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Full Frontal Nerdity: The Sensational (and Game-Changing) Season Finale of "Chuck"

"Oh, Chuck me."

If I was anxious before about NBC renewing Chuck for a third season, last night's jaw-dropping season finale ("Chuck Versus the Ring"), written by Allison Adler and Chris Fedak, left me screaming to the heavens for a solution that would pull Chuck back from the brink of cancellation. (It can't end that way, it just can't!)

Series creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak promised a "game-changing" season finale and they not only delivered on this promise but gave us what may be one of the single most enjoyable hours of television this year in the Chuck season finale, as well as one of the strongest installments of the series so far.

Whether this week's episode of Chuck ends up being a season or series finale (and I'm pulling for the former), "Chuck Versus the Ring" was a primer on how to infuse tension and possibility into every scene, while also offering the series' rabid viewers a lot of laughter and more than a few tears along the way. It also deftly set the stage for what looks to be an incredible new direction for the series, should NBC decide to follow up on that tantalizing (and torturous) "To Be Continued..." card that ran at the end of the episode.

On the edge of my seat? I'm on the edge of a cliff waiting to see just what will happen to this brilliant and compelling series. So put on your tuxedo, check your pocket for rings, get your kung-fu on, and let's discuss "Chuck Versus the Ring."

I wondered after last week's amazing episode (which itself could have been a season finale) just how the writers would manage to top themselves but I needn't have worried: "Chuck Versus the Ring" was everything that a season finale should be, managing over the course of forty-odd minutes to reinvent itself, give its lead characters new purpose, and alter its own underlying structure to open the gates of possibility to this story.

This episode will definitely go down as one of--if not the--strongest episodes on the series to date and it's due entirely to the lushness of the writing and the strength of actors Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, and Adam Baldwin. I can't offer enough superlatives about this trio, who week after week manage to imbue their characters with genuine emotion and three-dimensional personalities. Chuck has succeeded due to their abilities and their chemistry.

Chuck. Season One began with Bryce stealing the Intersect and destroying it. So it was only fitting that the series would come full circle and wrap its second season by placing the characters in the same position, albeit with a twist. Bryce believes that the Intersect 2.0 is far too powerful and intends to destroy it. His mission is of course compromised by the entry of a new secret organization (more on them in a bit) and it falls to Chuck to carry out Bryce's plans. It's that moment, with Chuck standing over the Intersect computer, that the entire series has been leading to: the moment where Chuck finally learns that he is a hero.

At the beginning of the series, Chuck had no choice about the Intersect being placed inside his head. That decision was forced upon him and Chuck became an unwitting and reluctant hero, forced to work for the government because of the information inside his head and not out of choice. Here, with Bryce having given his life for this cause, Chuck finds himself standing at the edge of a precipice. He's finally achieved everything he's ever wanted: the girl of his dreams, the freedom to do whatever he wants, and he's gotten back a "normal" life once more. And yet he places his palm on that desk and activates the Intersect cube. Why? Because Chuck has discovered that he is a hero and that heroism isn't easy, it isn't convenient or safe, but very, very dangerous. A true hero risks everything, most especially personal happiness and security, in the name of protecting those around him. In that very moment, Chuck goes from being a reluctant hero to a true one, uploading the Intersect back into his head and destroying it. It's a sacrifice of sorts as Chuck willingly opts to place national security above self-interest.

Kung Fu. We knew that the Intersect cube had some upgrades, thanks to the conversation between Orion and Bryce Larkin but even I could not have imagined just what those upgrades would be. While the Intersect 1.0 contained government intelligence and the ability to retrieve data at an alarming rate, the Intersect 2.0 has knowledge of a different means: physical ability. When the Intersect room is flooded with agents, Chuck is able to flash and retrieve some physical data: kung fu. He's able to skillfully and gracefully take out a room of agents without breaking a sweat. (Hell, even Casey was impressed.) Just what the limits of this technology are remain to be seen. Can Chuck learn any ability? Could he suddenly have the knowledge to dismantle a bomb, assemble a gun, skydive, or sculpt? Has he become a super-soldier, the perfect repository of intelligence and physical know-how?

