How Chuck Slipped Up on Three Little Words

Making a second case for the first two episodes of season 3.

Here we are getting ready for the fourth episode, which our many Canadian friends have already seen (lucky bastards), and I’m still playing catch up with the first two.  See what happens when you only watch an episode three times before forming an opinion?  You miss something critical and all your profound insights need to be re-written.  OK, maybe not all.  But as usual, after the jump.

My overall impression of the first two episodes remains pretty much intact.  I still think Pink Slip was a bit too heavy on the angst, but on re-watching it, knowing what we know now it goes down a bit easier.  Chuck plays about the same, Sarah, sad to say, a bit less sympathetic.  Seen in a new light her desire to have Chuck chuck everything for her and run away, while poignant and encouraging seems almost selfish.  Its as if she thinks she can have Chuck the way one has a puppy.  She wants to take him away from everything he holds dear forever so she can have the life she wants with the man she wants.  Yes, much of this comes out of her instinct to protect Chuck and keep him from a life she knows will change him, but it also virtually ignores the fact that she is in love with a person who has his own desires and dreams, and needs.  Certainly Sarah is high on all those lists, but lets face it, they aren’t ready for each other yet.  Chuck, puppyish as he seems sometimes is finally starting to grow up and is ready to make something of himself, and ready to dedicate himself to something bigger and more important than his own desires.  Sarah’s love for Chuck is a great place to start and her willingness to give it all up to be with him is a wonderful thing, but then Sarah is giving up very little compared to what she is asking from Chuck.  The fact that Chuck was so close to going with her, but in the end chooses his higher calling was certainly heartbreaking, but Sarah seems more of a victim of her own unwillingness to see Chuck as a person outside her own desires for a life with him, or to treat Chuck as an equal than a victim of Chuck’s ambition.  Especially since she can’t give Chuck the only thing he has ever really wanted from her, an expression of her love.  But as I’ve already spent numerous pixels on the flashbacks I’ll leave it there and move on to the rest of the episode.

This episode is pretty much an angst-fest even outside the heartbreaking flashbacks.  We watch Chuck wallow, which gets old on repeated viewings, and we watch him step up to fix, what?  Well, everything.  He needs to get his mojo back.  Sarah is a part of that, whether he knows it or not, so it seems fitting that one of the first things Chuck sets out to fix is his disappointing Sarah.  We don’t know it yet, since it only becomes completely clear in Three Words but he and Sarah were operating on very different assumptions.  She, that they were in love and knew it, and were running away to have a life together.  He, that Sarah was done with the spy game, and wanted him to come away with her because she didn’t want to see someone she cares about hurt or killed or destroyed by the world she was leaving.  Sarah was trying to protect him.

Chuck realizes, when he discovers Sarah is still a spy, that he’s made a very big mistake.  She wasn’t leaving and asking him to come, she was leaving the spy world FOR him.  She had been willing to give up her life to save his, again, and now his wanting to become a spy after agreeing to go seemed childish and ungrateful, especially since he’d wasted his chance.  He needed to make it right, to make it worth something, but first he needed to clear the air with Sarah.

This isn’t about us.  He keeps starting to say that.  It seems an odd way to rekindle a romance, so I’m going on the assumption that it isn’t.  He didn’t think there was one.  Yes, they were close and cared about each other, and something might have developed, but romance?  Never happened.  He loved her of course, but he’d made his peace at the wedding reception she didn’t love him.  He is, I think, trying to explain that he made his choice, a big choice, and it wasn’t for a life of excitement and danger, it was a choice to serve.  It was about something more than his desires and the life he wanted, but about what he wanted to do for others.  He saw in her continued service that she might understand.  She was willing to give her life for him, and his refusal to run with her wasn’t easy, but it was about the same sort of duty she felt, to be willing to give up on your own dreams to serve, no matter the personal cost.

