Don’t Lie, Chuck.[Everyone: Over the past few days we’ve been experiencing some problems with our service provider. I do know that others intend to add to this post, so please check back for updates.]
Yes, no matter how many times you view the episode, it’s still about Chuck’s lies. But here’s the thing. If I stop there, with Chuck and his lies, then I’ve missed much of the point. You see, he’s not the only one fabricating the truth, withholding the truth, and playing games with the truth. We can make up a list:
- Chuck thinks Shaw is alive and withholds that from Sarah “…because Sarah has a history with men.” (says Morgan), and he lies to Sarah outright about the seriousness of his problems with the intersect. Chuck also hasn’t told Stephen that he works for the CIA, or that he re-intersected, and he intentionally keeps Ellie completely out of the loop. But…
- Sarah hasn’t told Chuck about how serious she had gotten with Shaw in Washington, and despite everything, she hasn’t shared with Chuck anything about her past, personal life. And…
- Devon hasn’t told Ellie about the CIA and about Casey. And…
- Ellie hasn’t told Devon about the CIA and about Casey. And…
- Morgan doesn’t tell Devon that Ellie is cheating when he think so, and doesn’t tell Sarah about Chuck’s concerns about Shaw until she forces him to. And..
- Casey doesn’t tell Morgan that Shaw is dead, leaving him to cower in his office for hours, and spies on Ellie. But don’t forget that…
- Stephen hasn’t told Chuck about the problems with the intersect, and he hasn’t told Ellie about Orion, or about the Intersect or about Chuck.
It’s an impressive list and no one is completely innocent here. That’s a shame, really, because all these characters have excellent reasons for holding the truth so closely. Usually it’s to protect someone from unnecessary worry and other times it’s because the truth is not certain.
Sarah: I think you should be honest with the people you love. And that goes for me, too.”
Chuck: I know – I know, Sarah. I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you about Shaw. But it was just a dream, and I wanted to be sure before I worried you.”
Sarah: If you dreamed that Shaw was alive, then you dreamed it for a reason. I mean, the doctor said you’re healthy, and your dreams can be as accurate as your flashes. Right?
The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Nazareth and Jeffster are right. Love Hurts. It’s a fitting lament at this point, because Chuck’s only come half-clean, and what remains will hurt Sarah badly. Everyone is going to get hurt.
Art, Good! Commercialism, Bad. Evil. Weird. Chubby.
Heh! Even Big Mike has been withholding from Jeffster.
Things are not so dire though, because one step at a time, the truth will out. Sarah may be in love, but she is no fool and easily gets Morgan to admit what Chuck is thinking. Stephen gets to the truth about Chuck, the CIA and the Intersect 2.0 pretty quickly.
Chuck: (shouting) Dad! Knife! Face! What if you were wrong???
Stephen: (with a slightly puzzled look) I’m never wrong.
Morgen gets to the truth about Devon and Ellie’s apparent marital problems – sort of, and establishes Devon’s innocence. And Chuck?
The most culpable liar in this part of the story is Chuck. Ironically, he is closest to the truth. In contrast, the character who does the most damage, the character who is furthest from knowing what’s going on is also the most innocent. That would be Ellie. In the spy game, innocence isn’t going to help you much.
What helps you is your partner. Forget the lies and secrets for a moment, and watch how they help each other. In one of the sweetest, most pleasant scenes of S3, Sarah jumps in immediately and helps Chuck locate his father by using her spy skills. Casey immediately uses his skills to be Ellie’s “second shadow” when Chuck needs help protecting her. Morgan uses his “Dr. Morgan” skills to help Devon and Ellie’s marriage. Big Mike helps Jeffster without their asking.
But the one who gives the biggest aid is the character that Chuck hurts the most in this episode – Stephen. Once again Chuck thinks that he’s being abandoned by his father, but the reality is the Stephen has to hurry back to his cabin (and suffer Chuck’s verbal arrows) to verify that the governor will work for the Intersect 2.0. Misunderstanding and lack of trust? Of course. Those things are endemic to these characters. Stephen is the one I admire for not letting these things stop him. He’s the wizened hand here; the most cynical, perhaps even the most damaged. But he’s also the most capable of helping Chuck directly.