The reveal was just, well, awesome and set the stage for what promises to be a vastly different role for Chuck should Season Three happen. (No more staying in the car for him.) It's with new eyes that Sarah and Casey see him and with a new appreciation for his heroism. Casey had earlier said that if Chuck were a true patriot, he wouldn't cash his government check but even he can't argue with the ramifications of what Chuck has done. He's proven, in no uncertain terms, that he's just as much a hero as Casey or Sarah. Perhaps even more so.

Bryce Larkin. I was absolutely chuffed that the writers brought back Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer) and brought the series full-circle with Bryce and the Intersect. I suggested a few weeks back that Bryce could have been working with Orion all along, and I am glad to see that the writers ran with this idea as well. It was never a coincidence or a stroke of fate that Bryce sent Chuck the Intersect in the first place: he was tasked with protecting Chuck at Stanford and sent Chuck the Intersect because he knew that Chuck could handle it, even if Stephen wanted him to keep him out of it. Bryce knew that Sarah would find Chuck and that Chuck deserved to know the truth about his father.

Sarah. Much of the series has dealt with the love triangle between Chuck, Sarah, and Bryce as Sarah found herself torn between the suave superspy and the sweet, well, nerdiness of Chuck. This episode finally ended that triangle, killing off Bryce Larkin once and for all in a scene that had me screaming at the television. Before that, Sarah was faced with a difficult decision as she spent her last few hours with Chuck at Ellie's wedding, revealing that she was supposed to fly out with Bryce to start work on the new Intersect project in the morning. Would she go with him and follow her duty? Or would she choose her heart and stay with Chuck? Her decision was clear; asked by Bryce to stay or go, she shakes her head sadly, indicating that she's choosing Chuck this time. Strahovski's expressions in this scene indicate the battle going on inside of her and her head-shaking demonstrates her resolve and her love for Chuck. No easy decision this. On a lighter note, how many people cheered when Sarah effortlessly ripped off the bottom of her bridesmaid dress in order to get down and dirty with the Fulcrum agents at the wedding? And when she and Chuck shared their "You look like a real spy"/"You look like a real bridesmaid" conversation and later their dance in the courtyard? (All together now: aw.)

Colonel Casey. I'm glad that Casey and Chuck shared a scene together and Casey revealed his own feelings towards the Chuckster, giving him his private number (on a business card, one can't help but note, with nothing else on it) and telling him to call him if he's ever in trouble (like his "fingers being on fire"). I knew Chuck would hug Casey but didn't imagine that Casey would actually tolerate it for as long as he did (though he did threaten to remove Chuck's "man parts"). Casey proved his loyalty by rescuing Chuck and saving the day at the wedding and I wouldn't have had it any other way. And, hell, he attacks Ellie's wedding with as much enthusiasm as he would a military engagement. ("That clashes with the bunting!") Double aw.

Orion. Stephen has an Intersect of his own? Very intriguing. He claims that he tested the machine on himself first and he's able to "flash" on the agent accompanying Bryce. How awesome was it that he got to punch Ted Roark after twenty years of hell? I thought for sure that Stephen would wind up dead by the end of the episode, so I am very surprised to see what they do with him next season, should the series continue. Loved that he gave his nifty Orion wrist device to Chuck to use to track down Bryce. Any thoughts on what his involvement would be next season?

The Ring. Fulcrum may be destroyed and Ted Roark dead, but there's more intrigue afoot in the spy world as the gang learns that there's a new organization interested in acquiring the Intersect for its own purposes. Casey's team is infiltrated by an agent for his new unnamed secret society, who shoots Roark in his cell and kills Casey's entire team. (Casey, meanwhile, only gets pistol-whipped as he previously saved Miles' life.) And they kill Bryce Larkin when he gives them access to the Intersect cube. So who are these baddies? I don't know. Miles (The Office's Tug Coker) says that they are not Fulcrum, though one of their number is a former CIA agent presumed dead. Bryce says that Fulcrum is just "one part of The Ring." I can't help but think of that scene a few episodes ago when we glimpsed a shadowy cabal. Is Fulcrum one of the many players after the Intersect? Do they work for a central and very evil overseer, just as these new spies do? "No one stops us," says Miles. "No one ever has." Hmmm...

