Joe vs. S3

That Wasn’t The Kiss I Was Expecting

S3 is over, and now that we’ve reviewed each episode several times, it’s only fitting that we look back, one last time, at the season as a whole.

You remember how it was about a year ago.  We were all excited and relieved that Chuck had been renewed.  When the announcement of a January 5 start came, it was greeted with outright joy.  I don’t think I was alone when I found myself getting excited at the sight of advertisements promoting Chuck on NBC.  I won’t deny it, though. From the start there was tension between the excitement of just seeing more episodes and the worry over what we were seeing.  That tension was going to continue.

Many fans have stated that they don’t have much interest in re-watching certain episodes.   Understandable.  I can tell you from my own experience that if you had this reaction and watch anyway, you’re quite liable to enjoy the individual scenes and episode much more than you might think.   Oddly, you’ll be just as hurt by, let’s say, Chuck and Sarah parting in The Mask, and Sarah not flinching when Shaw massages her shoulders in The Fake Name as you were the first time.  Maybe more so; I know I was. Each episode is funnier, more deliberate and more punishing than you probably remember.

That is, they are until you get to the very end of 3.12, American Hero, when it becomes clear that Sarah has made her decision about Chuck.   From then on, it’s just as you remember.  For seven more episodes, we enjoyed a story that was adventurous, exciting, dramatic and most of all, a trip that left us in the embrace of an exhausted, extended emotional release (all sexual imagery intended).

You didn’t go far enough, Chuck! Sarah is special. I know it, you know it. If you love her, if she’s the one, then you don’t stop, you don’t quit, you never go too far! You are a Bartowski, Chuck. Start acting like one!

This was not a fun trip. In hindsight (which is always 20/20), I come away believing I should have hated the characters for most of those first 13 episodes.  Besides devolving immediately into a cheese-puff snarfing loser in the post-Stanford mold who blows it both with the CIA and with Sarah, Chuck also becomes a self-centered navel gazer who’d much rather drown himself in Johnny Walker than in Sarah Walker.  By any unbiased measure, he decided that his interests were much more important than Ellie’s, Morgan’s, Sarah’s, the Buy More’s or Hannah’s. Hannah, by the way, was quite right to tell Chuck to his face that he is not a Nice Guy ™.   He wasn’t.  As if you needed reminding, this Chuck Bartowski doesn’t help ballerinas in the Buy More, or even customers.  He lies, uses his own friends and family, kicks Sarah (indeed, becomes the murderous Rafe for the sake of a mission), burns an asset (who is close to being just like him), almost murders an operative with his bare hands under Laudinol and is this close {} to pulling the trigger.  The best he can do for Sarah is to give up on her.

And Sarah, the one we want to think of as unerringly perfect and ephemeral, is hardly better.  When we first saw her, wearing her white “seduction-bikini”, I wanted to think Agent Walker was merely on a mission.  If the music track had been the opening chords of The Guess Who’s American Woman I might have seen her differently.  Sarah regressed much further than even Chuck, right into heartless.   She heard Chuck explain his actions in Prague.  Sarah’s reaction?  It wasn’t just “You have to bury your emotions deep Chuck, where no one can find them.” Her reaction was to beat him with a stick and prove that (no matter what), he could not hurt her.  Did Chuck ever tell a lie that was bigger?  Make no mistake, even more than than Shaw, Sarah created that new Chuck Bartowski.  And when Sarah realized that, she didn’t try to rectify the situation.  She became totally lost, ineffectual and incompetent as a spy and as a friend, losing all distinction between Sarah and Agent Walker.  In my judgment, when she turned to Shaw, her character and judgment became questionable (and yes, I’m putting that euphemistically).

Did we say that the story had damaged the characters?  It most certainly did, and not just Chuck and Sarah.

Look at it again.  Ellie became an over-mothering nag.  Devon became un-awesome.  Casey was not being much of a team player.  Were these the characters we liked, any of them?  Was this the show we loved?  Well, yes, but I’ll have to get back to that.

Despite all the bitter anger I just tried to put into words, during the season I didn’t see it that way.  I couldn’t bring myself to believe the worst about these characters.  It was too easy to blame – Shaw.  In truth, I certainly didn’t get to the point where I didn’t want to watch the next episode; they were still too enjoyable.  The show had too many hilarious moments, too many exciting moments, and too many scenes that kept up my belief in Chuck & Sarah for me to not want to see what was going to happen next.

Right up to the end.

Perhaps you remember when I finally lost that, mid-way through 3.12, American Hero, when Shaw and Sarah are at the restaurant.  That was the moment I gave up on the season, and gave up on them.   Shaw-the-seducer was not acceptable, because Sarah the seduced was not.  The show we were seeing was no longer fun and I could no longer find a way to like Chuck and Sarah. In fact, when I reviewed that episode, I wrote that “Chuck, as we had come to know it, had come to an end.”  And indeed, it had.

We will meet and wait and pray for the monsoon

It couldn’t have happened at a better time.

