Judge Jim Thomas once had an Intersect with a soda machine.
Our reviews of Chuck: The Complete First Season (published September 10th, 2008), Chuck: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published November 10th, 2008), Chuck: The Complete Second Season (published January 15th, 2010), Chuck: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published September 20th, 2010), and Chuck: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray) (published October 6th, 2011) are also available.
Never Say "One Last Mission."
Five years ago, mild-mannered nerd Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi, Tangled) ended up with the combined intel of the CIA and NSA—the Intersect—in his noggin. He became a reluctant asset, protected by his handlers, Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovksi, The Killer Elite) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin, Serenity). And it was awesome.
An updated Intersect made him more than a little bit like Neo. And it was awesome.
Casey delivered menace and snark with equal aplomb. And it was awesome.
Jeffster hit the stage. And it was awesome (most of the time, at least).
Scott Bakula appeared as Chuck's father. And it was awesome.
Sarah paraded around in skimpy outfits. And it was awesome.
Timothy Dalton played charades. And it was beyond awesome.
Sarah and Chuck fell in love and got married. And it was awesome.
Despite the rampant awesomeness, the show never took off the way that NBC had hoped. By the third season, NBC started looking to cut corners. The fourth season lurched along fitfully, and Chuck somehow got greenlit for a final, abbreviated season.
Sadly, it was not awesome.
Facts of the Case
As the season begins, Chuck and the gang have started their own security firm, Carmichael Industries, bankrolled with the money they got at the end of Season Four. The Intersect is out of Chuck's head and (accidentally) in Morgan's.
You get the final thirteen episodes on two discs:
• "Chuck Versus the Zoom"—Morgan (Joshua Gomez) struggles to control the Intersect while Carmichael Industries' first mission—to recover a stolen vase from a vicious thief (Mark Hamill)—goes slightly awry.
• "Chuck Versus the Bearded Bandit"—A man (Jeff Fahey, Silverado) whose brother has been kidnapped asks Carmichael Industries for help, but things may not be exactly as they seem. Gertrude Verbanski (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix) appears as the owner of a rival security firm.
• "Chuck Versus the Frosted Tips"—Carmichael Industries tracks down a wanted fugitive. Devon (Ryan McPartlin) discovers that paternity leave isn't quite as awesome as he expected. A problem with the new Intersect threatens to short circuit Morgan's brain.
• "Chuck Versus the Business Trip"—Chuck and Sarah go undercover at a Buy More Convention to catch an assassin targeting Morgan.
• "Chuck Versus the Hack Off"—The team turns to Verbanski when they need help tracking a virus. Meanwhile, Lester and Jeff's relationship is threatened by the arrival of a new Buy More employee (Danny Pudi, Community). Directed by Zachary Levi.
• "Chuck Versus the Curse"—Chuck is framed by a group of rogue CIA agents led by the cold and calculating Robin Cunnings (Rebecca Romijn, X-Men). Ellie's (Sarah Lancaster, Everwood) and Devon's date night develops a case of mistaken identity.
• "Chuck Versus the Santa Suit"—Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns escapes from prison and holds Sarah hostage in Castle.
• "Chuck Versus the Baby"—Sarah must embrace her past when she fears her original handler will try to harm her mother (Cheryl Ladd, Poison Ivy).
• "Chuck Versus the Kept Man"—Verbanski hires the team for a mission in Miami. Jeff and Lester investigate an irregularity at the Buy More.
• "Chuck Versus Bo"—Chuck and team run into Bo Derek (10) on their final mission. Former CIA agent Nicholas Quinn (Angus Macfadyen, Braveheart) appears as the guy pulling all the strings. Jeff and Lester continue their investigation at the Buy More.
• "Chuck Versus the Bullet Train"—The team has an uncomfortable standoff with Quinn on a Japanese bullet train.
• "Chuck Versus Sarah"—Sarah returns, but she's not quite herself. Ellie and Awesome get the opportunity of a lifetime.
• "Chuck Versus the Goodbye"—Chuck struggles not just to defeat Quinn once and for all, but to restore Sarah's memory of their life together.
