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Family Legacy: Secrets and Lies on the Season Finale of Chuck

"Maybe being a spy is in our blood."

Season Three of Chuck came to a close last night, with a fantastic two-hour installment that shook up the status quo of the NBC action-comedy in so many ways, introducing a number of possible new directions for Chuck and Company and tying up some of the dangling story threads from the third season.

For once, we're going into the long hiatus knowing that Chuck will be returning next season, which placed my mind at ease watching the two-part season finale ("Chuck Versus the Subway" and "Chuck Versus the Ring, Part II," written respectively by Ali Adler and Phil Klemmer and Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak (and directed by Matt Shakman and Robert Duncan McNeill), which offered the opportunity to clear the decks and go into the summer with a feeling of unpredictability about just what the future holds for Team Bartowski. (You can read what Fedak had to say about the finale in an interview he did with Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall here.)

While the two episodes did bleed into one another in terms of plot, I have to say that the first half of the finale ("Chuck Versus the Subway") was stronger than the back half. Perhaps that was due to the importance of the B-Team here, which stepped into action and made the choice to cross over from civilians into spies, or the emotional stakes of the familial relationships here. As opposed to the second half, whose flashbacks to Young Chuck and Young Ellie were a little shaky and the Buy More storyline didn't really coalesce into anything until the episode's explosive ending.

Those minor issues aside, I thought that the season finale was a particularly strong one, tying up the Daniel Shaw storyline effectively (and hopefully for some time to come) as well as that of the malfunctioning Intersect, altering the dynamic between Chuck and Ellie, and creating an expanded Team Bartowski that seems ready to take on anything together... even if it ends up being the shortest-lived superhero team ever.

So what did I think of Chuck's kick-ass Season Three finale? Let's discuss.

There was a lot riding on this two-part season finale as the writers had quite a lot of story to get through. In just these two back-to-back episodes, after all, Chuck gets his Governor, Stephen Bartowski is killed, Ellie learns the truth about Chuck, the CIA is infiltrated by The Ring, Shaw reveals himself as both alive and an Intersect, the gang is taken into custody and then saved, Beckman is imprisoned (and delivers a fantastic Obi-Won homage), Casey's daughter returns, the Five Elders of The Ring are captured, we learn that Chuck's mom is more connected to the spy world than we thought, and the Buy More blows up, all before the closing credits rolled. (Whew.)

In other words, that's a lot of action to cram into a 90-minute episode, but I thought that Alder, Klemmer, Schwartz, and Fedak managed to pull it off beautifully, creating a giant-sized installment that brought the delicate balance of humor, action, tension, and emotion that Chuck, on its very best days, is able to juggle effortlessly.

Throughout it all, there's a strong current of emotion as the action swirls not just around our troika of super-spies but the Bartowski clan itself, which finds itself reeling when Stephen gets shot to death by Shaw, right in front of both Chuck and Ellie. It's not an act of vengeance so much as it is a power play by Shaw: an effort to show Chuck that he'll never be as strong as he is because he's laden by emotion. But it's that very emotion that inevitably saves the day for Chuck as he reboots to have a final showdown with Shaw using their Intersect abilities in the Buy More. While it doesn't bring Papa Bartowski back to life, it does ensure that justice is served and Shaw gets the beating he deserves... and Chuck chooses not to kill him this time. (Might, after all, doesn't make right.)

Fedak and Schwartz introduced new elements to Chuck's backstory last season but here the mythology is deepened once again as we learn that Chuck had accidentally downloaded a prototype Intersect as a child... and lived to tell the tale. Which is how Stephen--or Orion--knew that Chuck would be all right when Bryce Larkin sent him the first Intersect. Because his son was "special" and able to handle the massive quantity of visual data without firing his synapses.

