Chuck always does season finales well. No, scratch that. Chuck always does season finales brilliantly, from the twisty “Marlin” to the emotional “Ring” to the action-packed “Ring: Part II.” In fact, Chuck’s season finales inevitably end up being my favourite season finales of their respective television seasons. Now, to be frank, “Cliffhanger” wasn’t as good as any of those previous three season finales, but it was still a damn good episode of Chuck and a fitting end to this often-good-but-rarely-great season. In fact, without the schmoopy Chuck/Sarah scenes and the final 30 seconds, this would have been the season’s best episode.

Chuck/Sarah schmaltz is unfortunately a necessary evil, given how…ahem…sensitive…some fans tend to be about how that relationship is handled. It was only a matter of time before the writers started trolling fanfic and YouTube fanvids for inspiration. But at this point, I’ve learned to embrace the fromage and just roll with it. That final twist, on the other hand, is a little harder for me to ignore, but I’m going to try to look at this episode rationally, so I’ll save my commentary on it for the end of the review.

Last week, I wasn’t too happy about where the show seemed to be heading. I really didn’t care that Sarah was the one who got hit by the Norseman because I knew that she wasn’t going to die. But it turns out that wasn’t the point. Even if Chuck managed to save her life, he still might have had to go off-grid in order to save himself from the cover-up of the Agent X debacle. So, there were real dramatic stakes. I have to give the show points for two things here. Firstly, ever since Bentley arrived back in “Masquerade,” it’s been hinted that the CIA and NSA aren’t as cuddly and friendly as they appeared in the first half of the season, and that all came to a head with the revelation that the CIA covered up the Agent X disaster. So, instead of immediately turning the tables and inexplicably having the CIA hunting down Team Bartowski, there was some good foreshadowing. Secondly, Chuck’s decision to go rogue had real consequences. Now, he’s out of the CIA/NSA, along with the rest of Team Bartowski, seemingly for good this time.

This was all executed with Chuck’s usual brand of action, wit, and charm. We got to see Chuck riding a kickass motorcycle (yay for creative 2.0 flashes!), Casey beating up a bunch of CIA goons (yay for the world’s most badass colonel!), and a whole bunch of Russian special forces parachuting out of the sky (yay for…Russians?). Plus, there were some nice bits of humour here and there, like Devon punching out the CIA guard or Big Mike yelling at Jeff and Lester to get back to work. The only thing I didn’t like was that the villain in this episode – I forget his name – was played by an actor who gave a pretty flat performance. I hope he’s not next season’s big bad.

As for how this episode resolved the Volkoff arc, I’m pleasantly surprised. I still hold my original opinion that Timothy Dalton was overpraised and that Lauren Cohan was unfairly criticized, but that’s probably because I always expected that Vivian would be “redeemed.” If it seemed that Vivian was uncomfortable being evil, that she was acting precocious, and that she wasn’t a believable villain, that’s because Cohan was playing Vivian exactly as she was supposed to. Vivian was never supposed to be an evil mastermind, just someone who was acting out of revenge and hurt, and when she realized that Volkoff was nothing but an artificially constructed persona, she gave up her delusions of grandeur.

With all the major spy threads resolved, the show could have ended right after Chuck and Sarah’s wedding. And you know what? Aside from the fact that we never got an explanation for what Omaha was all about (and probably never will), that would have been a pretty fitting ending to the series. There’s just one problem: the episode kept going, in order to set up season 5.

Let me be clear: aside from the fact that we might be losing Beckman, I like almost everything about this setup. Team Bartowski is now a group of vigilante spies who finance their operations from the profits of the Buy More, which Chuck and Sarah now own. Putting Sarah at the Buy More is a stroke of genius; it allows her to interact with the Buy More gang and opens up plenty of opportunities for comedy. Moreover, it’ll be interesting to see how Team Bartowski operates without any backup or the ability to call in the cavalry. I also like the implication that someone has been pulling the strings behind Team Bartowski the whole time. It offers up the possibility of a new, more insidious big bad who can’t be defeated by brute force alone.

What I don’t like about the setup is that final twist. Morgan uploaded the Intersect. No, seriously, he did. This is just a horrible, horrible idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love Morgan Guillermo Grimes. But Josh Gomez isn’t the star of the show, and I don’t see how the show will keep this setup in the long term without putting his character front and centre. Also, it’s really silly that Morgan was able to upload the Intersect without frying his brain. Now, the writers might know that this is a silly twist, and they might be planning to de-Intersect Morgan, in which case I ask, why present this twist in the first place? Weren’t the new team setup and the possibility of a new big bad enough to get viewers excited about next season?

But all in all, “Cliffhanger” was an excellent episode that did a great job of capping off the season. Unfortunately, it was the rare excellent episode that made me apprehensive rather than excited about what could come next.

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