Offcuts: Chuck, Season 5

19 Jan

It kind of feels like, somewhere along the line, spy fiction forgot how to be fun. Arse-joke comedies where the main character happened to wear a tux, sure, but films and TV that weren’t parodying a genre that doesn’t exist anymore resorted to either immense grumpiness or impenetrable technowank. Chuck, for all its California glossiness, was pretty much unique: a competant spy-fi action series, with a sharp sense of humour and brilliantly understated pop culture geekiness. Then they went and cancelled it.

Season 5, which only has a couple of episodes left to air, has been crafted in the oddly beneficial knowledge that this is truly, properly, for realsies the end this time. That means no more infuriating cliffhangers, no more tiptoeing around character development or playing coy with backstory. The end is nigh, but for once in US TV, they saw it coming. This doesn’t mean, however, the ostensible plan to tie four season’s worth of only unconncected stories into a final mega-conspiracy hasn’t been a total bust – after setting that up in the season 4 finale, it seems like the writers didn’t actually know how to pull it off, so substituted it for a smaller plot masterminded by someone who wasn’t even a villain until halfway through season 3.

That said, Shaw is an awesome villain – genuinely threatening but frequently funny (“If you were, you would have brought a coat. Silly.”). It’s hard to think of Brandon Routh as anyone other than the hilarious psychic vegan bassist from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Word, but his character here – a symptom of a not-seen-enough side to Chuck, one which doesn’t pull punches and isn’t afraid to put bullets in the main cast – makes me sad that we’ve seen the last of him.

Otherwise, S5 has been mostly great. Action sequences are more ambitious and better-choreographed than ever, the references remain pleasingly modern, and the subversion of the Intersect from magic cure-all to a brain-melting scourge is the perfect way to put a lid on the whole thing. It’s a bit weird seeing Chuck himself being a decent fighter, hacker, shooter etc. without it – the initial appeal was, of course, seeing a complete dork fumble his way through international incidents – but hey, they’ve all got to grow up some time.

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