Since I already covered this episode once I’m just going to fast forward to the scene that needs to be re-visited in light of recent epiphanies.  The fountain of doom no longer plays the same.  Sarah may think Chuck has seen the real Sarah, but he never did.  Her defenses had successfully kept him out.  Only she truly understands what Chuck did to her.  Chuck is clueless how deeply he hurt her.  Once again they’re on different pages.  Chuck is trying to explain that he understood she was trying to protect him, to keep him out of the spy life for his own good.  Sarah hears those words, “it was never about you…” and it confirms everything she thought.  He chose spying over her.  She’d misjudged him horribly and let herself get hurt again, and here he was rubbing salt in the wound.  Telling her the reasons she isn’t good enough, isn’t worth it.  She doesn’t want to hear it.  She shuts him up.  “You’re a spy now Chuck.  You have to keep your feelings to yourself.”

She loves you.  The three words that changed everything for Chuck.  We’ll get to that in short order, after we’ve looked at the rest of Three words.

We open with newly openly single Chuck and Sarah both exploring the possibilities of a Friday night.  Chuck with his lifelong wingman Morgan and Sarah with Carina.  This is interesting, Sarah has a night off and a personal life, and it includes Carina?  There is obviously a close connection between these two.  Carina reads Sarah like an open large print edition book.  Carina confirms what we’ve known for a time, Sarah was and still is in love with Chuck.  If only Chuck knew.  If only Sarah knew Chuck didn’t know.  As easily as Carina reads Sarah, she probably assumes that with the connection she felt with Chuck and as much as she opened up to him, he had to know.  Now we can start to see the depth of Sarah’s hurt.

To Sarah Chuck acted like a child.  He acted like he wanted her and made her feel special, and normal, but for Chuck it was opportunity via proximity.  She was there, she had to be there, and for Chuck, like so many other men she was a new shiny toy they wanted.  She’d been foolish enough to fall for the guy and was ready to give herself to him, to give up everything for him, then he found a newer shinier toy, Intersect 2.0.  Well at least it wasn’t another woman, but he’d tossed her aside with disturbing ease.  Now with his new shiny toy broken and her forced back into his life he starts chasing after her again?  Not this time.  Shields are up.  And great, there he is on her one night off.  And damn he won’t quit with that smile of his that just makes her forget he’s an immature little… deep breath, he’s not worth it no matter what you’re feeling right now.

Carina reads the whole story in a few quick glances.  Which is lucky, a few seconds is all they have.  Enter one mark, aka Karl Stromberg, Carina’s fiancé.  Chuck is a little confused it seems.  He immediately seems to catch on that he’s playing his old cover, but hasn’t really figured out the whole mark situation.  Sarah looks absolutely thrilled (sarcasm alert) to be back as Chuck’s girlfriend, and Carina is obviously enjoying being Carina.

The mission is set, and rides on Chuck.  We’re hearing that a lot lately, aren’t we?  One gratuitous lingerie scene later, not that I’m complaining mind you, and we see that Carina and Sarah do have another side to their relationship.  Interestingly this sheds some light on Sarah.  Even with Carina she won’t open up, but Carina seems to know and read her so well that she doesn’t need to.  The dynamic between them seems one sided, or mostly superficial but I think they’re having a pretty deep conversation.  You can see how Carina may be the perfect friend for Sarah Walker.  I thought this was a great scene, no, not just the lingerie part.

Off to the mission.  It struck me in this first scene how bloody gigantic the cast of Chuck is.  Vinnie Jones always struck me as a giant, but alongside Adam Baldwin, Zach Levi, Mini Anden and Yvonne Strahovski he doesn’t look very imposing all the sudden.  Just a quick aside.  Back to the mission.  I get the impression that Chuck and Sarah don’t see each other much anymore, despite Sarah’s instructions to keep him in check.  The mission seems to be Chuck’s first chance in a while to smooth things over with Sarah, which we all understand he wants to do.  Sarah is having none of it.  We know why, Chuck doesn’t.  Carina does.  Carina has realized Walker never said a thing, and the schnook never figured it out.  Something happened between them, the whole spy world is abuzz like a ladies tea about it, but Chuck is clueless.  Carina decides to clue him in.

