Chuck season 5 episodes 12 and 13 review: season and series finale

Billy salutes Chuck one last time, as the show finally comes to an end...

This review contains spoilers.

5.12 Chuck Versus Sarah5.13 Chuck Versus The GoodbyeI’ve given Chuck a hard time this season, mostly because much of the spark of brilliance that circles the show appeared to have gone out. I’ve thought very hard about what it was that was missing, and I’ve even come up with a small theory about the problems Chuck had, that may or may not be accurate.

Where this season suffered, and the previous season too, was references, which where a staple of the early years. Chuck’s bedroom was a cleverly constructed homage to lots of geek ideas, many of which were worked into the plot of the show. Star Wars, Die Hard, Halo, Madden, Hong Kong cinema, Beetlejuice… all these things permeated Chuck like a common geek unconscious, and we got most of the references immediately.

But there was one reference from the outset that was worked and reworked, and that was the TRON poster. They even got Bruce Boxleitner (i.e. Tron) to appear as Devon’s father. So why I am mentioning this in the context of something that went wrong?Well. it didn’t go wrong, at least not until Disney decided to go back to that franchise with TRON: Legacy, and then – and this is a guess – someone in NBC made one of those corporate soulless choices, where they decided that supporting another company’s movie/franchise wasn’t in their interest.

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So from that point onwards, TRON was never referenced again, even if it had been one of the very pillars of the show. Suddenly, the only references they made were to Subway, their supporter, and all the cool situational gags vaporised.

I could be entirely wrong, but how a show that sported the TRON poster ever week didn’t even mention the Legacy movie is beyond me if the reason is something else, like they got bored with the idea.

That analysis out of the way, I’d like to say that the show’s finale had a moment when the brilliance returned, so brightly  I’m still seeing a big glowing spot in the centre of my visual cortex.

But before I get to that, the conclusion of Chuck was broken into two parts, with the first being a by-the-numbers spy thriller, where Sarah is out to kill Chuck even if she appears to be normal. I got very worried watching this, because it reminded me very much of the end of Alias, a show that didn’t end on a high in my book. There wasn’t much comedy in here, and the longer it went on, the more concerned I became that Chuck would end as if it was a serious show, and entirely out of character.

In retrospect I should have had more confidence in the Chuck team. They had all their gunpowder dry, for those that stayed the distance.

What I liked about it was that where the show is usually a little predictable, many characters did things you wouldn’t normally expect. The sequence where Elle crashes the car was really unexpected, for instance. There were also two montage sequences, one where Sarah was keeping a video diary, and the other of Chuck/Sarah moments. These were designed to up the emotional level, and worked for a fashion. However, I’d have liked to have seen another funnier one, with Chuck mucking up. The Chuck team really did some work on one to show off some of the amazing costumes that Yvonne Strahovski has worn. I especially loved seeing the Princess Leia costume again, and the Angel with rapidly deployable wings.

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All these touchy-feeling parts were emotional ammo being horded for unleashing in the second part, Chuck versus the Goodbye.

There were two components to the Goodbye, one of which was to bring back some familiar faces and even an old location. When Sarah first ended up at Chuck’s side they placed her in a German sausage shop called Wienerlicious, which they brought back as a fake retail location in Germany. No Orange Orange, but Sarah’s outfit was more fun here anyway. 

The returning character was Linda Hamilton, as Chuck’s mum, who gets one great but remarkably short scene. She shouldn’t feel so bad, Alex and Big Mike only get token appearances too, and much to my disappointment, neither Harry Tango nor Anna ever came back (ahh…).

Those with eagle-eyes might have noticed some less well known faces in the final Chuck. Robert Duncan McNeill (director, who once piloted Voyager) was an ‘operative’, and the women called Gabbie, is show production assitant Gabrielle Eisenstadt. I’m sure I missed other people who are part of the show and made it onscreen.

Yet the characters that stole the show weren’t the leads. Chuck had a massively ambitious and in the end ‘signature moment’ for Jeff and Lester, in the scene that made me laugh and cry a little at exactly the same time. Poor general Beckman is sat on in a concert hall on the only seat backed with plastic explosives, put there by Quinn. When the music stops she will be obliterated and the symphony is coming to a close…I don’t know who thought of this plot point…but it was inspired.

Quinn, Chuck and Sarah are on the roof and the music starts to subside, there is only one word that will ride to the rescue: ‘Jeffster’. Jeff and Lester emerge from behind the curtain to reacquaint us with the A-Ha classic Take On Me, much to the confusion of pretty much everyone but them. It was comedy gold, possibly platinum. As Casey puts it, “we’re doomed”, but we’re not. We’re all saved, every last person who ever watched Chuck and liked it. A TV triumph plucked from the very ashes of the final episode or the last season.

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In the end Quinn wasn’t much of a threat, all it needed was someone with the nerve to shoot him, which eventually Sarah has. But then this story wasn’t about him, it was about Chuck and what he’d do to keep the people he cares for safe. Chuck must take the Intersect glasses and use them to disable the bomb, before Jeffster finish their full orchestral rendition.

It requires both Chuck and Sarah, and the Irene Demova Virus to disable the bomb, referencing their earliest adventure. They all live, with the exception of Quinn, happily ever after. Free Subways all round.

It ends, oddly, how Alias ended, on the beach, but with not all the story resolved in some way. Does Sarah get her memory back or not? Well, we’re supposed to be optimistic I guess, and say that she does, hinted at by her remembering the virus. But it didn’t exactly slam the narrative door shut, as Chuck has the Intersect once more.

I’ve seen people complaining on TV discussion forums that they didn’t like the ending, where I was fine with it.

Perhaps in a  decade or two they’ll decide it would be nice to have a Chuck reunion, if those in the show are available, and I’ll certainly tune in if they do.

In retrospect, Chuck went on a little too long with a premise that was probably worth two good seasons, but it still made me smile enough that I was never annoyed to see it return.

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I covered Chuck in 78 reviews for Geek, including this one, and for most of the time it’s been a pleasure to report on such an inventive production. I hope those involved return to our screens soon, or at least get solid paid employment in an successful electrical outlet somewhere in Burbank.

Read our review of the last episode, here.