My review of “Chuck” Episode 4.24 (“Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger”) (Spoiler Alert!)

The Lord God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.
–Genesis 2:18 (New American Bible)

“She is the paragon of all paragons of beauty, the reply to all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of [the] hero’s earthly and unearthly quest…For she is the incarnation of the promise of perfection; the soul’s assurance that, at the conclusion of its exile in a world of organized inadequacies, the bliss that once was known will be known again…”
–Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”
–Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

While all Chuck fans are united in our love of this show, we aren’t always in agreement over which part of the show’s story is more important to us: the story of Chuck’s “hero’s journey” as a spy, or the love story between Chuck and Sarah. As this truly outstanding Season 4 finale has shown us, Chuck’s love for Sarah is an inextricable part of the story of his motivation to grow as a hero, just as “Chuck vs. Phase Three” showed how Sarah’s love for Chuck was the driving force behind her growth as a heroine and as a person.

The fact that Chuck could not have been as strongly motivated to become a hero without Sarah entering his life, or that Sarah could not have regained the better angels of her nature without Chuck’s virtuous example to guide her way, does not diminish either of their respective facets of Chuck‘s “hero’s journey” story, and it is not a sign of weakness for either of them. Sarah’s willingness to risk her life and career tearing apart half of Thailand to find Chuck, and Chuck’s willingness to throw away all he had accomplished as a C.I.A. agent to save Sarah, even if it cost him his freedom, shows that they both recognize that they could not have grown in the way they have these last few years without each other, and that losing each other would render their new lives incomplete, hollow and empty. It is this aspect of Chuck and Sarah as characters, and of Zachary Levi’s and Yvonne Strahovski’s truly masterful performances, that makes the central love story of Chuck so convincing and compelling for me (and I would wager, for a lot of other people as well).

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss in this review the titular “Cliffhanger” of this episode: the fact that Team Bartowski has been cut loose by the C.I.A. and is now going to operate as a freelance entity (thanks to Hartley Winterbottom’s astronomically generous gift of the Volkoff Industries assets) with the Buy More and Castle as a base, and that Morgan is now the team’s lone Intersect agent. A lot of people have expressed strong negative opinions on Twitter about Morgan becoming the Intersect agent on the team instead of Chuck, and have said that they are afraid that it will draw the focus of the story away from Chuck as a hero and put it on Morgan. I disagree completely with that assessment, for reasons I’ll discuss here.

First, I’ll briefly address the issue that Chuck is no longer an Intersect. As has already been discussed many times in reviews and interviews, by fans and in the dialogue of the show itself, it is not the Intersect that makes Chuck a hero. Rather, it is his moral code and deeply-rooted sense of honor and loyalty. We see this in the finale not only by his dogged determination to save Sarah, but because he is willing to walk into Vivian’s office unarmed and attempt to save Sarah’s life not through deception or trickery, but by appealing one last time to Vivian’s remaining humanity and sense of decency. Granted, it ended up being Hartley who finally won Vivian over, but that’s beside the point. Chuck very clearly no longer needs the Intersect to do what he needs to do as a spy, and this situation gives him the opportunity to prove himself not only as a spy, but as a leader. And for those who are concerned about Chuck’s capabilities in combat without the Intersect, let’s not forget that he’s still a crack shot even without flashing, and Casey and Sarah can always help him train in hand-to-hand combat the old-fashioned way! 🙂

Now, on to Mr. Grimes being the new Intersect. First off, the fact that Chuck now has to help Morgan develop the mental discipline he needs to use the Intersect properly provides an incredible wealth of opportunities for comedy in Season 5. Furthermore, this issue of Chuck helping Morgan learn to use the Intersect goes along perfectly with one of the central points that Joseph Campbell made in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As Campbell points out several times, an important part of a hero’s journey is not only to complete a quest, grow as a person and gain enlightenment, but to return to where he came from and pass that knowledge on to others. In Chuck terms, not only did Chuck need to grow as a hero and a person and become more capable of controlling his own destiny, he needed to show others around him how to do the same thing. When you think about it in those terms, it’s only natural that he would pass the torch to Morgan in this way, both in the sense of Morgan uploading the Intersect into his brain as well as Chuck teaching him how to use it. It’s happened in a more gradual and subtle fashion throughout the course of the series with all the different characters, but this plot twist with Morgan is just a more blatant and literal example of Chuck‘s fine tradition of having it’s characters learn to become more than what they were when the story first began.

In the final analysis, this was a truly outstanding season finale for Chuck, and I know I’m not alone when I say that I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Team Bartowski in Season 5! 🙂

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2 Responses to My review of “Chuck” Episode 4.24 (“Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger”) (Spoiler Alert!)

  1. Liz says:

    This is an excellent analysis of last night’s finale. It pretty much mirrors my own thoughts. It’s upsetting to me to read so many “fans” negative reactions to the finale. Fans that fought right along with us for a fifth season, then were saying that they were not going to watch the show next season. This is exactly the reason I was not happy about the move to Friday nights. I knew that once fans got pissed about the way an episode played out, they wouldn’t be back to watch anymore, giving NBC the opportunity to pull whatever was left of the 13 episodes that hadn’t aired. I’ve seen it happen before.

    • Matt says:

      I understand what you mean, Liz, and it’s frustrating for me as well to see so many fans react negatively to such an awesome episode and season finale. However, I wouldn’t worry too much about a mass fan exodus from the show, or of NBC pulling “Chuck” from the fall schedule partway through the season as a result.

      Keep in mind, all the negative comments we’re seeing are from some of the most vocal members of the fandom, but the majority (admittedly not quite an overwhelming one) of comments I’ve seen are very favorable in their assessment of the episode, and of the opportunities this sets up for Season 5. Also, there could easily be an overwhelming silent majority of fans who are very much in favor of the new dynamic with Chuck as leader of a freelance Team Bartowski and Morgan as his ace-in-the-hole Intersect agent. (Personally, I love the idea of General Beckman becoming the “Commissioner Gordon” to Team Bartowski’s “Batman!” :-D)

      Bottom line, I think that a lot of folks will just need time to get used to the idea of this new team dynamic after such a departure from the idea they had in their minds of how they liked the show to work. Furthermore, I doubt the network would pull the show partway through a shorter season, especially if some of their new shows don’t do as well. Keep the faith, Liz! 😀

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