What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been.

Shippin’ Our Way Through Season 3

Grateful not to be Dead

Less than one week to go, and maybe we’ll get some answers.  Then again, maybe not, but perhaps we’ll at least know which questions we want answered.  Who is playing whom and who has moved on?  Exactly where are some people emotionally?  What the heck is Shaw up to after all?  How long has Devon been sleeping on the couch because of that “you have to obey me” remark?  Is the Ring ever going to seem as scary as Fulcrum was?  Then again maybe we’ll have all new questions we want answers to.  I’m excited.  Despite my frequent criticisms I’m enjoying this season.  Re-watching a few times and getting a new context hasn’t hurt, and that is one of the things this blog is good at, helping us throw around all the possibilities, hopes, fears, and wishes, then sort through them after the fact.  My latest take on the season of our discontent after the jump.

Just think about how far we’ve come this season.  Look at the picture and see if that helps.  That was one heckuva reset.  Chuck is back to pre-BuyMore days and Sarah is back to being like Carina.  It’s like they never met.  No, strike that, it’s worse.  Before they met at least Sarah seemed to have settled into some sort of intimacy with Bryce and Chuck, while not living up to his potential was at least able to keep the BuyMore humming along.  It seems TPTB were determined to replay the whole series in a new context, with the back story on both of our protagonists tossed in for good measure.  Quite an ambitious project considering they only had 13 episodes, a tighter budget, and a condensed shooting schedule to contend with.  I think they’ve lost some of the feel-good factor, having traded it for more drama, and they’re taking far too long with the whole angst thing, basically killing Chuck and Sarah screen time, but I still think it is one of the best shows on TV.  And I think it’s about to get better.  More on that later.

As I’ve mentioned I also want to cover this season in the context of the Hero’s Journey, the playbook I believe TPTB are working from.  I think this can give us some insight into why they are doing what they are doing, what it is being used to set up, and what we can expect in the next few episodes.  You may want to refer to the outline of The Hero’s Journey in a previous post or here to understand the headings that follow.

The Ordinary World.

Chuck, unglued.  We got a bit of the back story, and I still say season 3 started with The Ring, but this is where the Hero’s Journey starts in this season proper.  Going back to the Ring you can see this as refusing the call to be a spy, but for this season we are introduced to our hero in his new life,  on the couch.  Chuck is paralyzed essentially.  He is halfway to being a spy, but both that and his reason for being a spy, Sarah, have been ripped away.  With no purpose, no goal that seems to fill the hole in his life we see Chuck as he must have been after Stanford.  Broken and directionless.  Sarah is also directionless it seems.  Sure, she has her spy work, but the thing that has given her life meaning for years, protecting Chuck, is now gone.  Absent that it seems all of her progress toward being a real person is gone.  She’s back to playing a part, some mark’s girlfriend, rather than being Sarah Walker and finding out what that meant as she was doing when she was with Chuck.

Clearly these two need to re-connect to see just how far they’ve fallen, and to remember what they had together.

The Call To Adventure.

Chuck’s cheeseball addiction serves him well.  A quick trip to the BuyMore, and he realizes all is not lost, he has a chance to fix things.  Casey seems almost cooperative in supplying Chuck with the necessary information.  But Chuck is still Chuck, and the toxic combination of mission, Sarah and his emotions make for the usual setbacks before he can come through in the end.  However this calling has a price, and we see Sarah thrust back into the role of his protector, once again in the impossible position of having to control him when there are not just strong feelings now, but a lot of history to contend with.

Refusal of the Call.

This season we see Captain Awesome act as a stand in for Chuck, expressing the desire to remain in his normal life, yet experiencing the fear and danger of being pulled involuntarily into the spy world.  In my mind this was one of the most inspired and clever bits of writing they’ve done so far.  They managed a situation where Chuck could be compared favorably against the most awesome of civilians so we could see his new growth and confidence, and managed to both use and expand on an underused character, leading to the funniest scene in Chuck, EVER.

Meeting With The Mentor.

Chuck has several mentors this season, starting most obviously Casey at the end of Pink Slip.  Sarah then takes on the role in Three words while simultaneously beating Chuck with a stick for falling in love with her, then trying to become the man she’d always told him he could be.  Shaw is the obvious final mentor, sending Chuck on his first solo mission which leads to…

Crossing The Threshold.

The hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.  Chuck walks out of Castle and is then next seen entering the first class cabin he moves from one world to another.  There was a lot of discussion about how little screen time Chuck and Sarah share in First Class, but this is done deliberately I believe.  Sarah, in addition to being a mentor, is part of the ordinary life he needs to leave behind or risk losing as the consequence of his journey.  It’s fitting then that the last scene before the episode where he leaves his ordinary life behind is another of the family dinners.  Chuck looking longingly at his dysfunctional half spy half real family was the final reminder of the cost the hero risks.

At the end of First Class we see Chuck, having crossed the threshold thanks all of his mentors for their help and guidance, and then finally we see Chuck alone at the end of Nacho Sampler, having finally fully crossed into the spy world as his family and mentors can now only look on while he is tested.  Again, they can only look on at this point because they will need to reconnect later as equals and allies in the spy world.

Tests, Allies And Enemies.

As we always knew she would be, Sarah is the first and foremost of Chuck’s new allies.  With a beaming smile and the memorable words “ready partner?” the two face their first test together and manage to pull it off where super-spy Shaw failed.  This episode also establishes Casey as an ally, but I have the feeling there will be more on that, going as far forward as 3.10.  Other expected allies to come, Morgan, and we’ll know where Hannah fits in soon.

Shaw, where does he fit in?  He appears to be a disruptive force.  In the classic Hero’s Journey he may represent an archetype called a shadow, not so much a reflection of the hero as a negative.  As manipulative as Chuck is open, as isolated as Chuck is surrounded by friends, representing the possibilities for Chuck if he strays too far from who he is and must become.  While he can still be an ally he does represent a danger to Chuck via his influence.  I think this is the most likely scenario, the two of them, Chuck and Shaw, both good guys, but battling it out to do it their way.  I think this leads to my favorite bit of speculation.  Chuck goes rogue, but for all the right reasons.  The other possibility is that Shaw is an enemy of some sort.  Well we know he’s the enemy to shippers everywhere, hence the sniper rifle.


In the classical Mythos this is often also called the descent into hell.  The hero must journey, with his newfound allies and skills toward a goal or to retrieve the prize.   I think the next two episodes will be on this topic.  From spoilers we know Chuck will not be able to flash for part of 3.09.  That indicates to me that 3.08 will be the descent.  Don’t look for a lighthearted episode folks.

The Ordeal.

Also known as death and resurrection, this must be 3.09 where Chuck will first lose the ability to flash, then be reborn and have far better control.  I think he’ll also have a new normal established with Sarah, setting up the final dash to the end of the first 13.

The Reward.

I think that will be part Sarah and Chuck back to together but nor “together” and part a new mastery of the intersect.

The Road Back, The Resurrection, Return With The Elixer.

All TBD, but it looks exciting.

So what does it all mean?  I think it means that TPTB have been husbanding their resources.  We’ve talked about the tighter budget and shortened timeframe for writing and shooting episodes, but we haven’t talked about one thing.  Subway.  The Subway deal wasn’t finalized until some time late last fall from what I understand (and the fact that we haven’t seen a footlong yet this season).  With the Subway deal came, I’m sure, a new influx of resources.  I think what TPTB decided was that with the deal they got with NBC they couldn’t give us 13 great shows, leading to some pretty limited sets and plots from about First Class to Mask, but they could, given a late infusion of funds from Subway, give us a great season.  An early pickup would likely come in late March or early April, and would depend on a boost in numbers after our present break.  By doing most of the needed character development early with stripped down stories that work their way through the early part of the Hero’s Journey they are setting up for a strong, hopefully well funded big finish that will give them the numbers they need for a S4 pickup.  I hope I’m right.  But I’ll be watching with my footlong Italian BMT next Monday no matter what.


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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29 Responses to What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been.

  1. joe says:

    Deep, Ernie. I found exactly one place where I could possibly differ: Sarah then takes on the role in Three words while simultaneously beating Chuck with a stick for falling in love with her
    (See? I was paying attention!)

    Chuck may have received his beating as punishment for falling in love with Sarah, but that wasn’t why she did it. She did it for making her fall in love with him.

