Shippin’ Our Way Through Season 3
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.
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.
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.