Who Am I?
“Chuck vs. The Cliffhanger”
Mondays, NBC, 8/7c PM
Written by Chris Fedak & Nicholas Wootton
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
“Don’t freak out.” — Sarah
When this show debuted in 2007, Chuck Bartowski was a nerd prince, with no ambition, a broken heart, and the skills of a 21st century computer ninja. Since then, he has become a reluctant spy, an enthusiastic spy, an A-list spy, and a renegade spy. Now, it seems, he is going to be a freelance spy. A happily married freelance spy. In an episode with “cliffhanger” in the title, producers Fedak and Wootton actually leave us with no cliffhanger, yet another example of the sneaky, snarky humor that has always been the best feature of this show. At the time this story was written, Chuck was “on the bubble”, its fate uncertain, with the smart money predicting cancellation. So this final episode of Season Four reads as though written to be a series finale. We now know it is not (NBC has renewed the show; more below), but it would have been a fine farewell if that had been the case.
“He may be a hardass, but I’m the Intersect.” – Chuck
Vivian Volkoff, angry at the loss of her father (and continuing the long-running emphasis on missing/absent fathers throughout this series), has poisoned Sarah Walker with the Norseman weapon at her own wedding rehearsal dinner. As the Doctors Awesome fight to save her life, Chuck, Casey and Morgan go after the only person who could know the antidote: Alexei Volkoff. The fact that he’s in a CIA prison (civil rights? habeas corpus? We don’t need no stinkin’ warrants, we’re the CIA) does not deter them. Casey and Chuck break in, only to find that Alexei is already gone, taken by Clyde Decker (Richard Burgi, Desperate Housewives), an agent so mean even Casey thinks he’s badass. Decker uses some Very Special Sunglasses to remove the Intersect identity of “Volkoff”, leaving him with his original identity of Hartley Winterbottom. By the time Chuck, with his mom’s help, rescues him, Winterbottom has morphed into a genial scientist who has no memory of the last thirty years under another identity.
“I’m not the villain I used to be.” – Volkoff/Winterbottom
Every soap opera/romantic comedy has its tropes and clichés; one of the oldest and most popular is the amnesia victim. Figure Chuck to turn this idea on its head, and make the amnesia victim wake up only to discover he aged thirty years overnight. Even better, we get the long-lost child routine, as Winterbottom learns that he has (or Volkoff has) a daughter. While Winterbottom struggles to accommodate this Rip Van Winkle turnabout, Chuck urges Winterbottom to get to work. Fortunately, the antidote for the Norseman was developed at the same time as the Intersect, so Winterbottom can whip it up; unfortunately, it only slows down the poison, it does not reverse it. Having bought some time, Chuck and Winterbottom/Volkoff plan to fly off to Moscow to confront Vivian in search of the latest antidote.
“You’re the second best spy I’ve ever worked with. Now you have to go save the best.” — Casey
Except Decker isn’t having any part of that. In a painful scene, he tasers Chuck, takes him back to the Castle, and uses the Very Special Sunglasses to remove the Intersect from Chuck. During the process, Chuck tries to close his eyes to prevent the removal; it’s an interesting contrast to the early episodes of Season One, when Chuck would have given anything to have the Intersect removed from his brain. Decker’s men force his eyes open, but we’re not really sure that all of the Intersect is gone. In any case, Chuck believes he lost it. Casey frees everyone, arms Chuck with two clean identities, and tells Chuck that he and Sarah will have to disappear forever. Assuming, of course, the mission to Moscow is successful.
“I want to start a new life with you. But if you pull that trigger, you’ll lose yourself forever, like I did.” – Volkoff/Winterbottom
Vivian, still trying to come to terms with her newfound status as the daughter of a villain, does not believe Chuck when he walks into her lair and begs for the antidote. Where’s the trick? Only when Winterbottom/Volkoff intervenes does she begin to understand, and then nearly kills Chuck in sheer despair. She’s already too far down this road, she wails, to stop now. Chuck and Winterbottom convince her that it’s not too late to start again, that she can still be the good person she wants to be. Vivian agrees, and she and her dad accept new identities from Chuck. Chuck gets the antidote, Sarah lives, and we get the lavish wedding we’ve been building up to for what seems like forever.
“By the power vested in me by the Intergalactic Federation of Planets…” – Morgan
If we needed any final touch of geek culture, it had to be Morgan as the officiant at Chuck’s wedding. It stands to reason that the greatest wingman of all time is more than a mere best man; it is he who not only marries his best friend to the love of his life, but drives him away in a limo afterward. Nothing I’ve seen all year quite compares with seeing Morgan Grimes in full clericals, saying “Do you, Chuck…” And I have no doubt whatsoever that his ordination will stand in any jurisdiction; who would argue with the Intergalactic Federation of Planets? And then there’s the final farewell from Volkoff/Winterbottom, who cuts all ties to his evil past by dumping nearly a billion dollars on the newlyweds. Two weeks later, Chuck and Sarah return from their honeymoon and walk into the Buy More. Everyone is buzzing with anticipation, because some mystery guy has bought the store. Chuck reveals that he’s the new owner, thanks to Winterbottom’s millions, and proposes to start a sideline in freelance spy work. Casey and Morgan are all for it; in fact, Morgan is so enthused he puts on the Very Special Sunglasses. Hey, presto, and Morgan is now the new Intersect. This could be very funny.
“Guys! I know kung fu!” — Morgan
This one was all about who was who, and who was not. Volkoff became Winterbottom, and then became, via Casey’s clean identities, someone else. Vivian Volkoff went with him, and now is presumably someone else. Sarah Walker is now Sarah Bartowski. Morgan is the Intersect. And Chuck is now a vastly wealthy computer tycoon and freelance spy. If the series had ended right there, that would have been a fine terminus. But NBC announced last week that Chuck has been picked up for another 13 episodes in the fall. It will move to Monday, but NBC has made it clear that this is the last pickup for the show; Chuck is expected to end after the 13 are done. I wasn’t sure that Chuck had another 13 good stories in it; with the Morgan Reboot, however, we should get a fun half-season and some closure. Think about it: not only is Morgan the Intersect, he’s an ordained minister of the Intergalactic Federation of Planets.
That, folks, is cool. Squared.