Chuck Ep. 5.11, “Chuck Versus the Bullet Train” raises the stakes for next week’s finale

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Chuck Review, Season 5, Episode 11, “Chuck Versus the Bullet Train”
Written by Nicholas Wooton
Directed by Buzz Feitshans IV
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

Ever since they left the CIA, Chuck and Sarah have been struggling to figure out the next steps for their future. They enjoy the spy life, but the danger and excitement don’t mesh with having kids and a stable home life. After some close calls, the couple decides that it’s time to move on and start a family. Unfortunately, their latest enemy has other plans and will do anything to succeed. The determined Nicholas Quinn (Angus MacFadyen) is obsessed with getting the Intersect and needs them to make this happen. Chuck and Sarah may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with them.

Picking up right where the previous episode ended, “Chuck Versus the Bullet Train” opens with Sarah and Casey pursuing Quinn in Japan. He’s captured Chuck and has no qualms about torturing him to get the information. The other problem involves the Intersect, which Sarah downloaded into her head in desperation last week. This is the rotten version that turned Morgan into a jerk, so it could have nasty effects on her. The events take place on a bullet train while the gang back at the Buy More deals with their own difficulties. When Quinn’s goons capture Alex and threaten to kill her, the chances of everyone coming out alive seem very slim. The trigger-happy Casey must pull back and play the game or risk losing his daughter forever. Adam Baldwin does an excellent job selling the conflict in the determined Casey, who’s powerless to act and must rely on Morgan and the Buy More folks to save Alex. That’s no easy situation, especially since he’s only recently connected with his daughter.

The Intersect has played a major role in Chuck since the beginning and driven the main plot each season. However, it didn’t seem as essential during this run after four years of stories. This season’s best episodes appeared in the middle after Morgan lost the Intersect. The characters are the reason fans keep watching the show, not the super powers provided by this device. Placing the Intersect in Sarah is an interesting creative choice, but it doesn’t pay off so well this week. It brings her to the center of the story, but it also feels like a rehash of Morgan’s earlier issues. That said, her brain’s quick degeneration is tough to watch and brings some true stakes to the final episodes. Yvonne Strahovski and Zachary Levi sell the weight of these moments, especially when Chuck watches Sarah collapse through a locked door. It’s like his dreams of the house and kids are disappearing right along with her conscious mind.

The thought of Sarah losing all her memories from the entire show is horrifying and clearly shows what Quinn is stealing from her. His invasive torture uses just a few flash cards, but they exacerbate the deterioration and wipe her brain clean. The final reveal is an eerie moment and sets up a direct conflict between Chuck and Sarah in next week’s first hour. It’s no surprise that the title is “Chuck Versus Sarah” for the series’ penultimate episode. It seems unlikely that she won’t make a full recovery, but the possibility for something much different than the happy ending is still distressing for the characters. Quinn’s been an inconsistent villain thus far, but his brutal manipulation of Sarah is one of the more striking moves from a Chuck enemy in a long time.

There isn’t all doom and gloom in this episode, though. Back at the Buy More, Jeff and Lester finally get the chance to shine and save the day. They’re the only hope for rescuing Alex, so Casey finally reveals the truth about their spy life (with no memory wipes this time). Lester as Rambo is a ridiculous image, and Jeff’s flame-thrower attack is something to see. Once Casey gives them access to the world’s most heavily armed Ford Crown Victoria, all bets are off for the bad guys. One of the goons is played by sci-fi superstar Ben Browder (Farscape, Stargate SG-1), and it’s great to see him back on screen. It’s too bad that his role is pretty thankless and one-note. Masquerading as flu-shot workers, Browder and his associate seem dangerous at first, but they’re really just around to get burned (pun intended) by Jeff and Lester. It will be interesting to see how the duo handles the big revelations about their buddies, especially the unpredictable Lester. Will they try to join the quest to save Sarah and stop Quinn?

Next week is the two-hour series finale for Chuck, and it feels like the right time to say goodbye to the lovable cast. Even the weaker episodes are mildly enjoyable because of this connection with the characters. However, the writers have struggled this year to develop interesting arcs for the group. It’s time to give Chuck and Sarah the chance to find happiness in their life’s next stage. The final hour, “Chuck Versus the Goodbye”, will likely feel bittersweet as the long-running series comes to an end. This has been an uneven season, but there’s still hope at this point for a strong, emotional finale.

Dan Heaton

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