Chuck vs. the Twist vs. Season 3 Renewal
April 28th, 2009
Perhaps it is just that I wrote considerably less about last night’s Chuck finale than Alan Sepinwall, or perhaps it is just that there has been some extremely stimulating discussion over at NeoGAF that has had me pondering the finale more carefully, but I think that there’s a bit more to say about last night’s season finale (“Chuck vs. the Ring”) as well as what it all means for a potential third season.
First off, in case you were curious, the ratings were exactly what you would expect: consistent with the past two weeks, and at the mediocre but decent levels we’ve been seeing on the mid-range level. The show drew 6.11 Million viewers, and a 2.3 rating in the 18-49 demographic – this is nearly identlcal to last week. However, the Save Chuck campaign was never designed to gain more viewers: yes, getting the word out was a key factor, but suggesting that people watch the S2 finale as their first episode ever is kind of tough, and I think the campaign smartly focused more on showing NBC (and Subway) the power of the existing fans to band together for their show. And, on a note which requires less spin, the time period was chock-full of new episodes from every other network, and Chuck stayed steady despite facing repeats of CBS’ comedies last week – that’s a good thing.
But ignoring ratings for a moment, one of the other things facing a Season 3 renewal for the series it the show’s creative direction, and on NeoGAF and in some other locations there have been some concerns over that final sequence. Last night, in my review of the episode, I was admittedly pretty postive about it, and I find myself remaining fairly close to that initial analysis. However, I think it’s something that deserves some more discussion, and something that I am extremely disappointed was not on Chris Fedak’s list of acceptable topics of discussion in his post-finale interview with Alan Sepinwall.
But where we don’t have definitive answers we have rampant speculation, a tool I shall harness to analyze just what a season three might look like.
I want to start with something that Chris Fedak said in the aforementioned interview with Alan Sepinwall, in which Fedak claimed there was a Warner Bros. goon threatening to shoot him if he revealed too much. It was frustrating to read (I’d have pulled my hair out if I were Alan), primarily because he was dodging the very questions that he should know would make some viewers nervous. For example:
Well, that brings me to my next question. Let me play Devil’s advocate: you went into the series knowing that a lot of the appeal of the show is seeing this ordinary guy struggle to be a spy without any real training, he doesn’t know how to fight, how to use a gun, he doesn’t know spycraft, and he’s just a nerd who has this intelligence in his head, saving the world because he’s good at Missile Command or whatever. Does giving him these abilities take away from the appeal of the show?
No. It doesn’t take away. I’m going to answer your question rather cryptically. I’ll say that the show is not going to lose its sense of humor.
Now, I personally don’t doubt this fact, but I think that Fedak had room to delve into this a little further. For example, Ellie and Awesome are always going to be there grounding Chuck in some sort of reality, and based on what we saw in the scene it seemed as if Chuck only taps into these powers when he needs them, which is unlikely to be in certain scenarios. And just as before, where the intersect was only helpful if he was able to flash on something, this intersect can’t be entirely without gaps, and Chuck is still going to have to help fill those in. He’s still going to need Casey and Sarah because he hasn’t been transformed into another person, but rather gained the ability (if not the knowledge of how to use the ability) to tap into something. And since he’s still the same awkward Chuck otherwise, he’s still going to be a giant liability.
I don’t think that any of this is really hidden in the finale, so why Fedak went so far as to barely even hint at what Season Three might look like fascinates me. While we still don’t really understand Chuck’s powers, and he obviously doesn’t want us too, I think it’s clear that he has no intention of the show radically changing. This is, I guess, enough of an answer to satisfy some fans: it means that they aren’t going to suddenly turn the series into Heroes (and considering its abysmal ratings, there’s no way that network note came down). But at the same time, a little bit more information might have been nice.
I can understand his apprehension about delving into the true motivations of The Ring, which is the larger umbrella group to which Fulcrum belongs, especially when he reveals to Sepinwall that the group is going to have a more specific goal that plays into the Season Three trajectory.
But wasn’t Fulcrum already pretty vague in its goals? One of the advantages and disadvantages of Fulcrum is that we didn’t really know what they were about, so you could do anything with them.
Thinking about season three, it was important that the Ring have a very specific goal. And that plays out in season three.
This, to me, is actually more problematic than Chuck’s new powers: while Chuck hasn’t been fundamentally altered as a character, but rather given new ways to interact in missions outside of his current bumbling, one of the joys of Fulcrum was that it was so shadowy that it could disappear and reappear between episodes without us getting caught up in their master plan or distracted by changes. While Chuck’s little Fulcrum map on the back of the Tron poster was a big moment for the show’s mythology, if it had been there the entire time for us as viewers I don’t know if some of the season’s best episodes (like “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”) would have been as strong.
It reminds me a bit too much of a show like Alias, where one shadowy organization is simply eclipsed by another without any real awareness of how that would change the show’s dynamic. On a character level, I feel as if the show is dialed in: how can we really doubt that the writers know these characters when we watch these last few episodes. But on a plot level, they’re definitely trying something new, and I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to play out.
When it does play out, though, chances are it will only be over a 13 episode period – the chances of a full 22-episode renewal for any bubble show this year on a network other than CBS are quite slim. However, maybe that will be good – it will keep them focused on this one threat, and all for Chuck’s abilities to be explored without them becoming too tired or, worse of all, too familiar to Chuck as a character. The show has shown that it is willing to shake up its formula, now more than ever, so I like the precedent that sets for Season Three.
Yes, there are some dangers in what they’re suggesting, but I like that they’re still being gutsy. I speak less of their use of “To be Continued” (potentially canceled shows do it all the time, and I think it’s justified) and more of their ability to cram so much into a finale regardless of its renewal prospects: even if they had a third season in the bag (which they should, but that’s another story), this would still be a dangerous move, and I really think it would have been the same finale if their ratings were much higher. This feels like a creative and not a network decision, opening some doors while keeping some intelligently closed.
For now, we’re left pulling out our hair over which doors are which, and just what Season Three is going to look like – for me, it’s looking like another evolution in a pretty darn great series, even if I fully understand the apprehension.
- It didn’t really fit into the rest of the above article, but I was more than disheartened to read the following answer in response to Alan’s question about the pace of Sarah and Chuck’s relationship: “Absolutely. Especially for season two, it was imperative to the show that Sarah’s job is to protect Chuck. If they have an emotional relationship, she’s not as good at her job. So keeping them apart and having that tension was organic to the show.” He’s later cryptic about just where their relationship will go in Season 3, but I’m wary that he saw no problems with my biggest complaint about Season 2, being their “will they, won’t they” going on too long and being dragged out too often. Fingers crossed for some real evolution.