You are all familiar with how I jog these days, aren’t you?  I take my iPod, play my tunes and run until I’m lost – no, not lost in my neighborhood, but lost in the music.  My play lists aren’t entirely the music I’ve heard on the show, but yes, I have season 1, season 2 and season 3 music on separate play lists.  Each song brings along feeling and moods that I’ll forever associate with specific scenes, of course.  I’m sure you and I share common unspoken thoughts when we hear Skinny Love, or Signs or Christmas TV – music does that.  After what I just wrote, you’d think that I’d love to dwell in the S1 and S2 play lists.  But, not so.

My iPod plays Imogen Heap’s Wait It Out and My Backwards Walk by Frightened Rabbit and I realize I’m on the verge of tears.  Dumb.  Swim Until You Can’t See Land is exactly the sweet, hopeful, “just put one foot in front of the other and keep going” advice I want to give Chuck and Sarah, as if they were real.   I won’t even say what Gaslight Anthem’s Here’s Looking at You, Kid does to me.  And then there’s Temper Trap’s Down River.

We have seen some things
Some awfully nice
Some dreadfully bad

But we will sing
Wash the blood, off our knees
Cause our love breaks
Through ruff seas, our ship will sail it

And there’s Miike Snow’s Sans Soleil.

You make it hard.

There were so many moments when we the fans were being addressed directly and deliberately (like “Paulie Walnuts” telling us how much he hates the “Will they/Won’t they” of his bosses).   I can’t say I found it arrogant or insulting, though. It was communication.   I heard more of it in the music, and that music brought me back.  Each song wanted to lead me by the hand to the ending we had in Paris.   And when I get there (present tense, again and again) I don’t mind that trip anywhere near as much as I thought I had the first time.

But the key word I just used was deliberate.  Whether it was enjoyable throughout or not, what TPTB accomplished in the end was something close to what they set out to do.  In light of all the obstacles thrown in the way (starting with the high fan expectations), I don’t think it was a minor feat.

Some important things were addressed in S3.  Chuck had been an everyday hero.  That was the character I identified with, and at some point I became unsure that he still existed.  Well, Chuck certainly had gotten past his adolescent insecurities (as do we all).  But if you still like that, it’s there to be found.  The heroism is now in Morgan and Devon and Ellie every bit as much as it was in Casey, Sarah and Chuck.  Especially, Morgan, the one character who remained unsullied all season.

The humor I love took a beating in season 3.  Starting with the brutal death of Emmett, through Chuck shooting Shaw in Paris and even to the death of Stephen, calling this season “dark” is an understatement.  Yet, the humor of Jeff and Lester (and even some of the guests like Manoosh and Fitzroy) kept the show from becoming maudlin.  Let’s say, much like Chuck, the show had left childishness behind and became more serious. It’s not an altogether bad thing.

I was still heart-warmed by several scenes – those that centered around family.  The dinner table was used in a more important way, this time to show both Chuck and Sarah what they were going to be missing without each other.  This was new and poignant.  Family not only became more important as the season progressed, it became the most important thing with Ellie and the death of Stephen.  It promises to be even more so in season 4, not only with the introduction of Mary Elizabeth Bartowski, but with the potential start of the Woodcomb family.  Can we think of Chuck and Sarah in those terms yet?  No, only in our imaginings for season 5, with the hope that we see the beginnings soon, can we do that.  But it’s a possibility.

And the angst?  That became bigger and uglier than ever!  Shaw had been the agent assigned to break Sarah’s influence over Chuck so that he could be a spy.  Shaw succeeded, too.  But there was a comeuppance, and like a balloon that’s been blown up too much, the angst exploded and disappeared forever.  It was Shaw who drew the answer from Chuck to the question “What do you want?”.  It was Shaw who drew from Sarah the answer to the question “Who are you?”  Their answers proved to be meaningless without each other, and I do love the idea that in the end, Shaw was a tool used to bring this out.   He became the tool that brought them together.  We’ll call Shaw the barometer of the season.  He pained us and he damn near made everything worth while.

And those last six or seven episodes… can we say that they justified the awful lows we endured to get there?  Of course, that depends on your tolerance for such things.  Mine is pretty high.  Still, I understand that the pacing and things that were unforeseen in the scheduling made it worse than intended.  Artistically and technically I’ll say that the fans had to be a little generous to say they were really satisfied and rewarded enough for everything that transpired.  But I’ll also say that the generosity and good will of the fans was well earned.  Emotionally, I start to realize that the highs I felt during Colonel had been very nearly reached again and extended to last much longer.  That would not have been possible without Sarah realizing that Chuck could hurt her; that she had emotions.  It would not have been possible without Chuck realizing that he was capable of murder; that he always had choice.

For myself, I’ll be re-watching The Other Guy and The Honeymooners as often as I need to feel good.   I’ll re-watch The Role Models and The Tooth if I ever need to be reassured that Chuck and Sarah are okay with each other, and I’ll re-watch them for the exciting build up to The Subway and The Ring Pt. 2.

I’ll re-watch season 3 in it’s entirely every time I watch season 1 and 2. I don’t think I could ever start at that beginning without going to the end we have now.

This is Barcelona, doing Please Don’t Go. It was not used in the show, but it does finally come to summarize a lot of my feelings when I think about the season. Enjoy.

