Which Way To Run?
There is so much to see here, and feel. But much more is happening below the surface in Chuck vs. The Subway than above where it would be more visible. If you’ve seen the episode one time or six, one scene will stand out for you above all others – the farmer’s market. It’s so warm and lighthearted – that’s what’s visible. Chuck and Sarah are enjoying a sunny day, taking a break to enjoy the berries and that’s what we remember. It’s harder to notice that their conversation is much more serious. Sarah is trying to calm Chuck by reminding him that he said he has nothing to worry about, and Chuck just can’t go around seeing Ring agents everywhere he turns. Can he?
Sarah: You’re going to drive yourself crazy.
Chuck: Well, I’ve been down that road before, haven’t I.
Sarah: The CIA shrink said that you have nothing to worry about. Remember?
Chuck: Right…. other than the ring trying to kill my father or me, and imagining that Shaw is still out there and trying to kill – me.
Sarah: Your father is safe. And not only that, he’s here with you, which is great. And Shaw? Shaw is dead.
Look, I know what you went through, but you have to start putting it behind you.
Chuck: What if I can’t?
Sarah: (tasting a blueberry) Ummm – then there is always blueberries.
Only days after seeing the episode, I found the music, but couldn’t place the scene in which it was used. The haunting melody (The High Road by Broken Bells) tells a different story than the one we see on the screen. It’s a lament about the decisions we make and the paths we choose that change things forever.
Cause they know, so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour in your new life
Tell all of your friends getting warm
Chuck and Sarah have decided to follow their paths together, and that’s great. But it doesn’t make it easier for them to decide which path to follow. When Team B and Stephen locate Shaw on the security video from the subway the four of them will have to decide on their plan of action, and which way to run. Chuck knows full well the decision his father would have him make, and Chuck is torn.
Casey: What the hell is he doing?
Sarah: We need to follow Shaw and take him down.
Stephen: That’s one way of looking at it. The other option is they’re leading you into a trap.
Casey: It’s not like we’re going in empty handed.
Stephen: You know how I feel about this, Charles.
Chuck: Yeah. Yeah, I do. But I don’t have a choice.
Stephen: That’s exactly what the Ring wants you to think. There’s always a choice.
Chuck: What choice would that be, dad? To run away? I’m not you, okay? I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in hiding. I can’t leave the ones I love behind.
Chuck has always had this choice – to run away, especially from Sarah. He’s had the choice to run away with Sarah too. So far, despite the wishes of his father, he’s chosen not to run at all. We can’t be too sanguine, though, because there’s another voice from which we’ve yet to hear.
Truth Hurts, Don’t It?
It’s sardonically humorous how everybody thinks they know what’s going on, even when they don’t. Sarah thinks she knows that the CIA “shrink”, Dr. Dreyfus, has certified Chuck fit for duty, and that Shaw is dead. Ellie thinks Casey is some sort of evil agent. Morgan becomes convinced that Ellie is cheating on Devon. Devon becomes convinced that he is not awesome enough for Ellie, and Casey is convinced that Chuck’s dreams are just screwy.
For his part, Chuck thinks that he’s doing best by Sarah by hiding his worries about the Intersect’s effect on his brain. There may be one other thing about which he’s fooling himself – the effect Daniel Shaw has on Sarah.
Oh, why should I say that? After all they’ve been through, why should there be any doubt that Daniel Shaw has no hold on Sarah? Because names are important. That’s why.
Devon: Why would you think there’s something wrong with our marriage?
Morgan: No reason.
Devon: Don’t BS me, little man. If something is up with Ellie, I want to know about it now.
Morgan: Whew – Okay. She’s having an affair. She’s cheating on you, bro.
Devon: (laughs) That’s impossible.
Morgan: (whispers) Casey intercepted an illicit phone message and he played it back for me.
Devon: (laughs harder) Ellie would never…
Morgan: I’m sorry.
Devon: You just called me Devon.
Morgan: Yeah, well this is no time for frivolity.
