And Doing Him One Better
Do you like David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists? Oh, who doesn’t! Our friend Merve does him fifteen better, actually. Please welcome him as our newest guest poster.
When Joe asked me to write this article, I had three ideas in mind. The first was to rip apart seasons 1 and 2 by zeroing in on their faults, but I realized that that would be no fun. The second was an impassioned defence of season 3, but I realized that I could sum that up in four words: “comedy, action, Casey, Morgan.” The third was a satire about the Chuck fan base, but such an article would be doomed to descend into thinly-veiled vitriol.
So rather than just writing about things that I have liked or disliked, or trying to pick apart story arcs to analyze them in excruciating detail, I wanted to write about things in the series that have impacted me in some way. After rejecting all of my previous ideas, I remembered that Chuck reached an important milestone last Monday: 50 episodes! I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at some of the show’s most memorable scenes. In compiling this list, I’ve certainly made some omissions, and I’d love to hear which other scenes you have found memorable. I’m going to praise some scenes and I’m going to criticize others, but I think that these 25 scenes are likely to remain with us long after Chuck is over.
1. Chuck Versus the Intersect
The dance scene at the rock club
The sexy CIA spy dances around the clueless nerd while fending off an attack from NSA agents. That description sounds absolutely ridiculous, and yet this scene was funny, exciting, and suspenseful all at once, setting the tone for much of the action to follow in the series.
2. Chuck Versus the Wookiee
Sarah reveals her middle name to the audience
Imagine not being able to reveal anything about yourself to the man for whom you’ve developed feelings. Yvonne Strahovski played this scene with a blank expression on her face, as if Sarah was just being professional with Chuck. At first glance, it might even come off as indifference, but note that she remained absolutely silent when Chuck was speaking to her. What if she had opened her mouth? Could she even have bore to tell Chuck, “Sorry, I can’t tell you my middle name?” Probably not, because as soon as Chuck left to get the napkins, she whispered, “It’s Lisa; my middle name is Lisa.”
3. Chuck Versus the Sandworm
Sarah and Chuck take their first real photo together
It is only in retrospect that I realized that the photo was important not only to Chuck, but also to Sarah. For Chuck, it was confirmation that Sarah didn’t just see him as an asset. For Sarah, it was one of her first attempts at having something “real” in her life.
4. Chuck Versus the Truth
Sarah implicitly admits to Casey that she has feelings for Chuck
Even though I saw the revelation that Sarah could withstand the effects of sodium pentathol coming from a mile away, my heart still broke a little when I saw Sarah watching Chuck enjoy coffee with Lou. The reasons for her sadness were twofold. Professionally, she failed to maintain the cover, but personally, and perhaps more importantly, she lost the man she loves.
5. Chuck Versus the Imported Hard Salami
Chuck and Sarah share their first kiss
Sarah went for it when she thought that she had nothing left to lose. Sorry Ross and Rachel, but this was the hottest TV kiss ever.
6. Chuck Versus the Nemesis
The Thanksgiving dinner
Sometimes I think that Chris Fedak woke up one morning and wondered, “What would happen if I put Chuck, Sarah, Casey, Ellie, Awesome, Morgan, and Anna all in a room together?” If that’s true, I’m glad he did. In this deliciously funny scene, Chuck and Sarah dealt with Bryce, Casey and Awesome discussed water sports, and Morgan and Anna participated in an awkward quasi-love-triangle with Ellie. Kudos to the director, Allison Liddi, who turned what could have been a very messy, confusing scene into an hilarious one.
7. Chuck Versus the Marlin
The rooftop scene
We finally got a sense of the lengths to which Sarah was willing to go in order to protect Chuck. She was willing to pull a gun on Longshore and take Chuck on the run. Thankfully, Chuck talked her down. Their tear-filled farewell was one of the most poignant scenes of the series. It’s also one of my personal favourites because Chuck couldn’t resist making a lame joke about the President even when saying goodbye to the woman he loves.
8. Chuck Versus the First Date
Casey’s aborted assassination attempt on Chuck
I love “The Twist” by Frightened Rabbit and I love this scene, but the two don’t go together at all. Now that I’ve gotten that minor criticism out of the way, let’s take a look at Casey. It appears that by this point, he had warmed up to the nerd. He even pleaded with Beckman to find another exit strategy. But Casey is a man who doesn’t take duty lightly. He made his way through Chuck’s apartment with a mixture of hesitation and caution, and despite having several opportunities to kill his target, he didn’t do it. Perhaps seeing Chuck rehearsing what to say to Sarah about a trip across Europe, Casey realized that he couldn’t take the life of a bright young man with so much potential and a desire to see the world. When Sarah finally arrived to tell the news of the destroyed Intersect, Casey left the apartment as if he were never there at all.
