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'Chuck' recap: A satisfying ending to a lumpy story

February 1, 2011 | 12:06 am

I’ve had my problems with the first section of "Chuck’s" fourth season, but I didn’t have many problems with the way the story wrapped up. “Chuck Versus the Push Mix” was a very fun episode of television, taking nearly every element of the show that works and blending them together into an hour that kept things zipping right along, even if some of them were wildly improbable. (Sure, you’ve got a giant ship, Alexei, but man, does it cross oceans quickly!) It was just "Chuck" doing what it does best, a good reminder that even when this show isn’t clicking along as well as it can, it’s pretty darn good at the finale thing.

In a way, "Chuck’s" hand has been forced these last two seasons, and the series has responded by doing effectively two season finales. Heading into both seasons, the show’s producers worried they might only get 13 episodes (actually, heading into Season 3, there was no good reason to think they’d get more until the abrupt move to January from March). This has meant the show would be well into production on a 13th episode meant to function as a season—and possibly series—finale before ending up with more episodes to fill. This has created a structure that’s weirdly endearing, sort of like what they used to do on that old cop show "Wiseguy," where the storytelling was serialized, but each season featured two or three different story arcs, the better to keep the stories tight. (All fans of serialized TV would do well to check out "Wiseguy" on DVD, even if music rights issues have led to some of the episodes not being as good as they were in original broadcast versions.) It’s a model that more serialized shows should borrow, and I’m pleased to see it turn up on "Chuck," even if it made some of the last few episodes a little too dense with incident.

That said, “Push Mix” was very good throughout. The episode parallels two stories, and they finally make a certain kind of sense as parallels (for once this season). In the one, Chuck and Morgan take matters into their own hands to save Chuck’s mom and Sarah from the clutches of Volkoff. In the other, Ellie and Awesome deal with the impending birth of their daughter, Clara. Now, these two stories don’t exactly parallel each other on a thematic level, not really (though I guess you could argue that the two both involve major life events), but they do have one thing in common: stakes. Lives hang in the balance as Chuck and Morgan embark on their solo mission. Ellie and Awesome’s lives are going to change utterly once they have their baby. The two storylines aren’t united by a common purpose, but they are united by a common sense of drama, something you couldn’t say about most of the B-stories this season, when compared to the A-stories.

The Chuck, Morgan, and Sarah storyline is just packed with great little moments this week, whether it’s Morgan working his way through the hallway of lasers that could slice him in two by using his yoga skills or the anguished look on Chuck’s face as he’s forced to race away from his mom, who’s taken Volkoff hostage so her son, future daughter-in-law, and, uh, Morgan can make a break for it. Plus, it concludes awesomely, with Chuck setting up a really smart plan (involving adopting Orion, the spy identity of his deceased father, as his own) to lure Volkoff into a place where he can take him out. Now, it was fairly obvious that Chuck was the one using the Orion identity, but I was just grateful the show didn’t go back on Steve’s death, as Chuck losing his dad was one of the show’s emotional high points. The rest of that scene made up for the obviousness of that twist in spades, particularly with the moment where Volkoff realizes the gun Chuck used has no bullets. The sinking look on Timothy Dalton’s face was enough to convince me he needs to come back for another stint as the main bad guy and soon. (Also awesome: Volkoff saying Chuck would need an army to defeat his minions and Chuck opening the door to reveal … Gen. Beckman, who had, indeed, brought the U.S. military to the show.)

The rest of the storylines took place in the hospital, cutting between Alex’s attempts to stand vigil at the side of her dad’s bed and Awesome’s attempts to gear up to be a dad. There are places to quibble with both of these storylines. It’s a little difficult to feel much about the Alex and Casey storyline because, well, we haven’t spent a lot of time with these characters together. (I haven’t counted minutes or anything, but I’d wager we’ve spent more time with Morgan hanging out with both characters separately than with the two characters hanging out together.) But Casey taking out the man sent to kill him with a potted plant? That worked. The same goes for Awesome suddenly becoming un-awesome in the face of being a dad. It felt more like a stalling tactic than anything else, but Casey telling him to go be a father and the tears in Awesome’s eyes as he held his child for the first time made up for it. 

So if I have my problems with "Chuck" here and there, I’m usually content to spend time with the show because I still enjoy the characters, and I still want them to reach a happy ending point. “Push Mix,” which seems more like a series finale than a season finale (making the next 11 episodes extra awkward), offered a big moment for nearly every character you could think of, a good place to leave them, just in case this had been the show’s last hurrah. (Well, everybody except Big Mike, but he hasn’t had a lot to do this season anyway.) Morgan gets to be a hero. Chuck and Sarah finally get to go ahead with their engagement (in a nicely shot, wordless sequence). Beckman gets to save the day. Casey gets to beat up a guy while lying in a hospital bed and tighten his bond with his daughter. Ellie and Awesome become parents. All in all, it’s a nice place to leave these people.

But I still want to know what comes next.

Some other thoughts:

  • --I haven’t liked Jeffster! nearly as much the last few times I’ve seen them as I did when they performed at Ellie’s wedding. (To be fair, it was a tough moment to top.) But tonight’s performance by them, of “Push It,” over the hospital’s PA system, might be my SECOND favorite, particularly when Jeff began dancing with the pregnant woman.
  • --Nice musical choices throughout the episode, but I particularly liked the ending tune, “Young Blood” by The Naked and the Famous.
  • --Favorite Volkoff moment: The dude licking an ice cream cone in the bowels of his ship o’ evil. I like ice cream too, evil guy!
  • --"Rusted Root's rad, right?"
  • --"I'm like a seal that does yoga. Yoga seal!"
  • --"It's a quote from my favorite poet and humanitarian: Josef Stalin."

--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photo: Chuck (Zachary Levi) has to infiltrate Volkoff's ship, the Contessa, to take down the bad guys. (Credit: NBC)

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