Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chuck: Chuck versus the Network Renewal

Over the past few weeks, online fandom has slowly come around to the realization that Chuck MIGHT be on the verge of cancellation. Campaigns of renewal have been launched; the most creative include sending in boxes of Nerds candies, and buying Subs from Subways while writing "SAVE CHUCK" on a comment card.

I'm sure it wasn't lost on anyone that when you went to the Official Chuck site, where it lists what's coming up next for this Monday's Finale, it said "Series Finale". I'm sure it also wasn't lost on anyone that on the same page, on the rotating dial of features, it depicted Ellie and Devon with the words "…Season Finale".

If it's your intention to send online fandom into a frenzy, that's a pretty good way to do it.

In the midst of cancellation fears, having one of the best finales is a pretty good way to do it as well.
In an interview with the NY Times before the finale, head honcho Josh Schwartz was quoted as saying, "If, in two weeks, that is the last episode of the show to ever air, it will be one of the least satisfying finales of all time. Chris Fedak, the guy who created the show, said people will set their living rooms on fire." So I will freely admit that I watched the first half an hour basically… for lack of a more professional term... freaking the hell out.

The culmination of a year's worth of planning, Ellie's first wedding was set to go off without a hitch, except that the head of Fulcrum, Ted Roark, survived the previous week's attack and supplanted his men at the reception party location (adjacent to the church) and offered Chuck an ultimatum: the Intersect for your sister's life. Chuck sets his friend Morgan to "stall" the wedding while he heads off to retrieve the Intersect and contact Casey for backup.

The resulting shoot-out is nothing short of spectacular with Sarah digging through wedding presents for weapons a-la-Lara Croft and finding knives; Chuck and Bryce returning with ammo to back her up; and Casey diverting a covert operation with a plane load of soldiers to smash through skylights. All this set to Mr Robato, played with nerdy gusto by Chuck's Buymore buds Jeff and Lester, better known as 'Jeffster', who end their performance with fireworks that set off the fire alarm and soak all the wedding guests. And one very distraught bride-to-be.

The second half (yeah, all that, just the first half) has Chuck scrambling to use all available help (including Casey and his men) and the generous payback from the government for his services to plan a second wedding for Ellie. The one she wanted in the first place: a small wedding on the beach. And yeah, I kept expecting SOMEONE to get shot because… we're only thirty minutes in and I'm not quite ready to set my living room ablaze.

Turns out Sarah, who was supposed to join Bryce on a new Intersect project, has decided NOT to go, but instead stay with Chuck and this family of misfits she's been adopted into. Oh, and one of Casey's men is a bad guy. But he's not Fulcrum. After killing Ted Roark and three of Casey's men, he reveals he's something entirely different… what? Who knows, that's for next season to disclose.

And, in what seals Chuck's fate, he chooses to go with Sarah and Casey to rescue the intersect from falling into the wrong hands (because guess what, Chuck's dad put a rudimentary intersect into his own mind and he could warn Sarah and Chuck that the man who'd come to pick up Bryce for Intersect implantation was SUPPOSED to be dead.) At the secret location Bryce locks himself in with the Intersect and as Casey and Sarah fight against these new bad guys, they send Chuck for help.

They might as well have asked him to stay in the car.

Using the nifty Quarterback Cheat Sheet computer his father gave him, Chuck finds a way into the Intersect room and finds Bryce near death. Handing him a bloody monstrous computer chip thingy, Bryce tells Chuck it will destroy the Intersect, and then passes away. (My living room is NOT on fire because killing Bryce is like killing Sawyer… there might be a tear, but as long as Jack and Kate are still chugging along, it's all good.)

Chuck moves to destroy the Intersect, but he understands that not only is this his father's life's work, but this is also a very important mother load of information that just should NOT go to waste. And, with two years worth of assurances and encouragement stored up in his memories, he CHOOSES to become home to the Intersect once more before destroying the computer for good, even though, only hours earlier, he lamented that this was the very thing that had destroyed his life.

But this Intersect has some very bad-ass upgrades. Once the Baddies of Unknown Origin have captured Casey and Sarah and broken back into the room, Chuck gets a new flash (which Sarah announces louder than a fart in church), but this flash of information doesn't tell him who these people are, just how to defeat them, leaving Chuck staring at an awestruck Sarah and Casey before declaring, Neo/Matrix style, "Guys? I know Kung Fu."

In Sci Fi Wire, Schwartz is quoted on the finale as saying, "It will end in a way that's going to launch the show into season three with a real—it's a game-changer. I think that it'll be immensely satisfying in its own right, but it also really, really launches the show in a way that, you know, we're already breaking season three stories and can't wait to start telling them."

He has become Agent Charles Carmichael with all the bells and whistles an agent could wish for. Most importantly, he's a spy by choice; the past two years have given him the confidence to become that, and this changes the entire show. Now he doesn't HAVE to stay in the car, now he can work as Sarah and Casey's equal while injecting his Chuckism onto the cases. He can be taken further into the fold, come up with a cover that allows for travel (government analyst, like the General suggested?) The basis of their storytelling has expanded to a point where, like Sarah told Chuck, they can do anything.

And that, my friends, is why I might consider setting an ABC Exec's office ablaze should they choose to wuss out on a show that has been continually entertaining while staying true to its characters – that's something of an anomaly on television these days – in order to dish out some more cookie cutter crap. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find some Nerds and eat some Subways.

2 Responses to “Chuck: Chuck versus the Network Renewal”

Anonymous said...

Great review! I really loved this episode, I hope this isn't the end of Chuck.

Amber said...

I loved this finale, and in fact loved all of Season 2. It is a rare show indeed that improves in its sophomore year! However, I did love it because of its game-changing aspects, and now that it HAS been picked up for Season 3, I almost find myself a little worried about what the writers have in store. Don't stone me for this, but if Chuck had not been renewed, I would have been okay with this as a series finale, because here was what we were all waiting for.

So many aspects of the show that have made it so great seemed to have been excised in the season finale. Chuck and Casey quit the Buy More. Morgan and Anna are moving to Hawaii. Ellie and Awesome are finally married, so realistically, they would want to go off on a honeymoon or at least move into their own place (or kick Chuck out). Chuck now has convenient "agent powers." And so on.

While I think it is amazing (and it might have brought a tear or two to my eye) that these characters got to grow and change and mature as they would in real life, I really wonder how the writers will step up their game, so to speak. I'm guessing that the transition period (the paperwork and training of a new leader at the Buy More, the actual moving process to Hawaii, finding a new house, figuring out the extent of Chuck's new abilities, etc.) will last through these first 13 episodes, but the writers can't keep up a transition period indefinitely. Sooner or later, the changes and growth they've promised will have to show, or they will have promised what they can't deliver. They have to change up their winning formula.

But having written all that, I guess I do trust the Chuck writers. They've consistently given amazing plot and characterization, so I guess it's just that I've been burned by one too many Bones resets. And with that said, I am definitely looking forward to seeing what they come up with for Season 3!