And Other Private Thoughts
I don’t think it’s possible to find a group of intelligent human beings as large as we are here that have one, uniform opinion on any topic. Yet I see this group comes close to consensus about Chuck vs. The Final Exam. A glance at the dozens of comments posted in the 1st twenty four hours after the episode aired will leave you with no doubt that with very few exceptions, the opinions range from mild disappointment to “I’VE HAD IT!”.
Thus it is written. Every post (literally! – I’ve yet to find an exception) has been a well thought out, well written and impassioned statement, respectful and deserving of consideration. For that, I thank you all (and wish I could do that personally).
And like I quickly noted in comments yesterday, I disagree with the majority opinion. I thought the episode should be considered, as a whole, one of the best episodes of Chuck ever, if not the best.
And for my next trick, I’ll try to support this unsupportable opinion!
This time, I’ll start at the end. Many times this season – too many times, actually – I’ve very much enjoyed an episode only to be taken aback by the last 30 seconds or 1 minute (and in the case of The Mask, the last 10 minutes) by an unexpected or unexplained or seemingly unnecessary setback in (forgive me for reverting to the shorthand again) Charah relationship. The inevitable Charah relationship. You saw my cri de coeur when I penned my frustration at the ending of Tic Tac. Not this time. What we saw yesterday was the most promise filled, hopeful and positive ending we’ve had since First Kill ended and we all saw the promo for The Colonel.
“What do you mean, Buckley? Sarah said that she used to love Chuck, implying that she didn’t now.” Uh – huh. We’ll get to that. Promise.
First, the easy stuff. I’ve never been so impressed with the fight scenes (the choreography, actually) as I have been these last few episodes. Chuck’s fights in the steam room and in the men’s room, were as good as any I’ve seen on television, and I say this as a (former) martial artist who can get pretty picky about this stuff. Oh – I also can tell (easily, as it turns out) when someone is faking their guitar or piano playing, as Levi did in The Pink Slip. That was a tenth of a point deduction. Yesterday’s fight scenes gets 9.9s all around, as they did in Tic Tac.
Next, the humor, centered around Casey and the two biggest Buy Morons was as good as ever. For an episode that intentionally centered on the dramatic, I don’t think anyone could (or has) said that it was less than great-as-usual.
The spy drama was exceptional. Chuck’s mission in the hotel was easily the equal of anything you find in any other episode, and the climax, Chuck’s confrontation with a his choice between his old life and his new as he pointed his gun, had my heart racing. As much as I’ve tried to understand every episode and as much as I think I know Chuck, I did not know if he would pull that trigger. I like the suspense.
But all that is mere technique. When you get right down to it, it’s very secondary.
Remember that I’ve written (more than once) about the question “What do you want, Chuck?” It’s often the case that it’s within our power to grasp and take what we want and make our dreams come true – more often than we want to admit, sometimes. Certainly, when Sarah told Chuck that he could have anything he wanted, we all said to ourselves “Take her, you fool.” What I didn’t say before is that too often, what people want is to be miserable. They seek it, they get it. That may not be true for Chuck, but much to my surprise, I realized this week that it’s true for Sarah.
Chuck flashed on Sarah early on, once in the pilot and once in helicopter. Each time, Chuck saw Sarah defending herself using lethal force, and of course, the idea that this ideal, transcendent person of whom he is not worthy could do something like that turned his world inside out. This is not just disorienting to Chuck; it absolutely challenges everything he thought he knew and believed. In Santa Claus the issue comes to a head.
But look at Sarah’s reaction when he confronts her about it. Chuck does this twice, the first time in Helicopter (1.02) when he says “I saw you poison those French diplomats.” Her reaction was to say she’d do it again, because they would have killed her if she hadn’t. Self-defence is a satisfactory explanation, at least, until Chuck sees her shoot an unarmed and surrendering Mauser. The second time Chuck confronts her is the next episode, 3-D, and no one, not even Chuck I think, is fully satisfied with Sarah’s non-response (“I did what I had to do.”)
As much as I tried, I could not understand myself why writers who have demonstrated time and time again that they can make anyone eloquent in 25 words or less (including Casey), tied Sarah’s tongue.
Now I have my answer. Sarah is fallen. Sarah lost her innocence as we saw in the flash-back to her test, and that innocence is something she cannot regain. Grant did not save her after all, but condemned her to this particular level of Dante’s Inferno, and to cope with that, Sarah became the frozen, emotional zombie we saw walking into the Buy More in the fall of 2008. Casey’s not the “killer, burn-out” Sarah describes; she is. And that’s not the worst of it.
Sarah dragged Chuck down with her. To say that she’s upset with him is wrong – he’s the one person who made her feel again, the one who woke her from her emotional coma. To say she’s upset with herself about the direction in which she’s led a (The!) person she cares for understates it tremendously. Sarah feels like she’s condemned Chuck to Hell itself and it’s. All. Her. Fault. It’s not that she doesn’t love Chuck any more. It’s that she can’t forgive herself and cannot be made worthy. She doesn’t even want Chuck to forgive her. At the end of Final Exam, Sarah wants to be miserable.
Have you ever spent time with a person who wants to be miserable? I have. I’d only say this about a fictional character, but Shaw deserves that.
Perhaps now you see why I’m smiling. It’s too easy for me to believe that, despite the trap that Chuck is in – Casey told him to not even tell Sarah about what really happened outside Union Station – Chuck’s soul is not lost. As close as he came, he is not a killer.
Sarah thinks her cause is beyond desperate; it is hopeless. In the scene in The Fake Name, when Rafe held the gun to her head and her right hand started move, Sarah gave up and was ready to die. For two years she might have thought that her mission was to save Chuck, but now it’s clear to me that until S3 began, Sarah had given up on saving herself, and put her hopes in Chuck to do that. But if she had a glimmer of hope before (and I think she did), she does no longer. Only we know that’s not true. Chuck has a new mission. He has to save Sarah Walker.
In my opinion, it’s a worthy story.