While Season One of Chuck presented Chuck Bartowski as a hero of coincidence--he was in the right place at the right time--Season Two tweaked this slightly and presented him instead as a legacy hero, someone who received his abilities because of his familial relationship, following in the footsteps of his father. But in Season Three, we learned something new: Chuck wasn't just in the right place at the right time (i.e., Peter Parker getting bitten by that radioactive spider) or had his powers thrust upon them because he inherited them: no, Chuck, it seems, was always destined to be the Intersect.

The backstory as it's presented here, seems to combine all three elements into one tasty package: As a child, Chuck wandered into his father's lab in their Encino home and accidentally downloaded the Intersect, as though he was summoned there for that very purpose. While Stephen is terrified that Chuck has injured himself, he's stunned to learn that the boy is fine and shows no ill-results from accessing the program. It's perhaps a shot too close to the heart: Stephen doesn't want his children involved in this spy world and he goes to great lengths to make sure that they're not infected by it, even leaving them alone just to keep them safe.

But that's the ironic thing in the end: if Stephen had stayed, maybe he could have prevented Chuck from ending up following in his footsteps. But, like any parent, Stephen wants a better life for his children. He tasks Ellie with protecting Chuck, something that she is more than willing to do to this day, even to a fault. I understood why Ellie would want Chuck to quit the spy life and go back to being a civilian, especially after Stephen is murdered by Shaw, but it also rankled me that she would demand this of her brother, who is an adult and capable of making his own decisions now.

While Chuck might want to segue back into a normal life, especially now that the Intersect is under control, there's still the legacy of his father's world to uphold, especially once he sees what's actually going on beneath the house in Encino: a huge warehouse-like vault filled with Orion's casefiles on a number of at-large individuals that would seek to steal his work and kill Chuck. Including one villain that's closer to home than we thought: Mary Elizabeth Bartowski, Chuck's mommy, who might just end up being a Big Bad along the lines of Alias' Irina Derevko.

Many of us have been waiting for this inevitable twist since Stephen Bartowski showed up last season but I'm also curious just where the writers will take this plotline next season. Based on the snippet we get from Mary (or at least the back of her head), it seems as though she is being protected by a top-secret organization as a high-priority asset at the behest of Orion. ("I did it all for her," Stephen tells Chuck via his last confession.) Just why does she have to be moved, especially with the Ring Elders out of commission? Is it connected to the fact that Chuck breached the Orion vault? Hmmm...

It certainly seems as though Stephen has been working to track down his long-missing wife and I dare say that Chuck's first mission next season will be to find his mother and find out just why she walked out on them all of those years before. Hint: it had nothing to do with you breaking her charm bracelet, Chuck. (Elsewhere, Michael Ausiello already has some inspired suggestions as to who should play Mary Elizabeth Bartowski.) Plus, there's the matter of the other candidates whom Chuck can pursue in the meantime, along with a nice amount of tech, I'm sure, down there in the Orion HQ, which is just sitting empty.

Chuck is now in need of a new base of operations, after all, given the fact that Morgan inadvertently detonated Shaw's explosives and burnt the Buy More to the ground. I'd wager a guess that he'll be using the Encino home as a secret headquarters while he attempts to persuade everyone around him that he's turned civilian. I actually think that blowing up the Buy More was a risky if smart move to make for the fourth season. The writers have taken these storylines as far as they can take them without becoming cartoonish and, by clearing the decks, the writers have allowed for a new status quo to emerge, one that's not trapped in the Buy More but can move into new locations and possibilities.

Which isn't to say that I'm happy to see the backs of Jeff and Lester, because that's not true at all. Should Season Four not feature the legendary Jeffster!, I'd be pretty sad as these two bring a lot of the comic relief that's needed to balance the darker elements of Chuck's espionage world. However, I could see next season beginning with these two odd-balls on the lam as they attempt to evade arrest for arson and there's still the Beverly Hills Buy More, mentioned once again in this episode, to contend with. While the Burbank store was going out of business, the merchandise was meant to be shipped to their more luxe outpost on the other side of the hill. Which means that some of the employees could be transferred as well, should the writers opt to go in that direction.