To Sarah, Casey is almost always “Casey”. She calls him “John” only rarely, when the closest intimacy they are able to share between them must be found. Chuck is always “Chuck”. Awesome is – well, awesome, except when he’s not, and Ellie is always Ellie and Morgan is the little bearded man. Who is Sarah Lisa Walker, again?
When he-who-shall-NOT-be-named reappears reeking of arrogance, Sarah whispers “Oh My God – Daniel!”. Chuck certainly noticed, and he didn’t miss the significance. “Daniel” means something. Like it or not, it (that big, unstated “it”) is not completely over for Sarah. We used to say it with a smirk in my youth – “Truth hurts, don’t it?”
There’s more “truth hurts” moments. Ellie gets the shock of her life when she sees Chuck slug Justin. He’s simply not who she thought he was.
Chuck too thought he knew what was going on. He unceremoniously bursts into a high-level meeting of muckity-mucks from Washington who are in the process of deciding the fate of the Intersect Project. As far as that special committee is concerned, “…the Intersect is unstable, expensive and most of all, dangerous.” Yet another “Truth Hurts” moment.
Shaw walks in much like Boris Spassky in Reykjavic, all bravado, thinking checkmate. He can do this because he does know what’s going on; he’s the mastermind who’s seen everything five moves ahead. To him, the truth is a weapon that he wields to hurt Sarah. Chuck’s mental condition and Sarah’s real name are like thrown knives when calls her Sam (names are so very important) and touches her shoulder. It’s so very painful to watch.
But there’s something below the surface here, something that’s hard to see. You see, Shaw made a mistake, if only a small one. Sarah’s visceral recoil at Shaw’s touch could tell Chuck everything he’ll ever need to know about her feeling towards the man.
Chuck and Sarah are preoccupied with Shaw’s threat just then, too preoccupied to know. So is Casey. He too has to make his decision about running, and his decision is to run away from Shaw and to Alex to protect her. Chuck is convinced also, to protect Sarah.
Sarah: Chuck, wait! Where are you going?
Chuck: Sarah – I have to leave. My dad is coming.
Sarah: You can’t. You have to stay and fight. If you run they’ll put a burn notice on you and you’ll be running forever!
Stephen: We have to move – right now!
Sarah: You can’t do this – If you run, there’s bulls-eye on your back. They’ll never, ever stop looking for you.
Stephen: If you stay, everyone you love will be in danger. You have to choose who you want to protect, you or her.
Chuck: Dad – please don’t make me… [the alarm goes off.]
Stephen: Right now, Charles! You have to run to protect her.
Chuck: I’m sorry, Sarah. I’m sorry but if I have to choose, I will always choose to protect you.
You run with Sarah, or you run away from Sarah to protect her. Choose one. Chuck makes the same decision Stephen made.
Truth Be Told
Alex is not yet a major character in our story, but she’s not spared painful truths in this episode either. To stop her running from him, Casey has to tell her something important, because your true name is important.
Casey: Alex – I’m your father.
Alex: That’s impossible. My father’s dead. He was a war hero. He died before I was even born!
Casey: No. I didn’t.
Alex: STOP IT!
Casey: You were named after your dad, Alex. You’re named after me. My real name is Alex Colburn.
Please. You have to trust me. You have to get to your mom and disappear.
Go Alex! RUN!
All these truths are coming out all at once. Ellie discovers that Morgan Grimes, the boy who took her pillow as his date to junior prom, knows more about her family than she does. Shaw is going to let Sarah in on his plan too. She’s pretty harmless to him now, and he’s not above kicking her when she’s down.
Sarah: You wanted to see me, sir?
Shaw: I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you, you look great, Walker. Love suits you, I guess.
Sarah: (impatient) Shaw, this is crap, and you know it.
Shaw: Only two people know what happened that day in Paris. It’s your word against mine.
Sarah: Chuck saw what happened. We all know that you tried to kill me.
Shaw: But Chuck has become an unreliable witness. His mind has been compromised by the Intersect, and now that he’s escaped, he seems so – guilty.