9. Chuck Versus the Break-Up
The “break-up” scene
As much as I love this episode, I’ve tried time and time again to make sense of it and I just can’t. (The deleted pizza date scene doesn’t help.) When did Sarah suddenly become incapable of protecting Chuck? And why, after what Bryce tells him, does Chuck’s break-up speech have nothing to do with being safe or professional? Where did all this business about “real” and “normal” lives come from? Perhaps you guys have some answers. But let’s just leave that all aside and zero in on the “break-up” scene, ignoring the rest of the episode. This scene is interesting because Chuck can’t possibly know how much he hurt Sarah when he made his speech. By the end of the front 13 of season 3, I got the impression that two of the things that Sarah wanted were a “real” life and some degree of “normalcy,” with the former being more important to her. Imagine how heartbroken Sarah must have felt when the man she loves told her that she could never have either of those things. It’s no wonder that she couldn’t stop herself from shedding a few tears. This scene only proceeded further into heartbreak territory when Chuck and Sarah were forced to put on fake smiles to maintain their cover and Devon told Chuck, “Maybe you’re next,” in reference to the upcoming Woodcomb nuptials. The irony of those words must have been devastating for Chuck, but all he could do was laugh it off. Altogether, it’s a beautiful, poignant scene. (Plus, “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver is an excellent song.)
10. Chuck Versus the Fat Lady
Casey and Sarah rush to save Chuck after it is revealed that Jill is working for Fulcrum
I think that the version of Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm” with the f-words left in is more apt than the censored version that plays over this scene. On another note, who can forget the looks of absolute shock on Casey’s and Sarah’s faces when they discovered that they had arrived at Chuck’s apartment too late?
11. Chuck Versus Santa Claus
Sarah shoots Mauser
I found this scene to be an incredibly dark, shocking twist. If there were any previous doubts about it, this scene sweeps them away: Sarah will kill to protect Chuck. The image from this scene that stays with me is the look of horror on Chuck’s face when he realized that he had given his mother’s charm bracelet to a killer.
12. Chuck Versus the Best Friend
Jeffster! performs “Africa” by Toto
Morgan and Anna reconcile, as do Chuck and Sarah, while the music of a ridiculous prog-rock cover band plays in the background. Only a television show like Chuck could pull that off. There are two important things that happened here. Firstly, Morgan manned up and all but told Anna that he loved her. Secondly, Sarah realized that not only was Chuck the man of her dreams, but he was also her best friend. I don’t know what Chuck and Sarah were thinking about when they looked down and saw that they were holding hands, but I know that it wasn’t vintage cars or Jeffster!’s next gig.
13. Chuck Versus the Suburbs
Sarah cooks breakfast for Chuck
Who’d have thought it? Sarah Walker, domestic goddess. This scene gives the audience a good idea of what life would be like if Chuck and Sarah got married, lived a “normal” life in the suburbs, purchased a Toyota and a dog, and planned to have 2.1 kids*. Watching this scene, I couldn’t help but smile. But I also couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something artificial about it; I knew it was all going to come crashing down soon.
*That’s the average American fertility rate. Sorry for the lame joke.
14. Chuck Versus the Lethal Weapon
The Tron poster
This might be my favourite scene of the entire series (and “Signs” by Bloc Party is also now one of my favourite songs). It was certainly a surprise to find out that Chuck had been working on getting the Intersect out of his head all along, but it showed us that our hero was not just a passive observer; he was a man of action and he would do whatever it took to get what he wanted. I should point out that Chuck often said that he wanted his old life back, but that was somewhat of a lie. What he wanted was a new life, one that included Sarah. After all, how could the journey be worth it if he couldn’t be with her in the end? The wealth of information included on the back of the Tron poster provided a lot of fun tidbits. “No olives, extra pickles” was written under a photo of Sarah. Beckman was hilariously listed as “Roan’s girlfriend.” These extra touches are what made this already great scene truly excellent in every way.
15. Chuck Versus the First Kill
Sarah takes Chuck on the run
“Take off your watch.” “Why?” “Because it’s all a lie.” That might be the most haunting exchange of the entire series. In the lead-up to that point, we saw the expression on Sarah’s face change from fake happiness to a real mixture of concern and panic. We can debate endlessly about what Sarah’s actual intentions were when she initially approached Chuck at the entrance to the Buy More, but one thing is for sure: after Chuck’s apology, Sarah realized that she could never betray the man she loved.
16. Chuck Versus the Colonel
Morgan quits the Buy More
Emmett Milbarge had been antagonizing the Buy More staff since his first appearance in “Tom Sawyer,” so I actually stood up and let out a little cheer when Morgan finally stuck it to him. One of the many delights of season 2 was seeing Morgan’s transformation from bearded loser into bearded leader. When Morgan quit the Buy More, I realized that he had a lot of potential beyond being Chuck’s awkward fifth limb. I couldn’t help but feel pure joy when Lester yelled, “You’re free Morgan!” while Morgan and Anna raised their arms in the air to enthusiastic applause. More so than Chuck and Sarah making out in a motel room, or Stephen Bartowski removing the Intersect from his son’s head, this scene is the reason that I love “Colonel” as much as I do.
17. Chuck Versus the Ring
Jeffster! performs “Mr. Roboto” by Styx at Ellie and Devon’s wedding
This scene is so chock full of awesomeness that it defies description. I’ll leave it at that.
18. Chuck Versus the Pink Slip
The railway station in Prague
This scene has been called out-of-character, poorly-written, overdramatic, ill-conceived, and vomit-inducing, among other things. But if your heart didn’t break a little when Chuck told Sarah, “Sorry; I can’t,” then it’s probably made of coal.
