Don’t ever make me wait that long for the A-Ha moment again. And I had it easy. I didn’t even discover Chuck till I rented the first disk of the season 1 DVD on Netflix in August, just to check out this show everyone was recommending to me. By then we knew we’d have at least a short season 3 … in 8 months. So I did what any “not your normal” fan would do. I re-watched them all. Several times. And now we have three shiny new episodes to obsess over for a few more days. But before I start into my newfound appreciation of season 3 my second take and new appreciation for what I consider the real first episode of season 3, Chuck vs. the Ring, after the jump.
While pining away for the new season something awesome happened. I noticed that I enjoyed re-watching episodes of Chuck a second or even third time just as much as I enjoyed watching them the first time. In addition on a second, or third, of fourth viewing I was still catching things I missed the first viewing(s). Like Morgan wishing for a flying DeLorean at the end of Chuck vs. the Graviton and then we get Chuck vs. the DeLorean, or the classic Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny What’s Opera Doc playing in the background of Chuck vs. the Fat Lady. Fun stuff, but then there was more. There were a few A-Ha moments, when something that didn’t quite click made sense because you caught something more in a later episode, or you finally got the connection between the main story and the secondary Buy More story. Frankly I sometimes enjoyed a second or third viewing more, when I could concentrate on the subtleties of the story rather than just following the plot points. Of course this can go too far as I’ve recently chronicled.
One of my pet peeves was what I saw as overused plot points to set up re-playing the same plot lines again and again, and again. Exactly how many times did we have to see Sarah close up after Chuck gets too close, or Chuck pushed away after he misreads Sarah’s signals, or doesn’t. By the time I saw Chuck vs. the Ring for a second time I saw these as repetitive and unimaginative for a show that could and did do so much better on everything but the romance. And it was hurting the show. The constant Angst hung over everything, weighing down the otherwise snappy pace and lighthearted fun of the show. And now I’ve learned after the first three, that I was right.
I was also wrong about a few things. I started to see certain scenes as gratuitous. Sarah kicking the puppy one more seemingly unnecessary time in the Ring, or once again Sarah being interrupted before she could tell Chuck her feelings or what she wanted out of life. But they were necessary. Chuck had to choose to become a spy and a hero of his own free will. He hadn’t chosen the intersect, it was thrust upon him, so he had to be put in a situation where he could choose. Chuck loves Sarah and Sarah loves Chuck. Given a choice, a real choice between being a spy and a hero or having that normal life, we both know they’d choose each other and that life together. But Chuck the hero needs Sarah so he can be a hero as much as Sarah needs Chuck to learn to love. The place we were at the end of the Colonel there was no way Chuck would ever choose to be a hero or Sarah would go on being a spy with that tantalizing future they saw. So we come to what I consider the first episode of season 3. Chuck vs. the Ring. Consider this another way of reading the characters and events with the new knowledge we gained in Chuck vs. the Pink Slip and Chuck vs. the Three Words.
This Perfect Day
Everything is right with the world. Chuck is in fine spirits. He has his life back, and his future looks better than ever. His family is closer than before. He’s returned his father, giving his sister the one present she’d dreamed of on her wedding day. The intersect is gone. It’s time to start his new life. But there is something under the surface, bubbling. As Chuck and Casey walk through the Buy More there is an air of oppression and doom among the Buymorians. They look to Chuck furtively. The man who has always had an answer, their one true leader in all but name. Their hero, their champion. And he’s quit. Walking away and leaving the Buymorians to their fate. The hero has refused the call. We all know what that brings. Chuck doesn’t yet. One final chance is offered. “Your country is calling you Mr. Bartowski”. Loud and clear, but the offer to join the team and answer the call is refused again. Chuck’s servitude is ended, with a nice fat bonus check. The Buy More is no more, and Chuck is looking forward to a champagne buzz and an extra long slow dance with his date.
Bryce Larkin, Nemesis. The personification of the gods punishment for refusing to heed the call is back, moments after Chuck has refused his last call, bringing retribution. And we see Chuck’s perfect day will not last because this isn’t his world anymore. He was meant for something more and can never have the life he wants, or thinks he wants until he lives the life he was meant to live.
