'Chuck' - 'Chuck vs. the Push Mix': Wax on, wax off
A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as you point me in the direction of the Woodcomb womb...
"After all, I am my father's son, aren't I?" -Chuck
As we've talked about a bit lately, "Chuck vs. the Push Mix" was written at a time when everyone on the show thought it would have to function as a season - and quite probably series - finale. In the past, Fedak, Schwartz and company have gone back and forth on how they approach these maybe-kinda-sorta finales. "Chuck vs. the Ring" ended on the "I know kung fu" cliffhanger and the introduction of the Ring, but it also featured Ellie and Awesome's wedding, Chuck and Sarah dancing, Bryce dying and other closure-y things. "Chuck vs. the Ring: Part II" gave Chuck a big win against Shaw and the Ring, blew up the Buy More and had Chuck retire from the spy game, but it also introduced Orion's secret basement and the search for Chuck's mom. And "Chuck vs. the Other Guy" was pretty pure closure, with Chuck and Sarah finally getting together for good.
"Push Mix" seemed more in the "Other Guy" vein, in that it doesn't really set up major spy stories going forward, while giving every character (save the absent Big Mike, whom Fedak and Schwartz have said they want to feature in the season's second half) a blatant happy ending: Ellie and Awesome have their baby (with Mary in the room), Casey accepts that both Alex and Morgan are now fixtures in his life, Lester feels satisfied that Jeffster! is shaping the youth of America, and Chuck (who has just taken down Volkoff and brought his mother home) finally realizes that the perfect proposal to the woman he loves doesn't need balloons or flowers or gorgeous scenery or anything but him, her and the sparkly ring.(*)
(*) Kudos to whichever member of the production team - whether it was writers Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc, or director Peter Lauer, or someone else - decided to frame the proposal in the background of the shot, with the dialogue overwhelmed by the sound of the floor waxer. We already heard the big flowery speech and swelling music when Chuck almost proposed in "Chuck vs. the Balcony," and we know from Levi and Strahovski's body language what happened here - I say give the kids a little moment to themselves, okay? It probably had more power for being done this way.
And it's funny: the episodes that have gone for more closure have made me hungrier for more episodes than the ones that had open endings. "Chuck vs. the Ring" was a spectacular episode and I would have been upset that I never got to see Chuck with kung fu and whatnot, but at the same time it would have felt like the show going out on a high note. Whereas "Chuck vs. the Other Guy" just made me want to see what the show would be like with Chuck and Sarah as a couple (and "Chuck vs. the Honeymooners" proved me right for wanting to see it).
And while the last 10 minutes of the episode(**) left all the characters in places where I would have been fine saying goodbye to them forever, I also feel like there are more stories to tell here: about Morgan gaining confidence as a spy (and gaining Casey's trust as a possible future son-in-law), about Chuck and Sarah continuing to make the couple thing and spy thing work simultaneously, about Chuck and Ellie having their mom around, about Awesome applying his awesome skills to parenting, etc.
(**) On our vaguely audible podcast, Schwartz referred to them as the greatest 10 minutes in "Chuck" history. I would not go that far, if only because "Mr. Roboto" sets such a high damn bar, and had an action component that the hospital scenes obviously lacked. (On the other hand, had they tried to intercut the birth with a fight scene, it would have felt derivative of both "Mr. Roboto" and maybe the "Glee" season 1 finale, and at a certain point I recognize that you can't win with this stuff.)
I'd also like to see these next 11 episodes breathe a little bit more than the last 13 did. These last couple of episodes in particular struggled a bit for having to squeeze a whole lot of story - not only resolving the Volkoff/Frost arc, but bringing a potential end to the series - into not a lot of time.
I talked in last week's review about how that episode had to rush to set up the notion that Chuck feared Sarah had gone to the dark side, and this week there wasn't even time to bother with that at all, with Casey's first words and then Beckman's line about getting a message from Sarah erasing all doubt about her loyalties. And I guess I'd rather they skimp on that (since we know it's a false conflict anyway) than something I actually care about, like Chuck's feelings about getting his mom back and getting some justice for all the years he and Ellie and their dad lost as a family.
