Ken Tucker
May 25, 2010 AT 11:15 AM EDT

Chuck continued this season’s trend for jumbo finales (Lost, 24), and for a series that’s never been a huge hit, it yielded some mighty big pleasure and complexity. The two hours — “Chuck Versus the Subway” and “Chuck Versus the Ring, Part 2” — jammed in extensive Bartowski family history, the full-fledged return of Shaw, the glorification of Jeffster!, and what will doubtless be known forevermore in Burbank as “The Night The Buy More Blowed Up Real Good.”

Given the momentum of Chuck’s season, it was almost inevitable that the only remaining core member unaware of Chuck’s spy life, Ellie, should be let in on the secret. Which meant that Sarah Lancaster finally had more well-deserved screen time than usual. I usually wince when the writers make her a frowning, hectoring Big Sister, but this time around, thanks to some neat little flashbacks, we saw that Ellie was encouraged to play that role to her brother. Lancaster then took that material and made it more heartbreaking a number of times: When she witnessed the death of her father, when she urged Chuck to promise to give up spying, and when she came to terms with what the future holds for her and those she loves (that would be… the unknown).

Speaking of Dad, Scott Bakula has had quite a year. He’s so good on Men Of A Certain Age, and so different and yet equally good on Chuck. Bringing him in to explain more of Chuck’s downloaded brain and to supply his son with the healing Governor watch proved utterly beguiling. And thus it was all the more shocking to witness his death at the hand of Shaw.

Brandon Routh has a certain waxy quality to him, whether he’s Superman or Shaw. (Silly me: It wasn’t until this evening that it occurred to me why the character has that name: George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman.) The handsome stiffness Routh projects made the revelation that he was now an Intersect perfected by the Ring both amusing and satisfying.

Who’s the most underrated player here? Got to be Adam Baldwin’s Casey. The scenes with his recently-discovered daughter had a sweetness that never got in the way of the character’s constant vigilance and effectiveness as an operative. One of this season’s small triumphs was the way he’s paired up so logically with Morgan, whose trust and valor is now so great that the latter little man sacrificed his thumbs on the command of the big former fellow. It’s nice whenever Chuck mixes its sci-fi science with more prosaic solutions such as voluntarily breaking two digits to make an escape.

I figured the hour called “Chuck Versus The Subway” would be the one featuring a few foot-longs, so it was nice to have even that detail some as a surprise twist. Chuck waited until its second hour to have Big Mike bite into a Subway breakfast sandwich and even mumble the slogan “build a better breakfast.” Chuck almost makes product placement seem nutritious.

Many of you readers predicted one of the final twists weeks — months! — ago, as we were given a tantalizing shot of the back of Mother Bartowski. Any casting ideas there for next season, fans?

But we also have the enticing prospect of Jeffster on the lam, and the question of how Chuck is going to re-enter the spy world after promising his sister he’s out.

All in all, as I said, bold richness and a nutty complexity. Like a bracing cup of coffee. Which is what we all need after Chuck, Lost, and 24, right?

What did you think of the Chuck finale?

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