The Season Four finale. Vivian’s attempt at revenge against Chuck for Vivian being an idiot has left Sarah in a coma just days before the wedding. So now Chuck will have to race against time and the CIA, while enlisting some unusual aid to get an antidote in time.
Join us after the jump for this week’s discussion.
Cliffhanger was ranked at 18 on our site poll. I’ll say that means most of us consider it a strong episode. My own impression is a little more mixed than for most of my top 20 episodes, but strong is still mostly my impression. My main complaint is just that I dislike Sarah being in a coma for most of the episode. But I’ll be posting an “Alternatives” post on Tuesday, and I’ll get more into my complaints then.
What’s good here is solidly good. Starting with a very, very dramatic sequence in the hospital. Sarah’s brief return to semi-consciousness is beautiful and heartbreaking. I think the real dramatic weight of this show has always been about Charah, and we never see that better demonstrated than here. Zach and Yvonne’s performances are perfect. I get choked up every time at this point.
The adventure is also a blast, with Chuck going rogue to battle the CIA, starting with an unsanctioned break-in to a federal prison. Chuck learns his whole team and operation has been disavowed by the agency, and Volkoff is being relocated to a more secure facility. The Nighthawk is sort of a silly toy (so the weapons have to be fired remotely? Never mind the motorcycle couldn’t possibly have room for the mini-guns or ammunition behind the barrels we see. And Chuck leaves with Hartley with neither helmet nor glasses; just how fast can he drive that way?); I like that Volkoff’s last lines involve disbelief that anyone could be named “Hartley Winterbottom” and then we see a pretty meek man escaping with Chuck. I like that Hartley is so willing to help, and some of his reaction to 30 years of lost memories.
I like the sequence at Castle, especially learning what a slug Decker is. But most of all, this is where Casey shines; both as a fearsome hero in his own right, and as a good friend and partner for both Chuck and Sarah.
The mission to Moscow is also a fun sequence. We see Chuck’s total devotion to his mission (or to Sarah); and Hartley is excellent comic relief right before a dramatic scene with his daughter. Chuck’s return home, with some Russian companions is a fun moment as well. I can’t help but think there would be some international fall out from a team of Russian Mercs parachuting into downtown LA, I guess this is one of those “rule of cool” moments and I need to let it go…
I’m sure it will surprise no one that my favorite part here though is the flashbacks to Chuck and Sarah’s practice vows. I’m always a big fan of cute and sweet, and these flashback scenes are among the best of the series. Sarah’s vows are so simple and sincere, no wonder Chuck’s breath is taken away. And “talkie?” So it manages to be funny too. great stuff all around. Yes, I’m a hopeless romantic.
There is barely a “B” plot in Cliffhanger, but that doesn’t mean none. We get Morgan and the hospital scenes intercut with the main story. I like this use of Morgan a lot; the part is smaller than he often gets, and he manages to be a good friend while sitting with Sarah, and has a wonderful funny scene with Devon taking out their CIA sentry.
But the last few minutes are the real stand out to me. This is what makes this episode a wonderful, I would even say the very best of all the possible finales this show had. So often our show runners left too much hanging, or too many questions as they came to the end (or possible end) of the series. This is the one and only time they got it perfectly right for my taste. The wedding was sweet and a lot of fun (although I wish we’d had a few minutes of the reception with everyone having fun together), Hartley’s wedding gift was really the unexpected twist for the end, and with Chuck and Sarah buying the Buy More and starting their own company we had just the perfect way to end things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad for another 13 episodes; but Cliffhanger does a vastly better job of hitting all the notes right than Goodbye did. As a finale, this is about the perfect way to end. Many viewers had concerns about what Morgansect would mean for S5 (I did too), but if there had been no S5, Morgansect is of zero emotional consequence to me, and would have simply ended the show with one last punch line.
This Tuesday I will have another “Alternatives” post up for the last part of Season Four. And then we’ll start Season Five next week. The end is in sight. So sad.
Happily Ever After And Then Some
Chris Fedak: So tell me, Joe. Now that you’ve seen the pilot, how would you like this story to end? How would you like to see it work out for Chuck and Sarah?
Joe: I certainly want Chuck and Sarah to become a couple, go through the steps and eventually have a white wedding. You know – surrounded by friends and family, the works. But getting there is going to be tough, CF.
Fedak: How so?
Joe: Well for starters, Chuck is going to have to stop being such a coward, especially around women. Avoiding them at his own birthday party? Sheesh. He’s got to grow a pair. I don’t know how he’s going to get a girl like Sarah if he’s had only one serious girlfriend before and isn’t quite over the shock.
And Sarah is going to have to defrost. Right now, she’s an ice queen, much more concerned about the mission’s success and her new NSA partner’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions after pancakes than about The Asset’s health and well being. Or her own for that matter. Even if it helps, there’s no way she’d settle for a guy just because he’s nice to children.