I had a question when I started today. What’s with the title of this episode? It’s ostensibly and obviously about Shaw, right? He’s the character presumed to be dead, but is not. I have two problems, though. One is that Shaw is barely in this episode. Mostly, he’s a fear and a nightmare. And isn’t it true that every title has a second, less obvious meaning? What would that be? Who (or what) could also be seen as “The Living Dead?”
Now I think it’s Stephen. More precisely, it’s Stephen that was dead and gone, but has returned; not Stephen the man, but Stephen the father.
Starting with 3.14, we the audience have become convinced that Chuck and Sarah are finally a couple. That part of the story is indeed over, and a new one must begin. Chuck vs. The Living Dead is the beginning of that transition to season 4, with new character dynamics, new villains and a new basis of operations. Chuck is not going back in the car, and Sarah is certainly not going to say there either. In fact, in the most effective fight scene of the episode, and maybe of the season, it’s Chuck, not Sarah, who is the fighter. Sarah’s ax-throw, complete with sparks, is spectacular, but she’s aiding him the way he aided her in season 2. Chuck’s use of the chair pieces as Tonfa is stunning and reminded me of Jason Borne much more than James Bond. By the time I Am Your Skin by The Bravery is played the worry over the lies and deceits at the beginning is forgotten.
Chuck and Sarah are spies and allowed to keep secrets. But they’re together, so they won’t keep them for long.
Dave’s Take on the Lies
Okay, seriously; I really liked most of this episode. But the lying, and I mean Chuck’s lying, is damaging his character to the point I seriously don’t like him much at times. This is something I hope seriously diminishes in S4. It caused nothing but grief in the last four episodes of S3. I’m somewhat concerned by CF’s comment that a spy story will always be about secrets (I’m too lazy to check the reference). On the one hand he’s right; but I hope that doesn’t mean we will have more ill-advised secret keeping between the leads. Chuck’s lying to Sarah is the most inexplicable. She’s been his friend and confidant in the spy world since the beginning, perhaps Morgan has taken her place since the Sham; but if they are a real couple now, that needs to end. I do find it interesting that Ellie, who’s unique as the one character that’s been in the dark since the start of the series, was taken advantage of and was indirectly responsible for Orion’s death (by being the instrument that brought him out of hiding) because she’d been lied to. If she had known what was going on, she would have been less vulnerable to lies about Casey. I hope when S4 starts we will see more of a feeling of trust between the leads at least.
The other troublesome lie here involves the Sham, and I think the writers really blew an opportunity here. I don’t think they knew yet how deep fan anger would be over it when this episode was being written. Instead of making a joke of the breach of trust they could have diffused the situation. Sarah could have expressed regret for any involvement with Shaw while simultaneously downplaying how far things went; instead we discover she was more intimately involved with a piece of lumber than we even knew before. As I’ve said elsewhere, I still want the scene where Chuck and Sarah tearfully apologize for all the hurt they caused each other this season; but I don’t actually expect to see it.
For all that, I loved a lot about this episode. Sarah intimidating Morgan is classic; Morgan and Devon’s talk about a typical day is one of the funniest bits of the whole season (decapitating the bear funny!); Chuck’s fight sequence in the cabin and Sarah’s perfect axe throw was wonderful, especially the “no that’s just her!” line; and finally the Chuck and Sarah spy will sequence at the end was beautiful, in the way this show ought to be more often.
On balance, I think Living Dead is a very good episode. The balance of action, humor, and drama was very good for my taste. I hope the future is a lot like this episode, without the lies!
I Rise In Defense Of Chuck Bartowski – Ernie Davis
Chuck will always protect the people he loves first and foremost. Sometimes that means bearing a burden for a while rather than burdening someone you love. Sarah gets that pretty quickly. Stephen gets it too, eventually. Each in their own way gets bitten by the standard to which they hold Chuck. But since it’s all about the angst let’s start with Sarah. Chuck isn’t lying to Sarah, he’s delaying telling her about some of his concerns about things he’s unsure of. Let’s start with his condition.
