says) dismissed from the CIA. I say that last was for psychological reasons. It makes him so much more understandable and dastardly.
Upon his dismissal, Quinn, who still has a lot of contacts in the CIA and sources and assets throughout the world, goes to Fulcrum to tender his services. Since he is no longer a CIA insider and can’t act as their turncoat he becomes a contractor. As time goes on he finds that both the CIA and Fulcrum are working on a new intersect, and he longs to posses it and the power it represents. He works for other organizations, such as The Ring, so when he hears of another intersect, one that can give him back his skills in addition to the intel it contains, he decides he must have this new intersect. Once again he is foiled and the Ring team captured, and once again the intersect goes into someone else, someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Eventually he finds that many of his failures and many of his clients worst defeats are the work of one team and one man, the original intersect, the new intersect, Charles Carmichael. And now its personal. It’s a competition to Quinn, made worse by the fact that Carmichael doesn’t even know he exists. Quinn has a nemesis. Carmichael has one final nemesis too, he just doesn’t know it yet.
So it was that Morgan stumbled on to the next potential intersect in Vail one weekend. Or rather Bo Derek “stumbled” on to him. Showing his typical discretion and sense of limits Morgan has put himself on the radar of the soon to be infamous Nicolas Quinn.
Quinn has his intersect, but he’s heard of problems with it. The original intersect, Carmichael, was once hospitalized, The Ring went to great lengths to obtain the necessary governor for their intersect Daniel Shaw, the Gretas nearly nuked LA, and apparently it drove one Hartley Winterbottom insane for 30 years. But Quinn has been losing to “the intersect” for years now, so there must be a way to make it work. The opportunity to see and assess Morgan presents itself. Frankly the idea that a few minutes with Morgan doesn’t immediately confirm his worst fears, but leads him to pronounce Morgan “fine” confirms to me the dude is clearly insane.
In addition to never saying “one last mission” never let the bad guy live, and Chuck’s desire to quit without anymore blood on their hands will cost them all dearly. The first payment is extracted in a warehouse ambush where the intersect once again entangles itself in the lives of team B.
In Chuck Versus The Bullet Train the line between Chuck’s two worlds all but disappears. Ellie and Awesome and Alex are all integrated into Team B as backup at the Castle, the baddies are once again infiltrating the Buy More, taking hostages, and Jeffster become the flames of destiny. But before that we have a mission. The Mission. Save Chuck, then the other mission, get the intersect out of Sarah, then the next mission, save Alex, then save Alex, Morgan and Awesome. Then save Sarah. Sadly, the last is a failure, and that failure threatens Chuck and Sarah’s dreams and their very lives.
I must admit, despite fearing for our fair heroine’s brain, the Sarahsect was kind of awesome at the end of Chuck Versus Bo and the beginning of Chuck Versus The Bullet Train. But the same feeling I had at the end of Chuck Versus The Business Trip happens again in Chuck Versus The Bullet Train, and it is clearly intentional. The clock is ticking on Chuck and Sarah and their race to get out of the spy-life before it’s too late. Everything from the opening credits to Quinn’s 30 minute clock on Alex’s life to the progress bar downloading the intersect suppression software is a metaphor for all of them hurtling forward, unstoppable, toward a future and a fate they can’t control or avoid. The intersect is in the drivers seat, metaphorically speaking.
The approaching danger is contrasted one last time with the future Chuck and Sarah have decided they want. The house, the family, maybe babies. But to get there Chuck and Sarah must defeat Quinn and rid the world of the intersect and its hold on them once and for all.
From the moment Casey is turned against them you get the sense Chuck and Sarah realize they may not reach their goal. It is so tantalizingly close, but the intersect, or Quinn seem determined to rob them of it, and so Sarah takes one last gamble, takes one too many risks, and we see the nearly inevitable consequence of being spies played out for Chuck and Sarah, both of them looking at that future pried away from them, looking at the other from an un-crossable chasm, unable to reach each other or stop the spy world from pulling them apart.