But more likely, this is The End for the staff of the Buy More. I've loved having them here as a secondary plot device, but it just makes sense for the series to move away from the workplace-based comedy and focus more on the espionage aspects... and allow the studio to cut some production costs in the process.

(Aside: I found the Buy More plot here to be the weakest element of the season finale, particularly as we already dealt with the possibility of the store being closed or sold in "Chuck Versus the Beard." While that ended up being a Ring cover story, the emotions and reactions of the staffers to the news were more convincing and interesting there than they were here, as it was a major story point within that episode and here a subplot that didn't really have teeth, though there were some meta similarities to the ratings struggle the series had had this year.)

But as much as the season finale was about endings, it's also about new beginnings as well. Chuck finally gained a way of keeping the Intersect in check and received his father's blessing about the choices he's made in life as he prepares to fulfill his destiny. Chuck and Sarah finally have a shot at a normal life and the security of knowing that their significant other isn't going into the line of fire each day... though Chuck's arrival at Orion HQ would seem to challenge that. (I also wonder if Sarah, like Ellie and likely Devon, will be in the dark about Chuck's extracurricular activities next season.)

Casey has reconnected with his long-lost daughter Alex, who--thanks to her kick-ass fighting abilities--would seem to be a chip off the old block. With the Buy More gone, Morgan is likely going to have to find something else to do with his life... or actually start living it for a change. And Ellie and Devon were able to come clean to each other about secrets kept over the past two seasons and start over.

Additionally, the threat of Daniel Shaw has been eliminated for now. While some viewers took offense to the romance between Shaw and Sarah earlier this season, it did set up Chuck's attempt to kill Shaw in Paris... and his eventual return here as a villain. I have to say that I like Chuck having a nemesis, particularly one as crafty, cunning, and ruthless as Shaw, someone who knows him inside and out from having been an ally and friend previously. While I'm still not entirely sure of Shaw's motivations (why is he working for the organization that gave the order to murder his wife?), I think he makes a pretty fantastic villain. And I loved the fact that he gave us a totally deadpan villain laugh, to boot.

Dare I say it that Shaw could show up again down the line, the veritable bad penny turning up when you least expect it?

Ultimately, I thought that the season finale nicely set up a whole host of possibilities for Season Four and our beloved characters, as well as a new direction for the series itself. The long wait until we catch up with Chuck again is likely to be excruciating but I'm going to take comfort in the fact that we only have a few months to wait for more Chuck rather than half a year this time. That's one toast I'll happy take part in.

I'm curious to know just what you thought of the season finale. Did you love it? Like it? Hate it? Did you find it to be a satisfying conclusion to the various storylines set up in Season Three and an end to the Daniel Shaw/The Ring plotline? Glad that a Ellie knows about Chuck's secret? What do you make of the new member of their clandestine little group, Alex? And just what will all of them do for cover stories next season now that the Burbank Buy More has burned to the ground? Discuss.

Season Four of Chuck begins this fall on NBC.


BiLLi0 said…
Loved it. Even better than season 2.

I hope Alex returns at least for some episodes, unlike Shaw. He should stay away from team Bartowski for a long time.
Carter Dotson said…
The 2 episodes we got tonight almost redeemed Shaw as a character. Almost. He should've been playing a slimy villain a lot sooner, as he's just so easy to hate, and he plays that role so much better on this show. Plus, that deadpan "muhaha" he delivered was just fantastic.

I liked seeing the softer side of Casey with his daughter, Alex, while still being, well, Casey. And while I think that the final battle with Shaw didn't have the same effect on me that the bridge confrontation had, and I don't like the painfully obvious route they're going with season 4 being about Mama Bartowski, I guess it had to come. Chuck being the new Orion is a path I like, though, even if Ellie becomes the dumbest person in the room again. It'll be interesting to see how Sarah and Casey play into the new Orion job Chuck has.

