After watching the series finale, many viewers conclude that the final scene was too open-ended. If the kiss works, they say, Sarah’s amnesia is pointless. If the kiss doesn’t work, the writers ruined years of Sarah’s character growth and relationship building between her and Chuck.
The Point of the Final Arc
The problem is that interpreting the final arc by focusing on Sarah’s amnesia is like watching 4.09 Phase Three and focusing on Chuck’s lobotomy, which nobody does, and rightly so, because the right focus is on the giant blonde she-male rampaging through Thailand and going all out for the man she loves.
Well, the same is going on in the final arc. Chuck goes all out for the woman he loves. He’s her baggage handler. Always was and always will be.
The showrunners did not give us an 89-episode love story only to throw it all away in the last two episodes; in fact, they clearly said in post-series interviews that Sarah’s memories are coming back. This tells us that the final arc is not about the memories but about a different point, a very important point—in fact, the most important point of all the points made throughout the show.
Would Chuck ever get (not keep but get) a woman like Sarah without the Intersect?
The Ultimate Challenge
The challenge is raised by Quinn in 5.10 Bo. Notice that Quinn would never have posed that question to Bryce or Cole or Shaw, and we all know why. He only poses it to Chuck because we don’t expect a Sidney Bristow (Alias) to fall in love with a Jim Halpert (The Office). But this is precisely the whole premise upon which Chuck is built. Thus, the show was always an exploration of a most unlikely but perfect relationship and explores obstacle after obstacle to this relationship and shows how Chuck and Sarah overcome all of them and why they are perfect for each other.
For this final obstacle, Quinn and season 5 make a metaphorical bet, kind of like the one between God and Satan at the beginning of the book of Job. Quinn taunts season 5 that Chuck could never get a hot super-spy like Sarah without the Intersect. Season 5 accepts the challenge and raises the stakes by betting that not only will an Intersect-less Chuck get a Sarah who doesn’t know him but he will get her even under the worst possible scenario, one in which she is reverted back to her old trained-assassin self, told that he is a traitor, and given a kill order on him.
Double or nothing.
Chuck Is a Type of Luke
Throughout the show, Chuck is a type of Luke Skywalker. In Legends, Luke Skywalker rejects the old Jedi code (emotions as a liability) and allows himself and his students to marry and have emotions, although they must learn to control them. Similarly, in season 3, Chuck rejects the cardinal rule of spying, which dictates that spies cannot fall in love and must be emotionless, and allows himself to love and have emotions, although he must learn to control them.
The final arc puts Chuck and Sarah in a similar situation as Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade. Just as Mara is initially ordered by the disembodied voice of emperor Palpatine to kill Luke, Sarah is ordered by the disembodied voice of Quinn through her earpiece to kill Chuck. Just as Luke learns of Mara’s curse and vows to free her from it, Chuck learns of Sarah’s memory suppression and vows to free her. Just as Mara ends up falling in love with Luke instead of killing him, Sarah ends up falling in love with Chuck all over again instead of killing him.
While the Jedi of the Old Republic forbade attachments, Luke wasn’t going to do the same thing with his Jedi Order, allowing his students to marry and start families. Luke himself would find love in a strange place: With someone who once wanted to kill him. Mara Jade was once the Emperor’s Hand, traveling the Empire and doing Palpatine’s will, his last command to her before he died being that she must kill Luke Skywalker. The two would meet and make peace, going on adventures together before realizing the love that they had for each other, eventually getting married. Luke’s marriage brought love and meaning to his life, making him a better man and Jedi. (Legends)
Thus, season 5 wins the bet against Quinn and shows why Sarah would fall in love with Chuck with or without the Intersect, with or without the forced handler/asset and cover relationships—because it is not the Intersect that makes Sarah fall in love with Chuck. It’s Chuck’s character that wins her over again and again. And again.
No Doubt but Certainty
The purpose of the final arc is not to make us doubt Chuck and Sarah’s love. It’s the opposite. It’s to show that their love is so strong, so deep, so perfect that not even bringing Sarah back to her old self and giving her a kill order on Chuck can touch it. It’s unbounded love that goes beyond memories and connects soulmates.
Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it had to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together
Just as 4.09 Phase Three was not about Chuck’s lobotomy but about Sarah’s fierce and unstoppable love for Chuck, the final arc is not about Sarah’s amnesia but about Chuck’s fierce and unstoppable love for Sarah. It’s about the greatest possible challenge to that love and their greatest triumph.
And because they triumph over Quinn, their reward is that Sarah gets her memories back.
Faith (trust) and reward. That’s what Chuck and Sarah’s relationship has always been about. That’s what all relationships are about. And this show is a grammar of human relationships.
The Head and the Heart
“But wait,” people say. “In 5.12 Sarah, Chuck takes his shot. He captures Sarah, pours his heart out, turns her loose, almost gets killed for it, takes a bullet for her. What more could he do? And although Sarah isn’t trying to kill him anymore, he hasn’t won her over without the Intersect. At least, not yet. She goes back to her hotel and is packing to run until Casey shows up and gives her effectively a disc full of memories. Doesn’t that cheapen the ‘triumph’ of Chuck and Sarah’s love?”
