Interview: 'Chuck' co-creator Chris Fedak post-mortems season 4
"Chuck" just ended its fourth (but not final) season, and I just posted my review of the season finale. I have the second part of my interview with the show's co-creator Chris Fedak (the first, non-spoiler-y part in which he discusses his feelings about the renewal for a fifth and final season, is here), with a lot of thoughts on the cliffhanger at the end of "Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger," the origins of Alexi Volkoff's personality shift, where the Buy More guys and other "Chuck" elements stand for next season, and more, coming up just as soon as you get me back my pants...
Let's talk in some detail - or as much as you're willing to - about what happens at the end there. Morgan knows kung fu, and Chuck no longer has the Intersect. How did this idea come about, and what was the thinking behind it?
Season 3 and 4, when we talk about them, the structure of what we were talking about was the emergent hero: Chuck Bartowski, with the Intersect in his head and these new abilities, having to become the hero. Chuck made the decision at the end of season 2 to become a spy, and we've been tracking that for two seasons now. And a part of it is Chuck has become much more of a spy just because of what he's done, and it hasn't just been the Intersect that's gotten him out of trouble. And we were interested as storytellers in exploring, what does it mean for Chuck to not have the Intersect? And on the flip side of that, we love, love love the idea of taking Joshua Gomez and putting Chuck into the situation, very much like Sarah and Casey in season one, of being the guy who has to protect the guy with the Intersect in his head. For us, it's a great opportunity for the show going back to the roots. That's what season 5 is about: going back to the roots of the core seasons of the show. Still telling an epic spy story, but also finding Chuck in a position where he's more like Casey or Sarah, protecting his best friend and trying to save the world. That's something we're excited to explore this season.
So you feel that without the Intersect - even the original version of it, which was just info - Chuck is still qualified to be a spy?
I think definitely qualified to be a spy. But now he's also in charge of the spy company. Essentially a lot of the rules of him not being a spy, or him working for General Beckman, the rules are different now. He has the Volkoff fortune, he's doing a start-up. I've always loved the idea of Chuck Bartwoski in charge of a team. And now he has that team. That can be a lot of fun.
Did you feel like Chuck had evolved so much with the chuck Fu that there was nowhere else for him to grow? It felt like that scene early on where Chuck talks about how dangerous he is was the end of that hero's journey you've talked about. Also, in terms of taking the show back to it's roots, will Chuck have to use nerdier thinking to solve spy problems?
I think what makes Chuck great isn't the Intersect or Chuck Fu. it's the smart, clever, and genuinely good guy who was given these "gifts" in the first place. So, like in Season One, Chuck's going to have to rely on his smarts a lot more this year, which also means the spy world is going to be a far more dangerous place for him.
Of course, don't worry -- he's got Morgan Guillermo Grimes there to save his life when he and Sarah and Casey are captured by Bulgarian mercenaries.
What could go wrong with that plan?
This feels very much like the end of season two, and Morgan even repeats the "Matrix" line that Chuck quoted there. When you do these cliffhangers at the end of a season where you don't know if you're coming back, it seems like they're happy cliffhangers.
Yeah, that's the fun of a cliffhanger. When I named the episode "Cliffhanger" weeks ago, I thought people were going to hate me. But I've always thought of cliffhangers as a great thing. It tells you more story. I remember leaving "Empire Strikes Back" and thinking, "Ohmigod, Vader is Luke's father! What does that mean!" Or the end of Batman Begins, where it's like, "We have another guy named the Joker..." It's this joyous thing of, "There's more story." At the end of season 2, I always imagined that, no matter what happens, Chuck, Sarah and Casey are having amazing adventures, and the story is ongoing. The great thing about season 5 is being able to have fun with this new story and the new version of the show.
In regard to your earlier questions of did I know if we were coming back, we were working on the season finale last week, getting it done and working on the show, it was late on Wednesday night, we were doing the final music stuff, and I watched the scene with Morgan getting the Intersect uploaded into his head, and I was just like "Ahh!" That's when I got so concerned, because it was such a wonderful idea, and I really wanted to tell the story.
And I think that's great - that you never thought to end the season on, "Well, we may not come back, so here's Chuck bleeding to death in a corner." You've never done that.
That's no fun. That's like the "ALF" season finale: "Oh, Alf has been captured by authorities. Oh no!" I don't know if you should use my "Alf" reference. But going forward and looking at season 5 and what we plan to do there, the rules are definitely going to change going into next season.
Is Beckman still a part of the show?
Well... it's a different dynamic, but I love Bonita, so I definitely want to make sure she's a part of the show.
The Buy More is sticking around, since Chuck buys the Buy More. At this stage of the series, with so many of your core characters now knowing about Chuck being a spy, and these three guys at the store not knowing, what role do you feel that they play in the show?
I think they play an important role in the show. I love that the Buy More is still a part of the story, they have this ridiculous world that Chuck checks back in on from time to time. In act 5 (of the finale), when Chuck returns to the Buy More and has this brief encounter with Jeff and Lester, I'm so happy to see those guys. Considering what we're looking forward to in season 5, there's going to be some big changes. Nobody is safe, but I feel like they're a part of the show.
How differently would the Volkoff story have played out if you'd been given 24 episodes at the start, rather than getting 13, and then 11?
I don't know. That's a good question in terms of how you structure a story. That's a whiteboard question. You have to consider how you structure the season. I'm certain we would have done things differently, but still in the end... It's a tricky question. No matter what, there would have been structural differences, but we were very happy with the world that we entered.
Well, with some of the things you did with Volkoff in the season's second half, with the Hartley Winterbottom stuff, was that something that was ever in your heads when you wrote the first 13, or did you come up with it when you realized, "Hey, we love Dalton, we need to come up with something else for him to do"?
The moment we created Dalton's character, the first version was Tuttle (his guise as Mary Bartowski's mild-mannered handler), and we had Tuttle in the back of our minds even in those first few episodes. We loved Tim's version of Tuttle, and there was a bit of sadness when he turned into Volkoff at the end of that episode. He was such a fascinating character in his own right, so I think the seeds of Hartley Winterobttom were sowed in those scenes with Tuttle. In a way, we were thinking about Hartley as we went into the second half of the season. It was in the back of our heads, but it was something we encountered where we said, "We love Volkoff, we want to have fun with the villain." We'd never done a season-long villain. We'd had Chevy Chase, had Brandon Routh, but we'd never built a villain in the Blofeld tradition. I think Hartley comes very much from Tuttle. So at the end of the fifth season, this will be at least the seventh different "Chuck" finale you've had to write. What is there left to do in a "Chuck" finale at this point?
It's funny. When we get into the room and we start coming up with ideas, I think there's a lot of story, a lot of things. We just start having fun, there's always something we haven't done that we get excited about that we want to try. When we were working on the finale, we started talking about a superbike. "Well, why not do a superbike?" You never know when that crazy idea is going to happen. It's the opportunity to work on a finale, or any episode of "Chuck," is great, because usually there's something that gets us very excited, whether it's a superbike, or a pig running through an air duct with a fireball behind him, or a Gravitron. But the important thing is coming back to our characters and the big emotional moments. We have something really big and fantastic in store for you guys next year, and I can't wait to tell that story.
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