Well, here we are, at the end of an era. On Friday night, Chuck took to the air for the last time (at least until syndication). It’s been a long and very bumpy road for our favorite nerd turned spy. In commemorate the end of this long journey, Sam and I present our ten favorite episodes of Chuck.
Kyle Garret: A screenwriter friend of mine called this the perfect pilot and it’s hard to disagree. The beauty of the first episode of Chuck is how well it establishes all of the characters, from the ridiculous (the Buy Morons) to the sublime (Chuck and Sarah). You know everything you need to know about Ellie and Awesome, Morgan, Casey, and anyone else who makes regular appearances on the show. The only real down side is the lack of General Beckman. If the finale comes anywhere close to being as good as the premiere, it’s going to be a great ending.
Sam Salama Cohen: Yeah, this was, by far, one of the funniest Chuck episodes ever. It’s interesting, because many times writers don’t have a perfect idea of where they want to go with a series, and therefore you can tell the difference between the character traits seen on the pilot and the kind of series viewers get afterwards. Not with Chuck. The nerdy, nervous fellow who used to be a Buy More employee and suddenly becomes a Government asset remained the same throughout the whole series. And so did Sarah and Casey’s intriguing personalities, with each season revealing more layers to these characters.
102 Chuck vs. the Helicopter
Kyle: The second episode of a series is always important, because in many ways it sets the tone for the show even more than the pilot. While the pilot is chock full of introductions, the stage has been set by the time we get to episode two. This is when we see if the show has any depth. Chuck’s early relationship with Sarah and Casey is great here, and feels completely natural. This is also the first time someone tells us that no one has ever been able to handle the amount of information that Chuck currently has in his head.
Sam: This is the first time Chuck gets told to stay in the car and, of course, doesn’t follow those orders. This episode establishes what the first season would be like: Missions where Chuck’s Intersect-y brain come in handy, and where, while disobeying direct orders, he would ruin the mission at first, only to save it in the end. Another thing I love about these first two episodes is the header. The “Not an accountant” and all that stuff is just priceless. This was before we got the definitive, crazy Chuck header, but still.
107 Chuck vs. the Alma Mater
Kyle: There’s a lot to love about Chuck going back to the school that kicked him out just before he could graduate, but the main reason this is on the list is because of the revelations we get about Bryce Larkin. Turns out Bryce was a decent guy all along and was trying to protect Chuck. This is also the second time in the relatively short life of this show that we’re told Chuck has an amazing capacity to absorb imbedded information, which makes Chuck special.
Sam: I love this episode. Not because I’m a continuity geek and this one started to tie up and clear many plot points, mostly the ones you mention, but because with the exception of Jill (which is mentioned by Bryce at the end as a big geek to Chuck’s delight) all the characters that make this show fun and entertaining are here, each playing their roles, and all converging into the same place. There’s also Chuck using his memory and computer skills to summon an army of potential CIA agents to his aids, which is pretty cool.
207 Chuck vs. the Fat Lady
Kyle: This list will contain a lot of episodes in which Chuck gets to be awesome because, let’s face it, he’s the gateway character for this show, the guy that the audience relates to and roots for. Not only does he get to be awesome (in his own bumbling way) in this episode, but he does it in front of his ex-girlfriend, Jill. Sure, perhaps the ending is a bit obvious if you stop to think about it, but it’s also incredibly well down. I’ve re-watched the last few minutes more time than is probably mentally safe.
Sam: Hope your mind hasn’t been melted from all that watching! This episode plays with deception a lot, and plays it well. Jill believes that Chuck’s deceiving her, Chuck’s finally free from her fake relationship with Sarah, though she’s not as happy as our hero. And finally, Jill has been deceiving everyone, as she’s…wait for it…one of the bad guys! I really enjoyed this episode: the way one clue leads to another as well as Sarah’s reaction to seeing how the newly formed couple of Chuck and Jill become the real heroes and steal the show. I agree with you, the ending is obvious but only a minute before it happens, when we see Casey and Sarah watching the agents on the list. Not even a stain to this Top Ten.
221 Chuck vs. the Colonel
Kyle: Another common theme on this list is revelations. At long last, someone finally learns Chuck’s secret and, of all people, it’s Captain Awesome. His reaction is perfect and I love the fact that he finds out before either Morgan or Ellie do and that Chuck then asks for his help. And, of course, let’s not forget the fantastic “next morning” scene between Chuck and Sarah, a real game changer for the show as their relationship moves to the next level.
Sam: All of that is true, man. Awesome’s great on this one, as is Casey while confronting him. Actually Casey’s alliances and code of honor are a really important theme throughout this key episode. As a Marvelite, I loved the fact that the new Intersect looked like the Cosmic Cube, and let’s not forget the Tron references that end up being the key to locate Fulcrum’s base! And didn’t you love how, despite their differences, Team Bartowsky always ends up united? Just like a good fellowship, more than a spy team.
