The Point of No Return
I’ll make no pretence of having any rational objectivity as I review this episode. I have none. Somewhere during vs. The Broken Heart, probably near the end, when Sarah tenderly touches Chuck’s neck and softly says “I’m sorry.” I realized that I had become totally obsessed with this show. There was no coming back from that. Vs. The Dream Job begins the very next moment, when the door swings open and Chuck looks to say “Dad?”
Dad is found 100 miles east of Barstow, CA. Dad is a little crazy. Chuck and Sarah have never seemed so much like boyfriend and girlfriend as they start small talking and catching up with Stephen (Scott Bakula). To say Chuck is nervous is an understatement (“I don’t even remember if I take cream!”) but Sarah’s genuine expressions of concern for Chuck, the comfort he allows himself to take from that, and the pleasure they take in each other’s company show right from the opening scene that Chuck and Sarah have already entered into a new phase of their relationship. Somewhere there in the desert, a corner was turned.
Chuck’s mission to find his father, though, is not quite over. Getting Stephen to come to Ellie’s wedding will not be easy.
Chuck: “Ellie was really hoping that you might be there to walk her down the isle.”
Stephen: “Oh, I really don’t think that she would want me there.”
Chuck: “Of course does. We both do.”
Stephen: “Not a good idea. But tell her that I’m happy for her.”
Chuck: “Are you – you joking? You have to do this. She’s your daughter! Don’t you want to be there??
Stephen: “Charles, I – I can’t…”
Chuck: “I don’t want to hear what you can’t do. I’ve seen what you can’t do.
I’m sorry. That came out wrong.”
Stephen: “No it didn’t. You’re mad. I left, and – and – and you’re mad.”
This is heart wrenching. From the moment Bakula comes on the screen as a slightly dishevelled, slightly disturbed transient of a father, you’re carried away by his obvious concern for his children, and by the way he seems victimized by events that are much larger than himself. You suspect minor mental illness at first, for he seems somewhat delusional. Alcoholism perhaps? Bakula’s performance, from his hair to his halting speech to his slightly hobbled walk is amazing.
Chuck does succeed in his mission, and brings Stephen home to Ellie. Sarah Lancaster does an incredible job with one word – pancakes, followed by the perfect “Oh boy.” from Stephen, a tribute to the fans of Quantum Leap.
Ellie: “I’m so mad at him. Crazy old dad. Aren’t you mad at him?”
Chuck: “I was. But then I realized that, you know, we can hate him for the rest of our lives or we can choose to forgive him.”
Ellie: “It’s easier to hate him.”
Chuck: “Well that may be, but he’s all we’ve got left, El. And this could be our last chance at being a family again.”
Fans and addicts like me have grabbed onto a possible clue about Chuck’s family from the way Stephen reacts to the sight of his daughter. “God, Ellie. You look just like your mother.”
Crazy old dad. Stephen rants that Ted Roark took all of his ideas – touch screen technology included. And Chuck’s flash when he sees the Roark Industries flier for NextExpo and their operating system, RIOS, shows something is indeed up with Roark. Chuck is being sent in to find out just what that might be.
Sarah concern is immediate, but it’s not for Chuck’s safety this time. It’s for his emotional well being. As the briefing with the General ends, she asks him if he is “okay with that. – working for Roark.”
Chuck: No- no I’m fine. Forget Apple, forget Microsoft. I’ve dreamed about working for Roark since college. Although, does it actually qualify as a dream come true if you go in as a janitor?
Sarah: (laugh) You’re going in as Charles Bartowski – your name, your resume, your Stanford degree.
Sarah: You’re – perfectly qualified to go in as yourself!
What a vote of confidence! Sarah has encouraged Chuck before, calling him a hero at the end of Tom Sawyer and saying to Casey, in Predator at the moment when lives depend on it, she trusts Chuck. But this is different. This time, Chuck actually takes it to heart. It’s not Charles Carmichael who’s good enough, or the intersect. It’s Chuck.
His interview at RI starts more than a bit awkwardly. Chuck is balancing on the ball, literally and metaphorically. But he does fine in the interview, once he gets a little help from Sarah. “Chuck, just be honest.” She tells him. And his response to the question “Seriously – What have you been up to since you graduated?” is as much to Sarah as it is to Drew, the interviewer. He’s been trapped in a job and a life that he doesn’t really want but he doesn’t see a way out. And when he says those words, it’s Sarah’s expression that seems distressed. It’s obvious that she really wants to help Chuck get the intersect out of his head. It’s become her mission too. Sarah’s relief is as great as Chuck’s when Drew offers him the job.
