Now that I’m a little further away from the Chuck finale, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the issues raised by show’s partially open ending. To recap: I was not completely put off by it, although I don’t think that the show had to do it. Judging by fan reaction on twitter and other blog comments, I would say that most fans don’t feel cheated, although hard-core Chuck fans are easy to please. I have seem some comments disowning the ending in the show and comparing it to Lost, but they are the minority. So the ending is generally acceptable.
In this post, I want to address two points: one, the growing number of open-endings in popular television and film, and whether or not an open-ending was appropriate for Chuck.
The Sopranos sparked high controversy with their cut-to-black, and Lost left many of their devoted fans with on the hook with their final scene, compounded by many aspects of their series finale. Inception, the best original movie I had seen in ten years, had to end with attention-grabbing moment. It is as if these writers and show creators have to sit off the side and say, “What ending is going to rile up the most people?”
Now, I don’t think that it necessarily wrong for some shows to end with unresolved issues. I never watched The Sopranos, but I have seen their ending scene several times. Judging the scene on its own, I think it’s great scene of drama, and if the point of the episode was to say, Tony Soprano will always be facing some challenge, the show accomplished that. 24 didn’t have to leave Jack Bauer in a place where he was safe with his family; he could go on the lamb because that was what he’d done throughout the series. And Lost…let’s just say if you were watching that show for answers, you were watching the wrong show. But I don’t know if that is the ending every show should go for. Most comedies and family shows probably give more closure to their emotional relationship, as Friends did with Ross and Rachel (although their reunion should have happened well before the series finale).
That is problem of the series finale: how do you leave fans wanting more, while completing the full story you set out to tell. In the era of twitter and long TV afterlives on cable and the internet, showrunners seem to gun harder than ever for the open-ending. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse even ended their hit show long before they had to because they wanted to control that moment so desperately. But do audiences need to left wanting that much more?
My conclusion: an open ending can be a great way to leave fans, for the right show. But misused, an open ending can really leave a show with yoke on its face.
So take Chuck for example. Should Chuck have an open ending, and should the open ending concern the show’s central relationship? Here’s the dilemma: Chuck is both an action show and a comedy and has as much in common with One Tree Hill as it does Prison Break. Of the fifty-four episodes in the first three seasons, half of them ended on some kind of significant action or emotional cliffhanger. So there isn’t any precedent in the show to say which way it should go. Although if I had to make a judgment, it might have been better to have an ended the show on an action cliffhanger (Chuck and Sarah on the run, sacrificing their freedom to protect their loved ones) then to have an emotional cliffhanger.
But there is a reason to think that the emotional issue was resolved enough. Doug Liman said in his commentary on Mr. and Mrs. Smith that, for him, the moment he realizes that the Smiths will stay together forever is when the couple is hiding beneath a sewer vent from their pursuers and discussing their options for leaving, about ten minutes from the actual end of the movie. All that is really done in those ten minutes is John and Jane learning how to work together. Take that and look at Chuck’s ending: Chuck comes to the beach and tells Sarah he will put her ahead of himself. And Sarah does the hard things for her, which is to accept Chuck’s help. When I see that ending, that to me is the moment that I believe that Chuck and Sarah are never going to split up, and whatever challenges, amnesia, bullets, super-enemies, they will stay together and have each other’s back.
But would it really have been that hard for Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak to shot another five seconds, where Chuck and Sarah pull away from their kiss and she says, “I remember”? How can withholding that information help the viewer? They’d spent a whole hour being sentimental, why not five more seconds? While sometimes brevity is a gift, but in this spot, aren’t Schwartz and Fedak being a bit condescending.
Looking back on the fourth season finale, I would have been happier if the show had ended there. Outside of outrage from the diehard Chucksters who would have demanded closure, really there was no reason for the show to come back. The major arcs that had been set-up in the shows beginning had come to fruition: Chuck and Sarah had married, Chuck and Ellie found out about why their family had fallen apart and made peace with both of their parents. Chuck had gotten his opportunity and was now starting his own private spy business with the people he cared about. Other than Morgan getting the intersect (which turned out to be a flat arc in and of itself), there was nothing new for the show to address. That would have been a fun final moment with less controversy than the final moment we did get, all the more reason that showrunners shouldn’t be allowed to say when their shows end.
But this ranting is futile, and there is no solid conclusion about whether or not Chuck and Sarah’s kiss was the right ending for the show. Ultimately, my writing is giving Schwartz and Fedak what they want: debate about their show.
Here’s how I will choose to remember the final moment of Chuck: in the pilot, there was a chaotic case of boy meets girl. The arc of Chuck and Sarah in the pilot were two people who were thrust together who had to figure out a way to work together, in life and death situations. At the end of the show, Chuck and Sarah needed that bond they had forged more than ever, to keep their relationship together. At least what we saw was them moving toward that future, and that is enough for me to say that the show stayed true enough to its tone. When I watched the kiss again, I looked at very closely to see if Sarah initiated any contact with Chuck, and toward the end, I think she did reciprocate a little bit. That in and of it itself is hopeful. And as I said in my previous post (where you can find the video of the show’s ending), when the screen cut to black with the show logo, I didn’t want it to end. Like that.