It does not because that is only half the story and part of the story of the final arc.
What’s the name of the band that plays the song Rivers and Roads during the final scene?
The Head and the Heart.
In order to get Sarah back, Chuck needs to win both her head and her heart. He wins Sarah’s head in 24 hours (5.12 Sarah) and, after a two-week hiatus, Sarah’s heart in four days (5.13 Goodbye).
Chuck wins Sarah without the Intersect, which, in fact, costs him Sarah on that roof of the concert hall.
And that roof scene is a callback to another roof scene, the one in the very first episode, and is there to highlight Chuck’s character growth and full acceptance of his hero’s calling, even if it’s at the cost of his own happiness.
Faith and Reward
“But wait,” you say, “Chuck is intersected when he gets Sarah back on that beach!” Yes, but the Intersect plays no part in Sarah’s decision-making process. In fact, she leaves Intersected Chuck after the bomb defusing and again the next day to go find herself. The Intersect is only important in that Chuck has proved time and time again that he’s the only one who can handle its power and thus the only one who deserves it, even though season 5 proves he doesn’t need it. The Intersect is his reward. And he’s proved time and time again that he’s the only one who truly and selflessly loves Sarah and thus the only one who deserves her. Sarah is his reward. And with that sigh right before asking Chuck to tell her their story, Sarah finally lets go of agent Walker (her old self) and puts her faith in Chuck, which was always her defining characteristic, and is rewarded with all kinds of powerful memory-sparking emotions as Chuck recounts their journey and then a magical kiss. Memories, love, and Chuck (“her life” that was stolen by Quinn) are her reward.
Chuck ends up with both power and love on that beach because he has completed his journey from boy (S1) to cowboy (S2) to warrior (S3) to lover (S3) to king (S4) to sage (S5) and deserves both.
Thus, Chuck gets Sarah back without the Intersect but with a little help from his friends. Why his friends? Because caring about people, making connections, building relationships is a huge part about what, in Sarah’s own words, makes Chuck great.
A Celebration of Togetherness
Remember Bryce’s words in 1.10 Nemesis? “I got one friend in the world. You got a home and a store full of them.”
Remember Shaw’s words to Chuck in 3.04 Operation Awesome, “family and friends make us vulnerable, unable to pull the trigger”? Chuck shows again and again that, with him, it’s the opposite. Family and friends are his strength; every time he faces Shaw as an enemy, Shaw underestimates Chuck’s family and friends and is defeated by Chuck with the help of family and friends.
And in the final episode, literally everybody is involved in Chuck’s final mission of finding and then getting Sarah back (and defeating Quinn in the process), from the nerd herders and even the extras to Chuck’s whole family and friends. It’s a concerted effort at a concert.
The final episode is a celebration of togetherness as the ultimate source of strength and a collective goodbye to us viewers (that’s why everybody goes their own way at the end).
And that is what makes Chuck great. And what makes it hard to say goodbye.
Nicely written. I actually just watched Chuck vs. Phase Three a couple days ago. It’s my favorite episode for Sarah’s character because it shows the heart behind the bad-ass that is Sarah Walker. I’ve never been upset by the ending of the show, and it’s because of what you’ve said. It’s Chuck’s heart that makes him the ultimate spy, partner, colleague, brother, son, husband and friend. And episodes are sprinkled throughout the 5 seasons that illustrate just that point, including the exclamation point to that theme found in the final two episodes.
Excellent. Insightful. Heartfelt. Love it. Thanks.
Ok, obviously, I have not spent so much time thinking about this so I applaud the effort if nothing else( have been Hallmark’ed into believing happy endings so I am going with the “one magic kiss” ending,) but this is so spot on excellent that I must congratulate you for the time and effort and insight you put into this. Bravo!
If you’re correct concerning Schwedak’s goal for the final 2 episodes,(and I’m not sure you are) then for me they failed miserably. If you can’t see at least half a dozen ways for this open ending to go bad, you lack imagination. Sarah is not in the same place she was in 101, why should she react to Chuck in the same way? She didn’t trust her feelings, or Chuck’s feelings in 101, why should she now? Not to mention she’s a spy again, why wouldn’t she feel the need to return to spying if possible? Sorry, when so many people find the ending ambiguous, you have failed in your writing. I believe Schwedak failed here. Too many people doubt the outcome.
Because the Sarah who asks to be kissed in the final scene is not the Sarah of 1.01. It’s the Sarah of 3.13. Even the scene is almost identical. Chuck starts rambling and she interrupts him and says, “Chuck, kiss me,” just as at the end of 3.13 she interrupts him and says, “Shut up and kiss me.”
The last episode is a symbolic synopsis of the whole show, a walk down memory lane for both Sarah and us viewers (or, rather, the original viewers, who may have forgotten the five-year journey, just like Sarah). Sarah progresses through the final episode as she did through the seasons. I need to write an analysis of the final episode.
Just read this again. Excellent analysis with the same optimism which runs through Chuck. I hope the creators and Zach Levi get to read this someday. Thank you, Andy
Very beautifully expressed and thus in keeping with the show.