Meet Ted Roark, software rock star. Chevy Chase is brilliant in the role, with the perfect blend of comedy and arrogance, a little bit of a monster, a vivid character and foil for Stephen.
Chuck’s got the gig, but is this job too real for Chuck? Sarah is not through supporting Chuck, but she needs to keep him grounded in reality.
Sarah: Chuck, you’ve got to remember that it’s just an assignment.
Chuck: I know. I know what it is. I just – If I had gotten this job at Roark right after college, then I may never have become the intersect. Then when my dad comes back after ten years, I can show him that I’m not just another loser working at a Buy More.
Sarah: Chuck, he knows you’re not a loser.
Chuck: “Well, I’m sure he hoped I’d be doing something a little bigger than nerd herding.
Sarah: You are.
Sarah, the one who has been trying to keep Chuck out of the spy world for his own safety, now knows that he’s in it. Her words of encouragement in Tom Sawyer could be taken to be about her (and they were) – “You can have anything you want.” Now her encouragement refers much more to his life and life’s mission. It’s quite a difference from Predator when Sarah says to the General that “Chuck is not a spy, and he knows it.” Everything is changing. Several corners have been turned.
At the family dinner with Sarah, we have to ask about an outstanding issue. Did Sarah know from the beginning that Stephen is Orion? We may never know, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Morgan reveals that Chuck has a new job at RI, and Ellie’s ecstatic about it. But not Morgan. Stephen certainly isn’t.
This is not an episode that rides on humor; the Buy More is barely present. But in the next scene at Roark Industries, we are introduced to Nerd Sarah and Nerd Casey. Adam Baldwin jumping, clapping and wearing a plaid shirt and horn-rimmed classes is a hoot. The background music, worked seamlessly into the show, is one of my favorite songs, Around the Bend by Asteroids Galaxy Tour. It’s a triumphant fanfare for Roark as he introduces NextExpo.
Roark (shaking Japanese executive number 1’s hand): Arigatou.
Roark (shaking Japanese executive number 2’s hand): Arigatou.
Roark (shaking Japanese executive number 3’s hand): In-a-godda-da-vida.
That’s a joke for us “old-timers” (and thank you, Chevy!). Chuck is clearly taken by Roark, his new job and opportunities, and by his own new standing in the world. But that’s not is real life, is it? Chuck hasn’t forgotten Sarah’s words.
He decides what his real job is by disrupting the release of Roark’s software. What’s important is the mission. He’s on his way to becoming a real spy, and Chuck is far around the bend now.
RIOS is released anyway. The second unresolved question of this episode is – what ever happened to that virus??? I hope we find out in S3.
Ellie is frantic when Chuck disrupts the release of RIOS (and once again, Sarah Lancaster plays frantic brilliantly – that word applies a lot to this episode), but thinks that Stephen is behind his strange actions. She’s angry and takes a cheap shot at Devon. Only Stephen’s advice saves him from despair.
Stephen: Do you want my advice? Don’t walk out on your kids after you promise them pancakes for dinner. They tend to take it badly.
You’re a real straight arrow, aren’t you.
Devon: I used to be, before this damn bachelor party. God I’m such a jackass.
Stephen: Maybe. But that’s not why Ellie’s mad. She just doesn’t want you to turn into me, which – take this as a compliment – seems pretty damned unlikely.
The mission comes first. Chuck is convinced that he’s been led to Roark Industries, and he buries himself in the mystery of the cards left by Orion, cards that can help him remove the intersect, somehow. Steven interrupts him. With the slightest of pointers from his father, Chuck recognizes the schematic for the intersect in the layout of Roark Industries. But it’s not a flash, and he can’t say that Orion gave him the information, so Casey and even Sarah can’t help him. They don’t believe Roark is working for Fulcrum – no flash, no proof.
So with that wonderful music in the background like the beating of a heart, Chuck straps on his armor, his gun, and becomes a spy. He even has to challenge a menacing Casey, shooting him with a tranq. (Baldwin is brilliant. “I’m going to kill you when I wake up. Oooooh heh!!!”)