First up is what he loves most. Sarah. Sarah is given orders to leave the next day, and we see already she is on the verge of a decision. The one she’d been facing since their escape from Blackrock with Chuck free of the intersect. It is real, but can Sarah, who expects disappointment from the men in her life bring herself to leave behind her spy world and go off with Chuck? Well I’d guess it depends on if he asks. He does of course. The irrepressibly happy Chuck has no plan, but he has a goal. Have Sarah be a part of his life, somehow. So Chuck has a proposal for Sarah, and he kind of steamrolled her because he just can’t wait to start his new life. He’s confident of the answer, he’s seen how much Sarah cares for him. And the first blow is struck. Sarah, poor emotionally crippled Sarah is in a crisis. Practically paralyzed with hopes and fears she can’t even process, let alone reconcile she wants to share something with Chuck, but as he goes on she starts to believe, maybe fleetingly, but to believe that Chuck has something really important to ask her. Something that might change her life. It isn’t what she thought, and Sarah answers the only way she knows, with the facts as she knows them at the time. Chuck has been here before. He recognizes what just happened. Again. He read too much into Sarah’s actions. Chuck leaves and Sarah is gone. For a fleeting moment we see Sarah watch Chuck walk away as if she’s about to follow, but she doesn’t.
Next is what Chuck cherishes most. His family. It seems that the bad guys don’t go away just because you aren’t the intersect anymore. They must not have gotten the retirement party flyer, because Roark wants the intersect cube and will kill Ellie if he doesn’t get it. Despite no intersect, no backup, no CIA Chuck has another mission, the one he’s had all along but never admitted. Protect your friends and family. Somehow.
With help from everyone from Jeffster to Awesome to Morgan, Pappa B, Sarah, Bryce, and finally Casey, Chuck manages to complete the mission, at some cost. His sister’s heart is broken, and he has to do something to fix it. But he’s just a normal guy, what can he do? What he always does, accepts the mission, rallies his allies and overcomes the odds to pull it off. And Sarah sees something more in Chuck. Something that she perhaps hadn’t noticed when he was the intersect and on missions. Mission or not, intersect or not, CIA or not, Chuck is that guy. He will do anything to protect those he loves, and he will do anything to keep them from being hurt, or to make right what goes wrong in their lives. Sarah’s decision is made at the second wedding. She’s done with spying. She chooses life with Chuck. Unfortunately Chuck, in the meantime has come to accept that Sarah may care and may protect him and help him, but she doesn’t love him like he loves her. Sarah, as amazing as she is, will never be normal.
Only a few more steps remain before the final price for Chuck’s continued refusal to fulfill his destiny is extracted. He has seen that intersect or not, CIA or not, hero or not, there are evil people in the world who will harm him, his family, his friends, and those he loves. He understands Sarah’s calling, and he’d never take that from her. A sense of purpose in life, knowing you make a difference. It must be wonderful even if it does require sacrifices, like Sarah being able to love him back. Chuck finally gets that slow dance with his date, and he tells her he understands, but Sarah seems to have other concerns.
“Chuck I don’t want to save the world I…”
Sarah is ripped away one last time, and this time Chuck realizes he needs to be that guy or all that he cherishes in life will be torn away from him.
If I were going to get all mythological… Oh, too late for that. Let’s just say that Chuck has accepted his calling, but perhaps not his destiny. He’s arrived at the oracle where once again he faces his Nemesis. But this time the message is clear, there will be no more protection, the gods want you to accept your destiny. Alone in the temple Chuck accepts his calling, and his destiny. “Do you wish to activate?” The journey begins.
I’m going to pause here, because I think I now see the line the writers were walking. We know Sarah and Chuck love each other. We’re meant to know and see that. At the same time we need to see that Chuck doubts this and Sarah can’t express it. The scenes that seem gratuitous now have a crucial purpose.
Sarah needs Chuck to be with her for her to be normal and have a life. She has clearly found a connection with him that she has never had with anyone else. But Sarah has to see a cost, a real cost to her armor and the masks she wears to keep people out if she ever wants to have any kind of relationship, even with Chuck. She has to grow and open up or they would be doomed as a couple. Chuck, forever unsure, Sarah, forever keeping a part of herself closed off. Doomed to a lifetime of angst. The cost of those defenses and barriers when deployed against someone who loves her has to be real and devastating for Sarah to understand she needs to learn to let them down for Chuck.
Chuck needs to fulfill his destiny, but could Chuck ever put anything above Sarah if he knew that not only did she love him, but that she needed him? Not the Chuck Bartowski I know. He would NEVER become a spy if he was aware of the depth of Sarah’s hurt and need, and feelings. But he has to become a spy. The doubts? We’ve seen them before, they are in character. Sarah closing off and shutting down? Check. The writers needed to put the characters in a situation where neither of the characters would be acting the villain, but they had to break them up for Chuck to go on. The problem is not in the Ring, the problem is that they’ve already played the break up game too often and our first reaction is to throw up our hands in disgust. But this time it was done with a purpose in mind.