All those arrows you threw, you threw them away
You kept falling in love, then one day
When you fell, you fell towards me
When you crashed in the clouds, you found me

Oh, please don’t go
I want you so
I can’t let go
For I lose control

Get these left handed lovers out of your way
They look hopeful but you, you should not stay
If you want me to break down and give you the keys
I can do that but I can’t let you leave

Oh, please don’t go
I want you so
I can’t let go
For I lose control

Once again, I’d like to thank Faith for providing space for the music.

– joe


About joe

In my life I've been a professor, martial artist, rock 'n roller, rocket scientist, lover, poet and brain surgeon. I'm lying about the brain surgery.
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93 Responses to Joe vs. S3

  1. hiswings says:

    I tend to agree with a lot of what you say in your observations. Shaw, the one we love to hate, really did bring to fruition so much of the results the season needed to conclude. And I agree that you can’t hardly pick and choose whichever episodes you wish to re-watch – they must be watched sequentially, even though some episodes darn near break your heart to endure. I think the hardest one for me to get through is The Mask.

    I think the one thing that redeemed the season for me, besides Sarah and Chuck finally getting together, was watching the development of Morgan. He came from being a near idiot in S1 – eating out of the crisper – to becoming the dapper assistant to Chuck in the Tooth. He then matured into this thoughtful, very capable assistant manager, to being the one to shake Casey loose in The Other Guy, and then on to being “our only hope” in The Subway. I am anxiously awaiting to see how his relationship with Casey and Alex develop in S4.

    Thanks for always stretching the thinking when it comes to Chuck. I appreciate your candor.

    • joe says:

      Thanks, HW. You’re absolutely right about Morgan. He was the season’s biggest surprise for me, by far. It took me a while to catch on, but I really got to like the character.

      I started to appreciate Josh Gomez as an actor far more, too. It takes a lot to make a character that was once one-dimensional into something real.

  2. JC says:

    I always appreciate how positive you are Joe, reading your opinion on this season is refreshing from my own cynical one.

    I’m in total agreement about Morgan growth this season, his story is what kept me watching the show. From his conquest of Carina, saving the day in Other Guy and everything in between. He was the only character I cared about by the end of the season.

    The rest of the season I can’t be upbeat about. Chuck and Sarah are still written to extremes. Sarah was given even less dialogue and her emotions became a plot device. The angst was raised to ridiculous levels in place of actual drama. Real issues about the cost of losing yourself to be a spy were never fully explored and when they tried it was murky at best.

    The CRM which the season started is swept away with five minute conversation. The idea spies don’t fall in love is torpedoed by Shaw being a widower and by the Turners.

    The spy story was non existent and the villains were terrible.

    They bring in a guest star for twelve episodes and like you said he’s used as walking plot device. Everything he did was the exact opposite of how other characters described him.

    I’ve watched the season twice and as much as I try it still feels like a giant waste to me. This includes the back six which in a way angered me more. The idea of the Intersect being on the fritz, Team B on the run and The Ring taking over were great ideas. But unfortunately we got more of the OC with spies instead.

    • joe says:

      I try to be positive IRL too, JC. Thanks!

      I enjoyed the spy-stories a bit more than you, JC (yeah, that’s just my tastes). I rather liked Sydney, and being both a Soprano’s and Drew Carey fan, I got a kick of the guest stars that got the most criticism.

      But the real thing is that my attention was 99.44% on the romance, so there was no way that any thing else was ever going to be more than tertiary.

      It was definitely out of balance compared to S2, but it almost seems necessary, given my priorities going in.

      • JC says:

        It wasn’t that the spy stories have to be epic because they weren’t during the first two seasons but I’d like them to make sense which I never got this year.

        And it wasn’t the focus on the romance that bothered me, it was the reactions of both Chuck and Sarah that did. They didn’t seem like real people to me.

        Sarah jumped to worse possible conclusion about everything and never saw that Chuck constantly saved everyone. Her love came off as conditional and to some degree still does. She never takes any blame for anything she does.

        Chuck still never gets angry. Ellie, Morgan, Sarah call him out and he takes it. He never calls out the other characters for being idiots and jerks themselves. Watching him take the blame for everything actually made me cringe, especially during Am Hero.

  3. OldDarth says:

    Nice piece Joe. Sooooo glad the relationship is not the primary reason I watch the show because it indeed would have been a tough slog.

    Loved the development of Casey, Morgan, and to a lessor degree Beckman in S3. Ellie proved how powerful her character was in Subway. Sure hope the show does not put her back on the sidelines in nag mode.

    I am concerned about this season. Now that the show has effectively become Chuck and Sarah, will the writer’s be able to prevent Sarah from becoming a mere Chuck appendage? Or will they be able to give her a new life goal outside of the Chuck world that allows her to be an individual.

    Waiting for SDCC to come and go so that I can incorporate any tidbits of info into my next article before posting my thoughts on S4 over at ChuckTV.

    • joe says:

      Lou, the smartest people I know are all saying they worry that Sarah will become “just the girlfriend”. I absolutely agree that it would be an awful thing.

      At the same time, I can’t imagine it happening. I mean, if I was a writer (and you all can thank God I’m not!), if there was any doubt, I’d just leave the character exactly the way she was. The easiest thing in the world would have to be to let everything about Sarah Walker be the same. Yvonne knows how to do it, Zac and Adam and Josh know how to react, and that’s what the audience wants to see! Coast!