He breaks into Roark Ind. that night. That doesn’t go as planned, though, when he discovers his father has been abducted by – Vincent, the nine-lives agent. In one of the few hilarious moments of this episode, Chuck tranqs his father’s abductors, and is stunned to see them standing there – until they all collapse together. Not bad, Chuck! And in one of the worst kept secrets of all tv-dom:
“Dad dad dad! We have to go – we gotta go right now. I’ll explain all this to you later. For now all I can tell you is, I’m not who you think I am.”
We see Vincent, and we see the wrist computer.
“It’s alright, Charles. I’m not who you think I am either.”
The semi-bumbling half-nerd, half-crazy guy is revealed as the wizard-like Orion.
It feels like there are so many things that need explanation. There are so many mysteries. But the writing is superb here, and I can’t think of any time I’ve seen more economical use of dialog.
Chuck: Dad – I saw you die. I saw you explode in that helicopter.
Stephen: I can see how you got that impression. I’ve had to die quite a few times. It’s one of the perils of being Orion.
Who needs more? All the crazy jumps in the story, the strange entanglement of Stephen and Roark, Orion’s seeming death and resurrection, Sarah’s finding Chuck’s father are all deftly, if tersely explained. It’s easy to believe, on one or two viewings, that there are severe plot holes in this story. But there’s surprisingly few. It’s the speed at which events transpire that’ll make you miss things and want to see this episode again and again.
We know how this goes. Chuck and Stephen break into the lab containing the new Intersect 2.0, but fail to make it work. They’re caught by Roark and Vincent. Orion negotiates to get Chuck released. As he steps back to the door, it opens behind him.
Stephen: Remember what I said about not trusting your handlers? Maybe I was wrong.
Sarah and Casey hold Chuck back from the futile attempt to save the situation, literally dragging him back from the hell that awaits Stephen. That’s as dramatic as it gets.
As if the music wasn’t wonderful enough through this episode, it continues to the end with Daddy’s Gone by Glasvegas. Exceptionally poignant choice. Chuck may trust his handlers, but it’s clear that he doesn’t trust the NSA and Beckman. The General tries to make clear the magnitude of the danger they face, but that’s nothing compared to Chuck’s personal tragedy.
Beckman: Clearly we recognize that Fulcrum’s possession of Orion poses an unparalleled security threat.
Chuck: You mean Fulcrum’s possession of my father!
Beckman: I promise you. No one at the CIA knew your father’s secret identity. I also promise to entrust his recovery to our best team.
Chuck: General – WE are your best team!
Casey: (to himself) I can’t believe I’m listening to this. (aloud) Chuck’s right.
Sarah: No! You cannot put Chuck back in the field – it’s too dangerous. Fulcrum knows that he is Orion’s son.
If Intersect 2.0 is completed, then Chuck is obsolete and worthless to the CIA, and Fulcrum wins. “The only thing that matters now is getting my father back. and you need me to do that.” Even Chuck thinks there is no going back now.
Close with the music lyrics that cry “Forget Your Dad – He’s Gone.” and Steven working on the new intersect. Seldom does television reach such pathos.
I can’t remember the last time I was so enthralled by an episode of anything, with the possible exception of episodes to come on Chuck. There are no subtle messages to be found – everything is right up-front. The transformation of Chuck’s character, the over-due, but still perfectly timed deepening of his relationship to Sarah; these are breathtaking developments unfolding. The scene of Chuck donning his body armor, clapping the gun’s handles together, the music – it was spellbinding. Comedy in Dream Job is sparse and understated, but present. “Charah angst” is absent. Indeed, the whole Sarah-Chuck romance is far in the background, but serves to fuel the dramatic events that have led us to this point. The guest stars were simply amazing in their performances, and the principles even more so. Ryan McPartlin and Sarah Lancaster were more than supporting cast members. Because they are so important to Chuck, their characters have become integral to the story. Especially with Devon, we hardly noticed that happening. Even Jeff and Lester, in their brief appearance, are irreplaceable. Lester saying “It’s like he looked right through me.” is yet another plaintiff cry as the Chuck he knows is being drawn into the spy world. It’s very much Frodo made invisible by the One Ring, half in and half out of the world of the living.
Since I am a generation older than Chuck and Sarah, the introduction of Stephen served to place me in his role. I found myself caring and fearing for the characters as if they were my own children, which is nothing I’ve experienced before. With Dream Job, Chuck took my imagination and heart and refused to let go.