Near the halfway point of tonight’s Chuck series finale, Sarah Walker tells our titular hero that while she believes everything he’s told her about their past, she doesn’t feel it. And that difference between knowing and feeling sums just about everything you need to know about this show, its fandom, and why it’s worked on a fundamental level for the past five years. I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a single canon that defines what makes “good” television at any given point. You want to throw Deadwood in there? Awesome. Breaking Bad? Go for it. The Sopranos? Sure. You could go on and on, but what’s less important than trying to decide which shows are the best is realizing which shows make you feel the most. Those, I’d argue, are the most successful shows. And while it’s been an often bumpy five years, Chuck made me feel more than just about any other show in the past half decade.
Recounting the action tonight will be perfunctory at best, beside the point at worst. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of how the show got Sarah Walker to the point where she forgot the past five seasons, having her in that place let the show demonstrate just how far its characters have come over the past five seasons. It’s not just through montages that the show pulled this off (although my god those montages, y’all). It’s in the way that Casey realizes that being “soft” can simultaneously mean being stronger than ever. It’s about Ellie intentionally crashing her car in order to save her maid of honor from herself. It’s about Morgan being both comic foil AND worthy agent. And most of all, it’s about two people that were incomplete without each other and only make sense when paired together.
And look, I’m typing this shit through tears right now, which is something Casey would frown upon. But fuck it. I don’t stop to think about how I feel about episodes of this show on the best of days, and here we’re in pretty much the worst. Because once I stop typing all this, the show is over for me. But the true beauty of tonight is that the story for those two will continue, albeit in some new form in which they will have to find their way back to each other. I would have put good money on her regaining her memory back in the final act. And if you’re an optimist (or just a fan of Disney princess movies, like baby Clara), then she did during their final onscreen kiss. But even if you think she didn’t, there’s a sense that what we saw as the screen went dark was the start of something familiar yet new.
The beauty of tonight’s two hours lay in the way Zachary Levi wore Chuck’s emotions so nakedly, and in the way Yvonne Strahovski conveyed just how badly Sarah wanted to believe in the life he described. I bitched last week in this space about how the show sometimes treats Sarah as an unequal partner in their relationship. But the symmetry of events that echoed those in the pilot restored that balance nicely in its final hours. Whereas she was his initial shoulder to cry on in a new world order he didn’t understand, so now will he be hers.
The easy move would have been to use the Intersect glasses as Ellie initially suggested: to restore Sarah’s memory. But once the bomb was rigged to explode inside the concert hall, Chuck donned the glasses in order to save lives. Giving him the Intersect this last time is something I could have frankly done without: I liked the idea of an Intersect-less world, and I wanted them to be in that house with their names carved into the doorway as normal as normal could be. But he donned them in a way that spoke to Chuck’s character: he wants Sarah more than anything, but not under the condition that hundreds died for him to achieve that goal. He wouldn’t have been able to live with it. Sarah, newly restored, would have been horrified to learn the cost of being whole once again. Life didn’t work out as either expected. But in the ever-optimistic world of Chuck, the curves that life throws you can sometimes lead to better things than you could have ever hoped for.
In that vein, these few hours gave its characters some closure while opening up some interesting doors. Morgan and Alex will be living together while Casey goes off to find Gertrude Verbanski. Mary Bartowski will be visiting her granddaughter in Chicago, where Ellie and Awesome both got high-paying jobs. Jeffster, who managed to save lives through an epic performance of A-Ha’s “Take on Me,” will be free to catch venereal diseases in Europe after a German producer caught their performance. Even Big Mike will experience change, albeit a small one, thanks to Subway literally taking over a wing of the Buy More.
Ending television shows is a tricky thing. Chuck has had to do it more times than nearly any show in history. Luckily, they do endings really, really well. Why? Because each one closes a chapter while offering tantalizing glimpses into a possible future. But as sad as it is to see the show go, I’m ready to watch it leave. These people are all going to be OK. But they are going to be OK in ways that suggest they still have work to do. No one leaves this show having achieved every goal they set out to accomplish. In many ways, the show simply leaves them either more prepared or more motivated to achieve those goals than ever before.
And that, above all, is what made tonight such a rousing, emotional farewell. We’ve spent five years with these people. It seems at times we’ve known them better than they know themselves. But all of them still managed to surprise us a little, and will continue to surprise themselves long after the camera stops rolling. Chuck told Casey and Morgan inside the newly exploded intersect room, “Deep down, I knew it was true. My wife never came home.” And in some ways, she still hasn’t. Maybe they will never live inside that house with the red door and the white picket fence. But maybe I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing all season in wanting them to have that. They don’t need a house. They need a home. And in that final kiss, they found one.
- Look, it’s dusty in here. All right? Thus my moistened eyes. Nothing to do with thinking about certain scenes tonight and welling up. Nope. Not that. Stop looking at me that way.
- Not that there will be a spin-off, but if there is, I want Morgan to use that invisibility cloak on every mission.
- Call outs a-plenty tonight, from Weinerlicious to the Irene Demova virus to the beach itself plus, about fifty more I don’t have time to list.
- Ever get the feeling Angus Macfadyen was cast as Quinn because he’s really, really good at getting thrown out windows?
- I heard Russell Crowe’s voice in my head when Lester announced, “Unleash the perverts!”
- “I’m really glad I’m part of this third last mission. You know, since I wasn’t involved in the other two.”
- “Of course she’s not picking up. She’s evil!”
- “You can kill me. I will never hurt you.”
- “I love Chuck Bartowski and I don’t know what to do about it.”
- “I got a plan. You’re not gonna like it. But I’ve got a plan.”
- “Chuck? Kiss me.”