19. Chuck Versus the Three Words
The vault confession
Personally, I found this scene lame and overdramatic, but hey, the fans seem to like it, so here it is. To be fair, something like this was absolutely necessary for Sarah to understand why Chuck did what he did in Prague without directly confronting him about it (since if she had confronted him, then they might have reconciled and there wouldn’t have been any angst, and that would have been no fun, right?) But thirteen episodes later, Sarah still hasn’t reciprocated with those three magic words. Maybe Lil’ Chucky Boy jumped the gun a little.
20. Chuck Versus the Angel de la Muerte
The dance scene at the consulate
The great thing about Chuck is that it’s often just plain fun, and this scene exemplifies that perfectly. Who didn’t get a kick out of seeing the lecherous Costa Gravan dictator dance with the reluctant Ellie, while her husband watched with a combination of discomfort and horror? In addition to that, we were lucky enough to see Chuck using his Intersect skills on the dance floor, putting Sarah through some impressive dips and dives. (Yvonne Strahovski must be really flexible.) Altogether, this is probably my second favourite scene of the series.
21. Chuck Versus the Nacho Sampler
Flashback to just before Sarah met Chuck, from Sarah’s perspective
“Piece of cake.” That line echoes an earlier one spoken by Chuck about handling Manoosh. But when Sarah says it, it stings. That’s when we realized that prior to the first meeting of our two heroes, Chuck was just another assignment to Sarah, and a simple one too. Of course, we know from the pilot episode that it didn’t take long for Chuck to melt her heart by helping a little ballerina and her father. But that doesn’t change the fact that Sarah initially thought that handling Chuck would be easy, just as Chuck thought that handling Manoosh would be easy. Ironically, both ended up being deeply affected by their experiences as handlers. Chuck realized that there are ugly, difficult choices to be made in the world of spying. Sarah found stability, normalcy, comfort, and love, and then had it all ripped away as the Chuck she thought she knew disappeared before her. But seeing what her life might be like if all of that were real, she couldn’t go back to who she was before. The beauty of this scene is that all those things are expressed with one simple line: “Piece of cake.” Chuck has always been good at irony. Usually, it’s used for humour. But here, it’s both eye-opening and poignant.
22. Chuck Versus the Final Exam
Sarah recounts her Red Test to Shaw
It was haunting, chilling, and utterly discomforting to hear about what was probably Sarah’s first kill. Who can forget the stunned look on a younger Sarah’s face when she realized what she had done? Present-day Sarah’s narration of the event was at once calm and emotional, as if she were on the verge of breaking. Once the folks at the Academy finally get their heads out of their behinds, maybe they’ll finally nominate Yvonne Strahovski for a much-deserved Emmy.
23. Chuck Versus the American Hero
Chuck says, “I love you” to Sarah in Castle
This wasn’t just an emotional release for Chuck; I suspect that it was an emotional release for much of the audience as well. Chuck finally took his sister’s advice, threw caution to the wind, and just went for it. I don’t know about you, but I applauded. (Okay, I didn’t actually applaud. I was watching with my friends and they would have given me a weird look, but I felt like applauding.)
24. Chuck Versus the Other Guy
Chuck shoots Shaw
If you hated Shaw, then you were probably cheering, and if you didn’t mind Shaw, then you knew he had it coming. In the moments leading up to his character’s death, Brandon Routh showed the world that he actually could act, playing a revenge-obsessed psycho to perfection. But the most important thing that I took from this scene is that Chuck would do anything to protect Sarah. Nobody messes with Chuck’s woman. Nobody.
25. Chuck Versus the Honeymooners
Chuck and Sarah relax to “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
It’s finally real. No covers, no lies, no motel rooms, no train compartments, and (hopefully) no surveillance. This wasn’t a kiss of desperation. This wasn’t a libido-fueled romp on a train. This was two people finding comfort in simply being in each other’s presence. No expensive bathrobe or well-groomed hair for Chuck. No sexy lingerie or fancy makeup for Sarah. Just the two of them and a song. Shippers around the world experienced cardiac arrest brought on by excessive squeeing. Anti-shippers around the world vomited into the nearest trash can. But most of us just smiled and felt immensely satisfied. After all our heroes had been through, they deserved to end up here. They couldn’t find love in a hole, and they couldn’t find comfort in a bottle of Johnny Walker, but they could find both in each other.
So there you have it: these 25 scenes have largely defined Chuck for me. Some were heartwarming, some were hilarious, and some moved me as close to tears as something fictional can. Like I said earlier, I’d love to hear which scenes defined the series for you.
When I started writing this list, I originally intended to limit myself to just ten scenes. But ten grew into twenty which grew into thirty, and I had to do a lot of thinking to cut the list down to twenty-five. (I thought it would be fair to mention half the episodes.) There are so many memorable, quotable, and well-acted scenes in Chuck. One thing is clear to me: we have a great show on our hands.
I’d like to thank Joe, Dave, Amy, Ernie for giving me the opportunity to write this article. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope that you enjoyed reading it too.