In so many ways, last week’s Chuck felt like another series finale for the show. Much like Friday Night Lights, this show has had to prep certain episodes as if they might be the final one ever to air, only to have to keep things going after the fact when the show got unexpected new life. “Chuck Versus The Santa Suit” wasn’t designed as a finale, but really felt like it took most of its characters to a logical conclusion. Had we not seen another episode of the show past that, I would have felt content. Sad, but content. At 59 minutes and 30 seconds, I could have said my misty goodbye. Then, in the final half-minute, Shaw dropped yet ANOTHER twist, and further down the rabbit hole we went.
So here we are, one night before the ball drops on 2011, with NBC burning Chuck episodes in the hopes it can finally clear more valuable real estate for such fine programming as Minute To Win It. (Fine: YOU explain why it aired episodes on both December 23rd and tonight. It’s been extremely lonely here in TV Club land this week, people. Todd turned off the lights a while ago, and I’ve been in here cold and scared.) While “Santa Suit” was both a season and series highlight, “Chuck Versus The Baby” was an inevitable step down. It finally gave Yvonne Strahovski the spotlight that she’s needed all season, but featured a series of events that had little connection to the season or her character to date.
Given the trajectory this show appears to be going on, it makes sense that Sarah needed some closure on her past in order to move onto a CIA-less future. But while we’ve gotten some hints of her mysterious past with her father, aspects involving her mother have been an utter mystery. Rather than deploying them as part of the series’ final multi-episode arc, “Baby” packed in a ton of backstory in order to bring Sarah into a more positive future. One could admire the economy with which such a tale was told. But little revealed tonight explained previous behavior. It just served to give her a self-contained arc for a single hour. That’s hardly a bad thing. But had there been more context laid in throughout the years (or at least laid out this season), then we could have had a lot more emotional payoff tonight.
Before we even got to all that rushed resolution, we had to wade through an almost insufferable section of the show in which Chuck, only two episodes removed from keeping secrets from Sarah that led to The Omen virus being released, had the nerve to call Sarah on the same secrecy. Yes, he noted that his outrage stemmed from her mandate, but dude: Pot. Kettle. Black. Even worse, when Chuck told her post-rescue that she was wrong to keep him in the dark, SHE AGREED WITHOUT A FIGHT. I know the show is called Chuck, but he doesn’t get to establish moral authority here. A couple is supposed to establish that together, if it’s to be a balanced relationship. It doesn’t put these two on the same page. It just makes her look weak, especially in light of her quick forgiveness of him in “Chuck Versus The Curse.” Sarah’s desire to leave the CIA will hopefully put an end here in the final stretch to such idiocy, to which I say: “Don’t let the door hit the carved names of Sarah and Chuck on the way out.”
So what did all this secrecy finally establish? That five years ago, right before becoming Chuck’s handler, Sarah worked for Ryker (White Collar’s Tim DeKay, hamming it up nicely) a dirty agent in Budapest. He sent her into a mansion to rescue the infant heir to a major inheritance and deliver it to him. How an evil CIA agent would gain access to said money is one of those things you don’t worry about in the world of Chuck, but regardless, Sarah hightailed it out of Europe and delivered the child (eventually named Molly) to her mother Emma (Cheryl Ladd, not making much of an impression). Emma’s absence was due to Molly’s presence: as long as Molly was there, Sarah needed to keep her distance to protect them both from Ryker. Thus, Sarah kept mum about Emma and Molly to everyone in the five years since, even to Chuck.
Naturally, the moment when Sarah finally breaks down and brings her husband up to speed, Ryker overhears it via a bug he planted on her earlier in the episode. This leads to a throwdown in Casa Emma, with Ryker vanquished and the Walkers finally reunited. I’m happy with the results, even if the path to get there was wobbly at best. Chuck as a show is aiming for a place in which all characters are standing on two feet by series’ end, and that means giving certain characters curtain calls before the final curtain falls. Sarah, according to tonight’s episode, could never fully think about a family of her own with Molly still in danger. I’m not sure that fully explains her reticence about moving onto parenthood and home ownership, but it doesn’t contradict it, either. To be sure: Strahovski sold the hell out of Sarah’s major beats tonight. It’s just too bad they were all strung together so closely as to reduce the impact of each one due to proximity.
Sarah’s reunion with Emma and Molly not only fills out the Chuck/Sarah familial unit, but also manages to finally get Alex and Morgan back on the same page as well. In this week’s B story, Morgan hosts Game Night with her along with Ellie/Awesome inside of Castle. When the latter were not playing Life, they were role-playing inside one of the interrogation rooms. (This should tell you how seriously to take the spy stuff on the show at this point. Good on Sarah for wanting to get out of the game.) Morgan tries too hard inside Castle to win Alex back, but does so effortlessly through his interactions with Molly. So we now have most of the major players lucky in love, with the exception of one John Casey. And honestly, can Carrie-Ann Moss be far behind? At this point, I can easily see a Chuck series finale in which all the couples stand in the courtyard of their apartment complex singing “All You Need Is Love”.
And really, that’s fine. I’m looking for character closure, not plot closure. What worked most tonight were the final quiet moments between Chuck and Sarah, in which they talked inside a dream house deferred. The message therein: It’s not about the end goal, it’s about working towards it together. Chuck has long showed just how difficult it’s been for these people to achieve happiness alone. Even while working together, these people haven’t always been on the same page. Getting Sarah’s mom into the mix helps augment that overall goal. I just wish that Sarah had arrived at this point more organically, and that the show hadn’t relied on so many secrets in order to arbitrarily ratchet up tension through the temporary sacrifice of character. With this (hopefully) final secret now revealed, we can watch this band of unlikely friends, family, and loved ones work together in the final run of the series.
- After a string of episodes in which the Buy Morons were actually integrated rather well into the spy stuff, they were totally absent this week. In their place, a whole lotta cheap green screen shots. Youch.
- Another visual oddity tonight: Chuck editor Matt Barber directed tonight’s episode, and seemed throughout the first half of the episode to be introducing an entirely new visual vocabulary into the show. Certain aspects worked well (Sarah’s slo-mo takedown of the Budapest baddies was great), but “Risk Cam” felt like a cheap Breaking Bad knockoff.
- Ellie’s role-playing name? The Cobress. Also, Awesome learned his English accent by watching Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, apparently.
- Speaking of those two, Season 5 has really done right by them, deepening characters almost forgotten over the past two seasons. I love the little detail where Awesome still has no idea why Ellie took him back all those years ago.
- Only five more hours to go in this series’ history, y’all. And if you’re wondering about the chances of another extension, may I repeat: NBC has burned off episodes on December 23rd and 30th.
- “This area...perfect for my game chairs! Or not.”
- “It’s like we’re actively wasting our babysitter.”