If you haven’t seen the first three episodes of Chuck more than once already, I really recommend that you take the time.
And that’s not because of any failure on their part to convey something properly the first time. It’s because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll focus intently on a few key things, especially those things that are most important to you. It’s a good way to miss and distort a lot of what’s being said, I discovered. Again.
And it’s not necessarily the first impressions that go wrong. In my case, I came away from Pink Slip and The Three Words delighted at what I saw, stunned at the depth of emotions portrayed, and amazed at the action sequences. My wife and I were quickly sucked into the story, running the full gamut of emotions, from near tears at Chuck and Sarah’s parting in Prague, to astonishment at Emmett’s departure, to agony when Sarah hurt Chuck as much as he had hurt her, to – you get the idea. Sarah’s sad desperation when she hears Chuck say “I Love You” on the recording and the fist-punching joy of the team reuniting (to Eye of the Tiger) will be be there when you watch a second time. Or six times, I suspect. And we came away that first night happy with what we saw and eager for Monday’s episode. Angel of Death was even better. Our first impression was extreme satisfaction. We laughed, we worried (about Devon and about “The Romance”), and we were impressed by Chuck’s new professionalism as a spy. My wife’s comment, unsolicited by me, was that she couldn’t “wait for next Monday to get here.” Gee. Where had I heard that before?
What happened to me next was that I fixated on a couple of things. I spent two days and two nights dwelling on what I had learned about Sarah, saddened by the step backwards that she and Chuck so obviously took in their relationship. I spent two days in a bit of a moody funk because at the end, I saw a tepid and flaccid handshake define the next phase. Three minutes of that was three minutes too long.
Then I started to watch the three episodes again.
It wasn’t until I saw the last two minutes of Angel de La Muerte for the second time that I began to understand that handshake, and to understand Prague. Prague is now a one-word shorthand for the most painful and unexpected of partings, isn’t it? It is The one-word shorthand.
I still cannot write anything like a detailed analysis (much less an accurate synopsis!) of those first three episodes of the season. There’s still so much in there that’s glimpsed, but not revealed. You’ve seen these things, and I’m sure you know as much about them as I, and even more. Your opinions on the episodes are always correct, because they are yours, and I suspect that our insights are on a par also.
But I’m bold and arrogant enough to relate some of what I think I know now, and I hope it will be a fresh thought for you, the reader. So here it is, below the fold.
For Sarah, It’s Not Real. Yet
During all of season 2, and for a large part of season 1 for that matter, Sarah Walker has tried to move Heaven and Earth so that Chuck could have his old life back. He wanted and deserved to have a normal life and confirmed it at least half a dozen times that I recall. When that finally happened, Chuck told us all as he told Sarah It feels – real..
It is real. is her reply, with gentle emphasis placed on the word “is”. Positive, definite, and something of which she is certain.
Carina (in Tango): A spy doesn’t want you to know anything about them that’s real.
Sarah (in Cougars): But, General! That’s – ME! That’s my life!
Chuck: Can’t you tell me anything about you that’s – real? Your real name – Your middle name?
Sarah (in Crown Vic): Have you ever wanted a real life? – a family, children?
Sylvia (in Suburbs): Nothing about her is real, Chuck.
Sarah (in The Three Words): Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a real life?
Yes, …and a real engagement party, Carina. Think about it. How can Chuck ever be a spy? In Sarah’s eyes he is an open book, and he is too real. This is a problem.
Sarah has a bigger problem than Chuck does.
I now know how Sarah was going to finish the sentence in The Ring. She was going to say “Chuck? What I want is to – have a normal life. With you.” Sarah has had no normal life, ever. Worse, she’s had to hide herself from everyone, including Chuck. It’s been a reflex, but as as season 2 ends and season 3 begins, it’s become a straight jacket that she can no longer endure. Sarah had made her decision in private, taking many small steps, moving so slowly we barely noticed. But now she wants so very desperately to have for herself that real life she saw Chuck regain. Agent Walker was going to throw everything away – all the adventure, the glamour, the porsche and everything Carina was tempting her with – everything because it wasn’t real.
Chuck took that away in an instant, on a lonely train station platform in Prague for his own selfish reasons. Anger is a far more intelligent reaction than the one I would have summoned.
Just look at how I’ve reacted! Days after the episode aired, the scene is vivid in my mind, and the emotional impact is still intense. It took at least that long to understand that Chuck was right. Not only is life on the run with Sarah something that neither of them wants, not a normal life, it’s not real.
For two days I brooded darkly over the might-have-beens that we could-have-seen, and finally decided running was a trap, and at best, an awful detour.