      Okay, I’m being factitious. I think it was Chuck’s Intersect skills that makes it seem like Sarah has less of a role, except as a girlfriend. But with the pending Orion story, and with far less need of romantic struggles, it seems to me that Sarah Walker will have more of a chance to be kiss-ass, and not less. I mean, the show’s direction seems to be all about family and action this coming season. That’s more for Sarah to do!

      • OldDarth says:

        My concern is that Sarah’s life goal was finding family and true love since the pilot. She has largely accomplished that. Yes there can be fun moments mined as Sarah tries to navigate the often incomprehensible dynamics of being part of family but all of that is in connection to Chuck. So will her involvement in Orion’s legacy.

        Sarah needs to be given a new goal specific to her only. I await with interest to see if that will happen.

      • JC says:

        Does Sarah have any real motivations or wants other than Chuck? She was a cheerleader for the first two seasons then became a prize/ perfect girlfriend during season 3.

        Some writers and fans have tried to make her a complex character but is there any real depth there? I used to think so but not anymore. Too many times she’s used to advance the plot and any growth or lesson learned is forgotten about.

        Sarah’s journey in S3 was about Chuck not her. They tried to bring up her loathing of being a spy but that was dismissed once her and Chuck got together. Her character doesn’t seem that different then at the end of S2.

    • Joesph (can't be Joe) says:

      Joe – like you I’m worried about Sarah, for a rather simple, and admittedly selfish, reason.

      If they decide to write Sarah into the story (yes, that was sarcasm), there cannot be any haziness about her motivations.

      “Valley girl” Sarah they created in the first 13 had motivations were left to ALL sorts of interpretations, which made the character unappealing. I know some people got it, I just never did.

  4. Big Kev says:

    It’s tough to know where to start with Season 3, because so much has been written about it, and feelings have run so high at times, that it’s hard to distill all of that into a few sentences.
    I guess my starting point is that I love TV shows that make me feel, that make me care about the characters, and are courageous enough to give me characters that grow, rather than the blandness of most TV.
    And boy did I feel this Season. At times I felt manipulated and angry (mostly during Mask and Fake Name but also on the platform in Prague), I often felt baffled by Sarah’s motivations in general, and indifferent to Chuck as he turned (briefly) into an arrogant, insensitive idiot. And I still find it difficult to even mention Shaw without thinking of the incalculable damage he did to the show. His half-decent psycho in Subway/Ring does not exonerate him in my view and I absolutely do not want to see him again in Season 4.
    Those were bad days, and not just for me. But then I think of so many other times where what I felt came from quality, rather than manipulation, and I can forgive the dark days.
    The Bo scene (and the perfect choice of Model Homes) almost brought me to tears. I adored the romp that was Angel de la Muerte. The slow descent into the dark side of spydom in Nacho Sampler was pitch perfect. Morgan’s reaction in Beard had me pumping my fists. The transition from comedy to drama in Tic Tac as Casey is inadvertantly ratted out by Chuck is seriously one of the best pieces of TV I think I’ve ever watched. As is much of that whole episode. I loved the drama of Final Exam, although I know many didn’t…..and that’s before we get to Paris and Honeymooners and the so-called pay offs.
    Role Models aside, I loved the back six, and some of the set up possibilities for Season 4 have me seriously excited. Subway ties with Colonel as my favourite episode of the series, and when I see our characters now, after three years, I wouldn’t have them in any other place.

    • herder says:

      I’ll agree with most of this, the only quibble that I have is that I was a fan of Role Models, I thought that it was one of the most comfortable episodes of the year.

      I’m looking forward to what is comming from Comic-con as it provides fodder for thoughts about what is to come. Last year after Comic-con I took my annual vacation to the Maine shore and spent some pleasant time on my morning walk mentally speculating about how things would go, although in truth I never figured that the Shaw arc was what we were going to get.

      This year I hope to spend time thinking about what Papa B really did, how Morgan is going to grow up, how Casey will deal with becoming a “real” person, the way in which Sarah and Chuck balance being together and their respective spy lives and finally is Ellie special in the way that Chuck is or entirely in her own way. What I don’t want to do is think about Shaw, the black hole of fun.

      • joe says:

        I like this, herder.

        It’s very nearly time to stop thinking about S3 at all, and start thinking about S4.

    • joe says:

      Very well said, Kev. The only thing that was any different for me from what you just stated was that, although I could see the manipulation, I didn’t really feel it so much. That’s a two-edge sword. It means I wasn’t quite so bothered, and it also means it wasn’t quite so effective as they wanted.

      But it was close!

  5. Ernie Davis says:

    This is a tough post, because it really is making me re-examine the season and my feelings about it. In a very real sense I got over Chuck about mid way through the season. I’d had enough. Enough waiting while the plot was dragged out and milked, enough being hit over the head, enough of the same damn trite devices trotted out one last time, in a way that I’m guessing they found amusingly self referential or ironic. I am never again going to feel the way I felt about this show last August, when I watched 35 episodes in a little less than 2 weeks. But after realizing that and lowering my expectations, it wasn’t a bad show. It just wasn’t the show I was hoping for or expecting as Joe so expertly puts it.