Chuck: Oh, come on, Doc. Level with me. Am I cleared for duty or not?
Dreyfus: You were right, Chuck. Your dreams were caused by the Intersect. I’m clearing you for duty.
Chuck: All right.
Chuck: But? But what? Why is there a but?
Dreyfus: But your dreams are also proof of stress the Intersect puts on your brain. And it is my belief that the stress will continue and intensify, likely leading to serious mental deterioration.
Chuck: Um… What does that mean exactly? Am I okay?
Dreyfus: This is a new science. Time will tell. But if I may, Chuck, I think it’s something you should discuss with your partner, Agent Walker.
But it’s all about the angst. For me, it isn’t working anymore. TPTB are attempting to create conflict and drama from very little, and they’re stretching it. Is it a concern that the good doctor believes that the intersect will cause Chuck problems in the future? Most certainly. Is it anything like a death sentence or even an immediate concern given the doctor has approved Chuck for field duty? I say no, it’s a concern Chuck needs to raise with Sarah at some point, not to make too light of it, but more akin to high blood pressure your doctor wants you to be aware of and monitor for symptoms than a biopsy coming back saying you have cancer. In Dr. Dreyfus’ own words when Chuck asks if he’s OK, “This is a new science. Time will tell.”
The heart is a very complicated muscle.
Chuck: Morgan, hey, buddy. Listen, I had another dream last night. It was about Shaw. No, I haven’t told Sarah yet. Yes, I realize that honesty is important in a relationship. Who do you think I am? Listen, just meet me at the Buy More in, like, ten or fifteen. Okay?
Sarah: Whose relationship are you talking about?
Chuck: Uh… Morgan’s, Morgan’s.
Good lord, there Chuck goes again, keeping the truth from Sarah. Or is he? He himself is completely aware that he needs to be open with Sarah and says so. But about what? Is he to assume every dream is an intersect dream and accurate? If so I can’t imagine why. His interpretation of the first one was that it was an assassination attempt. That turned out to be spectacularly wrong. It was only the standard flash on Kowambe’s tooth that revealed the truth in the tooth. Having nightmares about Shaw being alive is a concern, and perhaps one worth sharing, but in this case I don’t blame Chuck for wanting to make sure he knows a little more first.
Chuck: I can’t tell Sarah until I’m absolutely sure because she has…
Morgan: History with the man.
Chuck: I know, I’m aware.
Morgan: Chuck, the thing is if he’s alive, then he knows everything about her and he knows everything about you, everything about me… Where I work, where I live, what I eat, – shower…
Chuck: Hey, buddy, hey, yo, Morgan. This is why we are going to find him and figure out what he’s up to, okay.
Unfortunately before Chuck can enlist the talents of the world-class spy that is Morgan Grimes the world-class spy that is Sarah Walker gets to him. A little quality Sarah and Morgan time follows. He sings like a canary. The bastion of honest and open communication that is Sarah Walker is on the warpath. Morgan flees to warn Chuck only for them to find another of Chuck’s inner circle after the lowdown on what Chuck is doing.
Stephen: Is that John Casey?
Chuck: That is John Casey. Of course, yeah, you know that he works here.
Stephen: Why? He’s an NSA Agent, and if the Intersect project was disbanded, why would he…?
Chuck: Sarah, you remember my father.
Sarah: Oh, hi, Mr. Bartowski. I… it’s great to see you.
Stephen: Why is your handler here?
Chuck: Handler… No. Oh, you’ve been out of the loop, so I can’t expect you to know this, but… but Sarah and I are boyfriend and girlfriend now.
Sarah: Hi, sweetie.
Stephen: Tell me that you’re not in the CIA anymore. Tell me that you quit.
Chuck: Dad, the Intersect is out of my head. I’ve moved on. I can assure you… We can assure you… …that I am no longer a spy. You know me, I wouldn’t lie.
