I wrote a post on what I think is the point of the final arc. In a show that explores obstacle after obstacle to Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, given their oh-so-different past and nature, the final arc explores the greatest obstacle of all, put in Quinn’s mouth at the end of 5.10 Chuck Versus Bo—would Chuck even get a woman like Sarah if he didn’t have the Intersect? And so, season 5 accepts the challenge and raises the stakes by betting with Quinn that, not only will Chuck get a woman like Sarah without the Intersect, but it uses the Intersect to take Sarah away from him, bring her back to her pre-Chuck, trained-assassin self, turn her into his enemy, and give her a kill order on Chuck. And Quinn will lose his bet, as Chuck and Sarah celebrate on Malibu Beach their greatest triumph, a love that is fully based on selflessness (Chuck) and trust (Sarah).
A Walk Down Memory Lane
But the final arc has another purpose. It’s a walk down memory lane for Sarah and the viewers. Sarah is, in fact, a stand-in for the original viewers who have spent and watched and loved five years with Chuck. Just like Sarah, the original viewers might have forgotten the journey, the last five years of their being with Chuck. And so, the final arc takes them, along with Sarah, on a walk down memory lane, celebrating the show though several callbacks to earlier episodes and seasons, callbacks designed to jolt not only Sarah’s memories, but the viewers’ memories as well. And within the final arc, the final episode is a love letter to the fans because it reminds us in a bittersweet way (it’s a goodbye, after all) of the story we have fallen in love with. Chuck’s finale is retelling us our story, just like Sarah asks Chuck, “Tell me our story” on Malibu Beach.
Just like the rest of Chuck, the final episode is layered.
A Callback to the Pilot
On one level, 5.13 Goodbye a callback to the pilot episode, Chuck Versus the Intersect. And throughout the final episode, Chuck is indeed fighting against the Intersect—the Intersect is the tool that brings Sarah to him in the pilot, yet the tool that takes Sarah away from him in the finale; the tool that Quinn wants to assemble for himself and that Chuck wants to destroy; the tool that tempts Chuck with the promise of restoring Sarah’s memories when duty calls him to save others. What the Intersect giveth Chuck in the pilot (Sarah), the Intersect taketh away in the finale. Again and again. And again.
But the finale is a callback to the pilot also because it mirrors Chuck and Sarah’s events from the pilot:
- They first meet at the Buy More
- They go on a date to essentially the same Mexican restaurant
- They dance
- They save a general by defusing a bomb with a computer virus
- They sit at the same beach at sundown (it was sunup in the pilot)
Now, we know from Sarah herself in 3.13 Other Guy that she fell for Chuck between their first meeting at the Buy More and his defusing a bomb with a computer virus (and this feat, as Irene Demova says, “is sexy” to Sarah, just like Sarah’s dancing was sexy to Chuck). And we can see the same progression in the finale as well. The Sarah who longingly looks at the Intersect glasses on the rooftop of the concert hall, knowing that they can restore her memories, is very different from the woman who tells Chuck at the beginning of the episode that she’s going to disappear forever once she kills Quinn. It’s a woman in love but unable to take the plunge yet, just like Sarah on that same beach at the end of the pilot. What the Intersect taketh away, Chuck’s relentless and selfless love for Sarah giveth back.
On another level, though, the finale is a callback not just to the pilot episode but to several scenes throughout the series:
- Edgar, the Fulcrum agent in the airplane with Quinn is from 2.07 Fat Lady.
- Sarah and Quinn fight on the plane like Chuck and Hartley on Volkoff’s plane in 4.07 First Fight.
- Sarah wears a catsuit, a callback to 4.12 Gobbler.
- Sarah emerges from the water, a callback to 4.09 Phase Three.
- Casey silences Alex’s call, a callback to 4.02 Suitcase.
- Morgan, Ellie, and Awesome in Chuck’s room, a callback to 2.01 First Date.
- Chuck: Sarah’s not out of my league, a callback to the pilot (“Did you see her? I live on planet earth.”)