I’m sorry that you had to learn about his mental deterioration in such a public forum. It’s sad he never told you in a more – intimate setting, Sam.
Sarah’s true name is being used as a weapon against her. She knows it, Shaw knows it, we know it, and the people who wrote the lines used by the characters know it.
Sarah is more than affected. For three years she’s struggled to keep her emotions in check for Chuck’s sake, and for the sake of his family, and it’s all blown apart. Sarah’s pain isn’t so much from Shaw’s manipulation, but because her worst fears have been realized. Her emotions have been Chuck’s undoing.
Shaw: I knew you’d bite.
It’s a shame. I remember when nothing affected you. Now you’re as emotional as your boyfriend.
Truth hurts. Sarah lashes out with a vicious punch in frustration, and the punch comes from all of us watching. It’s our frustration. Sarah, why did you tell him your real name? Chuck, why did you withhold the truth from Sarah and from Ellie? Casey, Stephen, why did you run so many years ago, when you should have stayed?
There’s an answer for us hopeless romantics. They do it for love, of course; the real thing. Oh, by the way – did you think The Real Thing ™ was limited to something between Chuck and Sarah? It isn’t, you know.
There’s an ocean below the surface here. Shaw’s mistake was subtle, and it’s Morgan’s subtle mid-course correction that starts Chuck down a different path. His phone call tells our boy that Shaw is winning, and Chuck has to change his mind – and Stephen’s. You see, truth has a way of healing too, if only slowly.
Chuck: I just can’t walk away, dad!
Stephen: I am your father. You can not ask me – please do not ask me – to put my own son in jeopardy!
Chuck: I just can’t walk away, dad. Why did you come back this time? You came back because you wanted to protect Ellie and me. Because you know no matter how far you run, you could never live with yourself if something happened to somebody that you love.
Stephen: If we do this, we gotta be smart and not think emotionally. We can do this. We’re Bartowskis.
They are Bartowskis, just like Ellie reminded him. What about real names? Oh yeah – they are important. With everything in him, Chuck wants to run, this time towards Sarah, and danger be dammed. But that’s still running in the wrong direction. His father may have been wrong about Chuck’s running away to protect her, but he’s not wrong about thinking with his head. They’re not going to storm Shaw’s CIA fortress. With Ellie’s help, they locate something else.
I mentioned earlier that there was someone else who had yet to weigh in about Team Bs course of action. Ellie’s influence is not clearly visible to anyone but Chuck. It’s still below the surface. There are times when what’s below bubbles up, however.
Casey: You’re not going to get away with this, Shaw.
Shaw: Yes I will. Love struck Bartowski will try and come save you, and this time, I’ll be ready for him – and his father. (Mwa-ha)!
My nominee for most satisfying scene of season three is the moment when Shaw realizes that Chuck has found the regeneration lab where the second Intersect is hidden, and both Casey and especially Sarah know that Chuck just surprised him in a major way.
Casey: Don’t know when it happened, but our boy became a man. Bartowski’s a spy. Picked a good one, Walker. Finally.
Even more than the closing of the laptop computer in a Paris hotel room, Sarah’s smile says it all.
But it’s a hopeless, almost wry smile. Shaw shoots Stephen (presumably dead) in front of Chuck (and unknowingly, Ellie), and takes him with Casey and Sarah to be executed on route to a detention cell. Team B. is together but defeated, and there’s no one left to help them.
– except everyone who’s ever loved them. You know. The real thing.
My take on Subway was everyone choosing love and loyalty. Sounds trite, doesn’t it? From the opening set up of Sarah taking Chuck to the market, and having a nice interaction with PapaB, to picking the person you love over yourself, the episode rang true to the characters I’ve come to love. Joe has already done a great job of capturing most of this, so I’ll try to be brief.