No More Buy More, and No More You
The Buy Morons barely appeared in Pink Slip and not at all in Angel. But when they do appear, it’s been fantastic. Emmett’s demise has been correctly sited as establishing a much darker tone for Chuck this season, but I can’t think of a better way to establish the ruthlessness of The Ring. Fulcum had two mitigating graces. The saw themselves as patriots, and we saw the CIA/NSA as lowering themselves too readily to their level, making Fulcum appear less evil in the process. The Ring is now Sauron to the Fulcrum’s Saruman, and the Buy More is going to be a focus of their activity. If it was used less, The Buy More was used to better effect already.
Jeff and Lester are still Laurel and Hardy, better than ever. Morgan, however, took a quantum leap forward in The Three Words by saying one, “no”, to Carina. Oh, that and telling her to finally get his name right. “It’s Morgan. Memorize it.” I truly didn’t expect him to show any progress, certainly not this much. Now he’s been a character with the potential to be more than Chuck’s sidekick, just there to make him look good by comparison.
In Pink Slip, Carina (Mini Anden – sigh!) is an oracle and a trouble maker. She is a siren to both Morgan and Sarah, simultaneously a good and a bad example to Chuck and Sarah. Her constant taunting on “The Cardinal Rule” is a club used on the audience to make sure that they get the message – a spy who falls in love is a sap, and probably a dead spy. She’s the one who – and for my readers who haven’t seen the episode yet, avert your eyes, for this is a spoiler —————- she’s the one who tells Chuck in a convincing way that Sarah loves him. (And parenthetically, yes, he believes her, not Ellie, not Morgan, not Roan – not anybody but her – about this, because she knows Sarah.)
Carina is also shown to be a hypocrite just moments after living up to her code. THANK YOU for that, Powers That Be!!!. Sarah didn’t see that particular reveal, that Carina too is capable of real affection. Our heroine only has her worst fears reinforced; her emotions will get her – and Chuck – killed. It’s probably not a point you missed, but it deserves restating: Sarah has to learn to control her emotions at least as much as Chuck. It may be even harder for her, because she thinks that she must put her emotions away in a place where no one can get to them, like Carina. That’s her process, but it’s far from being in control of them.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Don’t worry. You can’t.”
The single best scene of the season so far is Chuck’s training session with Sarah. I almost want to say it’s the best ever, but I know I’ll be tempted to change my mind the next time I see The Colonel or The Dream Job or Broken Heart or even The Ring. What can I say? The competition is stiff! But the bo scene is as intense as I’ve ever experienced. It’s a point at which Sarah stops treating Chuck with anything like kid gloves, and makes him take the brunt of her pain. He’s no longer an innocent, and certainly not the man-boy we saw (briefly) as late as Dream Job, hesitating and fearful to walk into the fight. Sarah is treating Chuck as an equal and showing him what it means to be a professional spy.
I Am A Real Spy
One of the most pleasant, even gratifying things about this new season is first shown fully in Angel. They slide down the zip wire earlier, but only after Sarah says I trust you.” Sarah tells Casey to give Chuck a chance with the guitar, and it sounds like an order. But in the ballroom, Sarah follows Chuck’s lead more willingly than she followed Bryce’s in Nemesis The Break-Up. When Chuck lets Devon in on the mission and takes him to the Castle, Sarah first storms in shouting What the hell were you thinking?, then more than accepts Chuck’s plan moments later. In the embassy where they hope to save Casey, Chuck and Sarah do their respective jobs, not as novice-spy-wannabe and pro, but as equals. More importantly, they act as partners who know and trust in each other’s abilities.
Professionally, this is a whole new relationship, and I absolutely love it.
I Think I Can Handle Being Friends
Angel de La Muerte was a wonderful episode to watch. Seeing Chuck NOT bumbling, and in fact, looking confident, professional and efficient at something other than a video game was exactly what we wanted. It was the way we hoped the character would grow. But I did not digest part of this meal well.
It’s a bit personal, so please permit me this conceit – I have a severe allergy to anything that shows a relationship devolving to “let’s just be friends” (and it’s why I think of Bones as a lesser show). When I heard the words and saw the handshake, I was no longer following the story but off in my own world, somewhere in the past. I saw something different than what was intended, and it festered for at least two days before I read some other interpretations and watched again.
The ending of Angel said literally that “friends” was Chuck and Sarah’s potential new cover, and they meekly joked about “not being there yet”. Oh, I heard the word “cover”, but there has always been confusion and deception about what was “the cover” and what was “real” for them. I took that badly.
But just like Chuck was unable to live with Sarah (in Lethal Weapon) because “the thought of being so close, and not being able to…”, I think now I was wrong. Sarah cannot bear being Chuck’s cover-girlfriend, and that cover had to come to an end. The handshake was held too long for “just friends” to be real; they wanted to touch. The intensely gentle intimacy of their hug, just seconds later, at what appeared to be devestating news about Devon told me that Sarah still knows what is real, and what is fake.
And she wants what is real. They both do.