- Sarah at the Buy More wears the same outfit she wears in the pilot when she first meets Chuck (but the jacket is open, a symbolic representation of her inner openness to Chuck)
- Sarah unsure whether to ring the bell, a callback to the pilot.
- Chuck hacks with a bottle of Chardonnay, a callback to 5.05 Hack Off.
- Sarah choking Morgan in castle is a callback to 4.07 First Fight.
- Morgan directing Chuck’s romantic submission, a callback to 4.11 Balcony.
- Chuck and Sarah’s dance is a callback to the one in 3.03 Angel de la Muerte.
- Quinn calls Chuck a pussy, in a callback to 3.01 Pink Slip, when Emmett calls Javier a pussy.
- Sarah’s fight against Quinn in Berlin’s Wienerlicious is a callback to her fight against Casey in 1.02 Helicopter.
- Chuck yells at Quinn to stop or he’ll shoot him, a callback to his scene with Sydney in 3.04 Operation Awesome.
- Chuck shooting down Casey’s helicopter is a callback to 1.02 Helicopter, 2.19 Dream Job, and 3.01 Pink Slip. (And the agent in the helicopter with Casey is Chuck director Robert Duncan McNeill)
- Chuck and Sarah talking through adjoining cells is a callback to 3.01 Pink Slip
- Mary pointing a gun at Sarah is a callback to 4.06 Aisle of Terror.
- Team mention Roark, Orion, Hartley, all characters from previous seasons.
- Bomb in a music venue, a callback to 2.07 Fat Lady.
- Jeffster!’s performance in an inappropriate venue is a callback to the one at Awesome and Ellie’s wedding in 2.22 Ring. The scene is also a reference to the Albert Hall scene in the movie The Man Who Knew Too Much.
- Sarah shoots Quinn, a callback to 1.08 Truth, when she shoots the poisoner in the knee.
- Chuck’s Intersect flash in the concert hall is a season 1-2 flash.
- Casey hugs Chuck, a callback to the scene where Chuck hugs Casey in 2.22 Ring.
- Ellie’s “Aces, Charles. You’re aces.” is a callback to the pilot episode. And Chuck’s responses that he’s all grown up is a callback to the end of 3.14 Honeymooners.
- Morgan’s advice to Chuck to follow his heart because our heads only screw things up is a callback to the scene in 2.22 Ring, where Chuck gives Morgan the same advice.
The montage that plays as Chuck tells Sarah their story, is also a callback to several previous episodes.
- The first time they meet and their date from 1.01 Intersect.
- Chuck and Sarah taking a picture together in 1.06 Sandworm.
- Chuck and Sarah in bed from 1.08 Truth.
- Chuck kissing Sarah at Roan’s request in 2.02 Seduction.
- Chuck giving Sarah the charm bracelet in 2.11 Santa Claus.
- The motel scene from 2.21 Colonel.
- Chuck and Sarah in the Wienerlicious supply closet, again from 1.08 Truth.
- Chuck and Sarah at Ellie’s wedding in 2.22 Ring.
- The cafe fight scene from 3.14 Honeymooners.
- Sarah in a belly dancer outfit from 4.14 Seduction Impossible.
- The zip-lining scene from 3.01 Pink Slip.
- Chuck and Sarah dancing at the Costa Gravan Embassy in 3.03 Angel de la Muerte.
- Chuck and Sarah in bed, listening to Nina Simone in 3.14 Honeymooners.
- The Valentine’s Day scene from 4.16 Masquerade.
- Chuck and Sarah rehearsing their wedding vows from 4.24 Cliffhanger.
- The pool scene from Chuck Versus 5.04 Business Trip.
- Chuck and Sarah kissing in the balcony in 4.11 Balcony.
- Chuck proposing to Sarah in 4.13 Push Mix.
- Chuck and Sarah’s wedding in 4.24 Cliffhanger.
- The final kiss is a double callback, to the kiss at the end of 3.13 Other Guy, and to the magical kiss at the end of 4.09 Phase Three that restores Chuck’s brain.
- The title graphics are the same as the pilot.