    But talk about your nit-picking… 😉

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I don’t disagree, but the proximate cause was his confession that he still loved her making her that much more vulnerable.

  2. Marvin says:

    You know, I wonder if that line “you had your chance and you blew it” has to do with Shaw being in the snipers crosshairs.

    • joe says:

      Ooooo! I like it.

      Man, we’re seeing a lot of do-overs this season. Chuck gets to dance with Sarah, and now we see Chuck fighting together with Sarah like Bryce did in Nemesis. Is the sniper scene a do-over for not shooting Shaw in Operation Awesome?

      I’m convincing myself that we’ll see a do-over of Prague too.

  3. Faith says:

    Shaw: “I am the villain of the story!”

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that out of all the stars in Hollywood and all the graphics they could pick they picked these. It’s because they are channeling the hero’s journey. It’s been awhile since I saw the Christopher Reeve movies but if I’m no mistaken they always started dark (except for one) and always from the middle to end came with new hope. So yeah I agree with most of what you wrote Ernie.

    • JC says:

      And lets be honest Schwartz likes to joke with the fans. He knows the backlash Shaw is getting. It was firing a shot back at the angry fans in a fun way. I appreciated it.

  4. Jason says:

    tried to read most of what was posted today, any of it could be true, once I sat thru and accepted 3.1, now 3.7’s last ten minutes, I am numb to any scenerio,

    if TPTB nail it, I’ll be quite pleased, if they don’t, they can’t sink the show in my eyes any lower – parts of the promo are exactly what I wanted all along,

    But, my guess is I am going to have to sit thru some BS journy that will be admired by the trash loving hollywood robotrons who have all learned out of the same playbook (lets see, all human personal growth is caused by sleeping with the nearest member of the opposite sex when times get difficult – that playbook), for me, I know what I like when I see it, haven’t seen it so far in 3.1 thru 3.7, hope those promo scenes start being sprinkled in shortly, by and large, I liked what I saw there.

    • atcdave says:

      Yeah Jason, that’s a big part of what my beef has been this season. I will never buy that a love triangle is the only (or even a good) way of advancing a relationship. But I do think we’re nearing the end; we know Hannah is gone after 3.08, and I’m guessing the romantic angle with Shaw will be eliminated fairly soon after. So we may never like much of this season, but we will get past it; and it looks like better is to come.
      I guess that does mean I’m thinking we will know Sarah has chosen Chuck well before 3.13 now, that scene of Shaw staring at Chuck and Sarah through the window certainly suggests he’ll be around long enough to know he’s lost.

      • JC says:

        I was one of people saying that was Chuck and Sarah. But looking at it again, I think there’s more to it. You have the guy behind with a gun. His reaction could be to what that guy is saying. Plus with Awesome there, that spoiler pic of him, Morgan and Casey makes sense. So I would guess they’re around too.

        We need a new post for the trailer breakdown.

  5. ReadySet says:

    Uh, by the way, I’ve been meaning to mention this: WE’RE AT THE END OF ARC 2 THIS YEAR.

    Episodes 1-4 were essentially about what was real and what wasn’t in the spy world.

    Episodes 5-8 seem to be about emotions and emotional attachments in the spy world.

    Episodes 9-12 will apparently be be on rewriting or changing the mythology of Chuck: Morgan finds out; We learn more of Casey’s story; Chuck takes his final spy exam; and the big blowout (essentially dealing with Shaw, I presume) in episodes 9-12.

    There’s some overlap, of course. But it looks as if they planned three distinct segments to the original 13-episode arc with the requisite Chuck-Sarah togetherness in 13…

  6. OldDarth says:

    Chuck is covered:


    Bottom line – the overall more mature approach continues with 3.09 being the lightest of the bunch.

    For me that is great news. 8)

    • joe says:

      Thanks for the link, Lou.

      I’ve heard podcasts now from more than a couple of reviewers who’ve seen 3.08-3.11. Seems like they’ve all been sworn to secrecy on pain of death. Or something.

      They’re all consistently reporting on the mood being more serious – with 3.09 (Zac Levi’s Chuck directorial début) being the exception.

