The accidental finale. Chuck vs The Marlin was never intended to end a season. But a writers strike in 2007 meant this was the last episode of season one. It aired one hour after Undercover Lover in January of 2008 (the Chuck sandwich), and left us with eight months to kill until season two started.
To me, this was the best finale until Cliffhanger. After the jump we’ll look at an excellent episode that ended in a very satisfying spot for the long break.
Let me start by re-posting a couple paragraphs from when we discussed this episode just a few months ago in our “Reader’s Digest re-watch”.
Marlin was an unintended season finale, that I think actually worked out quite well. There was no dire cliffhanger, but going into the long hiatus we knew that Sarah had crossed a line. She still might be lying to Chuck and herself, but there was no question to us, the audience, that Sarah was compromised in the truest sense of the word. This wasn’t just about stealing a kiss when she thought they were doomed; Sarah was willing to go against orders, and her agency’s best interests for Chuck. In case there’s any confusion here, that is exactly what the CIA would want to avoid by re-assigning agents who grow too close to their assets or marks. I know some have brought up the idea she couldn’t protect Chuck if she were involved with him, of course that is utter non-sense. But the CIA doesn’t want her to just be a body guard, they want her to be their agent when Chuck’s and The Agencies interests conflict. We see clearly at the end of Marlin that the CIA has already lost that fight, Sarah is now more Chuck’s agent than anyone else’s. And what a beautiful finale that made.
I hate to boil this review down to just the last 5 minutes; Marlin is funny from beginning to end with a cleaned out Buy More and a search for Big Mike’s fish. But the ending is dynamite. I love Sarah’s hero pose at the end; she may be on the outside looking in at the family, but she is also watching over them. Casey warned that she won’t be able to keep Chuck in place for long, but Sarah remains firmly between Casey and the family; anyone coming for Chuck will have go through her first, and we know that isn’t easy!
Of course there is far more to Marlin than just an outstanding last few minutes. The robbed Buy More is funny, and one of the better Buy More integrations with the “A plot” of the entire series. There’s a number of excellent scenes involving Casey, Morgan, Big Mike, even Jeff and Lester. And the “B plot” with Devon’s proposal to Ellie is sweet, and also seamlessly integrated with the spy story.
The way these different characters and worlds impact each other, without even knowing it, is never better managed than in Marlin.
How does Marlin fit in the whole picture of the complete series? I think the view of compromised Sarah is the most significant thing. The episode also has one of the most compelling “what ifs?” for all of season one; what if Chuck had been bunkered? No doubt its a pretty dark what if. But it has provided an outstanding jumping off point for some of the very best fan fiction. And the whole rooftop scene may be the most written about moment of the entire season outside of the Pilot.
We’ve been mentioning firsts as we go, so maybe now is a time to add “lasts”. I believe this was the first use of Big Mike’s last name (Tucker). And it was the last appearance of the Weinerlicious. Sure we’ll see a few flashbacks and photos, and a different Weinerlicious will appear in 5.13;
but Marlin is the last time the original Weinerlicious set will be used. Pity I didn’t think to note Scooter’s last appearance. Was it Truth? I think he only appeared twice. Too bad Sarah didn’t get to lock him in the freezer as she ran off…
This brings us to the end of Season one. I think it was a wonderful start to the series. I think for most of us season two is when we were really smitten with Chuck fever, at least I was. But I already knew Chuck was my favorite show on television as season one came to an end. And I can say that in spite of not being very enthused with a few episodes.
The very strong episodes of Chuck are among the best things I’ve ever seen on television; and the writers are able to deliver such quality at least 1/3 of the time. And even the weaker episodes often had plenty of entertainment value.
Next week, we start season two!
Joe’s Take – Bring It On, Pita-Girl!
It’s hard to add to what you’ve said, Dave. This is such a remarkable episode, one that gets the humor, adventure and romance so right throughout that every little thing becomes memorable.
