I love to binge watch television, and my recent obsession has been Chuck, which I finished last night. If you haven’t watched Chuck and think you might want to watch Chuck, turn back now. Cuz I’m going to spoil the crap out of it.
Chuck, which aired for 91 episodes on NBC between 2007-2012, followed a brilliant but shiftless computer pro who works in electronic service repair. His life changes when his subconscious is unwittingly programmed with a CIA database. Chuck, and his collection of misfit nerd friends, are drawn into a life of espionage by Sarah, the beautiful spy sent to turn him into a government asset.
Chuck and Sarah’s relationship deepens from mistrust to mutual respect and affection and finally, to love. They marry and embrace a partnership at work and in the home. Over five years, Chuck helps Sarah develop empathy, and she grows to love his uncompromising goodness. In return, Sarah gives Chuck drive and purpose, an outlet for all the brilliant potential he’s wasted.
There’s more to it, of course, but their relationship was the cornerstone of the show. So that’s why it was so shocking when, in the series finale, Sarah is hit with amnesia and forgets everything about the last five years. In the remaining hour of the show, Chuck attempts to woo Sarah into remembering her feelings for him and their past together. While it appears she has the occasional hint of a memory, she does not recover her past. A secondary character suggests that a kiss might jog her memory, and the final scene is of them kissing and a fade to black.
I have a lot of respect for endings that allows the audience to draw the conclusion of what happens next, even as I despair over not knowing. The ending is designed to engage the audience and strengthen their connection to the story by making them responsible for its conclusion.
Compare this to Jane Austen’s endings, where we are often given very definitive glimpses into the future relationship not only of the primary couple but the rest of the characters. The kind of endings that in today’s market might not make it past an editor for fear of being too much neat exposition. Austen gave us our Happily Ever Afters, and yet the need to continue her stories, to further the characters’ journeys, endures.
The disparity in these endings, while both being satisfying, made me search for what makes a good ending – and after perusing articles and lists and message boards, the conclusion was the same: an ending is perfect if it honors the story that came before it.
Chuck is a story about two people trusting each other against all odds, so a final scene that demands the same, even at the expense of one character’s memories, feels right and true to the story.
Jane Austen’s narrators often described the simple mundaneness of life in a way that was important and beautiful, so an ending that did the same seems appropriate.
The happily of happily ever after is relative. In fact, when I looked at my Favorites shelf (we all have one, yes?), the first ten titles stuck out as having ambiguous endings – or HEAs that weren’t typically H.
Life of Pi
What I Saw and How I Lied
Code Name Verity
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
The Book Thief
The Tiger’s Wife
The Dust of 100 Dogs
Check out your shelves and lemme know where you stand!