The Wedding. True confession: I'm always nervous about wedding episodes; they have a tendency to be cheesy and overblown (just look at Anya and Xander's wedding on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for an example) rather than have genuine heart. It turns out that Chuck pulled off one of the most beautiful and understated weddings on television by first literally destroying the site of Ellie's wedding (how cool was it when Casey and the commandos parachuted in through the skylights?) and throwing the ceremony off the tracks with Jeffster performing a awe-inducing rendition of "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto."

The gun fight between Chuck, Sarah, and Bryce and Ted Roark (Chevy Chase) and Fulcrum was absolutely fantastic, especially that Sarah once again got to use her knife-throwing skills. (Remember in the pilot how she threw that knife to trigger the emergency barrier?) Especially as the battle destroyed Ellie's entire reception room, from the centerpieces and cakes to the elaborate ice sculpture, as Chuck inwardly moaned while seeing Ellie's dreams go up in smoke. The sprinkler system cutting in and nearly drowning an already overstressed Ellie who was meditating a few minutes earlier? Awesome. I'm glad that Ellie didn't just forgive Chuck for destroying her wedding day (to her knowledge, anyway) but instead climbed into the bathtub with her wedding dress and a bottle of champagne after canceling the wedding.

And just when you thought everything was wrecked beyond belief, Chuck managed to pull it all together, using his government paycheck to grant his sister the wedding day she deserved and the one she originally wanted: a small affair on the beach. It was a beautiful moment of true happiness, not just for Ellie, but for Chuck and Stephen Bartowski (Scott Bakula) as well. As for Devon, when he learned that Morgan was stalling the wedding because Chuck asked him to, he knew it was a matter of life and death. The look of pride on his face when Chuck pulls off not just the wedding of the century but has likely saved all of their lives as well spoke volumes.

Buy More. Seeing Jeffster take to the stage to perform "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto" (complete with fireworks show-stopping ender) was a thing of beauty and hilarity. (I can't stop singing the damn song the next day.) Even if Mr. Woodcock called the duo "Sam Kinison and an Indian lesbian." And it kept some of the focus on the Buy More employees this week, given Chuck and Casey's departure from the store (not to mention Morgan's as well.) I'm not quite sure what will happen to the denizens of the Buy More should the series end up getting renewed for a third season. Given that Chuck will need a cover, it would make sense to utilize one that's already created but the writers have given themselves an out should they need to reduce the cast: they could cut the Buy More altogether now that Chuck has quit. However, some of the Buy More characters (in particular Jeff and Lester) are extremely beloved by the audience, so I'd hate to see them go. I was, however, extremely pleased to see Chuck quit his job in so forceful a fashion, telling Emmett that he could take his job and his flag and shove it. (After, that is, Emmett thought Chuck was coming on to him and said he was flattered but was a "flaming heterosexual.")

All this, references to Back to the Future and The Matrix, and some fantastic musical choices, including The Cure's "Friday, I'm in Love"? I think I'm in heaven.

Best line of the evening: "Guys, I know kung fu." - Chuck (tied with "Thank you for saving my life at least once a week.")

"Chuck Versus the Ring" packed more action, emotion, and tension into itself than many dramas do in entire season-long runs. When that card for "To Be Continued..." flashed on the screen, I found myself desperate for more. While this installment wrapped up some of the series' overarching plots, it also opened the door to a whole new set of adventures for Chuck, Sarah, and Casey. I would hate to see the series end with so much potential still in its bones.

If this is in fact the ending, all that's left to say to the talented cast and crew of this phenomenal series is domo arigato, really. Thanks for the memories, the laughs, the tears, and the edge-of-your-seat action. And thanks for two wonderful, memorable seasons of one of television's most innovative and original series. Personally, I'm still holding out hope that Chuck will continue next season. Because anything else would be unthinkable right now.

What did you think of "Chuck Versus the Ring"? Was it the perfect season finale or an ideal series finale? What do you think the future holds for our beloved team of super-spies? Were you surprised by the upgrades to the Intersect? And just what is The Ring? Discuss.

Chuck has yet to be renewed for a third season by NBC. Fingers crossed that they do the right thing and bring back this fantastic series.

Comments

SupComTabz said…
There's so many ways this episode was a perfect symmetry to the pilot.