Still, I can't complain about this show too much. It's a thrill ride, it has its flaws and plot holes, but it is all about the fun of the show to me, and the community that has developed around the show. And I'm so glad it's continuing this fall, instead of having to wait 8 months for new episodes like the breaks before.
LanaBanana said…
abso-freaking-lutely awesome. but i was left a little confused.. did Shaw die? or did Sarah just knock him out?
Unknown said…
one little wrong fact, pappa B gets shot infront of ELLIE not Sarah (making it all the more jarring). loved the episode! too bad it hit a series low in the ratings
Bella Spruce said…
I agree that the Buy More storyline was a little weak and some of the Shaw stuff felt rushed and forced but, overall, a very fun and interesting season finale. I'm happy that Ellie now knows Chuck's secret and I like that Chuck was "destined" to become the intersect (as cheesy as those flashbacks were) and am really looking forward to seeing where they take the story next season!
Samantha Hunter said…
Absolutely loved it. Wow, these writers are just on fire. They're doing it all right, and they are taking risks that make the show work -- getting their couple together, killing important characters, introducing new family members.... In a word: Awesome. :)

I see your point on the Buy More secondary plots, they kind of intruded at a weird point, but all was well in the end. :) Great explosion, and they are set up really well for Season 3, I think.

I kinda knew Mom would be the next plot point, though, when Ellie made the point of saying how she had left and Chuck thought it was his fault -- that bit also stuck out like a little sore thumb, but I don't even care.

The CineManiac said…
I Loved it. The episodes had me laughing outloud, tearing up in places, and sitting on the edge of my seat.
A couple of comments. I would love to see Morgan and Alex as a couple. I think they had good chemistry last night, and it would be hilarious to have that as another point of contention between Morgan and Casey.

Also, I have to say I felt bad that Morgan broke both his thumbs, and didn't even get to pull the fire alarm. That's a lot of pain to go through, for what amounted to nothing. But it does say a whole lot about Morgan's character and what he'll do to save lives. He truly is a hero.
rockauteur said…
Great double episode! My big question: did Chuck's reboot cure his problems? Obviously he has the Governor now, but does he really need it?

Was a bit surprised that Jeffster were fingered for the explosion, seeing that the CIA knows the truth. Couldn't they just chalk it up to a gas leak? Surprised the gang wouldn't protect Jeffster; they are sort of their friends after all.

I don't think their base was truly destroyed. Since its a bunker deep within the Buy More, it should have been fine... plus half the base is under Orange Orange, which is not connected to the Buy More.

I'm hoping Alex returns and becomes Morgan's new love interest! Alex would be a great part of the team - her background in school is criminal forensics after all.

Love the twist in the end - definitely thinking that Mama Bartowski ends up being bad (though hopefully has a change of heart). We know CHuck will be on his own for a bit, but i'm hoping he doesnt keep it a secret too long as I love the gang all together on missions! Awesome and Morgan's contribution this week was amazing!

And the names of the criminals that Chuck will be going after sound awesome - should be a really fun, campy, comic booky season! (that will probably be its last).

The one thing I hated? Big Mike's shameless subway plug, even though that product shill is what bought is this past season.
Anonymous said…
Most of us expected Mama Bartowski to appear at the end. While I've always loved the Buy More antics ("Pineapple"), I also believe they had run their course.

Overall, I loved the episode. I feared that Orion would be killed, but I didn't expect it to happen when it did. While Sarah Lancaster did not have the best material to work with as Ellie, she knocked it out of the park anyway.

I expect that Chuck and Sarah will move out of the apartment and into his boyhood home, so they can set up a new base of operations from his father's old shelter while they hunt for his mother.

