I wrote a post about 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 get a woman like Sarah if he didn’t have the Intersect? Season 5 accepts the metaphorical challenge and raises the stakes by betting with Quinn that Chuck will not only get a woman like Sarah without the Intersect but will do so even under the worst possible scenario, in which the Intersect is used 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 and Chuck Versus the Goodbye have another purpose. They set the stage for Sarah and the viewers to walk down memory lane. Sarah is, in fact, a stand-in for the original viewers who spent and watched and loved five years with Chuck. Just like Sarah, the original viewers forgot the journey, the last five years of their being with Chuck. Chuck Versus the Goodbye thus takes them, along with Sarah, on a walk down memory lane, celebrating the show through several callbacks to earlier episodes and seasons, which are designed to jolt Sarah’s memories and the viewers’. 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 telling us our Chuck story, just as Sarah asks Chuck, “Tell me our story” on Malibu Beach.

Just like the rest of Chuck, Chuck Versus the Goodbye is layered.

On one level, 5.13 Chuck Versus the Goodbye is a callback to the pilot episode, Chuck Versus the Intersect. Throughout the final episode, Chuck is indeed fighting against the Intersect—the Intersect is the tool that brought Sarah to him in the pilot and 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 to restore 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 the same 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 Chuck Versus the Other Guy that she fell for Chuck between their first meeting at the Buy More and his defusing a bomb with a computer virus. We can see the same progression for Sarah in the finale. The woman 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 with feelings but unable to take the plunge yet, just like Sarah on that same beach at the end of the pilot. But 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 on the airplane with Quinn is from 2.07 Chuck Versus the Fat Lady.
  • Sarah and Quinn’s fight on the plane is a callback to Chuck’s tiny-weapon standoff on Volkoff’s plane in 4.07 Chuck Versus the First Fight.
  • Sarah wears a catsuit, a callback to 4.12 Chuck Versus the Gobbler.
  • Sarah emerges from the water, a callback to 4.09 Chuck Versus Phase Three.
  • Casey silences Alex’s call, a callback to 4.02 Chuck Versus the Suitcase.
  • Morgan, Ellie, and Awesome in Chuck’s room, a callback to 2.01 Chuck Versus the 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 is unsure whether to ring the bell, a callback to the pilot.
  • Chuck hacks with a bottle of Chardonnay, a callback to 5.05 Chuck Versus the Hack Off.
  • Sarah choking Morgan in castle is a callback to 4.07 Chuck Versus the First Fight. (They danced that dance before.)
  • Morgan directing Chuck’s romantic sub-mission, a callback to 4.11 Chuck Versus the Balcony.
  • Chuck and Sarah’s dance is a callback to the one in 3.03 Chuck Versus the Angel de la Muerte.
  • Quinn calls Chuck a pussy, in a callback to 3.01 Chuck Versus the 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 Chuck Versus the 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 Chuck Versus the Helicopter, 2.19 Chuck Versus the Dream Job, and 3.01 Chuck Versus the 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 Chuck Versus the Pink Slip
  • Mary pointing a gun at Sarah is a callback to 4.06 Chuck Versus the Aisle of Terror.
  • The team mentions Roark, Orion, and Hartley, all characters from previous seasons.
  • The bomb in a music venue, a callback to 2.07 Chuck Versus the Fat Lady.
  • Jeffster!’s performance in an inappropriate venue is a callback to the one at Awesome and Ellie’s wedding in 2.22 Chuck Versus the Ring. The scene is also a reference to the Albert Hall scene in the movie The Man Who Knew Too Much.
  • The way Sarah shoots Quinn is a callback to 1.08 Chuck Versus the 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 Chuck Versus the Ring.
  • Ellie’s “Aces, Charles. You’re aces.” is a callback to the pilot episode. And Chuck’s response that he’s all grown up is a callback to the end of 3.14 Chuck Versus the 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 Chuck Versus the Ring, where Chuck gives Morgan the same advice.
  • Sarah’s “Kiss me” is a callback to Sarah’s “Shut up and kiss me!” to Chuck at the end of 3.13 Chuck Versus the Other Guy.