Bryce "dies" in the pilot.
Bryce really dies in this episode.

The pilot starts with the party outside in the fountain.
This episode has a party outside near the fountain.

Everyone asks Chuck what he's doing with his life in the pilot.
Everyone asks Chuck what he's going to do with his life now in this episode.

The intersect rooms are the same, I visibly cringed when Chuck went to destroy the new intersect 'cuz I remember the first one blowing up.

It was fantastic, I can't wait for Season 3. I'm sure Orion will make a comeback.

And honestly, I think the Buy More is around to stay. Possibly Chuck's going to have to beg for his old job back. :D
Annie said…
It was AMAZING!!!! Thanks for continuing to support CHUCK, Jace. I never would have discovered this show if you hadn't given the pilot such a great review. Last night didn't disappoint, it had something for everyone and I watched it with my whole family and everyone loved it. I am sad that they killed off Bryce but I don't know what they would have done with him. The Kung Fu scene was awesome! Ellie looked beautiful at the beach wedding but I wanted Chuck and Sarah at least get to kiss at the wedding. Please bring CHUCK back, NBC!!!!!!!
Ben Rasmussen said…
Yep, a fantastic episode. NBC had better renew it.

I loved the Matrix-y feel of Chuck's fight at the end. I laughed out loud when he gave Neo's "I know kung fu" line.
ted23 said…
A great finale to the show even if it ends up being a series finale. Everything about it from Jeffster's performance in the church to the kung-fu scene at the end was awesome. I think Orion will be back next season if NBC brings it back especially now that we know he has an Intersect in his head.

I forgot about that scene with the shadowy group a few weeks back. Definitely ties into the Ring and Fulcrum. Love that we didn't get a name for them right now.

Going to go watch the ep again on Hulu now.

BTW, love that you used a Better Off Ted reference in the title!
zman said…
Another fantastic episode of one of my favorite shows. So many great moments from one episode! Loved that they brought things full circle. Loved that they left things not fully complete. We really don't know if Bryce is "really" dead now do we, after all that is what we were to think in the pilot as well. So many great things can happen now that they have moved to this level. What do we do now with our Monday night? NBC give us more "Chuck" please!
Samantha Hunter said…
Agreed, loved it, though I thought the final scene came off a bit silly for my taste (and a little predictable -- I have to admit, they way they kept saying "what does this new intersect do?" "You don't want to know" was kind of a giveaway), but what the heck. They can be silly, I suppose, it's part of the allure.

Mr. Roboto was a riot. :)

NBC, bring Chuck back for a third season, pure and simple.

Sam
Anonymous said…
I couldn't have said it better! Chuck is the perfect blend of action, comedy and romance. I've always said it was like mixing Get Smart, Charlie's Angels, and The Six Million Dollar Man (the originals!) into one show. Mr Roboto? That says it all. The writing and acting were superb, and the chemistry between Zach and Yvonne is incredible. You can't buy chemistry, it's there or it isn't. They are Pam/Jeff, Ross/Rachel, but more...hipper, sexier, funnier. Chuck deserves another season at a different time slot to see what it can do. I can't believe a show like Heroes, which I haven't been able to watch since Season One, is coming back and we are having to fight for Chuck!

I loved the symmetry with Bryce from the pilot although of course I didn't want him running off with Sarah and knew that wasn't what would happen so I lived, and the sacrifices both Chuck and Sarah were willing to make. I hope in Season 3 the writers realize we're good with obstacles being thrown their way, but at some point we can't go back to they work together so they can't be together. I think there are endless opportunities now for Chuck and Sarah and the whole team and am desperately hoping for a Season 3!!
I'm glad that the story allowed for Chuck to choose to have the intersect uploaded into his brain and that he's taking a much more active role in things. He will always be a lovable nerd but now he's a lovable nerd with kung fu skills. Nice!