In the Thomas household, Chuck was, without question, Must See TV. I taped episodes, usually re-watching them that same night, savoring each line, each pop culture reference, Yvonne Strahovski—my wife was quite good-natured about my poorly concealed lust. The plots were all over the place, but the characters were so perfectly rendered that you didn't really care.
Each season had its own special charm:
• Season 1: Getting to know the characters, getting a feel for what the writers were trying to do. It was a little frustrating, as the writers' strike ended the season right as the show reached critical mass, so to speak, but the sheer heart of the series won me over—not just the burgeoning romance, but also the wonderful dynamic between Chuck and Ellie. Interestingly, several scenes that established that dynamic were initially cut from the pilot, but added back when the producers realized that the sense of family was the real center of the show.
• Season 2: The writers pushed every aspect of the show. They pushed the romance not just with Chuck and Sarah, but also Ellie and Devon. The introduction of Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) as Chuck's and Ellie's father kicked the action kicked into high gear, culminating in a firefight for the ages at Ellie's and Devon's wedding. The comedy was kicked a few time zones past overdrive with Jeffster. Underneath the gadgets, ludicrous plotlines, and improbable escapes was the heart-wrenching simplicity of Ellie desperately wanting her father to walk her down the aisle and Chuck's dogged determination to make it happen. All three elements combined to create a stunningly surreal season finale, "Chuck Versus The Ring," a finale that had you gasping, laughing, crying, and cheering, all at the same time.
• Season 3: The Season 2 finale raised the bar pretty high. Initially, it looked as though they might not clear it. The network's last-minute decision to expand the season disrupted the season's pacing, so that a lot of subplots, or even entire episodes, felt like filler. Chuck's struggles to become a full-fledged spy were entertaining, but Daniel Shaw was initially too bland a character, and the plots were a little too contrived. More importantly, though, the Chuck-Ellie dynamic faded somewhat, as the show tried a few too many mistaken identity gimmicks, and the Buy More plotlines got a little too silly for their own good. The ship righted itself in the back half of the season, though, reuniting the Bartowski family for an emotionally devastating finale.
• Season 4: It picked up right where Season 3 left off. Just as Chuck had tracked down his dad, now he was on the trail of his mom (Linda Hamilton, The Terminator). It had great potential, and scenes between Mary and Ellie were particularly poignant, but a combination of a drastically reduced budget and some poorly considered plots never let the season develop the momentum the previous season enjoyed. The season's saving grace was Alexei Volkoff, played with abject abandon by Timothy Dalton. The finale set up the next season, with the team going independent and Morgan having the Intersect. This was also the season in which they went all Alias on Sarah, putting her in as many skimpy outfits as possible (that is not a complaint).
That brings us to this, the final season. A number of small arcs lurched along, the most annoying being Morgan's possession of the Intersect. Making matters worse, they had to use a not-very-convincing stunt double for just about everything (To their credit, the writers seemed to realize almost immediately that it as a problem, and set out to make the intersected Morgan as annoying as possible). On the other hand, the introduction of Carrie-Anne Moss as a business rival and a love interest for Casey, on the other end, was gold, as was Jeff (Scott Krinsky) recovering his brain, so to speak. The silliness, the drama, the romance, and the action never quite find the right balance.
The biggest problem for the season is evident in the two central villains—Daniel Shaw and Nicholas Quinn. Shaw got off to a rough start in season three, but the season's two-part finale is one of the show's high-water marks. Tellingly, Shaw's one episode in Season 5, along with the following episode, "Chuck Versus the Baby," were the last episodes that really felt like the show I fell in love with five years ago. Granted, the plots of both episodes were crazier than a sack full of rabid weasels, but they nevertheless had a solid emotional payoff, with Chuck using his wits instead of the Intersect, Ellie getting last taps on Shaw and Sarah reuniting with her mom. From that point on, though, it was a mad sprint for the finish, the writers feverishly throwing every idea they have into the mix. It doesn't work. Shaw was a worthy nemesis for both Chuck and Sarah (and Ellie, actually)—Quinn, on the other hand, was an empty character, someone who appeared out of thin air. Rather than expanding the mythology at the eleventh hour, it would have made much more sense to use that which they always had. Very simply, Daniel Shaw should have been big bad for the finale.