Sarah. The look of hurt and dismay on her face as she shrunk to her seat in the chamber after finding out Chuck lied was amazing. But instead of reacting out of an angry place, Sarah knows and has embraced her feelings for Chuck. She tells Casey that everything she cares about is there. She chooses to support Chuck, which is what a true partner does. Shaw’s line about her being as emotional as her boyfriend and remembering how nothing could have affected her stung me as a viewer. That tells me how baseless their relationship was. It was nothing but a physical relationship, with Shaw using her to forget his dead wife. Her punching Shaw was sweet vindication to me. She doesn’t fight the accusation and has come out better for loving Charles Irving Bartowski. The sweet knowing smile of acknowledging Casey’s compliment of Chuck in the cell was just icing on the cake.
Casey. He has steadfastly been characterized as a man who gave up everything for duty and love of country. Are those chinks in Casey’s armor we are seeing? I would argue no, as we have watched him grow from a cold ruthless man in S1 to a man who has found a family in Team Bartowski. Sarah once said it best, “it helps to know you have something to lose.” We find out that John has been getting to know Alex and is using his skills to protect his family. He knew they walked into Shaw’s trap, but he chose to put himself on the line for his daughter.
Chuck. The lying. The lying has come to a head and he devastated Sarah. But Chuck, our hero, always chooses love over, well, anything. He does use his heart more than his brain in many cases, and thankfully he has his father to snap him back into being a Bartowski.
Ellie. The lying is over. Her world is shattered. Everything she thinks she knows about her family, and even Morgan, is potentially a lie, and she certainly doesn’t know what is going on. Her brother and his girlfriend are spies! Her father has been MIA for most of her life, and her husband doesn’t think to get answers. And to make it even worse, she doesn’t get to hear answers from her father before he is murdered. Ellie does what she does best and goes into big sister/mom mode. My problem with this is that she, like her father, has no idea of what Chuck (and Chuck and Sarah as a team) can do or why he chose the spy life in the first place. Intersect or not, Ellie needs to see her brother as a man and understand the world he and Sarah live in. She can’t protect him any more than Devon could protect her by stealing her off to Africa. Loving Chuck means trusting him, and she followed along with the plan to bust Shaw and the Ring, but I think the price (making Chuck quit the spy game) was too high.
Morgan. Wow, the guy has grown on me a lot! His defense of Team Bartowski and attempts at helping Devon and Ellie were really commendable. His clear respect for Casey has shown through, his rousing defense of Casey’s character to both Ellie and Alex were awesome. And who knew he was a lapsed vegetarian? Loyal to the end, he always chooses the love of his family.
Hell to Pay
Truth, lies, secrets, and the price we pay for the choices we make. These may seem like the themes of this three act finale (that’s my theory and I’m sticking with it). I’m not going to argue too vociferously with those who say it is. But I see something more. The secrets, lies, truth, and the consequences are about something deeper. It’s a direction I think the series has been heading since the beginning, but has lately picked up steam. It plays to the strength of the show, and what the show has always been about at its core, relationships. We’ve all said it. Chuck is not the funniest comedy, or the most dramatic drama, or even a particularly compelling spy/action story. What Chuck is though is a unique combination of all of the above with that little something extra. It makes you feel like it matters. The drama (usually) doesn’t come from overwrought or artificial conflicts, but from the just slightly different from normal people interactions between the characters. At the core of the show is an amazingly talented cast, capable of incredible range from comedy to action to drama, who above all can sell their chemistry as something real you should care about. It draws us into their world, and we live their lives, feel their pain and their triumphs and make them a part of our extended family, and so, even though we need to overlook a lot sometimes, it matters to us. The final arc of season 3 is finally getting around to the core question the extended Bartowski clan must answer. How do we protect those we love?
