An excessive discourse on Season 3, with apologies to Dickens.
It was the best of Chuck, it was the worst of Chuck; it was the season of enlightenment, it was the season of foolishness; it was the time to believe in Charah, it was the time to destroy it; it was the season 2 finale, it was the season 3 premier; it was the November and December of hope and then joy, it was the January and February of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, but we were all going through hell. After the jump.
Given all the recent Sturm und Drang I thought an overtly pretentious opening might just be the thing, but that butchering of Dickens is oddly appropriate. I walk a fine line in my posts. I try to express what I feel about Chuck and where it is going while at the same time digging into both the fan reactions and the direction TPTB are taking. I know that this sometimes makes me seem rather schizophrenic, one post characterizing the source of shipper anger, another defending seemingly indefensible lapses in writing and character assassination. I sometimes feel like Vito Corleone standing over the bullet riddled corpse of his son. Look what they did to our show. Killing is one thing, but this is butchery. But here’s the odd thing. Minus Pink Slip, and a few minutes of three words, I’ve liked every episode this season. I still love this show. But I usually have to do something to make that happen. Watch the episode at least twice, doing my best to let go of how I would write it. If I look for what they are trying to tell me rather than what I think they should tell me, it is there. So which is it Ernie? Are you a shipper or a cool aid drinker? Well the answer is yes. Are the two compatible? I’ll give it a shot.
The Season of Our Discontent.
Starting with Chuck Versus The Ring last season we’ve had both Chuck and Sarah acting in some very uncharacteristic ways, or in ways that revert the characters to caricatures of their worst traits. Sarah standing mute for 20 seconds watching everything she ever built with Chuck come apart, ’cause, you know, Sarah doesn’t express herself well. Chuck in Three Words being so completely obsessed with telling Sarah how he felt that I was ready to beat him with a stick. Not to mention the whiplash inducing change of direction that both Chuck and Sarah have taken in the last episode. I think all of the things I’ve seen that cause me angst come down to one common factor. Momentum.
I was starting a post to be titled Physics 101 (do we see a theme) that discussed my theory of how TPTB lost a large portion of the fan base with a rapid change of direction that seemed to come out of nowhere, namely my favorite scene in The Ring. Everyone talks about Colonel as the game changer. Well, it really wasn’t. It was kind of the last ticks of the clock in the first half. We knew where this was going eventually from, well pretty much the beginning of the season, minus some time outs. There was a momentum to the Chuck and Sarah coupling building, and eventually that became an irresistible force. In a way it was perfect. Finally together, Sarah essentially freed from her CIA duties to handle Chuck and Chuck freed from his uncertainty about Sarah’s motives, and both freed from surveillance, they finally had a real moment together. The masks came off and how they felt was front and center.
We’d seen the masks slip before. Sarah at the end of Hard Salami is the most obvious. I thought that one was the real game changer. Even though her step back from the truth of her feelings and the implications was a bit painful to watch it was clear to me that by the end of Crown Vic she’d come to terms with the fact of her feelings, and while she’d deny it to anyone she didn’t seem to be denying it to herself. We saw that pretty clearly from Marlin through Breakup, where it seems Chuck finally stepped up and took some responsibility for the two of them. It was never about how they felt. It was clear in the Breakup they both knew how they felt. It was about the impossible situation they found themselves in. But in the breakup, in a new context, I saw something. Chuck didn’t just put some distance back by saying what they wanted could never be, he basically told Sarah he’d keep her safe. He’d seen crazy in love Sarah, and that little distance he put back between them was just enough to let her know that he wouldn’t let his feelings for her endanger her. He’d be strong for the both of them, and despite his longing to be with her wouldn’t let things get out of hand. Now compare and contrast the rest of the season with the last time Sarah needed to put some distance between them, in Crown Vic. Sarah seems to feel safe with Chuck, even recognizing her feelings for him, to the point where she revels in how “real” things are between them, without taking it too far. She’ll sleep in his bed without the attempts to manipulate, she’ll cook him breakfast, be his sister’s bridesmaid, even move in together, because she can trust Chuck to keep her safe from the possible consequences of both their feelings. He did it more than once. The rooftop in Marlin was the first time. He talked Sarah down and was ready to go to the bunker to keep her safe, and she realized it, eventually. In return she keeps him safe and with his family and tries to protect him from some of the more distasteful aspects of the spy life. It’s the unspoken deal between them, and most of their problems in season 2 are because Sarah wants more “real” than Chuck can handle without losing himself or Chuck forgets that he really is Sarah’s boyfriend as far as she’s concerned. They practically acknowledge it out loud at the end of Lethal Weapon. She wants so much more with Chuck, and he again has to step in and say, too much. I can’t handle that level of real if it can’t be really real. This was the dynamics of the two steps forward one step back, not questions about how they felt for each other. That’s been clear since Marlin. In that context Barstow was inevitable, but not a game changer. The question was never do we want to be together, but how together can we be?