Even if Quinn had been a better villain, much of the final episodes seemed hideously rushed and contrived (even by Chuck standards), with hero and villain alike repeatedly escaping in order to move the plot along. So many things simply make no sense. A wonderful example: Quinn has planted a bomb in a concert hall. He then goes up on the roof to wait for…something that's never really explained. Now ask yourself: If you have planted a bomb in a building, is the roof of that building really the place you want to be? Of course not, but they had to make it easy for Chuck and Sarah to corner him, because by God, we have to wrap this thing up. That's the general sense permeating the last episodes—never mind internal consistency, just move the plot along. As a result, sadly, Chuck ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, never coming close to the heights it attained in the second and third seasons. Ellie and Devon are almost afterthoughts in the final few episodes. The series ending seemed something of a copout, with Sarah and Chuck trying to reconnect. It's easy to say "Of course they'll fall back and love—they're Chuck and Sarah!," but that's the worst type of narrative cheat.
However, the dilemma Chuck is put in at the very end—now that was good—that was a moment that almost made it all worthwhile: Chuck having to choose between restoring Sarah's memory and saving the lives of everyone in the concert hall. However, it could have been so much better.
Technically, the 1.78:1/1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfers on Chuck: The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray) are all over the place. Exterior scenes have strong detail but oversaturated colors, interior scenes often have a ridiculous amount of grain. There are seven episodes on Disc One, so you have to suspect that compression is part of the problem. Audio is good, but suffers the same problem as Season 4—a front-heavy DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that sounds as though the rear channels were added as an afterthought. The set does have a good set of extras. The featurettes cover a wide range of topics, with a good balance between focusing on the final season as well as the entire series. Commentary tracks for the final two episodes feature Zachary Levy and Joshua Gomez, along with executive producers/creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz, are great fun, with them reminiscing stuff from throughout the series. Could there have been more commentaries? Sure. It would have been nice to have had at least one commentary track with Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin as well. However, what's there is good. Demonstrating that sometimes less is indeed more, "Goodbye, Buy More" is both poignant and simple—the striking of the Buy More set in time-lapse photography.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
God, but I love these characters. From the very first episode, these guys were special. The writing was subpar for the season, but the actors gave it everything they had, and their energy kept things moving through the weak spots.
Though it created some of the plotting issues noted above, the decision to throw in as many callbacks to earlier episodes was a thoughtful valentine to the show's incredibly dedicated fans. Not only were specific locations revisited (Sarah back in a Weinerlicious outfit, hooray!), but even certain locations and shots took a curtain call; particularly poetic was the decision to use the same beach from the pilot as the setting of the final scenes—they even echoed the shots.
While my brain tells me that everything about Jeffster's final performance was (Buy) Moronic, I still giggle throughout the whole thing. Vik Sahay's performance is so outrageously over the top that I don't care that they didn't have enough time to change, or wonder where the smoke machine came from. It was exactly the sort of surreal silliness that has been part of the series from the very beginning.
It was a show written for movie and TV fans, the ones who geek out on inside jokes and references, whether it's an obvious thing like Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV) growling "I must break you" to Casey, an homage to My Favorite Year (Season 2's "Chuck Versus the Seduction"), or just giving James Bond a chance to cut loose, as Timothy Dalton did during Season 4. The fact that someone went to the trouble of setting that reference up just for you didn't just make the show feel special—it made you feel special. It had a certain postmodern vibe that not everyone responds to, which might explain why the show never found a particularly large audience (though Fox moving House into the same timeslot couldn't have helped).
Chuck may have peaked in Season 2 and not gone out on a high note, but for its fans, the series will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Chuck's final season isn't awesome, but the show has developed enough
goodwill over the years. Like General Beckman, we thank the team for their
service, and wish them all the best.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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