This show just keeps getting better and better which is why I'm desperately hoping that there will be a third season as I'm sure it would be incredible!
Anonymous said…
I loved the first 3/4 and then felt the complete opposite about the end. The whole beauty of this series was the joy of seeing your average nerd have to be a spy, but now to make him a super spy just -- well, what's interesting about that? And the intersect has always been the weakest part of the series. I was so excited last week when I really thought they were getting rid of it, but to have Chuck redownload it (unecessarily), felt like one step forward and six steps back. It would've been much more interesting to see Chuck take his newfound desire to be a hero and become a real spy. Not some computer altered version of one. The ending disappointed me so much (in comparison to the brilliance of everything that came before it), I might be okay if the show doesn't come back. And if it does, not sure that I'll be coming back to it.
OldDarth said…
Chuck Vs The Ring aka To Spy Or Not To Spy That Is The Question!

There is a new force present in the spy world, Chuck Bartowski.

After two seasons of desperately grasping at every opportunity to reclaim his old life, Chuck Bartowski finally acknowledges that a greater path lays before him. After being told time and time again that he is a spy, Chuck is faced with a choice and though his primary motivation may have been love, a force which guides much of his decisions, in the end it is the realization that he does indeed have the 'Right Stuff.'

The Ring bears many of the trademarks of the preceding episode - Chuck Vs The Colonel - a breakneck pace, major revelations of story and character, humour, action, drama, all laced with nerd references that end with significant changes for the series.

Whereas the Colonel closed off issues for the Second Season, the Ring delivers exactly what Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz said it would - a game changing episode that culminated in PONRs for Chuck and Sarah.

Throughout the episode the wonderful cast shone in every respect. Major kudos to the three leads - Zac, Yvonne, and Adam who work off of each other so well and each having their moment to shine.

Casey's, 'Chuck Me!' could replace BattleStar Galactica's, 'Frak Me!' as the curse word slogan du jour.

So many great things happened in this episode from Casey's team rappelling into the wedding, Sarah frantically searching for the wedding gift knife set, PapaB putting the smack down on Roark, Morgan's willingness to take the blame for Chuck at delaying the wedding, Devon's acceptance of the delay once he knew Chuck was behind it, and all the way to the game changing sequence at the end in the Intersect Room.

Chuck not only decided to become a hero but one with 'superpowers.' Of course having such a moment in the Chuck Verse can only lead to awesome comedic opportunities. Especially if Chuck cannot control what power he flashes on and said power arises in a non-spy moment.

So a pretty great finale. The pacing of this episode suffered the same relentless, high speed tone of the Colonel but not quite as frenetic. As a lover of stories and their structure, great stories need room for the characters, and the readers, to reflect on what has happened, what is happening, and most importantly - what is to come. More quiet moments would have turned awesome episodes into amazingly, awesome ones.

These last two episodes could have been 2 hours each.

Finally, another small caveat, given that this could potentially be the last episode would it have hurt to give a small bone to those to whom the relationship is the raison d'ĂȘtre for watching the show? A quiet moment where Chuck and Sarah exchanged verbal affirmation to one another seems like such a small thing to give. Even more so, when everyone else in the show knows and/or has heard how the one feels about the other.

For me there was enough there that I am content with where the relationship stands in terms of expression. For others a moment of open, direct communication between Chuck and Sarah seems like an unfair thing to have withheld.

With an eye to the third season, I am very excited to see what further adventures await Team B and seeing Chuck comedically struggle with his new found powers.

To the cast, crew, showrunners etc, and those all important writers a big THANK YOU! for a fantastic season.

Here is to continuing Chuck's journey - Cheers!
rockauteur said…
A killer finale. Was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I really do hope it comes back.... if it doesn't, at least there is some closure for the characters:

1) Morgan has grown up, choosing the girl and to pursue his dream job.
2) Casey has finally accepted Chuck as a hero, and perhaps an equal.
3) Sarah chose Chuck over Bryce.
4) Ellie and Awesome got married.
5) Jester got their chance to perform for an audience (and what a performance!)
6) Chuck became the hero he was meant to be.

Personally, I felt that Chuck had become a hero without the super spy prowess... Fulcrum agents seemed to have feared Charles Carmichael, after Chuck picked up spy skills earlier in the season from the sorely missed John Larroquette. So will be interesting if Chuck can still be a realistic hero with all the superpowers, but perhaps he will need to learn how to control them. One of the other readers pointed out that maybe he won't be able to control when he will Flash and will use some of his powers in non-spy settings, which definitely could be funny. Somehow I see him his new powers as a crutch for him a bit, and I think ultimately he'll learn how to be the best spy without using them.