Now get your head out of your ass and go be a spy.

Unfortunately Chuck takes the advice literally.  First he gets his head out of his ass.  It suddenly dawns on him what happened in Prague.  He’d realized Sarah before that Sarah was ready to run to protect him, suddenly he realized that wasn’t the only reason.  Sarah was ready to run because she loved him and wanted to start a life with him, and he dumped her without even knowing it to be a spy, the one thing she didn’t want for him.  This scene, which I found so immensely annoying the first time suddenly plays a lot truer and less annoying.  Chuck realizes how much damage they’ve done because they aren’t, or weren’t able to tell each other what they felt or thought.  They had just those few brief minutes in the castle before he left and on the platform in Prague, and they never had time to say the important things that needed to be said, and he’d hurt her so much because he didn’t.  Now Chuck comes across far less pathetic and more eager to fix something he feels responsible for, hurting the woman he loves and who loves him.  But he should still concentrate on the mission.

Which is pretty cool.  Casey’s speech, Chuck’s acrobatics, this is the fun part of Chuck, right down to the old Chuck popping back up right on cue, both to trip the alarm, and then to need to talk about his lady feelings in the middle of a critical situation.  But now, his need to say something in what could be his last few moments seems truer.  If he is going to die he needs to let Sarah know that he understands, and didn’t ever intend to hurt her, and as much as she wanted to protect him he needed to do something meaningful for her.  If he died he wanted to make sure Sarah knew everything was OK, and he loved her too.

Of course Chuck isn’t going to die, Sarah is there to protect him.  But, this is critical because as much as Chuck tries Sarah can’t hear a word he’s saying.  Chuck has no idea Sarah isn’t there listening.  Here is what Chuck says, among all the cuts of Sarah in ventilation shafts and bad guys waiting to kill Chuck, and having a laugh at his expense in the meantime.

Chuck:  “Sarah I don’t want to regret not telling you everything I need to tell you.  I’m not a normal spy, you know that, I know that.  I’m a regular guy who works at a Buy More.  And the decision that I made in Prague, I know what it looks like, I know that it looks like I chose being a spy over being with you but thats not what happened.  How I felt about you is real, it’s very very real.  And I know that you know how I’ve felt about you for a long time.  You know, but when Carina told me what you said, those three words that I’ve been waiting to hear for so long… Look, Sarah, I know that you’re probably very hurt that I didn’t run away with you in Prague [see below]… [door opens] Sarah I love you.”

The part Sarah saw in Castle after Carina gave her the thumb drive.

Chuck: “Look Sarah I know that you’re probably very hurt that I didn’t run away with you in Prague.  You have to know that you were everything I ever wanted, but how could I do that, how could I be with you, knowing what I’d turned my back on.  Knowing that what I had in my head could help a lot of people.  And you’re the one that taught me that being a spy is about something bigger, it’s about putting aside your own personal feelings for the greater good and that’s what I chose.  I chose to be a spy for my friends and my family and you.  I chose to be a spy because [door opens] Sarah, I love you

It is important to know this all now, because as far as Chuck knows Sarah heard the whole thing.  In Chuck’s mind, now they’re on the same page.  Except they aren’t.

Back at castle Chuck is resting and Sarah is considering Carina’s offer.  People have referred to this scene as a very powerful one, seen in a new light, Chuck having just (he thinks) poured out his feelings for Sarah and apologized for not getting it, and told her his reasons for being a spy it becomes far more poignant and powerful.  Chuck hears Sarah talking to the general.

Sarah: “It’s about me managing Chuck and keeping his emotions in check so the intersect can work.  I’m beginning to think I’m more a part of the problem than a solution and that another agent might have better success in training him.”

Beckman: “Let me be clear Agent Walker, I don’t know or want to know what happened between you two, but this is your job, and Chuck’s safety depends on you, so get over it and teach him how to be a real spy.”

Sarah: “Well, time to train Chuck, let’s go.”

Sarah: “Lives are on the line.  We need to get the 2.0 working right.  You want to be a real spy you need to act like one.”