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 Chuck Versus the Intersect.
  • Chuck and Sarah taking a picture together in 1.06 Chuck Versus the Sandworm.
  • Chuck and Sarah in bed from 1.08 Chuck Versus the Truth.
  • Chuck kissing Sarah at Roan’s request in 2.02 Chuck Versus the Seduction.
  • Chuck gives Sarah the charm bracelet in 2.11 Chuck Versus the Santa Claus.
  • The motel scene from 2.21 Chuck Versus the Colonel.
  • Chuck and Sarah in the Wienerlicious supply closet, again from 1.08 Chuck Versus the Truth.
  • Chuck and Sarah at Ellie’s wedding in 2.22 Chuck Versus the Ring.
  • The café fight scene from 3.14 Chuck Versus the Honeymooners.
  • Sarah is in a belly dancer outfit from 4.14 Chuck Versus the Seduction Impossible.
  • The zip-lining scene from 3.01 Chuck Versus the Pink Slip.
  • Chuck and Sarah dancing at the Costa Gravan Embassy in 3.03 Chuck Versus the Angel de la Muerte.
  • Chuck and Sarah in bed, listening to Nina Simone in 3.14 Chuck Versus the Honeymooners.
  • The Valentine’s Day scene from 4.16 Chuck Versus the Masquerade.
  • Chuck and Sarah rehearse their wedding vows from 4.24 Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger.
  • The pool scene from Chuck Versus 5.04 Chuck Versus the Business Trip.
  • Chuck and Sarah kissing in the balcony in 4.11 Chuck Versus the Balcony.
  • Chuck proposes to Sarah in 4.13 Chuck Versus the Push Mix.
  • Chuck and Sarah’s wedding in 4.24 Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger.
  • The final kiss is a double callback to the kiss at the end of 3.13 Chuck Versus the Other Guy and to the magical kiss at the end of 4.09 Chuck Versus Phase Three that restores Chuck’s brain.
  • The title graphics are the same as the pilot.

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 returning to what they were at the show’s beginning.

Sarah is shown in a baggage compartment on Quinn’s plane.

Chuck 1.01 vs 5.13 Sarah comes with baggage

She’s then shown in an unconscious free fall from the plane, which symbolizes her life in free fall before meeting Chuck and the comet that appears in Chuck’s life. 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.

Sarah in free fall

Chuck is introduced, to use his own words, “back where he started, alone in Burbank.”

Alone in Burbank

Casey is urged by Beckman to be the cold-school killer he was five years earlier. “For this job, I need you ruthless. I need old Casey, my best agent. I need the colonel.” He even wears the same suit and tie that he wore in the pilot episode.

Chuck 1.01 vs 5.13 Casey's Suit

(Same clothing reference for Chuck and Sarah, by the way.)

Chuck 1.01 vs 5.13 Chuck and Sarah wear the same clothes as the pilot episode

Morgan is the pipsqueak who hangs out with Chuck.

Morgan the pipsqueak

Ellie is Chuck’s mother hen who encourages him to get his life back on track.

Ellie the mother hen

Night and Day

We should also notice that the final episode begins in stark contrast to the ending of the previous episode. As 5.12 Chuck Versus Sarah ended in darkness, with Sarah leaving Chuck with a goodbye in the courtyard at night, the final Goodbye 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 a full-blown season-3 hero at the concert hall.

We can also see Casey progress from a 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.

5.13 Morgan stands up to Casey

And finally, Ellie starts the episode very much like Ellie in the pilot, urging Chuck to do something with his life and find 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 Chuck Versus the 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 as 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.

5.12 The two keys and their three parts

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 will show him it is 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 Chuck Versus 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 Chuck Versus 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. On the other hand, the beach 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's and Sarah's wedding vows in the final arc

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 Chuck Versus the 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 Chuck Versus the Ring, Jeffster! stalls the event and saves the day. But unlike in the pilot and in 2.22 Chuck Versus the 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, just like Mickey since he’s been watching a ton of Disney movies with baby Clara. 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 describes 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 music 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 Head and the Heart

In the final scene, both Chuck and Sarah go where their heart tells them to go. If the final scene in 5.12 Chuck Versus Sarah was about Sarah believing Chuck with her head but not feeling it, this final scene of the show is all about Sarah’s heart (while the song “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart plays in the background), and it provides us viewers with another clue when Sarah says that this place is important and Chuck confirms it by saying that, yes, this place is where she told him he was going to be okay, a clue that she is also going to be okay.

Chuck 512 vs 513 The Head and the Heart Rivers and Roads

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 their happy ending except for Chuck and Sarah

Does Sarah remember Chuck after the kiss? Some viewers are put off by the fact that, at the end of Chuck Versus the Goodbye, all other characters get their fairy-tale ending, with all their dreams come true, except for Chuck and Sarah. They also do not like the fact that everyone leaves instead of helping Chuck and Sarah. So they search for Chuck’s series finale alternate ending that shows Sarah’s memories coming back. Or they clamor for a Chuck season 6 or for a Chuck movie.

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 it 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 do not see Jeffster! become rockstars (like David Hasselhoff) in Germany after they walk out of the Buy More (in a reference to the movie Silverado). We do not see Ellie and Devon at their dream jobs in Chicago. We do not see Morgan and Alex living together and getting married. We do not 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 Chuck Versus 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.

How we react to the final scene has more to do with how 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.

Sarah’s 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 Chuck 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 Chuck Versus the Goodbye, is still light years behind the Sarah we see in 5.10 Chuck Versus Bo or 5.11 Chuck Versus the Bullet Train. Also, a Sarah who does not remember her past five years is no longer friends with Casey, does not 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, does not 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.

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