'Chuck' vs. the Retrospective Interview, Part 5
Morgan gets the Intersect, Casey gets a girlfriend, and the show gets a finale
"Chuck" airs its last two episodes ever tonight at 8 and 9 on NBC, and that means we've come to the conclusion of the long interview I did with the show's co-creator, Chris Fedak (and, in previous installments, with Josh Schwartz as well).
In part 5, we look at how Morgan as the Intersect worked out, at the introduction of Carrie-Anne Moss as Gertrude Verbanski, the revelation of the season's big villain, and more.
I'll have a review of the finale up tonight at 10 Eastern, along with one last Fedak interview, this time discussing what goes down in the finale.
So let’s move into season five now. Did Morgan’s Intersect run as long as you had initially planned it to?
Chris Fedak: Yeah. We had always designed it for it to be the first couple of episodes. It really ends at the end of episode three, which is that we knew that the first three episodes would focus on the Chuck/Morgan relationship, and that it would lead to them breaking up and Morgan going off to work for Verbanski Corp and then the two of them coming back together once he realizes the problems with the Intersect itself. So we knew that those were first three episodes of the season would put us into the world of the second half of the first seven episodes, which would lead us to Shaw.
Now Yvonne does a lot of stunts and is great physically. Zach can sort of plausibly fake things. How do you feel ultimately the stunt doubling worked in terms of making Morgan appear to be a bad ass onscreen?
Chris Fedak: I thought it worked really well. It seemed like people get used to the idea of what a person’s stunt actor looks like. I think that once you're in season five of a show and you all the sudden give someone the abilities and then it becomes like the fun of pointing out, "Oh, you can see the stunt actor here and here," but in truth, when I watch "Die Hard," you can easily see the stunt actor being Bruce Willis. He is actually not even wearing the same amount of sweat as Bruce Willis. It’s very awkward. So for me it’s like a part of the action movie tradition that there are certain things your hero can’t do. It’s like Josh did a great job and the stunt actor had slightly shorter hair, so but I think that the team did a great job.
So in the season finale of season four, Chuck gets the Volkoff fortune. We come back, and he’s burned through most of it. In between, did you guys realize, "Wait a minute: if Chuck has unlimited funds, that solves too many problems"?
Chris Fedak: From a storytelling perspective it solves too many problems and then two, we had Decker freeze their funds because we wanted to take those things away from Chuck because when we came up with season five of the show it was the show still, even though Chuck was now with Sarah it still needs to be about something more than the spy world. It can’t be about like you know Macguffins and Governors and all that stuff that Fienberg is really, really fascinated with. It has to be about something personal, and we wanted to make it about Chuck and Sarah and their dreams for their life together. I think that in between the two seasons we had been still trying to establish that they’re living the high life of traveling the world, but that’s not who they are exactly, and when they find that home that that became the kind of dream behind the dream of the show. But yeah, having them be billionaires and traveling the world we just don’t have the budget to make that show.
So where are the funds that Decker froze that they gave to Craig Kilborn?
Chris Fedak: It's all frozen, by the United States government.
So even though Decker is dead and was revealed to be a douchebag, it’s still frozen?
Chris Fedak: No, it’s frozen. If I had some type of really clever kind of political thing to say right now it would be tied up in one of those things.
When you set up at the end of the fourth season that Decker has this big plan and someone is really mad at Chuck and on and on, did you know then it was going to be Shaw or did that come to you later?
Chris Fedak: Am I supposed to tell you the true answer to that?
Tell me the true answer, Chris.
Chris Fedak: No, it did not know it was Shaw.
Okay. So when did you realize that Shaw explains many things and also allows satisfying closure for Chuck and Ellie?
Chris Fedak: Very soon after. Once we had a feel for how long the season would actually be, when we realized that it would most likely be 13 episodes, that was the moment where we thought, "Well, who could be behind this? It would be fun if it was someone we already set up." It would be fun if it was Shaw, but we weren’t tied to that, but once we realized that we had 13 episodes and then we started working on the Christmas episode, it was like, "Okay, let’s make sure, let’s reveal our bad guy now," because we could have taken that for more episodes, but I think that we said, "No, we want to make this visceral, we want to make this real," and so that became Shaw fighting Chuck, which I think was the right decision.
(As a reminder, this interview was conducted right after I had seen "Chuck vs. the Kept Man," when I had no idea what was coming vis-à-vis Sarah and the Intersect.)
It’s a 13 episode order. The order has not changed, which is the first time in awhile that hasn’t happened and yet basically the season climax is in episode seven or eight, whatever "Santa Suit" was, and then these last several have played almost like the end of season three when you just got an extra order and said, "Okay, we’ll do some fun standalone ones." Was that by design?
Chris Fedak: It’s kind of by design, but I think that what we wanted to do was we wanted seven to take care of the mythology stuff that we had set up to an extent. We have still more mythology that is going to come out, but we wanted to deal with the season five of it all and then after that I wanted to get into the characters and tell the bigger story of the season. We wanted to tell more stories about Sarah’s character and we wanted to learn more about Casey’s character and we definitely wanted to bring back Gertrude Verbanski, so once we took care of Shaw and the Omen, it was like, "Well, let’s focus now on these characters," and that’s where "Chuck Vs. the Baby" came from and "Chuck Vs. the Kept Man" and these episodes coming up. They’re each very much about our characters and what’s going to happen now. It’s going to change a little bit. We’re about to go into the final set and that’s a mix of mythology and stuff from the past and things that we’ve never done before and stuff like that.