A Synopsis of the Show
On yet another level, the final episode is more than just a Greatest Hits compilation of scenes from previous episodes. It’s effectively a synopsis of the show in one episode. The episode starts with Chuck, Sarah, Casey, Morgan, and Ellie all brought back to what they were at the beginning of the show.
Sarah is shown in a baggage compartment (she comes with baggage) on Quinn’s plane. She’s then shown in an unconscious free fall from the plane, which symbolizes her life in free fall before meeting Chuck. She then ‘snaps out of it’ at Chuck’s words (i.e. when she first meets Chuck). She’s fierce and determined, but open and unsure of herself when she meets Chuck, a symbolic representation of season-1 Sarah.
Chuck is introduced, to use his own words, “back where he started, alone in Burbank.”
Casey is urged by Beckman to be the cold-school killer he was five ears earlier. “For this job, I need you ruthless. I need old Casey, my best agent. I need the colonel.”
Morgan is the pipsqueak who hangs out with Chuck.
Ellie is Chuck’s mother hen who encourage him to get his life back on track.
We should also notice that the final episode begins in stark contrast to the ending of the previous episode. As 5.12 Sarah ended in darkness, with Sarah leaving Chuck in the courtyard at night, the final episode starts in bright daylight, first with Sarah quite literally falling from the sky and about to meet Chuck and then with Ellie energetically opening the curtains in Chuck’s room, and enthusiastically urging him to get his wife back that day (which, in a way, he does since Sarah shows back up in his life that very day).
We can then see Sarah progress from season-1 Sarah (“I can’t be here. I don’t know how to be the woman you remember me as. All I know is how to be a spy. A good one.”) to season-2 Sarah during her dance with Chuck at the Russian consulate, when she is left breathless and is about to kiss him, and finally to season-3 Sarah when she clearly wants a real life, first on the rooftop of the concert hall, when she longingly looks at the Intersect glasses, knowing they can restore her memories, and later when she tells general Beckman that this is the end because she needs to go find herself, which was Sarah’s season-3 journey.
We can also see Chuck progress from season-1 Chuck, a hapless single man in his room, coached by Ellie and Morgan, to season-2 bumbling hero Chuck in Berlin, to full-blown season-3 hero at the concert hall.
We can also see Casey progress from season-1 cold-school killer to a team player who recognizes Chuck’s and Sarah’s worth (in the helicopter scene), to the Casey who, urged by Morgan, puts his team before orders.
Morgan goes from funny sidekick to directing the orchestra during the concert hall mission and to essentially the best version of himself, reading the Riot Act to Casey about the importance of the team in Casey’s life, and standing up to his future father in law while handcuffed to a chair.
And finally Ellie starts the episode very much like Ellie in the pilot, urging Chuck to do something with his life and finding his woman, but eventually learns to let go of Chuck because he’s all grown up, just as she did at the end of 3.14 Honeymooners.
A Tale of Two Keys
Ellie and Morgan also do more than just recapitulate their multi-season story arc in one episode. They both essentially give Chuck the key to Sarah, a counterpoint to Quinn’s key to the Intersect glasses. And just like the key to the glasses is made up of three parts that need to be assembled together to work their magic, Ellie and Morgan’s key is composed of three parts that need to be assembled together to work their magic: find Sarah, spark feelings, and kiss her. At one point, Chuck and Ellie devise a plan to use the Intersect glasses and their three-part key to bring Sarah back. But the point of the final episode is precisely to show it will not be the Intersect key to do the magic. In fact, the Intersect is the very tool that takes Sarah away from Chuck in season 5’s bet against Quinn. Rather, it will be Ellie and Morgan’s key that will allow Chuck to get Sarah back. Not technology but love. Because it was always love that brought Sarah and Chuck together. That’s where the real magic always was.
Let’s open a parenthesis about the Intersect glasses as a tool to restore Sarah’s memories. Chuck wants Sarah back more than anything in the world, but not under the condition that hundreds die for him to achieve that goal. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself. And Sarah, her memories restored, would also be horrified to learn the cost of being whole once again. Things do not turn out as either expected. But providence shows that the curves that life throws at you can sometimes lead to better things than you could ever hope for. On that rooftop, Chuck thinks it’s either the Intersect or Sarah. Malibu Beach shows him it’s both the Intersect and Sarah. Because he has shown time and time again that he deserves both.
