Now that my home theater room has been put back together, I’ve spent some time catching up on my DVR backlog. Normally, I wouldn’t have waited this long to watch the ‘Chuck’ season finale. I don’t always watch the show Day One, but I like it enough that I try to keep up with new episodes within the week they air. I apologize for the delinquency of this recap, but life sometimes intervenes.
Anyway, ‘Chuck’ wrapped up its third season with a 2-hour episode. Or, more accurately, with two back-to-back episodes: ‘Chuck vs. the Subway’ and ‘Chuck vs. the Ring: Part 2’. Perhaps that’s just a semantic difference. The two halves run directly into one another with no credits between. It plays like one double-length episode, even if the network insists on naming each half separately.
Quite a while back in an earlier recap, I said that it felt clear to me that the show’s producers expected that this would be the last season and were actively moving toward a resolution to wrap everything up on a strong note. A reader then pointed me to an interview where series creator Josh Schwartz claims otherwise.
“This finale will leave fans very satisfied,” [Schwartz] continues, “and yet talking about what’s to come for a knock-on-wood Season 4.”
Speaking of which, Schwartz says the episode is not intended to function as a series finale should NBC do the wrong thing and cancel the show. “Much like last year, we’re putting all of our chips on the table,” he says. “We are going to drive our fans into a frenzy.”
I don’t buy it. Not at all. The finale very obviously moves toward resolving every single major storyline in systematic fashion. Yes, there’s a teasing cliffhanger that sets up a further season in the very final scene, but that feels blatantly tacked on. I guarantee you that the show’s creators had an alternate ending filmed and ready had NBC not given a last-minute renewal notice.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s talk about what actually happened in the episode. Which is quite a lot.
First off, the big news is that Agent Shaw (Brandon Routh) is definitely still alive. This development has been teased for a few episodes, and is now undeniably confirmed. Not only that, in a very confusing plot twist, he’s still working for the CIA and has been all along. He claims that he was a double-agent undercover in The Ring, not a real traitor. Chuck, Sarah, Casey, and Gen. Beckman aren’t buying it, of course. That hardly matters since their CIA and NSA bosses do buy it. Shaw frames them as a rogue, unstable threat to national security. That in turn gets Operation Bartowski shut down, and its members arrested. Naturally, this is all a Ring ploy to take over both the NSA and CIA.
Chuck’s father (Scott Bakula) has finished building the “governor” device to regulate Chuck’s screwy Intersect. Unfortunately, Shaw (who has his own Intersect at this point) kills Chuck’s dad and steals the governor. Ellie, who’d finally learned about Chuck’s secret spy life at the beginning of the episode, watches her father die.
Our heroes are locked in a van and shipped off to prison, but Shaw has no intention of letting them get there alive. With all other hope lost, it’s up to the sidekicks Morgan, Ellie, and Awesome to save the day. Their rescue plan isn’t exactly foolproof, or even particularly well thought-out, but it works. Chuck, Sarah, and Casey escape.
In part 2, the trio infiltrate a major spy conference where they suspect that the Five Elders in charge of The Ring will be. Chuck ultimately outsmarts Shaw into revealing the identities of the Elders in a plot development lifted directly from ‘Quantum of Solace‘. He also tricks Shaw into admitting his nefarious plan in a live video conference that all the CIA and NSA higher-ups see, thus clearing the Bartowski team. The Ring Elders are captured, but Shaw escapes.
Events of the episode finally culminate in a showdown between Chuck and Shaw in the Buy More after hours. They have a knock-down / drag-out Intersect-a-Intersect duel to the tune of Jeffster covering “Blaze of Glory” on the store’s speaker system. The fight scene is only marginally well choreographed (Zachary Levi has simply never been convincing at the kung-fu stuff), but hugely entertaining nonetheless. Despite his glitchy Intersect, Chuck forces himself to reboot and wins the battle. But he refuses to kill Shaw (again). He has him arrested instead, thus ensuring that we will probably see more of him next season.
Oh, and the Buy More gets blown up. There’s a goofy side story about Big Mike and the Jeffster duo having an illicit Going-out-of-Business sale that totally backfires on them. Although Shaw planted some bombs that cause the store’s destruction, Jeff and Lester are blamed for arson and insurance fraud.
As the episode ends, the Ring is disbanded and the bad guys are all imprisoned. The Buy More is gone. Ellie knows everything, and asks Chuck to give up his spying life. He agrees, so that he and Sarah can finally settle down into happy domesticity together. (Morgan also has a huge crush on Casey’s daughter, but that’s a long story.) Everything is right with the world.
Had the show not been renewed for another season, this is no doubt where the episode (and the series) would have ended. And it would have been a perfectly satisfying conclusion. Since it was renewed, another scene has been tacked on in which Chuck receives a pre-recorded message from his father. This leads him to a secret lab beneath their old house, and the revelation that his mother is still alive. More importantly, she’s a spy too. Basically, it’s almost the exact ending from the first season of ‘Alias’.
If it sounds like I’m grumbling about the episode at all, don’t read me wrong. In fact, the finale works like gangbusters nearly from start to finish. The Buy More business with Big Mike, Jeff, and Lester is (as usual) a little too dumb and feels out of place with the rest of the show. Otherwise, however, the episode is funny, suspenseful, and action-packed. It wraps up all the important storylines. It has a lot of great character moments, and hits some big emotional notes. This may be one of the show’s best episodes ever. Even that final scene does a pretty good job of setting up some interesting places for the series to go in Season 4.
With the threat of cancellation hovering over it the entire year, ‘Chuck’ really found its focus and delivered its best season yet. The finale goes out with a pretty big bang. I just hope the producers can keep it up for however many episodes NBC allots them next year.