    I’ve essentially taken to judging Season 3 on it’s own terms, in the extreme considering it a new show with the same characters. In those terms I still love Chuck and the characters, it just isn’t in the same way any more. I think I started doing that pretty early, though even that is hard to nail down. Some time around when I went back over the first three episodes I realized the old paradigm of the story under the story wasn’t going to be there and this season was playing out a lot more, I dunno, predictably. Even at that, they nearly lost me around Beard and Tic Tac. I enjoyed those episodes a lot more, but I didn’t see the plot moving anywhere (and regardless what people say, Chuck and Sarah getting together was THE plot that everything else played into or came from this season). In a very odd way Final Exam, an episode that is, shall we say, less than popular with most on this blog, saved this season for me. Then American Hero nearly lost it again. Finally in Final exam they gave me the context I needed to understand the nature of what Sarah was going through. Only about 11/13ths through the season and about 4 episodes after I really needed to understand. Though I did have my suspicions, it was nice to have them confirmed and fleshed out, finally. But then, like the Mauser moment, it went nowhere, and in the end, didn’t matter. Nothing was resolved, it just sort of went away.

    In the end Chuck the focused and mature adult and Sarah, the woman looking for love got together. It wasn’t the story I fell in love with, but at least they got it out of the way so we could get some of the old dynamic back into the show.

  6. Merve says:

    If season 3 was supposed to make me think that Chuck was a jerk, then it failed. If it was supposed to make me sympathize with Shaw, Sarah, Devon, or Hannah, then it failed. If it was supposed to turn Casey into the moral centre of the ensemble, then it failed. If its back 6 were supposed to be more entertaining than its front 13, then it failed. If it was supposed to ask and answer tough questions about the morality of killing, then it failed.

    If season 3 was supposed to be funny, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to turn Chuck into a real spy, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to develop Morgan into a confident sidekick, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to show the emotional costs associated with being a spy, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to have a whole bunch of cool stunts and action sequences, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to further involve Chuck’s family in his spy life, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to ask and answer tough questions about love versus duty, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to showcase the value of friends and family, then it succeeded. If it was supposed to be entertaining, then, on the whole, it succeeded.

    Two other things:
    – Around the time “American Hero” aired, so much of the criticism levelled at the show started to sound like this that I stopped listening to the negativity. Constructive criticism is great, and I’d like to believe that TPTB listen to it. Ridiculous criticism is not only pointless, but it also detracts from constructive criticism; it’s a great way to get TPTB to stop listening to the fans. (By the way, that’s not to say that there weren’t legitimate grievances related to “American Hero. I’m more concerned about people pointing out “plot holes” that weren’t actually plot holes or “new problems” that had existed since day one.)

    – This isn’t directed at commenters on this blog, but in some elements of the Chuck fanbase, there’s an alarming tendency to view Chuck and Sarah as a unit instead of as two separate characters with their own motivations. Statements like “Sarah should have done x because Chuck would have reacted like y” make no sense. I agree with OldDarth; I don’t want to see Sarah-as-Chuck-appendage. But given the series’ track record, it’s not a major worry for me.

    • OldDarth says:

      Succinctly stated.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Merve, I’ve said it before, at the extremes of the fan base on each side things got out of hand in my opinion. There were some, not on this blog, criticizing us for ruining the show. While I did get pretty down on it at times I always tried to be fair, and when possible do my best to give context to the story and motivations where I could. That said, I thought that those criticizing us were kind of out of line because we were honestly dissapointed with the show and it’s direction and were expressing that. I think that is a legitimate sentiment, even if you don’t have a constructive direction to suggest. A group I’ll call the extreme anti-shippers had become so invested in the success of the hinted direction of the show, more dramatic and more PLI’s, and by extension proving the shippers to be wrong, that as the season played out they became dishonest critics of the show. The show’s shortcomings and failings were made into the shortcomings or failings of the “wrong kind” of fan.

      Having said that, I also agree with you that there were, on the other side a group of “extreme shippers” who became so invested in the failure of the show for much the same reasons, to be proven right, that some of the criticism got not just silly or out of hand, but nasty. It was happening right around the time I was “getting over” the show. While I’m still proud that we managed to largely avoid that on this blog we had taken on a distinctly negative tone that, I will now admit, had me pretty close to giving up entirely on both the blog and the show.

      Chuck was my first real experience of fandom. I’ve enjoyed being overly involved at some level, but at times I’ve also found it extremely frustrating and draining. I think one of the things that has kept me involved and willing to put up with the low points is this little corner of the Chuck community. The people who post and comment here have been absolutely awesome in sharing both the highs and the lows, even when we disagree on the high points and low points. So thanks everyone.

      As to your final point, I tend to agree, but with a caveat. The Chuck and Sarah characters, as individual characters, have always worked best playing off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For a large part of this season we lost that, and the show lost a lot of it’s appeal for a lot of people because of that.

      • HenryH says:

        Says the man who invented a combined pejorative for the creators and then compared Shaw to Poochie, which brought all of the obvious pejoratives about creative people to the Chuck crew.

        Do you EVER get tired of being so pompous and making believe you’re a wise soul when you’re just a guy who needs to try to convince everyone that you’re smarter than them, more insightful then them, and more balanced then them?