Though it hasn’t always been a popular aspect of the show, TPTB have always taken the emotional toll of the spy-life seriously, even as they’ve treated a lot of it comically or played the tropes game or relied on the “Rule of Cool”. The emotional toll, the broken trust, the lies, the distance, the inability to love or make a life, has always been a part of the world they built. Love and family have always been a liability, something the bad guys can use against them, and we see that played out once again in Chuck Versus The Bullet Train. But there is also a strength and a trust that can’t be broken that our heroes have found by breaking the rules of the world they live in. The question is, can they co-exist permanently.
In wrapping up their show, I think it was understandable they wanted to make the case that this was a journey, their life as spies, that had two possible endings. The happy one they showed us in episodes like Thinkling’s Normal Arc, or the one where they stayed too long, took one too many risks, one last mission. They showed us both. They showed us why this wasn’t, in the end, a show that could run for 10 seasons on a procedural plot of the week, why it wasn’t a Get Smart reboot where the characters were caricatures played for pure comedy. They wanted us to care about these wonderfully real and appealing characters and all they could be to each other, and all they risked, and ultimately all they could lose. On that count they were more successful than anyone could imagine.
Time ran out, and Sarah was lost. Chuck lost the love of his life, the one person who gave his life meaning and direction, and Sarah lost her chance to ever be anything other than a spy. The loss, of everything, was always there as a possibility, throughout the entire series. But five years on, Chuck and Sarah are very different people. Revisiting who they were and who they became and how in the end they saved each other was, to me, the perfect way to wrap up the series.
So we saw the tragic end if they stayed too long, even as we’d glimpsed the happy future. We saw Sarah have her real life, the one she’s always longed for, and we saw it torn away, piece by piece, and we saw the one time the team didn’t arrive in the nick of time, and we’d see the consequences. But in the end we’d see the difference they made in each other’s lives.
I think from the very beginning, or at least by the middle of Chuck Versus Sarah they showed us Sarah’s instinct was to listen to her heart, and it was only Quinn in her ear that prevented her from doing that. Quinn had her on the defensive, suspicious of Chuck, unwilling to believe that he was as too good to be true as he seemed. But at the same time they managed to show us a Sarah experiencing serious doubts about her mission and the man who is supposed to be her mark. That is a season 1 Sarah, but also a very different, very season 4-5 Sarah. To me that was the core of Yvonne’s tour de force. This is the evolved Sarah trying to fit into the original Sarah’s skin, and it isn’t quite working for her, but I think they showed us season 5 Sarah from the very start.
We see as early as when she looked at their picture while searching the living room that she was feeling something she didn’t quite understand.
We see Sarah hilariously suspicious and afraid of a man who would never hurt her, and we see her start to understand that as she spies on Chuck and Ellie, obviously conflicted by their concern for her. Something about Sarah’s world isn’t quite right, and maybe memory loss can’t explain it all.
Again in the intersect room when Chuck approached Sarah it took Quinn, the spy voice in her ear, to break her out of Chuck’s spell. She was clearly feeling the love, even if she didn’t understand it or have any context to put it in. In their dream home, once again, even before the fight, the look in her eyes as she said “this is real, you really love me?” it clearly meant something to her that he loved her enough to marry her, that someone found her worth loving, but she still didn’t understand the mix of emotions until she saw the names carved in the door frame and remembered the event, and that she clearly wasn’t playing a mark, she meant every word.
Watch those scenes where Sarah realizes she carved her name in the molding… and before. What is really happening to Sarah there? Consider this, we saw the visuals as Sarah’s life and memories were ripped away. Why wouldn’t we see them return? Did we? Frankly I felt we’re being told she remembers the event, but not the context. She can’t yet connect her feelings and emotions about what was happening to the memories I think we’re being shown. This is just like Morgan, still needing a memory to re-connect him to himself. Old Sarah can’t believe she was in love, and hates herself all the more for going so far for the job that she’d fake love when the mark clearly thought it real. She may be able to picture Chuck on one knee in front of her, but she can’t yet connect it to the joy she felt, so this is Season 1 Sarah experiencing feelings she can’t explain or won’t acknowledge, thinking she screwed up, taking it out on Chuck. This is Chuck Versus The Nemesis writ large.
