Latent heat and bonding anyone?
Chemistry, that catch all for the magic that some actors have. The one thing that can make or break a scene no matter the talent involved. Zach and Yvonne could power a major city with theirs. Zach and Kristin have it, Zach and Rachel had it too. Zach and Jordana…meh, OK. Yvonne and Matt did pretty well, especially when fighting. Yvonne and Brandon Routh…thud. This is how you kill a plot twist, even when you see it on the screen you don’t believe it. If Sarah and Shaw are supposed to be real, well, I don’t believe it. If it’s supposed to be a con, well of course, look at them together. Either way what is on the screen doesn’t do the job, so far. But we’re really only to the point where Sarah seemed to be considering considering allowing something to happen. The real test of chemistry will come March 1st. See why I think so after the jump.
In one sense Brandon Routh has an impossible job, and his not pulling it off as well as Zach doesn’t offend me. There is no way anyone coming in temporarily is ever going to be able to duplicate the kind of chemistry and cooperative acting that Zach and Yvonne have developed. I can allow myself to be convinced he’s playing a straight laced unemotional spy, though I think he has absolutely killed (in a bad way) what should have been great comedy lines (like telling Chuck that tranq’ing Jeff wouldn’t be a problem). But I have to say that I see almost no chemistry between him and Yvonne, making what was going to be a stretch to begin with even worse. But I have a theory. Indulge me if you will.
The compressed season 3 front 13 along with the budget cuts combined with the spoiler-phobic JS and CF practice of, as confirmed by several cast members, not releasing scripts till a week before shooting made any set up of the Sarah/Shaw dynamic impossible. But lets return to that chemistry, or lack of it first.
I could be convinced, on repeated viewings, that what we were seeing between Sarah and Shaw was sexual tension of the kind found in the more traditional WTWT setup. Two equals, essentially dueling, neither willing to give in and admit an attraction to the other. It’s seems a stretch, but I can read something more than plain discomfort in Sarah’s expressions if I’m open to looking for it. The problem was we weren’t. We were basically told not to look for it in First Class with Sarah’s antipathy toward Shaw and what he was doing to Chuck. This was, as one commenter described, a rabbit out of a hat relationship, complete with the tada. Why? Let’s get some clues from the one that didn’t go thud last episode.
Hannah and Chuck, two outgoing emotionally open people were first introduced to each other on Chuck’s first spy mission. Friendly conversation and, while not really flirting they at least openly showed interest in each other for however long they were together. Lots of interaction and getting to know each other, and a few confessions made their mutual interest seem both unforced and kind of sweet. The chemistry, while nowhere near Levi-Strahovski levels was there and real enough. But then Zach seems to have chemistry with all his PLIs to some degree. In the following episodes while on the back burner there was an obvious interest in Chuck by Hannah, always trying to corner him and get some face time, but obviously a little hurt by how into his ex he seemed. When she finally did get to be alone with Chuck her move seemed both unforced and almost natural. She obviously didn’t come to Burbank for the exciting career. I still think she’s an agent, but that’s for another thread.
OK, Back to Sarah and Shaw. Here we have the exact opposite. Two emotionally walled off professionals thrown together in a work environment with conflicting priorities. While they both have feelings they don’t share them, with anyone. Sarah met Shaw before Chuck met Hannah, but we see more of a relationship develop between Chuck and Hannah in First Class than we ever see between Sarah and Shaw. The problem is that there was exactly one episode to establish an attraction between Sarah and Shaw, First Class, and they were busy arguing about Chuck and making accusations. This was a nearly impossible task to begin with, but apparently they couldn’t afford to have Routh in Nacho Sampler where the Sarah/Shaw connection could have at least been set up better. The one moment they could have started things down a more believable road in First Class would have been a deeper conversation between Sarah and Shaw after Chuck was safe, leading to some kind of reconciliation that they were a team when it came to Chuck, or that they understood each other over the wedding rings. I didn’t see it. Here’s my question. Why didn’t I? Here’s my theory. The actors didn’t know enough to put it there.
If anyone has any inside information or can correct me please do, but my understanding is that they shoot on about a 6 day schedule and get the script for the next episode at about the beginning of shooting the previous, so for instance when shooting First Class both Zach and Yvonne already know, or are finding out what happens in Nacho Sampler. In addition writers and directors are rotated through with little overlap. This may have been fine when you had 22 episodes and time to re-shoot, but it is absolute death in a 13 episode season on a tight schedule with a lot of story to tell. We are seeing the problem in 3.7 IMHO because of a fatal flaw in the way they are handling things. Neither Yvonne nor Routh knew when they were shooting First Class that they were going to be falling for each other in the next episode they were both in, the Mask, and so despite what was on the page the actors couldn’t put the scenes they had together, which were many and long, into the proper context. Here is where I think TPTB may need to make some adjustments that they haven’t made, or perhaps have now. The actors need to know where the story is going every bit as much as the writers in cases like this, and if they knew anything, I’m guessing it wasn’t enough. When a large portion of the fan base tells you something didn’t work, they may be on to something. It might be time to re-consider how much story you can cram into one episode or how fast you can evolve a relationship. These are they same sort of fumbles I see often with trying to turn on a dime with characters and relationships, and why I think that often when going for the big epic traumatic seismic event the tremor that precedes it has to be seen clearly, even if you think it tips your hand and lessens the impact.
Then again there is always that indefinable factor. Chemistry.