You mentioned Verbanski. She has been one of the better recurring characters you’ve ever introduced.
Chris Fedak: She is great. You know we set that meeting up with Carrie-Ann Moss — and now I sound like I just have meetings all day long with fantastic people — and she is just wonderful. And it was one of those things where you can’t really guess if a couple are going to have chemistry or not on a TV show, but she and Adam from the get go just had an incredible kind; you just felt like two jungle cats sniffing each other out. They’re amazing together and it was one of those things where as we worked on those episodes, if we had gone for longer this season, we knew that this is a great relationship that you just want to have more time with and watch these characters together, and there are a couple episodes that are just kind of my favorite. Like I love the "Hack-Off" episode that she's in —I love her and Yvonne moving through the hallways, doing spy action stuff because like Yvonne, Carrie-Ann is really good at action, but also really good at comedy, really good at character, but also she has great action skills. So it was great to bring her into the show.
In "Kept Man" Sarah goes on that long rant about all the skimpy outfits she's had to wear, and I can’t help notice two things: One, she is doing it in her bikini and two, we never actually see Casey put on the Speedo.
Chris Fedak: Yes, we made a decision for America that you would not see Casey in a Speedo. Yes, Yvonne is amazing and another favorite episode the season and probably my favorite so far is episode four, where we go to the business trip with Chuck and Sarah showing up and there is an assassin in the mix.
Yes, that was a really good one.
Chris Fedak: It’s like the show that we didn’t make in a way. In some ways it’s like that’s a world that we didn’t go down that road all that often on the "Chuck" show. We went to other Buy Mores and we’ve gone into those stories, but we didn’t meet a lot of people in that world, but it was neat to meet other people who worked in Buy Mores and had crazy stories, and that was a really fun thing. But I think that Yvonne was always game for adding an element of movie star-like sexiness into the show and there is a moment where Chuck is disarming a bomb between her legs and it’s just an amazing combination of fun, thrilling and then an element of sexiness that you know you get from the James Bond and Hitchcock-ian world, like that combination of stuff that is just like a cool fusion.
But you guys talked before about how Ali basically wanted her to fight Nicole Richie drenched in chocolate. Were there ever times in the writer’s room where you guys were like, "Okay maybe we’re taking a little too much advantage of Yvonne’s good nature"?
Chris Fedak: I think it was always a question of, "Is this fun?" It’s because like we don’t have 100 million dollars. What we do is have is future movie stars in Zach and Yvonne. That's a part of the fun of the show, just taking them so that Zach does in season three an entire act with just a towel. It was something that you could only do with a couple of actors in that there were definitely points where we were like, "That’s going to be hard to do," but I think that we always did it in good spirit and I think that Yvonne always captured that. You know, if we had a sequence that was in Castle that’s one thing, but if she is in a cat suit in Castle that’s fascinating and she was always game for that.
Yeah, speaking of Zach in a towel, Zach is a tall, strapping, handsome man.
Chris Fedak: Yes.
Well coordinated and all that.
Chris Fedak: Yes.
How much, if at all, did you struggle, especially early on before the Chuck-fu came along, in nerding him up and making it look like the guy is an incredible spaz?
Chris Fedak: Well that was Zach. I mean the first few seasons is definitely Zach using all of his skills and his crazy abilities to be a spaz in these situations. "Spaz" is a bad word.
"Be a nerd."
Chris Fedak: Be a nerd in these situations, he was incredible at that, but it was one of those things that you had to kind of deal with is that in season three, he’s also a man, you know?And as the show went along I think that helped us. It helped us. It made it a show that was constantly changing, which I think some people struggled with, but for us it was, "Let’s take him and let’s turn him into a spy, let’s turn him into a hero, where does that take us?" And I think that that was something that we had to adjust with and I think Zach was also excited to do. He liked that fact that we were going to put him into more heroic situations in season three, that we were going to challenge the character — that it wasn’t simply about a guy who just fell in love with a girl. It’s about a guy who had dreams of his own.
One of the many satisfying things about "Santa Suit" is Chuck without the Intersect can fight, and you've continued that. He’s not a world beater or anything, but after four and a half years of hanging out with these people, he can finally hold his own. That feels like an important decision.
Chris Fedak: That was an important decision. That was also something that comes from like the fact that the man can throw a punch. If we had had more time, I would have loved to have done more of the training of Sarah and Chuck together, but a part of the show is the fact that Chuck without the Intersect, without the training wheels, is still a guy who can do a lot of stuff, who can grow on his own. This is a character that has changed fundamentally from the guy from the pilot to who he is heading into these last few episodes.
The last thing I'll ask about the finale is that if we count "Ring," "Other Guy," "Ring Two," "Push Mix" and "Cliffhanger," you’ve already done five finales for this show. What do you feel you’ve A)learned from those finales that you’ve put towards "Goodbye" and B)what is there left to do that you haven’t done in the previous five?
Chris Fedak: I think this is a true finale - in the sense that the other finales were designed as endings to the show that have been satisfying endings, but they also promised future adventures. This finale will be different.
Chris Fedak: It’s not the— what is the British show that they watched on Community where everybody just killed themselves?
Chris Fedak: "Cougarton Abbey." No, but it’s just a different type of finale and it’s a different type of episode, so I think that it will feel fundamentally different.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org