I’m guessing that somewhat less than half the viewers whose reactions I saw last night were satisfied with lasts night’s episode, The Fake Name. Something like a little half were not. As is usual with samples of humanity, most were somewhere towards the middle, seeing things they liked and very pointedly, things they didn’t; if there is a needle on the meter, it’d be pointed high, slightly but clearly and significantly on the negative side. And a few were even out there on “the Gaussian tail”, vowing to not watch Chuck again. If anything was different about the reaction, it wasn’t where the needle of satisfaction was pointing last night. It was how strong the force driving it was.
[A tiny voice comes from the back of the room.] “Did anyone like it *that* much?”
Well um, me. I did.
Please don’t hate me now. I saw what you saw, and I know how you feel about how the characters are not who we thought, and how this entire season just hasn’t been fun, and about (very) sudden interests in People of the Opposite Sex who happen to be Cute and Available and Nothing More (formally known as PLIs)… Truly. But I really, really enjoyed last night’s episode.
How could that be? I think I can almost put it to words.
I keep going back to my reaction to Beefcake, the hands down choice for least-enjoyed of season 2. Like most, it took me a while to warm up to it, because I just didn’t like Chuck in that episode. I didn’t like the bumbling, insecure, whiny and even foolish person Chuck was then, more schmuck and more needy than I remember him being in any other episode. Neither did Sarah, it seemed. I liked seeing him act with some confidence (like with Colt in First Date) or be a hero (like in Tom Sawyer). I liked seeing him act as Carmichael. Sarah did too, and I could understand that.
And every episode of S3 has shown us more of Chuck being exactly that spy of whom I said I wanted to see more. His abilities have been growing, and he’s been acting with more confidence and precision until, in The Mask he succeeds precisely where Super Spy Shaw failed – catching the falling object. He’s become as good at lying as was Sarah under pentathol. He’s become as good at manipulating the truth as was Sarah when she advised Chuck to Just tell them we’re taking it slow, and whatever we have, we don’t feel the need to label it.”
You may remember Chuck’s immediate reaction to that – “But that’s just another lie, isn’t it? We’ll never really be together.” Congrats, Chuck. You made it. You’re as good a spy as Bryce and Cole and Shaw. You know, the guys you wanted to be? – The guys who are Sarah’s type? Oh, and by the way, Cole is gone, Bryce is dead and we hate Shaw.
Last night, I typed a few times in comments that I had never seen Chuck look so defeated. Know what? I’m glad about that. He’s succeeded in being that hero Sarah mentioned in The Ring, but you see, Sarah didn’t say “I want you to become a hero.” She told him that he, Chuck Bartowski, already was a hero. So why did he have to change?
And Sarah looks so lost. She’s acting so lost. For weeks now, Sarah’s not been the character we knew. She’s been careening off the rails, and we (or at least, I) kept making excuses for her. Sarah’s been impulsive, distracted, vengeful and even hateful (that is, full of hate) as she literally beats Chuck with a stick and even more hateful as she permits Shaw’s advances. Admit it! You hated it. I did. Sarah’s been off her game, to say the least, even in hand to hand combat, which is something we haven’t seen before. The truth of the matter is that Sarah’s not been a great spy since the beginning of the season. In fact, she’s been a lousy one, relying on Casey and The Intersect to save her when she gets into trouble. Where is our Sarah Walker? Even she doesn’t know. That’s how lost she is. What she does know is that Sam is not a spy.
So why did I enjoy The Fake Name? Besides laughing at the obvious tweaks to ‘shippers like me (sorry, ATCDave, I really didn’t take offence at the WTWT jab 😉 ) I saw Chuck reach his destination. Guess what. It was Teh Sux. I saw something new, something I had just missed before – Sarah is broken. Oh, you may have noticed Chuck stopped flashing last night, even when Sarah needed his help most. We knew that was coming, and saw it again in the promos. The Intersect is broken. Expected that! But I didn’t expect to see Sarah broken, and I certainly never expected Chuck to be the reason for that. Hey! Did someone say that Sarah was Chuck’s kryptonite? Looks like that works both ways.
I’ve mentioned before that for me, I want to feel something when I watch television. That states it poorly. What I mean is that, TV shows that are mildly amusing and/or get my pulse racing for five minutes are quite common. They’re easy to find, and of course, quite predictable. One that makes me care this much about the characters is rare indeed. It doesn’t fail when I stop laughing. It fails when I stop caring. By the end of last night’s episode, I wanted to cry for almost everybody, starting with non-awesome Devon, meddling Ellie, and finally with broken Chuck and lost Sarah. They have all hit rock bottom and I know this because I saw them broken at the bottom of the hole. All the strange niggles and glitches we saw this season are slips and stumbles marking the fall.
And now I am almost relieved. They can now start to find their way out. I don’t know yet if Chuck realizes what he’s done to Sarah, but I know that he’s going to see it soon. He will be the one to bring her up off her knees and not Shaw, not Casey, not some strange turn of events. I don’t know yet if Sarah realizes exactly what it is she has lost and where to find it. But despite her constant attempts to stay unencumbered by connections and emotions, for the first time since we met the character Sarah is going to realize that she *did* have something to lose. It was in her hands, already hers, and she let it go.
I know this because I saw Chuck poke his head up from the hole he’s in, and for the first time see what’s happened to his soul. For the first time in a while, I saw him look up to see some truth and start to look around to see how he’s hurt others. I saw Sarah groping in the dark to find a connection, any connection. She was groping to get back what she once had.
We never doubted that Chuck and Sarah would eventually get together. That was never the question. The question I asking was always who was going to get the girl? – The nerd or the hero? What did Sarah want? – to have a spy’s adventurous life, or to have connections and (yes) a family? Like usual for me, I was asking dumb questions. You see, now I know the answer to the above is “Yes”. You may feel that TPTB have been treating us, the fans, with disdain and ignoring what we know to be true and right about the characters we love. I know ’cause I felt that too. But I don’t see them laughing at us. I see them smiling – not broadly, but gently and with sympathy. A great deal of it.
I enjoyed discovering that. I enjoyed finding out that this was deeper and more meaningful than I imagined even last week. I am going to enjoy the rest of the season.