Chuck: “I am a real spy.”

Sarah: “A real spy would have flashed on the bo and been able to defended himself”

Sarah: “Come on Chuck, the program is in the 2.0, you can do this.”

Chuck: “It doesn’t work, OK it’s not working, I’m too emotional but if we could just talk, really quick…”

Sarah [with building anger]: “You need to learn to ignore your emotions.  Spies do not have feelings, feelings get you killed.  You need to learn to bury them in a place deep inside.

Chuck [almost gently]: “Sarah.  Stop.”

Sarah [very angry]: “Come on!  Flash! Show me your attack skills!”

Sarah [her anger seeming to reach a peak]: “Come on Chuck!  Flash! Show me!”

Chuck: “No.”

Sarah: “Why not?”

Chuck: “Because I don’t want to hurt you.”

Sarah: “Don’t worry Chuck, you can’t.”

And yes, model homes, the song playing in the background is now in heavy rotation in my iTunes.

So we now come to the next round of spy stuff and BuyMore comedy to lighten the mood.  Seeing Jeff and Lester in their un-natural environment throwing a party was a hoot.  Good physical comedy and some memorable lines, but I’m going to leave that out.  This is an angst episode, it is all about Chuck and Sarah, and as it seems to be the last for a while I’m going to work on through and hopefully we’ll purge the angst together.

We’re back to Chuck being next to useless as the intersect.  He’s in emotional turmoil when at the end of the party the team confronts the bad guys.  Casey is the button, but Chuck is still the brains and heart of team B.  He manages not only the distraction, but to get inside Karl’s head.  Well, he’s been there.

Chuck: “I get it man, I get it.  OK? You took a chance, you loved someone, maybe for the first time in your life. All you’ve ever done before was shut off your feelings you bury them deep down inside, because in your profession in your line of work it’s a liability right?  It can certainly be a liability  And I know that you think you messed up your life because you opened up your heart but maybe you helped her open up her heart in the process.  Maybe because you loved her she’s  learned how to love too.”

Chuck doesn’t see Sarah’s face as he talks, but we do, and so does Carina.  Of course Carina isn’t  a sap in love like Walker.  Spies don’t fall in love, and the mark is dispatched.

Even if Chuck and Sarah aren’t quite there yet Sarah makes one big leap for her, and probably the greatest unintentional save I’ve ever seen, considering she hasn’t seen the video of Chuck’s confession yet.  And for once, Chuck is feeling defeated by the whole thing.

Sarah: “I’m listening if there’s anything you want to say.”

Chuck: “I’m sure there’s somewhere else you’d rather be.”

Sarah: “No, I’m good here.  For now.”

And we return briefly to the old Chuck and Sarah dynamic of Sarah gently encouraging Chuck to rely on his other strengths too, and letting him know he’s still important to the team, and her.

Sarah: “It’s quite mess we made.”

Chuck: “I’m hoping we can clean it up”

Sarah: “Maybe.  But you’re on your own on the courtyard.”

Back at Castle Carina has a parting talk with Sarah.  Carina is Casey on steroids (an unfortunate metaphor, and kind of a scary concept, I know)  She knows everything that happened.  Sarah’s inability to speak up, Chuck’s cluelessness, Sarah’s pain, and Chuck’s.  Like a good friend she gives her a choice.  Forget it all?  Move on?  No, Sarah is going to stay, for now.  So Carina gives Sarah a parting gift that might just make staying a little easier, and finally, as we watch Sarah tear up at last hearing what Chuck has been trying to tell her while she kept pushing him away, we see that she is starting to understand her part in the mess a little better.  At least they’re on the same page.