    • weaselone says:

      It seems like 3.09 is a critic favorite and I suspect many fans will end up concurring with the critics on this matter. If that’s the type of show critics and fans enjoy seeing, why not have more more episodes like 3.09 and fewer of for a lack of better words the episodes we’ve seen so far this season? Does 3.09 not work without everything we’ve seen leading up to it?

  7. OldDarth says:

    Indeed Joe. 3.09 is the fun episode of the bunch. The show is keeping the spy stuff serious which is good to hear.

    • JC says:

      So from the from podcasts you’ve heard. The spy stuff and villains aren’t campy anymore? Less Get Smart and more Alias type things. That makes me more happy than the promo if true.

      • Gord says:

        Yes, I think if they can maintain the humour with the serious bad guys on the side, it will make Chuck much more appealing.

        I think that is what I liked about the Lethal Weapon series. You had the humour, but really great villains with high-stakes action.

        This being said, the occassional light-hearted episode would be great too.

    • Jason says:

      keepin the spy stuff serious? really? so you think we have seen some pretty serious spy action so far in season 3?

      • JC says:

        Gord just wondering if you thought that was off about this season so far. The spy stuff never matched up to serious turn the writers were going with.

      • atcdave says:

        I think the main thing that’s been more serious this season has been Chuck and his various relationships. So the main thing I’d prefer was light and fun, has become the biggest drag.
        Looking ahead though, Sarah as the southern belle, that may be humor from a new, and very desireable, direction.

      • Jason says:

        darth, by the way, I love reading your stuff, of them have helped me gain insight, of course I have a but ……

        this show season 3 is like taking the cast from happy days (casey + sarah = fonz, chuck = richie, ellie / awesome = mom and dad, ralph/potsie=buymore clan) writers from the spy who shagged me, the genius from the OC, and trying to produce the show ’24’.

        might work out ok, but sure was more fun when they tried to produce ‘happy days” rather than “24”

      • joe says:

        Jason, I’m really surprised to see this kind of analysis. Maybe I’m taking it wrong, but, “the cast of Happy Days“??? Really??

        I think, perhaps in the Pilot, when Sarah shoulder-bumps Chuck at the end on the beach this might be a possible way of seeing the show. But I can’t see it after Helicopter. Not after the way Sarah dresses down Chuck for not trusting her.

        Not sayin’ you’re wrong – it’s the way you see it and therefore true for you. But I have to admit, I don’t grok this one!

      • Jason says:

        joe, I picked happy days originally because I was trying to think of a cast that seemed to really click, i.e. chemistry. Also, the word ‘happy’ in the title, as opposed to the more serious show. But, as I thought about it, a awkward, nerdy, nice guy, with awkward, nerdy, strange friends who meet up in the same place every episode (arnolds, et er buymore), befriends the most unlikely (a biker) of people, who seems to have larger than life heroic qualities. The larger than life fellow, increasingly embraces the family life of the nerd, and all the ‘goodness’ that surrounds him, while the nerd idolizes the ‘fonz’ who gets him and his friends out of seemingly ever increasingly complex situations. In the end, you hardly knew there were any differences at all?

  8. Gord says:

    I’m not sure that 3.08 will be as serious as is stated.
    After all, we are supposed to get Jeffster and Chuck decking Shaw.
    Just those 2 things alone will make this a feel good episode.

    One thing though. The last episode was written by a writer that has had so many great episodes under his belt, and this next episode is written by Ali Adler yet what we have been hearing about this episode, it doesn’t seem like a typical Ali Adler episode.

    It makes me wonder what devious plot is coming from the desk of JS.

  9. JLR says:

    Nice article… I’ll definitely it’s been a “long” journey. I just wish they’d get us somewhere soon. Chuck has grown as a spy, but other than that, I usually feel like things have gotten anywhere.

  10. OldDarth says:

    BTW, heads up Canucks – we get 3.07 at 7pm this Monday. So we can watch the episode back to back at 8 pm on the NBC feed if one is so inclined.

    • joe says:

      So the heads of state decided to go out for a night on the town in Vancouver. At the bar, Mexican President Calderon orders a Corona. Pres. Obama orders a Budweiser.
      Canadian Prime Minister Harper orders a Coke. “Aren’t you drinking?” asks Obama. Harper answers “Well, if you guys aren’t having beer…”


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