It’s Never A Happy Thing
It had to be done. I just had to watch all of season 3.0 again to see what it felt like now that we know how it ends.
Six days after seeing The Other Guy I’m still on some sort of ‘shippers high and I don’t think I want to come down just yet. But I have to. If you watch these episodes again starting with Chuck vs. The Pink Slip I can attest that they they will unwrap the emotions you felt at the conclusion, and you will start at the beginning with new eyes. What you won’t find in the first episode of season 3 is anything that will make you happy. It may even make you more sad.
It’s much easier now to see the display of emotions on the screen. Subtle clues become clue-bricks and yes, they can make you wince. But that’s because, despite yourself, you’re invested. It’s easy today to see that Sarah was upset after Chuck reintersected, and angry after Prague. If something good was happening between her and Chuck (and it was) in Colonel, then it was going to have to wait. Then came Prague, and that was a blow. Sarah showed absolute disdain for Chuck, and it shows when, instead of answering his call, she throws the phone into the pool, and again when she tells Casey to “Get rid of him.” But now I have to ask myself, why so much anger? I thought I knew then. I was wrong.
All we see is Chuck back in post-Jill loser mode (well, maybe a little worse), and it hardly seems deserving of Sarah’s anger. She’s the reason Chuck has reverted, after all, and Sarah fell in love with that loser, we [did/do/will] know. They say that the opposite of love is not hate (it’s indifference), so many of us (me included) took Sarah’s anger to mean she still had (strong!) feelings for Chuck (of course – duh!). So why waste the time when we know how this will turn out? All my parentheses show you that I was having a running conversation with myself the first time I watched the episode.
In The Pink Slip, Sarah’s angry and hurt, but we were not told exactly what it was that made her that angry in Prague, angry to the point be being unable to explain herself and to separate herself emotionally from the one man who could make her reconsider – everything. We, the fans, hardly understood. We (all of us) tried to explain that anger and explain that pivotal scene, never to anyone’s satisfaction. We thought we understood Chuck’s decision, but never Sarah’s reaction to it. She doesn’t tell us – introspection (especially for Sarah Walker) is hard.
But that was wrong of me, just now, to say that we weren’t told. We were, and so was Sarah. I, for one, wasn’t listening.
Sarah: Chuck? We should talk.
[Chuck and Sarah wait for each other to start.]
I’ll go first. – ahem.
Sarah, they wanted me to be a spy, okay? They told me that I could make a difference.
For years I’ve been – I’ve been kicking around, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, like a – a loser, and then one day, really important people told me that they thought I could change the world. Me – Chuck Bartowski.
It was never about you…
I – acted impulsively, and it’s a mistake I don’t usually make. And it won’t happen again.
Chuck: But Sarah…
Sarah: You’re a spy now, Chuck. You have to keep your feelings to yourself.
We need and want so much for Sarah to talk about her feelings, and that is something she cannot do. And Chuck? We should have paid attention to this, because Sarah does – Chuck wants to become a spy. If there is one thing I missed, or misunderstood or got wrong in three seasons of watching Chuck, it was this. In insisting that Sarah was Chuck’s destiny, I was being myopic. I refused to see that it could be bigger than just that, the story could be about Chuck as…
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and making the same error again if I limit Chuck. Human beings, real ones, aren’t limited that way. They only have the limits they place on themselves.
And there’s more to the scene I quoted. It’s a fountain scene, set at an important place, where we expect only the truth will be told. I have not forgotten that I was writing about the truth and where it was to be found.
But what truth do we find here? Is it true that Chuck must learn to bottle up his emotions, or that Sarah must continue to do that? Is it true that Sarah acted impulsively, and that she won’t do that again?
No. What is true is that Chuck was a loser and not happy with that, and that he can make a difference. It’s true that Sarah believes they both must forget their love if they are to serve a higher purpose. We’ll only note for now that Sarah’s grimace at the end of her speech doesn’t match her words, and that she’s hardly capable of turning her emotions off any more. Chuck never was capable of that (“I’m not like you, Sarah. I can’t turn my emotions on and off like a robot.“) More than anything else, that would not be true to the characters, for they are not cold, and they are not emotionless, especially when it comes to each other. I started this by saying The Pink Slip will not show you happiness. It wasn’t meant to – this pivotal scene at the fountain is very sad. It was meant to show us what was important to Chuck and important to Sarah; it was not meant to give us hope.
Now we ask if this – we’ll call it the emotional separation of Chuck and Sarah – was necessary. For that, let me write one more time about the music.
The writers and creators of the story have one hell of a job to do. The fans must be satisfied, ultimately. And still that business piper must be paid in Neilsen ratings. I’ve lost count of how many masters they must answer to. Remember how we started with Imogen Heap’s Wait it Out?
Everybody says time heals everything
but what of the wretched hollow?
The endless in between
are we just going to wait it out?
For Chuck and Sarah, I knew, but didn’t know, that the answer to Heap’s question had been in my possession ever since I tripped upon Arcade Fire’s album, and heard Ocean of Noise. Now, that song has not been used in any episode of Chuck, but it could have been used.
No way of knowing
What any man will do
An ocean of violence
Between me and you
You’ve got your reasons
And me I’ve got mine
But all the reasons I gave
Were just lies to buy myself some time
I’m gonna work it out
Cause time won’t work it out
There were no reasons, just a need to buy some time. As in real life, things work out at their own pace but even then, only when real human beings aren’t passive, but act on their own behalf. Anything else would short-change the part of the story that is about Chuck and Sarah coming together, the one we all wanted. Personally, that ‘shipper’s high I’m on is because that story was not rushed, but if anything, drawn out to the breaking point. The timing was determined, not by the 2 hr. length of a standard movie, but by the 13 week schedule imposed by the networks and tradition, it seems. The destination was never in doubt, but it’s a wonder that the creative talent could make us feel like it was.
Now please, go back and read my words here again, or think about the episode best you can once more. Only this time, I ask you to do one thing for me. Consider that we, the fans, are standing in Sarah’s shoes, starting right here in The Pink Slip. And consider that it’s possible, in ways more real than metaphorical, we are the objects of the story-teller’s affections.
Where do we go from here? We’ll have to think about that later, when we see what season 3.5 brings us. It’s going to be new and different, and we’ve seen very few markers to show us either the new path or the new destination. There’s The Ring, and Lisbon and a few things to be explained or dealt with, all of which were started in this episode. Really, I think Chuck could be a whole new show whose success or failure is totally unconstrained by the past. I think there will come a time to worry and fret over that.
But not yet. We’re still enjoying Paris.