And that my friend, hopefully ends the angst.  Chuck and Sarah now will both (please God let it be so) see the importance of trusting each other and talking things out rather than hiding and hoping not to be hurt.  In closing I’m just going to say that this arc was a tough one, but I’m not convinced an unnecessary one.  With Chuck and Sarah it would be hard to see either as a villain in a major breakup, and the relationship had to be rebuilt from the ground up, AFTER Chuck decided to be a spy.  I think the problem was that JS et al. played this WTWT as a game so often for superficial purposes, to capitalize on the onscreen chemistry of their two leads, repeatedly, that the audience tired of it so completely, and then when they needed some real angst for a real purpose many of us were unwilling to accept it, or even look at the reasons.  They had a transition to make with the characters, essentially writing new characters without abandoning the old, and they managed to pull it off.  Unless we think we could have done better, lets maybe cut them some slack.

As for me, I think I’m done writing about angst for a while.  I’m angsted out.  I’m just looking forward to a new and fun episode of my favorite TV show tonight, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Subway to get my footlong on.

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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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7 Responses to How Chuck Slipped Up on Three Little Words

  1. AngelTwo says:

    I wouldn’t go backward, but I may one day write a book called: 1000 Things Wrong With Pink Slip.

    That said, two notes:
    1) After Carina whacks Karl thanks to Chuck’s speech, it is Sarah that says: “Spies don’t fall in love.” But she IS in love. So is she not a spy anymore, at least in her own mind?

    In the original pilot (12/06), the Sarah character had dialogue that stated right she wasn’t particularly enamoured of the spy life and missed a “real” life. Sarah’s character was ALWAYS about being a reluctant spy, too. We just took longer to find out about it (first mention that made it to air was Crown Vic) than TPTB originally intended.

    One wonders now if the TPTB can put these two together for real and still have Sarah want out. Or is season 3.5 Chuck and Sarah together trying to figure out what to do? Keep your eyes on this one cause a lot of stuff hangs on how TPTB resolve this and, clearly, they’ve been positioning Sarah as unhappy with with the spy life has been there since even before the “official” beginning.

    2) At the (again) non-talk at the fountain, Sarah says to Chuck that “I’m good here, for now.” Back in S1E4, she told Carina (who was appalled then as now that she was in LA and in this cover): “I’m good here.” Ali Adler, who wrote both episodes, is great at this kind of stuff. Back in season one, Sarah was “good here.” Now at the beginning of Season 3she’s only good here “for now.”

    Much as I dislike Season 3 to date, they are bringing Sarah to a tipping point. On the surface at least, it is tipping in the OPPOSITE direction Chuck is going with his life.

  2. AngelTwo says:

    Sorry for the typos in the above post. A weird computer issue scrambled it, apparently.

    My point is that the useful stuff we’ve seen in Season 3 so far indicates that Sarah is now increasingly AND VERBALLY unhappy with being a spy. She’s gone back to her spy life “for now” only.

    How does her STILL wanting out square with what we know about Chuck being on a voyage to super-hero? Sarah has wanted OUT since the beginning. Chuck, who wanted out and now wants IN, seems to be going the other way…

  3. Gord says:

    Is it that she really wanted out, or that she wanted to be with Chuck and that was the only way.
    I don’t think that she is sure which of those two options was the most important to her. When she figures it out, that is when we will have that big shipper moment.
    Liked your take on these episodes. Although the first 2 episodes were more serious than we usually see with Chuck, I still enjoyed these episodes. But I must say I liked episodes 3 and 4 even better.
    For me 3.04 was amongst the best episodes ever of Chuck.

  4. herder says:

    Ernie, I think that Carina edited the recording, there is a bit of Chuck’s speach that you didn’t add. When Stromberg grabbed her he showed her a bit of the speach, the part where Chuck says something like “I’m not some cold hearted spy like Carina who throws around words like love…” When Sarah sticks the drive in it starts at the second half of his speach. So Sarah still hasn’t seen the whole thing, unless there was poor editing on that scene.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I did notice that, and I’m on the fence about its importance. I am leaning toward editing for time sake by TPTB so that we get the point that Sarah saw/heard Chuck finally without it taking the full minute or so that Chuck was apparently talking.

  5. Pingback: Going in Circles Gets You Nowhere « Chuck This

  6. Pingback: Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Three Words (3.02) | Chuck This

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