While seeing the carving re-awakens certain feelings in Sarah, real love and hope, the diary reconnects Sarah with the reality of her feelings toward Chuck, and reconnects her with the context of some of those memories, but she still isn’t remembering who she is. She became a trusting and open woman with friends and family she loved and cherished, as they loved her, but for now this is First Date Sarah, or Breakup Sarah. She acknowledges the feelings, but denies they can be realized, or define her life. She can’t be that person, the one Chuck wants, and perhaps deserves. So at the end of Chuck Versus Sarah, we see a Sarah we’ve seen before. She wants to protect him, to remove any threat to him living the life he deserves, and then she wants to disappear, and perhaps remain a cherished memory to Chuck as opposed to the disappointment she feels she’d eventually become. Running away was Sarah’s default solution before Chuck.
But as Sarah herself has said many times, she’s changed. Chuck changed her. She just needs to remember who she still is. So the original Sarah, in her mind, finds herself acting on some sort of instinct she doesn’t understand, and finds herself back in the Buy More seeking Chuck’s help, but a little conflicted about ringing the bell. Perhaps a part of her just needs to see him, or the part that trusts him instinctively and wouldn’t let her pull the trigger on him is telling her suspicious spy mind that Chuck can help, that she can trust him. So Chuck and Sarah are back together, professionally at least, and the one last one last mission has a submission for Chuck. Woo Sarah Walker, win her back, remind her of who she is. Be the guy she fell in love with. And once again the clock is ticking, as it is Sarah’s intention to run away forever after extracting her revenge on Quinn and making sure Chuck is safe.
With Chuck and Sarah back on the same side and working together most of the finale is a walk down memory lane, with call-backs to everything from their first date (I’ve lost count, is this their 5th first date?) to the Weinerliscious, to being locked up by Casey. All the while Sarah is showing signs that she is not just remembering parts of her life, like how to stack cups at the Weinerliscious or that she likes to adjust Chuck’s tie as an excuse to touch him, but she’s re-experiencing some of those feelings she fought for so long. Chuck kind of takes her breath away. The problem is she’s fighting them still. We get to see again the agent Walker who considered herself just a spy, and couldn’t believe she could ever be anything else, and we get to see Chuck once again see the real Sarah not even she recognizes, and once again show her that there could be more if she’d take that leap of faith and trust him.
Throughout the series they played the theme of Sarah having the chance to leave with Bryce or Cole, or of being ordered to leave after the 49B, or wanting and waiting to leave in season 3, but each time she decides not to leave because of Chuck. Throughout the series we’ve seen that the very core of Chuck’s insecurities is that he isn’t good enough for Sarah, that her presence in his life will be a fleeting one. Insecurities that stem from deep seated abandonment fears and issues, and because of that, at times he’s been excessively jealous or clingy. We were shown that Sarah’s instinct is to seek a geographic solution to an emotional problem, and how only after she was forced to stop running and had to deal with her problems did she experience the emotional growth that made her capable of giving and receiving love. To re-live who the characters were and reprise their journey was to me, the perfect way to end Chuck.
So Sarah leaves the spy life to find herself, and Chuck loves her enough to let her go if that’s what will make her happy. The ending served a few purposes that were appropriate to the tone I saw and themes that run throughout both the season and the show. There is a sense of relief, they are out, finally safe to build something more stable and permanent, but it will take some work. Sarah is in a strange new world and will need Chuck’s help and support, but the man he is will be able to meet those challenges, largely because he is the man she helped him become. Chuck is in a new world where he has to be the strong one and the protector, something he has often relied on Sarah for, but he’s ready for that challenge. They are finally out, and it didn’t destroy them, but it cost them something. In the end they found each other and that was all they needed. On that same beach where their story started, in one final scene they strip the entire series down to one scene that gets to the very core of the love story, Chuck learning to love selflessly and be the one supporting those who need support (rather than relying on Sarah or Ellie to support him) and Sarah learning to go with her heart and trust someone with it so she could find love. I personally loved that they replayed that theme in the finale and ended on the same beach where Sarah learned to stop running and Chuck learned to take a leap of faith that he could trust someone to be there for him, always.
Before closing I want to make my case one last time that the happy ending is there for us to see. I think it’s as clear as clear can be, but then, that may be just me. Thinkling has an amusing way of describing this post. She says I translate the love letter for people who don’t speak Schwedak-ese. That’s all I ever hoped to be able to do, to share what I saw and loved about the finale, the final scene, or the show as a whole with people who might appreciate it in a whole new light. So if you’ll indulge me one last time, I’ll try to show you rather than tell you.