Chuck wanted to be a spy, and as we saw at the end of Chuck Versus The Living Dead, Chuck had crossed the threshold, finally accepting the new life and the consequences of that life. Chuck is aware that it only takes one slip up, one moment of weakness, and he could lose everything. And so Chuck sits down to write his will, his last words to those who he’ll leave behind. Sarah has made her peace long ago with the life she lives but now things have changed. Sarah now has a family. People will mourn her and so a part of her, all she knows and who she is, will stay with Chuck after she’s gone. Stephen has realized he can’t protect Chuck, but he can help him. The prologue is set. Shaw is alive and an intersect. Ellie has been deceived into exposing her family to The Ring. Her secrecy and unknowing betrayal is the result of both Chuck’s and Stephen’s, and to a lesser extent, Awesome’s desire to protect her. But Ellie isn’t a fawn in the woods. She’s more like the mother bear as opposed to Sarah’s lioness. Ellie has her own mission to protect those she loves, and she will not sit idly by if she feels they are in danger. While it’s most obvious in Ellie’s case it’s the very attempt to not just protect those we love, but shield them from the reality of the danger that leads to their downfall. The price that is extracted may be less than the original danger, but there is hell to pay nonetheless.
How do we protect the ones we love? Stephen tried by keeping his life and work a secret, and in the end by leaving everything he loved behind, hoping to preserve it by his absence. He substituted one hard truth for another, one set of struggles for his children to face alone rather than a presumably more difficult set for the family to face together. Right? Wrong? We see the same thing again with Casey. The choice he made was to protect something larger than just a family. His choice called for the cost to be paid up front, kind of like Stephen’s, but a bit more extreme. Leave it all behind, cut all ties. You’ll have no weaknesses, no family, no need to deceive the ones you love to protect them, but you give it all up now. They mourn you now, not when the final price is extracted. Between then and now is a lifetime of living with that loss. And both Casey and Orion, in their own ways have found it doesn’t work. The big lie can bite you just as easily as Chuck and Sarah and Devon and Ellie’s smaller deceits. Casey and Stephen still have loved ones and family, they just don’t realize they are in danger, and Casey and Stephen’s protecting them is all that much harder.
Can it even be done? Can you protect them? Sometimes the decision to protect someone can lead to even more danger. Chuck’s decision to delay telling Sarah about the Intersect’s potential pitfalls leads to the disclosure making the team look like they’re trying to hide something, and to crushing Sarah in public. Orion and Chuck’s decision to “keep Ellie safe” has put her directly into Ring custody, and them back in jeopardy. Sarah’s attempt to force Shaw to tell the truth has put Chuck and his father in danger by giving Shaw an excuse to arrest her and use her as a hostage against Chuck, and Chuck and Stephen’s decision to run has left Sarah alone and vulnerable. OK, emotionally alone and vulnerable. The theme is there though, much as they try our heroes only seem to make things worse.
I’m going to take it one step further. Sometimes those choices, even the best and the unavoidable ones come at a terrible price. The stakes in Living Dead were some uncomfortable situations and hurt feelings and the requisite big fight to save the day. Now we’re seeing a much greater cost extracted. Could they have done something different that might have avoided all the pain, or does even the right choice cost you? I’m going with the latter. For my example consider the following. Chuck created Shaw. Not the slightly creepy and charmless love interest and supposed super-spy mentor, but this Shaw. The evil driven mastermind Shaw. But Chuck had no choice. Shaw wanted revenge on the CIA through Sarah and through giving the Ring what they needed. But in stopping Shaw, killing Shaw, Chuck created a new, more evil, more driven, and more dangerous Shaw. Shaw was no longer using the Ring to extract some petty revenge, he became the personification of the Ring. But Chuck was still right to kill him in Paris. We know Chuck did the right thing when he downloaded Intersect 2.0. Sarah and Casey would have died, the Ring would have the intersect, and Chuck’s family, and Orion’s still wouldn’t be safe. But that right choice set in motion a chain of events Chuck recognizes, and sees the outcome. The cost of Chuck becoming a spy and fulfilling his destiny was his father’s life. He can never know the cost had he not become the man he is, had he run with Sarah, or never re-intersected. He can only see what it cost him.
And so it is now. Orion is dead. Chuck, Sarah and Casey are on their way to a roadside execution, and those they sought to protect are now their last hope. But there is hope, because at long last our heroes, all our heroes, have realized shielding those you love from the truth doesn’t protect them. It just has its own set of consequences.