        You really have made this blog unreadable, Ernie. Which is really too bad because I love Joe’s posts for their passion, admire atcDave’s posts because his viewpoint is consistent and cherish lizjames’s posts because she knows how to think about what we are being shown and told.

        But YOU make this place unpleasant while criticizing others and it is quite unseemly.

      • Merve says:

        Ernie, I agree with what you said. Most of the “crazy” comments came from the fringes of the fanbase. That’s why I linked to that World War II satire. Most people aren’t Boycott Boy.

        On the other hand, there’s a more subtle, more insidious kind of criticism that comes from everywhere in the fanbase, not just the fringes. I’ve certainly been guilty of it in the past, and will probably be guilty of it in the future, but it’s something to be aware of. I’m referring to misdirected blame. Blaming the writers for acting, directing, and editing choices doesn’t help anybody, for example. I guess that’s why we try to be as non-specific as possible, using terms like “TPTB.”

        As for your final point, I didn’t mean to imply that character interaction undermines character individuality. On the contrary, I think that now that Chuck and Sarah have gotten together, the show is free to explore her character in greater depth, rather than simply focusing on her Chuck-related actions. Chuck and Sarah being together is the new status quo. One of the easiest ways to screw up a coupling is by sacrificing the characters’ individuality in order to bring them together. It can ruin what made the coupling appealing in the first place. So far, I haven’t seen that happen on Chuck. Sure, Sarah is slightly more open and Chuck is slightly more cynical, but their personalities didn’t need to be sacrificed in order get them together.

      • joe says:

        Who have you been reading, Henry?

        Really. Using “Ernie” and “unreadable” in the same sentence should make you reconsider the target of your “pompous” dart.

      • atcdave says:

        Henry you are always entitled to your opinions, but seriously Ernie contributes so much to this site in so many ways. He made an honest effort to understand and accept S3 on its own merits (that does not mean he had no criticism, just that he was willing to try to understand in spite of his disappointment; something I could not do). He then did an excellent job of explaining what he thought was going on, and I believe helped many fans to enjoy what was on the air. It never worked for me, but if everyone felt like I did the show would have never gotten an S4; so I’m very thankful for Ernie’s contributions. We’re all here because we love some aspect of the show, we are all fans. Can’t we all just get along…?

      • andyt says:

        As someone who has debated issues back and forth with Ernie on the blog, I find this opinion of him totally wrong. He has strongly held opinions and is passionate in defense of them. However, I have always found Ernie to be polite, civil and encouraging in these discussions. I for one want him to keep up his contributions and I look forward to them.

      • Big Kev says:

        You are, as Dave says, perfectly entitled to your opinion. I am equally entitled to dismiss it out of hand as unworthy of the standards that are maintained by everyone on this blog, regardless of their feelings about the direction of the show.

        I’m sure I speak for everyone else on the blog when I say that your posts have helped me immeasurably in understanding and adding to my enjoyment of the show. Long may they continue.

      • kg says:

        Chuck and Sarah were at or near the top of every couple/survey/contest on the net even though they weren’t even an official couple until midway through episode 13 of season three.

        And the reason for that was clearly intimated by you Ernie and agreed upon by most. Good writing or bad, despite plot holes and angst, whether or not you favored the journey or the destination, Zac and Yvonne displayed a tremendously warm, believable and powerful chemistry that leapt off the screen. So much so, that them actually being a real couple was rendered almost irrelevant.

        Their interactions, positive or negative, were what made seasons 1 and 2 so special for the fans. Got them all to buy in. Well, at least for me anyway.

        Sure, I wanted them to be a real couple, but like all their friends, family, co-workers and one-time guest characters, I could see they were obviously already there. They were believable. They had shared more special moments in two years than real folks had in a lifetime.

        Therefore, the biggest blunder of season three was TPTB’s decision to limit the on-screen time of the show’s two biggest stars. And clearly, whether you are a shipper or not, Chuck and Sarah are the show’s two biggest stars.

        Even the largest and most vocal critics of season three, if I recall, reveled in the scenes that Zac and Yvonne teamed up together.

        For example, while Mask was hammered overall and deemed too painful for some to re-watch, most agree that the Chuck and Sarah exhibiting jealous feelings for Hannah-Shaw and the pair working together to grab the mask was both delightful and humorous. Until the last 10 minutes of the episode.

        Another one that comes to mind is Chuck and Sarah risking their careers to help troubled teammate and friend Casey in Tic Tac.

        TPTB didn’t necessarily have to make them a couple in the first episode or two, but in my estimation blatantly separating the two for long stretches compounded all the other problems alluded to by intelligent folk on this blog and therefore made the characters look OCC and stir frustration and anger among the fans.

      • Joseph (can't be Joe) says:

        ^^^ Yep ^^^

      • atcdave says:

        Ditto all that KG. To me, it was the equivilant of benching a healthy Peyton Manning in the playoffs. Ticks off fans, increases the likelihood of not advancing (cancellation), and just all around shows no sense.

      • kg says:

        Yeah Dave, in essence we/they were extremely lucky to get a fourth season, right?

        They basically admitted NBC has nothing better.

        Heh heh. Good sports analogy as well.

