A review of tonight's "Chuck" — the last episode before next week's two-hour finale — coming up just as soon as I think better when I'm blowing up avocados...
"The end is so near you can taste it?" -Sarah
Well, it looks like "Chuck" isn't going to go gentle into that good night, is it? From "Chuck vs. the Santa Suit" on, these last few episodes have been funny, they've been tragic, they've had kick-ass action and welcome callbacks to the show's history and they have me very excited for whatever Fedak and company have planned for the final two hours of our little spy adventure.
Though the Morgan/Intersect arc wasn't entirely successful, it did expand on the idea from last season's Greta episode about how the Intersect can be a dangerous thing if it's inside the head of anyone but Chuck Bartowski. This thing that solved so many story problems for the show over the years, that led to the best of all the season-ending cliffhangers, that turned our hero into a superhero for a while, was suddenly this dangerous, debilitating thing. And that continued tonight. After the cool climax to last week's episode and a nifty fight scene in a passenger car where Sarah was even flippier and kickier than usual, the title story of "Chuck vs. the Bullet Train" became a long, scary spiral as Sarah's repeated use of the Intersect in a short period of time led to her slowly losing control of her abilities, and then losing her memories altogether.
Quinn said he was going to suck the Intersect out of her head after blanking her memory with those flash cards, and while I wish we could have had a longer segment of time devoted to Super Sarah, I think pitting a Swiss-cheesed Sarah against Chuck is as good an idea for the finale as we can get. Shaw is depowered and back in prison, the Volkoffs are good and living in anonymity, Ted Roark is long dead and Quinn is too new to matter as anything but a device to make Chuck and Sarah fight. The finale shouldn't really be about Chuck taking out one last bad guy, but having him have to simultaneously defeat and save the love of his life? That can work. I don't imagine the "Chuck" show is going to suddenly take an abrupt left turn into darkness in the end, and assume that things will work out okay for our two lovebirds, but the period between now and Happily Ever After should be fun to watch, no?
And while the scenes on the bullet train hovered nicely between tense and downright unnerving (seeing Casey turn on his partners to save Alex was creepy), we got some great comic relief on the home front. I needn't have worried about not seeing Jeff and Lester again, as they got to save the day (accompanied by the anthem of Lester's home and native land) through the use of the heavier items in John Casey's trunk arsenal. Lester Patel should never have access to a Terminator-style machine gun like that, and Jeff Barnes sure as hell shouldn't have access to a flamethrower (even when he's being Smart Jeff), but boy howdy was that fun to see. (Almost as good was seeing the two of them acting like kids at a don't-touch museum when Morgan invited them into Castle.) Only two questions about that scenario remain: 1)Will Jeffster try to finagle their way into positions in the revamped Carmichael Industries, and 2)Will Big Mike become the final member of the ensemble to learn about the spy base under the store, or will he remain in the dark through the show's final two hours?
A very, very satisfying installment as we race to the finish line at bullet train speed. Can't wait to see how the Chuck/Sarah showdown plays out next week, and to see how our saga comes to a definitive close, for real this time.
Some other thoughts:
* This week in "Chuck" guest stars: I neglected to say much about Angus MacFadyen as Quinn last week, but he's a guy I've found hammy in a lot of other roles but who fits in very nicely on a show that's always welcomed bigger acting from its guest stars. As for the two goons in the flu mobile, Ben Browder of course is popular in some fanboy/girl circles from his time as John Crichton on "Farscape" and then on "Stargate SG-1" (it's almost surprising he hasn't turned up on "Chuck" before now), and Erin Cahill was apparently the Pink Ranger in "Power Rangers Time Force." So Jeff and Lester are lucky they didn't get their clocks cleaned.
* In addition to Sarah waking up in her old apartment, I appreciated the brief callback to Chuck taking a strip kick class when the Intersect was suppressed last season.
* While lots of network series these days will have phase out their opening credits sequence after a season or two in favor of having the extra 30-90 seconds to tell more story, I'm glad that "Chuck" has (with a few exceptions) kept the whole "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" titles alive all these years. It not only fits the retro vibe of the show but helps set the mood for all that follows. That said, I'm not opposed to the occasional deviation from the norm, which we got tonight when the regular titles were replaced by that very '80s-looking train track sequence.
* This week in "Chuck" music: "Days Are Forgotten" by Kasabian (Chuck escapes his cuffs and Sarah shows off her Sarah-Fu in front of him), "Misspent Youth" by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Chuck and Sarah get frisky on the train, while Alex gets held at gunpoint by the flu people), "O Canada" by Third Marine Aircraft Wing Band, US Marine Corps (Jeffster save the day), "Another Wave From You" by M83 (Sarah is shot with a tranq dart and the train cars pull away), and "She Tows the Line" by Crooked Fingers" (Quinn erases Sarah's memory).
As I mentioned yesterday, I did a very long interview with Fedak and Schwartz when I was in LA last week, and that'll run on the blog in five parts (roughly covering each season, with a lot of overlap) Monday through Friday morning. Then I'll have a review of the finale that, barring something strange, should go up at 10 Eastern, along with (again, barring something strange) one last interview with Fedak about whatever diabolical and/or silly shenaningans will take place over those final two hours.
I'm sad the ride has to end — especially since the show has been on such a roll for the last month-plus — but I understand that the show has had its time, and I can take pleasure that we're apparently ending on a bang and not a whimper.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com