The final steps to Sarah losing Chuck and Chuck leaving Sarah come, predictably from Chuck’s Nemesis.
Bryce: “She wasn’t going to come.”
Chuck, having accepted his destiny still doesn’t fully understand what it means. The Ring agents enter with Sarah and Casey captive. Sarah sees the “dead” Bryce and nearly loses control. Chuck sees her distress and across the room mouths to her silently, “I’m sorry”. He’d failed her. He couldn’t save Bryce, he couldn’t get help, and now they were all about to die.
Sarah saw Chuck say I’m sorry, but didn’t know why. “He uploaded it.” Then she understood. Chuck, the love of her life, did what he always does, he stepped up and was that guy, no matter the cost to him. “Kill him.” And then Sarah saw just how far Chuck would go to protect those he loved. “Guys, I know Kung Fu.” He did it for her, and he knew, he must have known. Bryce was his friend, Orion was his father, and he knew he could save them, so he did. After all those years wanting to get back to a normal life, he sacrificed everything for her, to save her, because he loved her.
Chuck has accepted his destiny, but he is tempted to stray one last time, and Sarah, well she is given one last chance to accept the emotional journey she has to begin. The fates are aligned against them at this point. Their journeys are different paths that may not merge for a time. Sarah decides the time is right to grab the life she wants, a life with Chuck, whatever the cost. He has sacrificed everything he wanted to save her, and its time for her to give him something back. She can’t let him be dragged back into that life for her, she has to protect him from that. If he can’t have a normal life he can at least have a life with her, away from spies and lies and danger, somehow she’ll make it work. But Sarah isn’t really equipped to make her case. She still can’t bring herself to open up. Despite the depth of her feelings the shields are still up. And Sarah also has to pay for some past sins. Her repeated pushing Chuck away has done more damage that she realizes. Chuck no longer trusts his feelings. Sarah has hurt Chuck often enough that now he has his shields up.
Sarah: “If you do this, if you go, you’re going to be a spy for the rest of your life. Every city is going to be a new mission, and a new identity and you’re not going to be the same person.”
Chuck: “Yeah, that’s a great thing”
Sarah: “Chuck listen we could…”
Chuck: “We could what?”
Sarah: “We could run. Together, you and me, we go now and we never look back.”
Chuck: “Are you serious?”
Sarah: “I have some money saved up, I’d have to get us some new identities, create an escape route, for now go to the training facility in Prague and meet me at the Nadrazi train station in three weeks time at 7 O’Clock and then I can figure the rest out later.”
Chuck: “What are you saying?”
Sarah: “I’m saying I want to be a real person again, with you. This is what you want, right? I meant this is it Chuck. Will you run away with me?”
And he would have, but Sarah has sown the seeds of her own heartbreak. At the same time she’s taught Chuck about self sacrifice and duty to something bigger than yourself she’s also taught him not to trust his heart when it comes to her. She has used his feelings for her to control and manipulate him in the past and pushed him away when he got too close. Both are lessons he learned whether she intended or not. In her rush and planning Sarah didn’t do the one thing that could have made a difference. Look Chuck in the eyes and tell him she loved him.
What Chuck heard was something different. All the information was there. Sarah was starting to tell him at the party that she didn’t want to save the world anymore, and Bryce knew she was quitting, she wasn’t going to go with him. Sarah was leaving behind the spy life, and had invited him to come with her. He saw how she’d reacted to Bryce’s death. She couldn’t do it anymore. Sarah took her mission to protect him personally, she’d never quit, now he saw that, and she was going to do it the rest of her life. So Chuck went to Prague, and thought about his future, and Sarah’s, and what their life would be like, and he decided he couldn’t ask that of Sarah. He couldn’t let Sarah give up the rest of her life to protect him on the run, and he couldn’t ask her to stay with him and be a spy. He couldn’t run away from his calling now, it was too important that he become a spy, but he couldn’t ask Sarah to stay in the spy world she so obviously wanted out of. He had to let her go because he loved her and wouldn’t ruin her life out of selfishness. He had to let her go and be a real person again, without him.
And so at the appointed time the star crossed lovers meet at the train station, each sure of their purpose and their love for the other, but each unable to tell the other the reason for their decision. Heartbreak ensues. And Sarah gets on the train, and leaves.