    • joe says:

      Very astute, Merve, as always.

      After reading your comment and Ernie’s follow-on, I become aware that the fandom has really done something extraordinary this year. The show had to change – for many reasons, including the network exigencies that we all discussed in detail about two weeks ago. We hung in there.

      Even more, we all seem to be excited about S4. There are an awful lot of great possibilities, aren’t there?!

    • andyt says:

      Merve, I agree whole-heartedly with your last line, “If its was supposed to be entertaining, then on the whole it succeeded.” I would say that at the end of each week’s episode this season I was entertained. At the most basic this is what a show must do. Not every storyline works, not every performance is perfect, not every moment of every episode is spectacular, and not every episode in an entire season is great. I loved Buffy, but there are episodes that to this day I watch very little, “Bad Eggs”, the Doublemeat Palace episode in S6, but I believe each season as a whole was entertaining. This is my same feeling as Chuck S3, they entertained me and I was completely satisfied with the whole.
      Great thoughts, keep up the good work.

  7. atcdave says:

    I know my thoughts on this season are no where near as sophisticted as many here; to me the bottom line is transition, in S3 Chuck went from being a show I loved regardless of the strength of individual episodes; to a show I didn’t really care for much, but could still air an occasional strong episode. At least for 3.01-3.12. During that run I did still enjoy some of the comedy, and there were some very strong episodes.

    But I’m sure it will shock no one here that all didn’t seem right again until 3.13. At that point, my attitude towards the show quickly flipped back to what it had been in S1 and S2; that is, and excellent show regardless of the strength of individual episodes. I guess that makes my fundamental response to things pretty transparent, but it is what it is. I watch to have a good time, and when characters I used to like behave in ways I don’t like; well, I’m just not going to have a good time. To me that’s kind of a core malfunction that can’t be explained away to make it right. I’ll even accept that the problem may be I expected too much from the show. But for two seasons it delivered. I was pretty shocked right from the start, that I disliked this new Chuck so much. I’m really glad we’d moved past that by the end of the season, and I am really looking forward to S4 now.

  8. Joesph (can't be Joe) says:

    I was going to save this for later on, and will likely respond to Joe’s very eloquent dissertation (come on now, it was long enough 🙂 ) later on.

    But when I look back on S3, I see it as the season that essentially split the fanbase (I have no proof). The shippers were always there, but this season split the “sensible” fans as well.

    On one hand you have those excited about the upcoming season and willing to put their faith in the showrunners. While on the other hand there are those (like myself) who although happy that there is another season, don’t believe in the showrunners as they did prior to S3.

    Joe stated,

    “You remember how it was about a year ago. We were all excited and relieved that Chuck had been renewed.”

    and I’ll agree I was one of the “excited”. I’m not this year. The hooplah around Comic-Con and guest stars is just smoke and mirrors until episodes finally air. I’m approaching the season with a healthy dose of apathy and cynicism which only some good TV will fix.

    So like Dave, the biggest casulaty of last season was my attitude and investment in the show.

    PS – I don’t feel I’m entitled to anything except entertaining television.

    • atcdave says:

      Joseph I love your PS. Its not even about entitlement “because we deserve it.” Its the sort of entitlement “because its their job.”

      The funny thing is, and this a testimony to the strength of the setting and characters TPTB created in the first place, I still feel massively invested in “Chuck”; its just that now fan fiction is the main focus of that investment. I still look forward to S4 of the show, but I think there are several AUs running I care about more.

  9. jason says:

    joe, I have just about run out of season 3 things to say, but I try to comment on most topics when someone takes the time to put out a great piece, my final thought usages of season 3 is more to gauge season 4, the types of things I will use, how did the guest stars contribute to my enjoyment of the show?, how was the ending? do I largely understand what chuck & sarah’s motivations are? How much on screen time do CS actually have? Is the spy plot 3D chess like, or a word I like using ‘riveting’? Is the cast having fun, does the show portray a sense of ‘joy’? How are the sub characters working?

    one thing I will take exception to, morgan is a comic relief actor, making him a cartoon super hero this season was not a service to the show, he sort of got sarah’s role in season 3, too good to be true ….

    • joe says:

      Hum… I see your point about Morgan. It’s just my opinion that the character was somewhat more than a cartoon, though. I sincerely liked him.

      Your list of things to look for in S4 is a great one, Jason. I’d only add one thing to it – how did it make you feel, when all was said and done?

      For me, I’ll always come back (repetitively, sorry!) to what I said last year. I’ll always be happy to feel anything. That’s my benchmark of success.

      • jason says:

        morgan was alot more than a cartoon – just as was sarah s1 and s2 (sarah had some cartoon moments in s3 also, the nurse, in tic-tac, her & chuck swingdance-fighting in 3.14, throwing the axe) – but morgan is not this show’s hero, he is comic relief, I also liked him in season 3, but that is my point, he was given the good lines, the heroic times, way too much, out of proportion with the rest of the cast –

        Also joe, not to be nitpicking, but with jeffster, mike, awesome, beckman, and morgan in the cast (as well as chuck) your show had better not only make you ‘feel’ at the end of the day, but it had better make you ‘feel good’, because that list of actors can’t act dramatically, even if TPTB could create and write such a show

  10. amyabn says:

    Well, first of all, I think some people need to take a deep breath and stop the personal barbs. We all love Chuck for various reasons and have managed to maintain a very civil tone overall on this blog.

