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It’s hard to believe that “Chuck” survived into its fifth and final season after four torturous years of will-they-or-won’t-they cancellation scares. Despite a shortened first season during the year of the 2007 -– 2008 Writers Guild Strike, “Chuck” was somehow magically renewed for a second season.

Chuck (Zachary Levi), Sarah (Yyvonne Strahovski) and Casey (Adam Baldwin) have beaten all of the network odds and maintained a small but unbelievably dedicated audience.

I am one of those audience members who participated in one of the most successful “save our show campaigns” by purchasing Subway sandwiches and filling out comment cards reading, “I support Subway because Subway supports Chuck.” After this, NBC renewed creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak’s darling for a third season.

(Beware of spoilers for the first three episodes of season five from this point forward.)

Now the little show that could is approaching the finish line, with only 10 more episodes to air in the series. The show picked up this season from the 180-degree turn of last season’s finale. Chuck, Sarah and Casey have gone solo after being fired by the CIA and inheriting a large chunk of money from last season’s villain gone good. “Carmichael Industries,” their self-funded independent spy agency, now inhabits the secret base below the Buy More — the big box retail store where Chuck works. The secret weapon of their new conglomerate is none other than Chuck’s previous dorky sidekick, Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez), with an
Intersect upgrade. Ellie and Devon “Awesome” Woodcomb have a baby. Chuck and Sarah are married. Jeff and Lester are still Jeff and Lester.

A lot has changed in the world of Chuck, and the fourth season ended last year with promise of a new burst of creativity for the final season. Some of it works. Other promising elements of change have not played out as hoped in the first few episodes of the fifth season.

The choice to put the Intersect inside Morgan’s head rather than in Chuck’s was on the one hand a great cliffhanger and shock factor for the final moments of last season. On the other hand, the consequences and fallout of that moment have caused a real twisting of the roles of these two best friends, the hero and the sidekick.

The Morgan-Chuck friendship was founded upon a basis of compatible dorkiness: a mutual love for all things related to “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” comic books and action figures.

Now, what happens when the sidekick gets the superpowers and the superhero loses them? That’s what the show has tried to uncover this season. Unfortunately it has played out in a far less favorable manner for Morgan.

The role-reversal could have been interesting: Morgan could have used Chuck as a guide and mentor while Chuck could have struggled with the transition to being handler versus Intersect. Instead we get Morgan acting like an angsty adolescent teenager.

What stands out in these episodes is the way that Chuck has truly grown up into a decent spy — with or without the Intersect — and into a trustworthy leader. Morgan seems to have remained the same. Some characters just aren’t meant to play the hero, and that seems to be the case with Chuck’s bearded best friend.

A lot of this is dealt with in the most recent episode and the view from this point in the season is a lot brighter ahead. Where the show has taken a few missteps in the friendship of these two characters, it has made a lot of it up in the narratives outside of the team’s missions.

Casey’s new romantic interest in Gertude Verbanski (Carrie-Anne Moss), leader of a far more credible and equipped espionage competitor of Carmichael Industries, fills their scenes with chemistry and a love to hate one another that gives Casey a lust and romantic tension unseen before in his story-lines. The Buy More’s new, covert role to be the moneymaker of the teams new business gives the store a reason to exist and a revitalized sense of life beyond the funny characters. Sarah continues to amaze, and attract, every viewer (male or female), with her ability to deliver emotion and heart with just a single glance. And Ellie and Awesome oddly parallel Chuck’s new role as parent to Morgan in the spy-world as they embark on the mission of parenthood while trying to readjust to their lives and take care of their daughter.

There are a lot of high expectations amongst loyal “Chuck” fans for the final episodes of the show, which has survived against all odds. The show has a lot of stories to juggle, but that also means it has a lot of strong actors and relationships to explore with the time we have left. No matter how the season rolls around, I know that when the end of the 13th and final episode of the season I will be sad to see the show come to an end. I will be forever grateful that a show that should have been cancelled four times was able to survive and give the audience the sheer joy and fun that television is truly capable of.  For now, I’ll take Chuck’s advice, “don’t freak out,” and wait to see what tricks the writers have up their sleeves for the remainder of the season.

“Chuck” airs on Fridays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Rosenberg is a member of the class of 2012.

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