And it was in those Chuck scenes that "Push Mix" was at its strongest. There have been times this season where it's felt like the show has lost a sense of exactly who Chuck is and what his value to the show is. Morgan has usurped his place as dorky everyman spy, to the point where it was actually a little startling to see Chuck so concerned about Morgan's "Back to the Future" t-shirt last week. And the consensus strongest episode of the season, "Chuck vs. Phase Three," was essentially a spin-off in which Sarah was the star of the show and Chuck only appeared briefly.
But the Chuck in "Push Mix" felt like the Chuck that made this series worth watching in the first place. He was smart (he came up with the master plan to defeat Volkoff without any real Intersect assistance) and brave and emotional and fiercely protective of his loved ones. And by the end of the hour, it was awfully damn satisfying to see Chuck so thoroughly own his final encounter(***) with Alexi Volkoff. Levi, Judkins and LeFranc were all so on their game in playing and writing Chuck this week that I didn't even mind that virtually all the episode's comedy load went to Morgan.
(***) For now, anyway. Even not knowing if there would be future episodes, the writers weren't dumb enough to kill their best villain ever, and I'd love to see Timothy Dalton come back, even for a one-shot prison break episode ala "Chuck vs. the Cubic Z."
And what's left to say about Morgan Gullermo Grimes, and about Josh Gomez, at this point? It's still a bit startling to realize how much we all disliked that character at the start of the series, and rightfully so, and the writers' learning curve with Morgan - taking him from depressed impediment to exuberant wingman, and now to Chuck 2.0 - has been really impressive, maybe the most since Joey Tribbiani went from "Friends" afterthought to MVP. Morgan being at his mental and physical peak and proving it by yoga'ing his way through the lasers was just marvelous, as was the gag about him fitting perfectly into Sarah's sexy little trenchcoat.
And then... Jeffster!
There was a point last season where Fienberg complained that the show had dipped into the Jeffster! well so often that they had ruined the joke, and I had to reluctantly agree. Fortunately, the band's use has been much more sparing this season, so their performance of Salt 'N Pepa's "Push It" during the birth of baby Clara Woodcomb was as funny as it was inevitable. Again, I prefer my Jeffster! music montages to be accompanying some sort of fight scene (their "Blaze of Glory" during the Shaw/Chuck fight in last year's finale was also a highlight), but it would have felt wrong for the show to go out without those two knuckleheads bringing their sound to the masses. (Best moment: that Lester actually found one prospective mom who was into the song and wanted to dance with him. Second best: Casey snarling "Jeffster!" as he realized what that horrible sound was coming over the PA system.)
And because the Jeffster! performance was followed by so many blatant goodbye moments, "Push Mix" is always going to play oddly in the context of this fourth (and hopefully not final) season, but what it now gives Fedak, Schwartz and company is something to top for episode 24, and then hopefully for the season five finale, etc., etc., etc.
Some other thoughts:
• This week in "Chuck" music: "Rad Anthem" by Rad Omen (Mary and Sarah break into Volkoff's office, Morgan yogas his way through the lasers), "Got a Nerve" by Grand Vanity (Ellie announces that her water broke), Jeffster! covering "Push" by Salt-n-Pepa (Ellie gives birth), and "Young Blood" by The Naked and Famous (the final montage).
• Speaking of music, I did like Lester's ongoing commentary about the show's love of indie music. "We get it, dude! You're cool!" (Though in a way, that running joke kind of undercut the use of "Young Blood" at the end; maybe that would've been a good moment for an older tune?)
• When Chuck and Stephen visited the cabin late last season, was there any mention to it being called Twin Pines Cabin? If so, I'm sorry I neglected to point out the "Back to the Future" reference then.
• I don't remember Chuck and Morgan's apartment bathroom being that spacious. Maybe the plastic sheeting really opened up the place.
• I want anti-aircraft missiles and an ice cream parlor on my floating fortress of fun. Don't you?
What did everybody else think?