How together can we be. It seemed they’d had it generally figured out for a lot of Season 2, with a few bumps as mentioned. Sarah’s whole being was dedicated to one thing, protect Chuck. He was her emotional anchor, the one person she could count on. For Sarah, for now that was enough. For Chuck it was a temporary thing, until they could make it real. As mentioned Sarah was superwoman with the spy stuff, but a damaged little girl emotionally. She’s not strong in that way. She relied on Chuck to fill the role of someone to keep her safe. Chuck understood that role, but not the depth of Sarah’s need for it. To him it was a temporary burden he had to bear, and once their situation was resolved with the intersect gone Chuck felt that burden was lifted. So did we it seems. But what we saw was the now what moment. The masks were dropped, they both knew what they wanted, the rest of the story is how to get there.
Chuck kept Sarah safe and Sarah protected Chuck from the worst aspects of the spy world. She also helped him become the man he could be, we saw that. But by protecting Chuck and giving him confidence Sarah also sowed the seeds of her own despair. Chuck never thought himself worthy of Sarah and all she’d done for him, and in a way it seems Sarah never thought she deserved someone like Chuck. In that one brief moment it seemed like they could meet in the middle, but where’s angst in that. The momentum that seemed to bring them together seemed to have changed with no explanation. We didn’t see the outside forces that were pulling them apart. This has always been my execution argument, we need to see these momentum changer clearly.
The decision Chuck made, to be “that guy” was bigger than we think. Oh yeah, he was the intersect before, so how does that change anything? Think of it this way, in seasons 1&2 Chuck was a man overboard swimming for the nearest shore. Through no fault of his own he was thrust into a situation where he had to sink or swim. Easy decision, swim for shore because your life depends on it. In the Ring Chuck decided to dive in and swim the English Channel, because Sarah told him he could do it, he was a great swimmer. That put Chuck and Sarah right back where they were. How together can we be? Chuck thought he’d lived in the spy world for a few years, and thought he knew what to expect. More of the same. Sarah knew she’d done something terrible, even if she had the best intentions. She’d helped make the man, but had hidden a lot of what his decision would cost to protect him. They’re both now working through those consequences. Sarah has been thrust back into the role of Chuck’s protector and mentor. Keep his emotions in check. Much as she may have wanted to at the end of three words she knows she can’t be with Chuck right now. He sees the distance and knows he’s hurt her. And he’s heard her words. Feelings get you killed. Or can we maybe paraphrase what Chuck may be thinking is where Sarah is…you had your chance and you blew it. Sarah risked opening up to Chuck once, and clearly still cares, but I’ve seen no indication he would or should think Sarah is open to romance with him again. I’ve written about that before and think that was a pretty well established line, making Hannah, while not inevitable, believable. Sarah is the one we can’t figure out.
The question we keep asking is what’s up with Sarah? A better question might be does Sarah know what’s up with Sarah? While Chuck is getting harder Sarah is clearly getting softer. At the same time Sarah has lost something. Her emotional anchor. Chuck and their cover dating always gave Sarah something that may have been as real as she could handle, but something she considered real. She was with Chuck often, she had a purpose, and he had goals she could share in. Chuck was also Sarah’s moral guidepost, the guy who always did the right thing. For two years Chuck protected Sarah emotionally, and now he’s gone from that role when she needs him most. How can she decide what is right or wrong when the guy who told her is having trouble figuring that out for himself? How can she have something real with anyone when the guy who protected her and kept her safe not only crushed her, but is pulling away?
What’s up with Sarah? She’s in a world that’s as new and strange to her as the spy world is to Chuck. She thought she knew what she was in for, but Chuck protected her, and that has cost him. Sarah is now directionless and lost in her new world. Her guide and protector is gone, and she knows only one thing now, the thing Chuck taught her. She needs people in her life she can love and trust. She has no idea what to do next. I have the feeling that what we are about to see is to show us just how lost Sarah is in this strange new world.