Gotta add in that little twist of the knife at the end just to beat the horse again that Chuck is digging himself deeper and deeper, and to add that little extra angst for Sarah to react to , the wholly unnecessary “You know me, I wouldn’t lie.” The twist of the knife at the end has been done before, and I thought it excessive then:
Chuck: Please, Ellie, brother-sister, there are no secrets between us.
Ellie: Thank you.
Devon: Bro, that was so cold-blooded. How could you just lie to her like that?
Chuck: Ellie and I aren’t kids anymore, all right? There are some things she’s better off not knowing.
But that’s my quibble with the angsty style, so pardon the digression. Back to our story where the open and sharing Sarah Walker sets Chuck back on the straight and narrow.
Sarah: I think you should tell your dad the truth. I mean, you need to be honest with the people that you love, and that goes for me, too.
Chuck: I know, I know, Sarah, I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you about Shaw, but it was just a dream, and I… and I wanted to be sure before I worried you.
Sarah: But if you dreamt that Shaw was alive, then you dreamt it for a reason. I mean, the doctor said that you’re healthy and that your dreams could be as accurate as your flashes. – Right?
Chuck: Ye… Uh, yeah, yeah, that’s right.
Casey: Let’s hope so. I’m not letting you go to Beckman till we know for sure. I ran a scan on all of Shaw’s known aliases. No activity since Paris. I think our best shot at finding him is Walker.
Chuck: W… why?
Casey: She has an… intimate knowledge of the target.
Chuck: I think “intimate” is a… is a bit of a… bit of a stretch.
Casey: If Walker goes through all the places she went with Shaw, all the things they did, maybe you’ll flash on something that leads to him.
Sarah: Would you be okay with that, Chuck?
Chuck: Of course. Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?
Chuck is such a trusting soul. Of Course Sarah would tell him anything important he needed to know, just like he would tell her… Oh, wait… But still Casey agrees with Chuck’s initial assessment, just the dream isn’t enough to go on, they need to check things out before going to Beckman or raising alarms about Shaw. Chuck’s dream wasn’t totally on the mark last time and after all. And Sarah was pretty up front with Chuck when he asked her about Shaw…
Chuck: Hey, Sarah.
Chuck: How was DC? I’m assuming you guys had a lot of fun. Although I… I can’t really picture what Shaw does for fun.
Sarah: Uh, I’m sorry I didn’t call you back but it was a work trip and we were in a lot of meetings. Talking about you, actually. About your future.
Couldn’t be more clear than that, strictly business, yep, that’s certainly what Sarah told Chuck. What could go wrong? They need to find Shaw after all. Strictly business.
Casey: So, what exactly did you and Shaw do when you were in DC?
Chuck: Casey…they were in and out of meetings all day, every day. I mean, the trip was purely spy-related. All business, no pleasure.
Casey: Well, Walker, I have here a receipt from a Waterfront Restaurant named Le Jardin. Two chef’s tasting menus,couple of nice bottles of Pinot… Doesn’t sound like business to me.
This can’t be good…
Sarah: After our couples massage he took me to Tiffany’s.
That paragon of open and honest communication that is Sarah Walker is slumped in her chair, paying her penance for throwing that first stone at Chuck. The most private of people, she now has to spill it all about probably her most ill-advised (ahem) “romance”. And she has to do it in front of the last two people in the world she’d choose. Her neurotically insecure boyfriend and the guy who has enjoyed teasing her about being, a woman of questionable virtue to be kind, or the CIA bicycle to be less kind, for years. Oh, and that banging you hear? That is one Charles Irving Bartowski getting his comeuppance. Perhaps the punishment outweighs the crime in this case, with Sarah, but Chuck’s lies are many, and the truth will come out. Better to do it soon on your terms rather than wait. Casey meanwhile must be wondering what he ever did to deserve such great fortune. This one session could be good for years of material. Oh, and love hurts.
I’m never wrong.
Chuck’s lies continue unabated with his father. It bothers a lot of people. It bothered me at first too. Mostly because it seemed so futile and useless. Stephen saw through every lie almost instantly, why on earth would Chuck continue to lie? Obviously it isn’t about concealing the truth from his dad. What then?