The kisses made me hoo-ray, it was about time those two got to the next level! Well, even if they got stopped by Casey and the baddies, it’s the intention that counts, right?
222 Chuck vs. the Ring
Kyle: Okay, so a caveat with this episode: just like every episode of 24, this episode plays fast and loose with the concept of time. There is no way all of the things that supposedly happen in this single day could happen in a single day. But this episode is so great that I’m willing to look past it. Jeffster is awesome, Ellie and Awesome get married, and Chuck saves the day – and that’s just the first part of the episode! The last few minutes are some of the best of the show, including a nice nod to the very beginning. And, of course, Chuck makes the biggest decision of his life. They went to the well too many times later on with the big quote from this episode, but it at the time it was mind blowing: “Guys…I know kung-fu.”
Sam: You said it! This one, just like the preceding episode, was one of those where you have the feeling that no second is being wasted. Everything is important and drives the plot forward. I’d say that Chuck writers have a hand with finales; they know when to push the accelerator! Sure, one could argue that a big fight breaks out and nobody attending the wedding seems to notice, but regarding how satisfying the rest of the episode is, I’m willing to forget about that. But you didn’t mention Casey coming to the rescue in a badass way, which to me has to be one of the highlights! And about Chuck’s decision regarding the Intersect…that fight scene was too cool at that moment, and the nod to Matrix is a great way to end the season.
313 Chuck vs. the Other Guy
Kyle: The third season of Chuck did not start off well. Characters acted out of character for the sake of manufacturing drama, and there was no bigger example of this than the dead fish of a relationship that was Sarah and Shaw. Perhaps that’s why I like this episode so much: it fixes that mistake. Sarah and Chuck finally end up together, and Shaw becomes the bad guy he really should have been from the start. Oh, and Chuck has to shoot someone with a real gun.
Sam: Just saw this one again for the purpose of this Top Ten, and it made me fall in love again with the perfectly crafted character of John Casey. Man, even off duty is he badass. Loved how he came back into the game, after Morgan’s hilarious speech.
At the same time, Shaw’s road to perdition is a good one, solidly built by the writers, who created the perfect Chuck villain in him, after having him portrayed the good CIA agent role. And yeah, this is a turning point for Chuck as a spy, shooting Shaw to save Sarah and showing her that he’s the nerd she fell in love with.
318 Chuck vs. the Subway
Kyle: Like I said, a lot of these episodes involve revelations, and this is the one where Ellie finally learns that her brother is a spy. This information was a far bigger deal for Ellie than for anyone else, not just because Chuck is her brother, but because it involves her entire family. This is also another example of Chuck coming into his own, thinking more like a spy than like the Nerd Herder who was unsure of himself. It was also nice to the civilians (Morgan, Ellie, and Awesome) get involved when there was no other option.
Sam: Yes, I loved how Awesome and Morgan picked Casey’s car and jumped into the fray. And what they do with it on this season’s finale was, for lack of a better term…awesome! As you point out, the drama here was centered around Ellie’s discovery of the truth about her family, and the climax of that drama with the death of Orion. That one was one of Chuck’s really big moments, both in scope and emotion.
409 Chuck vs. Phase Three
Kyle: For as much as I think it was an error to drag out the Chuck/Sarah relationship during season three just for the sake of drama, or to make the majority of season four about whether or not they would get engaged (how is that a compelling story to anyone?), this show works because of the dynamic between the two. And while much of the focus falls on Chuck, this episode is all Sarah Walker. It’s not just that she kicks all sorts of ass in this episode, but that she really gets across how much she loves Chuck, and how determined she is to get him back.
Sam: Damn, was this episode good! Sarah was the John Rambo of the series, and this was one of those instances where a well built character pays off. Sarah did just what she was supposed to do, and even more. And the drama was well played, as the bad guys struck at Chuck when his life was getting better and better with each day. This was a reminder that there are a lot of people out there who know Chuck’s real potential, and that his friends dare to go everywhere in order to save his nerdy ass.
422 Chuck vs. Agent X
Kyle: Perhaps the last nearly perfect episode of Chuck, Chuck vs. Agent X actually took me by surprise, as I had no idea who Agent X was. The writers did a nice job of incorporating the Buy Morons into the first part of the episode, and Chuck showing Ellie the Intersect is one of my favorite scenes of the entire series. The revelation at the end was handled perfectly, particularly Casey’s realization as to exactly what it was that was going to happen next.
Sam: Yeah, the revelation that the Intersect is in Chuck’s head is kind of Spidey showing off his arachnid abilities or something, but it was the ending that I loved the most. The way everything – Orion, the bad guys and the Intersect- ties together is a nice one. And I liked how Chuck’s dad spent his life doing research to try to bring his friend back, that touch is also beautiful.
Honorable Mentions: Chuck vs. the Dream Job, Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror, Chuck vs. the Sandworm, Chuck vs. the Suburbs, Chuck vs. the Best Friend, Chuck vs. Operation Awesome