Bryce also could still be alive - the new secret organization did drag his body away - meaning he could always come back at some point.
I must say I jumped out of my seat a few times, and my wife had to censure me for yelling at the TV like a 12 year old.

A part of me was torn that Chuck didn't get everything he wanted, I could've settled for it all being over, as long as he finally got the girl.

But this new Matrix like turn of events and the 'to be continued...' at the end had me screaming..and then add to that the frustration that we might not get to see the continuation...

I personally think that a TV network should not be allowed to use the 'to be continued' card, then not follow through on the committment after all in a way it's false advertising.

If I wasn't also addicted to Heroes, Biggest Loser, the office, and Kings I might just boycott NBC altogether if they do cancel Chuck.
Bernardx said…
I'm torn. That was a magnificent episode period. I just don't know if it could ever happen again. The pacing was breakneck and the pop culture references were everywhere.I hope it gets picked up, don't get me wrong but they better keep it at that level. I have this nagging feeling that Chuck just might have blown it's load on that episode. If it doesn't pick up I'd be more than satisfied with how it ended. It was their masterpiece and everyone on that show should be proud.
CL said…
Best finale ever. I suppose it could serve for a series finale as well, but... Oh, let's not even go there.

"Just what the limits of this technology are remain to be seen. Can Chuck learn any ability? Could he suddenly have the knowledge to dismantle a bomb, assemble a gun, skydive, or sculpt? Has he become a super-soldier, the perfect repository of intelligence and physical know-how?"Ah, but what about the other side of that coin? The way Bryce said, "You don't want to know," just fills me with a sense of foreboding. What if someone could somehow control Chuck through these new upgrades? Imagine - General Beckman gives a kill order. Chuck, being Chuck, refuses. So Beckman speaks a code phrase, and whoosh - The intersect takes over and Chuck wakes up with blood on his hands.

Oh, my God. We so need a third season.
Page48 said…
That final scene had Chuck dealing like River Tam in "Serenity". Come to think of it, Adam Baldwin had a front row seat for that action, too.
Unknown said…
I'm glad they finalized Bryce. He was an interesting character and important backstory, but you can do only so much with recurring characters before they get boring.

I don't agree that Sarah shook her head "sadly" when she told Bryce she was staying. She seemed apologetic but pleased with her decision.

There's clearly a downside to the Intersect 2.0. There has to be, otherwise missions won't be hard with Chuck being able to instantly learn anything he needs to.

I don't think they'll do much--if anything--with Chuck's dad next season. He said he couldn't follow Chuck and gave him the Orion bracelet. That sounds like he's done. (Anyone else see the parallel to Orion's belt?)

It's a testament to the quality of this show that I don't even care what The Ring is. It's a standard plot device: bigger and better baddies. And that's fine. I actually care about the characters and how they interact and save the day every week.

Loved Sarah asking Chuck if he wants to dance. "You know I do."

Loved Sarah opening the wedding presents until she finds the inevitable knife set.

Loved Devon understanding Morgan's words to mean that Chuck was doing spy-stuff and saving the day.

Loved "Where's my blonde?!"

Loved. Loved. Loved.

While I wasn't able to watch Chuck Monday night (I'm not a Nielsen family anyway), I watched it before the Heroes season finale and before 24.

Please renew.
Philippa said…
There are huge fans of 'Chuck' over here in the UK. As Zach and Adam found out last weekend :-).

That was an AWESOME [heh!] episode.

What other secret skills might Chuck have?
So, Casey's an ex Marine. Nice.
Orion has an Intersect. Sweet.
Hmm, what about Mama Bartowski?
Where is she?
Ellie's dresses were gorgeous.
Casey as Martha Stewart. I ROTFLOL.

[Adam in this role is milking every last second on screen. Please, TPTB, give him his long overdue 'name above the title' blockbuster movie. Soon? Suggestion - Captain America with Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi writing/directing]

Zach is going to be a huge star. Look out, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DeCaprio.
Interesting! Thank you for sharing this. Really nice!
Unknown said…
I watched it online, and I couldn't see how much the check was for. Anyone watch it on a big screen in HD? If so, could you see how much the CIA paid him?

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