Going back to Ellie, we can see that she tells Chuck at the beginning of the final episode to follow a different tactic. In 5.12 Sarah, Chuck tried to evoke Sarah’s feelings by urging her to remember. Now, Ellie tells him to do the opposite, to evoke Sarah’s memories by urging her to feel. And that’s what he does throughout the final episode. And it works.
We already see it working in 5.12 Sarah, when Sarah, emotionally touched by Chuck’s words in their dream home—yes, she denies it, but she’s not as good a liar as she thinks she is—remembers the carving on the door post. In the final episode, we see it again during their dance at the Russian consulate, which sparks feelings in Sarah, which in turn elicit memories later at the Wienerlicious. We see it again in the concert hall, where Chuck’s heroic and self-sacrificial decision on the rooftop affects Sarah, who then remembers the Irene Demova computer virus.
What about Morgan’s part of the key, the kiss? The kiss is teased twice before the final beach scene. First at the end of the dance at the Russian consulate, and is then mentioned by Chuck as Sarah is leaving castle, but on neither occasion is the time right. The beach, on the other hand, is the perfect time for the kiss because Sarah is primed: she first asks for their story, and after Chuck unleashes a mother lode of feelings in her, she asks for the kiss.
On yet another level, the final arc is about Chuck and Sarah reliving their wedding vows.
Chuck and Sarah’s mission to track down Quinn takes them to Berlin. Why Berlin of all places in the world? Because Berlin symbolizes Chuck and Sarah’s current situation: Berlin is a city that was formerly united, then it was separated by a wall, and when the wall fell, it was united again. In fact, the opening shot in Berlin shows the Brandenburg Gate, which is the place where people held vigil before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, the wall between Chuck and Sarah is also falling in Berlin and will eventually fall completely.
But Quinn manages to escape in Berlin and is on a quest to retrieve the third part of the key at the Pacific Concert Hall, in a scene that is totally reminiscent of the one in the pilot episode and the one in 2.22 Ring. As in the pilot, the target here is a general, none other than general Beckman, and as in the pilot, there is a bomb connected to a timer. When the music stops, the bomb will go off, killing everyone at the concert hall. Also, as in 2.22 Ring, Jeffster! stalls the event and saves the day. But unlike in the pilot and in 2.22 Ring, this time Morgan and Jeffster! are fully in on what’s going on. Morgan, who was clueless in the pilot about Chuck’s bomb defusing night, is now the one who has the idea of using Jeffster! to stall the event and keep the music playing, and even directs the orchestra. And Jeff and Lester fully know the stakes and why their performance is crucial in keeping everyone alive while Chuck’s team defuses the bomb.
Also, the music that plays at the Pacific Concert Hall is symbolic of what’s going on in the finale and of Chuck and Sarah’s situation. The orchestra is first playing Dvorak’s New World Symphony, a piece of music that is both majestic and melancholy, moods that are very fitting for a final goodbye episode imbued with optimism but also with a vein of sadness for a story that is about to end. When the symphony ends and Jeffster! takes over, they play A-ha’s “Take on Me.”
The song is highly symbolic of Chuck and Sarah’s love story, not only in the final arc, but throughout the show. People rightly notice the meaning of the song. Here’s one such interpretation:
A-ha’s “Take On Me” is based on the singer kicking it to a romantic interest, as in trying to convince her to accept him as a lover. And the title is derived from him entreating her to ‘take him on’, as in take a chance with him. And while it can definitely be gleaned that his love for her is true, he is the shy type. Owing to this, he is finding it challenging to express his feelings to this special lady. On the other hand, the lady also seems not to be responding in the way he prefers, “shying away” at times herself. However, he is determined to be the recipient of her love while the opportunity is ripe. Thus most of the track, as aforementioned, centers on him entreating her to actually be receptive to the affection he has to offer. —Song Meanings and Facts.
