Saturday, 28 January 2012

Television - Chuck 'Chuck vs Sarah / Chuck vs The Goodbye' series finale review

Goodbye, Chuck. Against all odds, you made it to your happy ending, and I mean that in terms of the series as a whole as much as a narrative. Having been near non-existent in the ratings for years, your continued survival will surely baffle television historians for years to come. If there has been one consistent message throughout Chuck's five years, though, it is that positivity and honesty have powers that move people in mysterious ways.

This is a series that has been in danger since the end of its second season. Its creators, Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak, have written countless finales, expecting each to be Team Bartowski's last hurrah, only to be given a reprieve. The numbers don't add up. Not many people watched Chuck, but the love from those who did kept it alive to see Chuck and Sarah get together, get married and reunite with a loving kiss on the beach where Sarah first won her future husband's trust. Chuck survived on the sincere, uncynical values it so believed in.
Sarah's intersect-induced amnesia turned out to be little more than an excuse to run through the programme's history as Chuck desperately strove to remind her of how much they loved each other. It was brazen, unapologetic and completely wonderful.

True, there are places to nitpick: the final hour, 'Chuck vs The Goodbye', at times felt repetitive in Chuck's constant disappointment that Sarah couldn't reciprocate his feelings. Quinn was a non-entity of a villain, although a bigger presence might have moved focus away from the Chuck-Sarah story that the finale was really about: it's now understandable why Shaw wasn't kept until the end, even if it would have been more dramatically satisfying. Maybe there weren't quite as many laughs as there could have been, and some of the contrivances to fit in all the nostalgia (especially the Weinerlicious) were distracting. Yet while these things might have been no-nos on a critical level, they felt right and that's Chuck all over. Who has ever watched this series for the plots? We're here for the characters and they got the send-off they deserved.

It was a brave ending too, likely to divide opinion for not providing an absolute conclusion. Chuck and Sarah didn't wave goodbye from the red door of their dream house. We'll never know for sure if Sarah got all her memories back. Of course she did, though. Morgan was absolutely right: Chuck operates on princess logic, with the underdog (in this case, Chuck) finding true love with the hero (Sarah) against all odds. Chuck sitting down next to Sarah on that beach - a beautiful piece of visual symmetry, reversing her sitting down next to him in the pilot - and recounting the long story of them falling in love, ending with a kiss, will only end one way, but also gives them the chance to fall in love all over again. In the pilot, Sarah asked Chuck to trust her as a guiding hand through a dark, scary world. Instead, he ended up showing her a path back into the light.

In that final scene, where she interrupted his babbling as she so often has in the past, she was his Sarah again and while it may take a bit of time before she fully sees him as her Chuck, she felt the spark that ignited their love in the first place. That's what counts, and why Ellie's plan to upload Sarah with her old memories would never have worked any more than showing her a photo gallery. She might have known what had happened between them, but wouldn't have felt it. (She even said as much). For that, she needed the kiss and she had to know she wanted the kiss too. Chuck and Sarah have grown so much over the five years since we first met them. Now they can rediscover each other, without the pain of surviving in the world of spies.

The other pay-offs were not quite as thorough, but did enough to not leave any lingering disappointment. Morgan made the final step into adulthood, moving in with the woman he loved. Casey, who would have been bored to tears sticking around Burbank, went off for more adventures tracking down Verbanski. Jeffster got a final bow with a magnificent choice of song (my money was on 'Crazy' by Seal or 'The Final Countdown', but a-ha's upbeat cheesiness was a perfect fit) and a recording contract from, where else, Germany. Big Mike kept his happy existence, but with slightly easier access to the sandwiches he loves. Ellie is ready to pursue her aspirations with Awesome in Chicago, knowing that all aspects of her family life (in Clara, Chuck and Mary) are safe and secure. Even General Beckman had her moment.

Chuck has not always been the most consistent series, but has delivered in a big way each time it needed to. Last night's two-part finale encapsulated everything that has made it such a pleasure, from the sincerity of its emotional farewell, to Casey grunting and Sarah kicking an almighty quantity of arse (in a manner distinctly reminiscent of a former boyfriend of hers). I have been saying that Sarah is this generation's Emma Peel for some time now, and she even got her own catsuit for an outstanding Moonraker-esque freefall sequence.

It's sad knowing that this is the last time we'll be able to experience those joys with this very special cast of characters (with huge credit to the performers, writers and everyone behind the camera), but what memories they leave behind: The first kiss. Chuck learning kung-fu. His 'honeymoon' on the train with Sarah. Her laying the smackdown on Nicole Richie in the shower room. Jeffster performing 'Mr Roboto' at Awesome and Ellie's wedding. Everything Timothy Dalton. Morgan entering the spy world. Humming the Imperial March in the back of a van. Chuck beating Shaw without the need for an Intersect. Sarah falling in love with her husband all over again on the beach where he first accepted her into his life. "Chuck? Kiss me."

So for the last time, we bid farewell to Chuck Bartowski, Sarah Walker, John Casey, Morgan Grimes, Ellie Bartowski, Devon 'Captain Awesome' Woodcomb, Alex McHugh, Diane Beckman, Jeff and Lester, Big Mike. Thank you, Chris Fedak, Josh Schwartz, Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Adam Baldwin, Josh Gomez, Sarah Lancaster, Ryan McPartlin, Mekenna Melvin, Bonita Friedericy, Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay, Mark Christopher Lawrence. We will miss you, but not half as much as it was a pleasure to have known you.


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