Fedak: Sure. Anything else?
Joe: Yeah. Could you put Chuck in charge of the Buy More? He needs a goal to shoot for!
This conversation between me and Chris Fedak never happened, of course. It would have but for a slight misalignment of two quarks shortly after the big bang, but maybe it happened in a nearby universe. I can say that because, from the first, the direction in which the show evolved was more or less exactly what I would have hoped for back then – in my most cherished dreams.
Take Casey, for instance. In the pilot he ruthlessly kills Bryce, a fellow spy, without hesitation and is described by Sarah as “a burnout. Cold-school”. He’s ready to shoot an innocent civilian just as ruthlessly. But now?
Casey: Shut up! You’re Chuck Bartowski, the second best spy I’ve ever worked with. Now you’re gonna go save the best one.
He’s only concerned about his friends. Chuck observing him go pale on hearing Decker’s voice was only the half of it, apparently.
As for Sarah, her description of Casey may have been a little self-referential and a bit of projection. The told Morgan she was “somebody deadly.” What he have now is a startling contrast.
Sarah: Okay. I’m just gonna go.
Chuck: Yeah, you get — Mm-hm.
Sarah: Ahem. “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 wanna spend, and learn, and love, the rest of my life with you.”
Lord keep her here with me, just a little more
We can’t stop there! Mary, who as Frost is calculated and ruthless while she seeks to complete Stephen’s mission, shows a different side.
Chuck: I want the nighthawk.
Mary: Absolutely not!
Casey: It’s a prototype. Never been tested.
Chuck: Eleven hours are counting. I don’t give a damn.
Mary: Chuck, have you ever even ridden a motorcycle? And I hope to God the answer is no.
Yeah, my mom didn’t want me to ride a motorcycle either.
They’ve changed so much, but somehow, Chuck remains Chuck. How can that be when he goes from cringe-worthy at a party to – this?
Casey: Remember when I told you opening the Agent X files would draw out a remorseless son of a bitch who would destroy our whole team without breaking a sweat? This is the guy they hire to kill that guy.
Chuck: That guy might think he’s a hardass, but I’m the Intersect.
Such bravado! It’s the opposite of whiny, things-just-happen-to-me Chuck from the pilot. Go Chuck! He’s strong and determined and unafraid to face danger.
Except that Chuck is pretty much unchanged. He’s without the Intersect now and must face his difficulties like he always has, without help. To the mighty head of Volkoff Industries, Chuck can only offer his life for Sarah’s because he has nothing else left.
It’s clear to me that there was only one person back then who always saw Chuck like this – We see her blinking away a tear when everyone else recognizes that fact. The rest of his friends only knew that he had it in him all along.
Oh, I may have quibbled a little about how long it took to get us here and I certainly had some doubts and fears, even about the inevitability of the Chuck&Sarah; the ease with which I was able to suspend disbelief is a sign of good storytelling. But ultimately, if the show had ended with Chuck vs. The Cliffhanger I would have been completely, deliriously satisfied. My then-unspoken desires for the characters and the story lines would have been fulfilled, with perhaps one exception – “More!” Always more. That, of course, is the hard wish to grant. It’s a law of nature that says: “More, faster, high quality – you can have any two of the three,” apparently.
No, wait. It seems that we got that too. Season five begins, not with a minister of the Intergalactic Federation of Planets joining the couple in Holy Matrimony, but with him donning a pair of sunglasses.
I rank this episode so highly it’s hard to put it at #2. I still love The Colonel because of the excitement and tension combined with the romance, but I feel like I’m cheating a bit with that choice. I always think of it as including the song Luisa’s Bones from The Dream Job and the ending of The First Kill, plus Sarah’s silent “no” to Bryce in The Ring.
The Cliffhanger stands alone much better, giving us a packed story, several daring, finger-tip rescues and a question.
Decker: [computer monitor] You really think you’ve been fighting evil, doing good? You’re just a pawn. You always were.
Chuck: What are you talking about?
Decker: You think it was all a coincidence? The Intersect, Fulcrum, The Ring, Shaw, Agent X? That was all just part of the plan, Bartowski, pieces on the puzzle board.
See ya never, civilian.
Chuck: Wait, wait. Wait – what plan? Huh? What plan?
My life was changed forever. My friends were put in danger, my family – My father was killed, Decker.
Decker: [laughs and ends the transmission]
More than anything, it’s Decker’s laugh at the mention of Stephen’s death that keeps me hoping for a resurrection.
Wishes overdue are all saved in locks
No one knows you, till it’s over
You know no one true, till it’s over
Added late: While looking for images and videos to include, I came upon this, a little something I have not seen before. Much fun! But what really caught my eye were the comments that followed, so I encourage you to click on the “youtube” button there to see the video in-situ. Enjoy!