This is season 5 Sarah from that dinner party at the end of Chuck Versus The Business Trip. I remember this because it struck me as so different, a new side of Sarah that could be unguarded and open around those she loved and felt closest to.
This is that same Sarah, the one who can be unguarded and openly express emotion around those she loves and trusts.
The montage is the most expressive and powerful part of the Schwedak-ese dialect. The music and the image form an emotional connection and an experience akin to our own memory in a way dialog can’t. We need to see and feel Sarah return, to experience it with the two of them. Words simply aren’t adequate to convey what is happening.
The best shows teach you how to watch them, and Chuck has consistently taught us to ignore what the characters tell us, themselves, and each other, and see what they feel, experience it with them. When Sarah told Roan that Chuck was just an asset, we knew she was lying. When Sarah told Chuck she didn’t “feel it”, it was her old shorthand for I can’t process it. She clearly felt it based on her trip down memory lane with her v-logs.
Was Sarah back? Yep. It was set up perfectly from the very beginning of the season, and shown explicitly in the finale. Morgan didn’t regain his memories, but a story about his past instantly restored his emotional connection to Chuck. We see the same process play out with Sarah in those final minutes. It is there, it is set up, it is real, and at a certain level, if you aren’t willing to accept what TPTB have given you, it’s not them, it’s you. Sorry. Your reaction is valid, but you are reacting to the show you wanted, not the show they made.
Those last minutes on the beach were a fantastic coda for the show. Everything else is irrelevant and the core of the story is played one last time, stripped bare of the extraneous trappings. A boy and a girl, two wounded souls who fate brought together see what’s best in each other, and come to see what’s best in themselves reflected in the others eyes. They believe in each other enough to believe in themselves again, and in doing so made their dreams come true.
Way back, in Season 1, I thought Chuck’s unrequited love for Sarah was a sad thing. Remember that? She told him more than once that they had no future. (Whew! I’m so glad she was wrong!)
That wasn’t the last sad thing I saw in Chuck, of course. It wasn’t so much that they blew it in The Suburbs (although they did, and it was a bit sad), it was that the blows kept coming. After going on (multiple) first dates and becoming best friends, Chuck decided to forget about Sarah for a while and go off in search of two important people, Orion and his father. The fool gave up on them!
And even though Sarah decided nothing was more important to her than Chuck, it was sad that Chuck chose that exact moment to do “things that really matter.” Remember? Sidetracked again!
The sadness kept coming in Season 3 and there’s no denying it, it built up in us until that amazing release we had in The Honeymooners.
Season 4 was a roller coaster of frustrations as we watched Chuck fumble about a thousand proposal attempts.
Okay, I exaggerate, but it sure felt like a thousand attempts.
And when he finally did propose, we didn’t hear a word of it. It was about as romantic as Casey’s proposal in a dirty Buffalo bus station. But the proposal was more than sweet because they overcame all those obstacles. Truth is, we loved every minute because we had faith in Chuck and Sarah. We put up with all those hardships because of our faith in the characters.
Well, there’s no getting around it – Sarah was brutalized in Season 5 and in this final arc and it hurt us terribly. There was a purpose to it, though, even if that purpose was not to entertain us.
Not entertain us? Oh gee, most shows on television just hope to be entertaining and go no further than that. Many of them don’t succeed in reaching that level. Chuck was almost always entertaining. It made us laugh and gasp and smile inwardly when it wasn’t making us groan and guffaw outwardly.
I’m convinced that Chuck was striving for something more than just entertainment. Somewhere between all the silliness, fun and action scenes, it hoped to tell us something about friendship, the importance of family, trust (especially trust in yourself) and love. It told us, too, about having faith.
Chuck and Sarah are totally fictional characters, but they are us. The story was always about people who care, people who love, and people who are exactly like us, if only in part.
What happens to Chuck&Sarah at the end is up to debate because the story is not finished. That’s intentional, I believe. We are writing that ending every day in our own lives in ways that are less dramatic but no less worthy.
For five years we allowed ourselves to be affected by two very fictional characters and their friends. It’s only possible because the truths laid out weren’t there in the made-up story, but in our own lives and loves shared with friends and family.
When I think about it that way, I can’t help but think that, yes, it was a gift.