There’s Jeff and Lester’s perfect inappropriateness with Lizzy, The Pita Girl (Noureen DeWulf, last seen as a regular cast member of Charley Sheen’s latest vehicle, Anger Management) and Devon’s non-awesomeness as he asks Chuck’s permission to marry Ellie. There’s Chuck’s fumbling the gun in a futile attempt to free Sarah from the Weinerlicious freezer – is this the first time we see Chuck’s dislike-to-the-point-of-panic of guns? Or is this just the first time we see it writ large?
There’s Chuck’s growing panic over the idea of being torn from his family and friends, Sarah‘s growing panic over losing Chuck this way and Casey’s sardonic “I told you so!” attitude that changes with one phase after confirming his orders from Beckman by saying “We’re on it!”:
‘We’, meaning I go get Lizzy while you find Chuck.
One phrase? The writers and actors do better than that. When Lizzy has disarmed Sarah on the helipad and has Chuck at gunpoint, begging for a deal, she pointedly asks one hard question. “I have two guns. What do you have, Chuck?”, the answer comes with one word – one syllable – from Sarah. “Me.”
There’s more, of course; there’s Sarah’s tearful “Save you later.” instead of a good-bye, and her nervously telling Longshore (Mark Derwin), the CIA agent come to extract Chuck, “He’s my guy!”, a seemingly unconscious turn of phrase that we, and Chuck, notice immediately. And of course, there’s Sarah outside the window, looking in at Chuck, Ellie and Devon being a family, being happy.
You’re so right, Dave. Up to now, she’s been a hero, and a hero’s life is not about happiness. Sarah gets a long look at what she’s been missing. For an accidental finale, it’s an amazing ending to the season.
I’d like to point out one small thing in a key scene where my opinion has changed after several viewings. We all remember how Sarah starts to draw her gun as she faces Longshore on the helipad while bargaining for more time. Dave, you and others have said that this is where Sarah first shows she’s willing to go against the CIA for Chuck, and that’s true. That’s what we’re shown.
But this time as I watched, I realized that Sarah may not have done this consciously. Her shaking hand shows that Sarah’s defiance was a complete struggle; her emotions fighting against her training. I almost think Sarah herself is barely aware that her emotions are on the verge of winning! It’s very different from the end of First Kill, where Sarah is about to turn Chuck over to be put into Casey’s custody. There, with her whispered “Take off your watch,” there’s no doubt Sarah deliberately and consciously commits treason.
Here, because of Lizzy’s timely intervention, Sarah is let off the hook. She doesn’t have to choose treason even if she has decided to. But the question is clearly on the table for season 2, and I knew from the moment season 1 ended that I wanted to be there to see it all unfold.
This really is such a strong episode. I agree entirely that Sarah has no idea how compromised she herself is. That’s why I was careful to say we the audience know, she really doesn’t yet. Next week, we’ll even look at the idea Sarah still thinks she could move on when the assignment ends. Maybe she could, but I doubt it. But she won’t admit to herself until sometime around Broken Heart that she loves Chuck. I’ve always maintained in First Kill That there was simply no way she ever could have delivered Chuck back to Casey’s tender care. I think she tried to convince herself she could. But it didn’t take much. Just a little of Chuck being Chuck and Sarah goes rogue. But even at that, when Chuck asks her in the next episode why she did it, she falls back on it being her job to protect him. No, it isn’t. Its her job to follow orders; and she just abandoned her duty back at the Buy More. She’s so compromised she doesn’t even know it. Of course we know she was doing the right thing, at least by Chuck she was. And I think by the end of Colonel she knew what she was doing too.
This very thing is possibly the most compelling and exciting aspect of the entire story to me. Its Sarah’s fundamental conflict of interest, her inner struggle that she isn’t even aware of until quite late, and ultimately how her value system and reason for being will be completely rewritten. We’ve seen hints of her inner struggle, really ever since the Pilot. But this is the moment when our suspicions are confirmed. When push comes to shove, Sarah is on Chuck’s side.