Chuck: Dad, we just had a really nice meal, okay? What’s with all the spy questions?
Stephen: Because I don’t know anything about your life, and I’m here, and I… I’m trying to figure out what I missed, I see one thing. Casey works at the Buy More. Sarah lives with you, and… this is an active surveillance wire. And your computer is still tapped in to the CIA mainframe. So, you tell me again, Charles, that you’re not involved in anything that you’re… that you’re not a spy.
Is Stephen really still asking? He’s never wrong. Surely he knows what is going on, yet he still wants Chuck to tell him he’s not a spy. He must know Chuck can’t do that honestly, but still Chuck will not tell him what they both know is obvious.
Stephen: Why weren’t you here, sitting at one of these computers instead of dangling from a rooftop? Why are you still lying to me?
I could go back to the beginning and say it’s because Chuck is trying to protect his father, but we all know that’s not it. This is a conversation Chuck doesn’t want to have with his father, and one Orion can’t avoid.
Stephen: For every spy, there’s someone who cares about them. Someone who has to open that box, read that message, and mourn their loss. This is a bad business. And I don’t want my to have family any part of it.
For all those keeping secrets to protect those they love, to shield them from the world, and to allow their minds to be at ease, the gravest sinner of them all is Stephen Bartowski. Orion. Even now the price of his sins is being visited upon his children. And on himself.
Chuck: I’m not. I’m not an ordinary guy. The CIA wants me to work for them because they think I’m special… Because they believe in me.
Stephen: You’re right Charles. You are special.
Orion has always known, and now Stephen Bartowski must face it. He abandoned and lied to his children, and now Chuck refuses to justify the man he decided to become to the man who wasn’t around to guide him into manhood. This is why Chuck will not say it, say he’s a spy and the intersect. Chuck still bears the scars but he finally has the life he wants. He’s a spy, he matters, he makes a difference, and he has the woman of his dreams and the love of his life by his side, and his father disapproves. He has no right as far as Chuck is concerned. He’ll try to be pleasant and put off the topic, but Chuck will not suffer his father’s disapproval, and he will not be told he doesn’t matter by the man who abandoned him. So he lies.
The most culpable liar of them all. Stephen Bartowski. Orion. Now his son will die for his sins unless he can save him. But Stephen has lied to his daughter too. Ellie knows none of the truth and in her desire to help her crazy old dad she’s possibly doomed him, Chuck, and her marriage. Possibly worse. The truth will come out. Better to do it soon, on your own terms. Waiting makes it worse. Chuck is bush league compared to his dad.
Lucky for them all the world-class spy Sarah Walker has learned a lesson. Don’t judge. Help in whatever way you can. One fight later with a spectacular Sarah save we find Stephen has learned the same lesson. He accepts his son as the man he’s become, a man he hardly knows, but whom he can still help be the man he is.
Orion, and Stephen still owe for their collective sins. Chuck, he seems to be on the right track. He still hasn’t told Sarah everything, but he has a reason to wait, some good news to go with the bad. As before, Sarah needs to talk. The last time it was about her hopes, this time it’s her fears.
Sarah: I’ve been thinking about what happened at the cabin and…how you almost died. You know, everything that your dad said about the life that we’ve chosen… He’s right. What we do is not safe.
I want you to have this. My spy will. Chuck, this is me. It’s everything I know, it’s my life, and if something wereto happen to me…Well, if anyone’s going to have it, I want it to be you.
Chuck: Nothing’s going to happen to you. You’re not going anywhere. And neither am I.
Chuck is still lying to Sarah, or at least making promises they both know he can’t keep, and he’s still shielding her from the bad news, but the bad news isn’t anything she doesn’t understand. Some day he could be taken from her, and there may be nothing she can do about it. Chuck knows too and does the only thing he can. He faces his future, or at least one possible future. “My name is Chuck Bartowski, and if you’re reading this, it means I’m already dead.”
But there is still a price to be paid for everyone’s lies. Orion’s, Stephen’s, Ellie’s and Chuck’s. This was just the prologue.