Chuck: “Chuck Versus The Bullet Train”
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Chuck: “Chuck Versus The Bullet Train”

B

Chuck

“Chuck Versus The Bullet Train”

Season 5, Episode 11

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Taking a week off from reviewing Chuck in its final stretch wasn’t part of the plan. But life got in the way, as it sometimes does, which left me five whole days in which there was an episode of the show I hadn’t watched. That hadn’t happened since…well, ever, really, as it’s been a show I’ve kept up with since it premiered. But those five days off gave me time to think not about what I had missed in the episode, but what I’ll miss about the show as a whole. When I finally got to viewing “Chuck Versus Bo,” the other night, I saw onscreen what it was I’d be missing. Early in that episode, the core four—Chuck, Sarah, Casey, and Morgan—all stood around sipping coffee and talking future plans. It was a dramatic scene. It wasn’t a particularly funny scene. But it was an extremely comfortable scene. 

Now, calling the show “comfortable” might be damning it with faint praise, but I mean it in a sincerely positive way. What I missed while on my temporary Chuck hiatus was hanging out with characters of which I am extremely fond. There are times in which I fear that Chuck is the television equivalent of Toad The West Sprocket: I own all of Toad’s records, but I also harbor a not-so-secret worry that they actually suck. Well, Chuck definitely doesn’t suck. Its haphazard plotting often sucks. Its constant rewriting of its own mythology kinda blows. But the characters are amazing, and if the show had to get one thing right, well, it nailed that in spades. When the show angers me, it’s almost never because it’s thrown out a dumb plot. That’s annoying, but forgivable. But when those plots exist because characters suddenly act in ways that violate their essential nature, then I tend to get HULK SMASH-y on the show.

That’s why the final moments last week disappointed me slightly. I am 100% in favor of Sarah Walker kicking ass and taking names. But seeing her don the Intersect glasses worried me for two reasons. The first? We’re entering an Oprah-like territory here with the Intersect in this final season. “You get an Intersect! And YOU get an Intersect! Everybody gets an Intersect!” The second? The three-episode arc at the outset of the season in which Morgan turned douchetastic under its influence suddenly made a lot more sense. The show seemed to be setting up Sarah as the final Big Bad, someone that would lose herself under its influence and throw Chuck’s personal and professional life into turmoil. There’s a certain symmetry to all this, but do any of us think Chuck is destined to end in a dark place? Sarah donned the glasses not because it’s something Sarah Walker would do. Sarah donned the glasses because Chuck as a show needed her to do so.

So what actually happened in “Chuck Versus The Bullet Train”? Pretty much exactly what I feared might, but somehow played out worse than I feared. Rather than exploit the Intersect onscreen as the show did at the end of last week, they had her overuse it offscreen in the two days between episodes. The result? By the time she’s in action on the titular train, she’s almost instantly incapacitated, leaving her a passive figure throughout much of the hour. Is this preferable to her getting frosted tips? Probably. But there’s been so little good use of Sarah this season that it’s a bummer to see her so ill-used this close to the finish line. Chuck and Sarah have a brief moment where they talk about how awesome the Intersect is. But we got 15 seconds of onscreen joy last week and a few more seconds of Sarah’s lapdance ninja skillz before we returned to Emoville. And now we have the two-hour finale involving amnesia and yet ANOTHER intersect? Good Golly. 

Where the show failed Sarah Walker tonight, it certainly did right by one John Casey. All elements involving his efforts to rescue Alex were spot-on, and tied in not only his growing paternal instincts over the last few seasons. But also managed to put a nice button on his relationships with both Morgan and Jeffster, while also giving those three characters some nice moments as well. Seeing the latter take down Quinn’s goons was ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous in the way that 99% of the show’s plotlines are. My problems with the Sarah storyline don’t exist in the Casey one, since everything in the latter feels tonally right in terms of character. Given what Sarah knew about the effects of the Intersect on Morgan, there’s NO WAY she uses the Intersect more than three dozen times…unless the story needs her to do so in order to become Quinn’s puppet. But hey, I suppose that’s a small price we pay for having the show end with a big bad that has been there since the very beginning of the series. And by “the very beginning of the series” I mean “last week.”

Had Shaw been at the heart of all this, perhaps there would be more dramatic resonance occurring now. And yes, here I go again talking about things such as “dramatic resonance” when it comes to Chuck, which means I should probably look at Quinn’s flash cards until I forget such nonsense. I want Chuck and Sarah to get that house with the white picket fence. I have said so from the very first episode of this season. Here’s what I wrote a few months back:

In short: I don't care if the Intersect mythology wraps up in a neat little bow when the show ends. I do care if Chuck and Sarah open that red door together by that point. If the show does that, then this fifth season will have been worth it. 

But ending the Shaw arc halfway through the season has left some odd rhythms to the back half of this final year. For a while, it seemed like the show was slowly winding down while giving its major players some nice grace notes. All of a sudden, we’re in a super accelerated four-hour arc involving a new madmen in the way of our heroes riding off into the sunset.

With all of this said, I have a feeling none of this will matter when the finale credits roll next week. Chuck has an amazing knack, matched by a little show called Friday Night Lights, of writing multiple times for fear of cancellation and nearly ALWAYS knocking those endings of the park. I have little doubt I will enjoy how we will leave these characters, even if saying goodbye to them for good will be bittersweet. There’s a difference, however, in enjoying those final moments and enjoying the way in which the show will get itself there. For five years, Sarah Walker is one of the best characters on television. (Note I didn’t say “one of the best female characters”.) She and Chuck will get to their finish line together, but right now, they aren’t going to get there equally. There’s an imbalance in the way the show has treated her this season that prevents them from being true partners.

That’s not a knock on either Zachary Levi or Yvonne Strahovski by any stretch. This is about the way in which the show took its cues from its title and omitted the element that truly made him what he is today. It certainly wasn’t the Intersect. It was Sarah. It would be nice for the show to remember this in the series finale. I am sure they will. But for tonight? They seem to have a memory loss themselves.

Stray observations…

  • Many thanks to Katherine Miller for taking over last week in my absence.
  • John Casey’s Crown Vic has the largest trunk space in the history of history. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Jimmy Hoffa is in that thing.
  • You guys, those backgrounds on the train. I mean, I know the show has a miniscule budget. But man. That was pretty horrible.
  • As bad as those backgrounds were, that 80’s-tastic opening credit sequence was freakin’ awesome. Why did they do it? Who cares! It made me wish they had abandoned Cake’s “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” ages ago.
  • To those of you who have suggested Jeff will end the show with the Intersect in his head…I won’t say you’re wrong, but I hope you are. I think I’d like to leave this world knowing the Intersect won’t be in play anymore. Also, I’d like to leave this world with at least one more Jeffster performance. For the road.
  • John Casey would stare down a firing squad without breaking a sweat. But Jeffster gives him nightmares. Love it.
  • “I want that house and dog and baby, Sarah.”
  • “We have something better than a Buy More. We have a trainful of Japanese people.”
  • “Just so you know, I’ve never sniped. Wet or dry.”
  • “They are SO so, you colossal dope.”

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