This obviously describe Chuck and Sarah’s relationship throughout the show but also in the finale, and it goes both ways. Chuck is trying to convince Sarah to accept him as a lover, but Sarah is also challenging Chuck to take her on, even though she appears to be shying away. But it’s not just the meaning of the song that is important here; it’s also the video itself. In the video, the hero invites the heroine into his exciting action world, which is what Sarah did with Chuck when she appeared in his life. The hero also keeps the heroine safe and protects her, and sends her back to her safe world, which is also what Sarah always did for Chuck as his handler in love. And the hero in the video also struggles at the end to exit his sketchy world and join the heroine in the real world, which is exactly Sarah’s journey throughout the show and in the finale in particular. And as the hero manages to join the heroine in the real world, Sarah will escape the sketchy world she’s trapped in and will join Chuck in the real world.
The final beach scene is like a song written in a minor key, which can be beautiful (like “Eleanor Rigby” or “Hotel California”) but is perceived by us (without being aware) as if there were something wrong, hence the feeling of sadness or restlessness. We know it’s the end of the story we love, with characters we love, and the natural human desire is to get closure, positive closure, whereas the story leaves us with a sad and bittersweet overtone that lingers hauntingly like an E flat note over that final kiss.
It makes us sad but we can’t forget it.
Objection: Everyone gets they happy ending except for Chuck and Sarah.
Some viewers are put off by the fact that all other characters get their fairy-tale ending, with all their dreams come true, except for Chuck and Sarah. They also don’t like the fact that everyone leaves instead of helping Chuck and Sarah.
I think that’s the wrong way of looking at it. A better way is to see that the fairy-tale ending for all the secondary characters is a clue to the fairy tale ending for the main couple. If all the secondary characters get a kick in the shin in the finale, it makes harder to believe the main couple’s fairy tale ending.
Also, and here’s the thing everyone misses, we do not see everyone else’s happy ending either. We don’t see Jeffster! become stars in Germany. We don’t see Ellie and Devon at their dream jobs in Chicago. We don’t see Morgan and Alex living together and getting married. We don’t see Casey and Gertrude together. We only see a promise of all that. Yet, we buy it. But for the main couple, no, the promise is not enough. We have to see it. Why the double standard? Especially when we already have an obvious parallel in 4.09 Phase Three, where Sarah’s kiss magically restores Chuck’s brain, whose memories were not merely suppressed (like Sarah’s) but wiped clean by the Belgian?
Also, everyone leaves in the finale because it’s a goodbye, and every character gets to have their own goodbye scene. It’s a tribute to them. Even the extras get their own goodbye spy mission at the beginning of the final episode, and even get to talk. It’s a joyous yet melancholy goodbye because that’s what goodbyes are about.
The way we react to the final scene has more to do with the way we see life than with the actual ending of the story. It’s a reflection of who we are (optimists/pessimists) rather than a reflection of Chuck and Sarah’s togetherness.
Why it’s important for Sarah to recover her memories
Some people say that it’s not important for Sarah to recover her memories. All that matters, they say, is that she and Chuck are together. But the ending is much more than just Sarah’s love for Chuck. According to many polls, Sarah is the character who has shown the greatest growth through the five seasons. The Sarah we see on that beach in Malibu, although a great step forward compared to the Sarah who shows up at the Buy More at the beginning of 5.13 Goodbye, is still light years behind the Sarah we see in 5.10 Bo or 5.11 Bullet Train. Also, a Sarah who doesn’t remember her past five years is no longer friends with Casey, does’t know Ellie, Awesome or Morgan, never met Orion, never interacted with Carina over the previous five years, never reconciled with her own father or mother or Zondra, doesn’t remember freeing Molly from Ryker, and much more. She’s essentially not the same person because we are our memories, and her awesome five-year journey has been for naught. That is the reason her memories are important. Her memories are who she is.
Fedak knows this, mind you. He was asked this very question in post-series interviews, where he clearly mentioned that Sarah’s memories are coming back.