Fans had already grown to hate Shaw, so making him the villian was an easy choice. Morgan is fast becoming everyone's favorite character, and they have to keep him as part of the team. And, yes, a relationship between Morgan and Casey's daughter, Alex, is a necessity for next season. Casey now views and approves of Chuck as a great spy, so he needs Morgan as that person to mentor and as a thorn in his side.
phillymom2 said…
My first reaction after watching the finale was "wow!" It was so jam packed with action and emotion, it was indeed a great roller coaster ride. I loved the fact that Awesome and Morgan teamed up with Ellie to save our spy trio. What I didn't love was seeing Papa B get murdered in front of his kids but it was a necessary end to set up Chuck continuing the family legacy. It's funny but I didn't get the impression at the end that Mama B. was a bad guy. From his final transmission, Papa B. made it clear that he "did all of this for her" so I'm more inclined to think that Mom was somehow taken into the spy world for her specific knowledge (maybe she's a molecular biologist and created the cellular regenerator that saves Shaw?) and Papa B. created the Intersect to gain knowledge in order to find his wife. Maybe that's far-fetched, but it makes more sense to me than a woman who would just up and leave her young children to go head up some evil spy ring. As to the Encino home, my hope is that Chuck will confide in Sarah and take her there to see the legacy his father left him and they will decide to live there..letting Morgan have his own bachelor pad. My vote for Mama B. based on Ausiello's list would probably be Kate Jackson. I was a huge Charlies Angels and Scarecrow and Mrs. King fan and she'd be great. Mimi Rogers might be an interesting choice too, or Erin Gray. I'm sure they'll pick someone great and based on the reveals in the finale, we will be in for a great Season Four.
Clampett said…

It was my understanding that the Ring DIDN'T order the hit on Shaw's wife, but that CIA Director Graham did. So Shaw, in wanting revenge against the CIA, decided to join the Ring, and that's why he also tried to kill Sarah, to "teach the CIA a lesson" or something like that. (See episode 13 of Season 3.)
Page48 said…
Sydney Bristow, 2nd generation spy ended S1 of "Alias" with a one word question.

Chuck, 2nd generation spy ends S3 of "Chuck" with the same one word question..."Mom?"

Sydney Bristow stands next to her Spy Daddy as he is gunned down by the Big Bad.

Chuck stands next to his Spy Daddy as he is gunned down by the Big Bad.
Anonymous said…
I LOVED the finale! Very satisfaying. Thought Brandon Routh was outstanding as the villain. The writing for his character was pretty good this time around... would love to see Shaw again sometime next season.

Todtstelzer said…
I dont see why papa B had to die. I hoped to see some (more) action on his side, beeing Orion and all.
Killing him off so Chuck gets a new purpose? Not awesome.

Apart from that, it was quite good, although I expected Casey to do some more "papa bear" ass-kicking to protect his daughter.
Jeffster getting blamed for blowing up the buymore might be Big Mikes fault, but I still dont really find it believeable.
Unknown said…
I agree with @Clampett: it was the CIA that ordered the hit on Shaw's wife, leading to his defection to the Ring.

Ordinarily, such obvious product placement would grate on me, but I'm so grateful (ha) to Subway for their support of one of my favorite shows, they deserve it. But what will they do with the Buy More gone?

It did bug that Chuck was so willing to give up the spy life he worked so hard for just because Ellie's nervous. Should she give up medicine because she could get hurt in the ER or catch a disease?

While Jeffster had their moments, I'm not sorry to see them go. Those story lines have been told and each one is a bit more boring than the last.

Can't wait for season 3 (and the inevitable return of Shaw)!
Unknown said…
I loved season 3. I wasn't quite sure how much the writers were going to be able to do after Chuck became a superspy at the end of season 2, but I was pleasantly surprised. I am amazed at how the finale opened up so many new options for season 4. I'm excited to see the romance between Morgan and Alex, as they fight bad guys together, but I'm frightened that it will become a painfully drawn out plot line similar to Chuck and Sarah's. All in all, I can't wait until the fall.

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