    Now, back on topic, I must say S3 is a mixed bag for me. I am in the minority when I say that I didn’t have the same reaction to Pink Slip. I didn’t love it, mind you, but it didn’t hit me the same way it did other people. That is most likely attributed to my being deployed and having to catch up with the first 3 or 4 episodes all at once. There are elements in each episode that I can enjoy from 1-12 and I usually just skip the parts that make me mad (ala the last few minutes of Mask). I really enjoyed the back six. Watching Mrs. Turner fall at Otto’s dinner party cracks me up every time!

    I am one of those fans who has high expectations to be entertained, and there were large chunks of S3 that I found painful to watch. I have gone so far as to outline my ideas for S4 and have to be careful not to project my ideas/expectations on TPTB. I am looking forward to the new season and hope that family takes center stage.

    • joe says:

      I rather liked Pink Slip too, Amy. Not that it made me feel all warm and gooey inside. The epi. did serve as a great launching pad, though.

      And despite myself, I rather loved the bit with Chuck going all Kung-fu on Lester’s butt. The effict of both Scott K.’s and Yvonne’s reactions were to make me laugh.

      Ernie said above that it was hard to examine and write about S3 and I agree (this post *was* difficult for me to write). My reasons are different, though. I was on such an emotional roller coaster, even going through highs and lows in a single hour, it was almost impossible to summarize anything. I couldn’t say “This episode made me laugh.” or “This episode was heartwarming.” or any one thing like that.

      I ran the gamut of emotions, some of which were too much to handle the first time. I hope I got that across. I also hope people understand that ultimately, through everything, I still find the show tremendously rich and rewarding.

      • Anonymous says:


        I feel like nowadays I’m just too fatigued to unwrap why one or another of us feels so differently about the show. It’s obviously tied up in our own expectations and the things that attracted us in the first place.

        I can say that S3 represents, in hindsight, what I should have expected from Chuck from the get go – a season of varying quality, a few tasty morsels mixed with a main course of mediocrity and a side of bitter dregs.

        Instead I fell in love with the show in its first two seasons. It was much better than I had any right to expect and from that moment on I could never be happy with it lapsing back into territory occupied by other shows with lackluster plots and characters.

        And to me, that’s exactly what happened.

        One of the most telling signs that things had changed in S3 was that I no longer felt the urge to recommend the show to others. In S1, I could point to Wookie, or Truth or Marlin and say, “wasn’t that great?” In S2, I could just roll the first 4 episodes out to about anyone and feel like they’d find more entertainment there than they expected.

        But in S3, I actually didn’t want to admit I was watching Chuck much less try to indoctrinate others. I could not, in good faith, show any of those episodes to an acquaintance without expecting a “so what” reaction at the end. The show just made me kind of sad and depressed and I didn’t want to inflict that on anyone else.

        In the end, I guess I just wanted a different story than the one they tried (badly) to tell in S3. I wanted to like the main characters and respect them for their innate strengths. I wanted to laugh at genuinely humorous situations that were naturally derived, not at contrived, trite and forced slapstick. I wanted to feel like the creative juices on the team were getting their inspirations into the show.

        I didn’t.

        But, here comes S4. And ss it is with the beginning of baseball season every spring, hope springs eternal.

      • aardvark7734 says:

        Oh crap, forgot to log in my laptop. That previous post was mine, btw. 🙂

  11. andyt says:

    A great post Joe. I have also thought about my overall feelings on Season 3 over the past weeks. One thing that I have done is to NOT watch any Chuck for about a month or more. This is not because I found Season 3 bad or disappointing or any such feeling. Instead, it was to get away from the show for a awhile and to come back to it with a refreshed perspective and sense of anticipation. In fact, I enjoyed Season 3 overall. It was funny, action filled, the relationship with Chuck and Sarah was consumated and the characters evolved and grew. They are for me just as likeable as in the first two seasons. I will probably not watch the whole season again until next summer when school vacation allows the time, but I will review some of my favorite episodes from time to time. As a side note those include: Angel del Muerte, Operation Awesome, the Beard, Other Guy, and Living Dead-Ring Part II. In fact I will rewatch those three in order to get ready for Season 4 just before it starts.

    Keep up the great posts and looking forward to Season 4.

    • joe says:

      Thanks, Andy.

      Hum… that’s interesting. The idea of getting away from Chuck for a while… I dunno. If it served to recharge my batteries, that would be cool! But I’m not feeling particularly burned out on it. I could see that coming, though.

      • andyt says:

        Last summer I re-watched the back half of S2 repeatedly from my DVR and S1 Blu Ray. I think that getting away from it allows one to gain a fresh perspective on some of the material and as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Besides its not as if I gave up all Chuck cold turkey, I still visit the blog.

        As a p.s., I’d recommend Inception as a serious thoughtful piece of genre fair. I have seen it twice, including IMAX and it makes you ponder its meaning very deeply.

  12. Robert H says:

    Well I thought I had made my final comments on
    Season 3 if only because because I was getting tired (and I might imagine others were too)
    of me constantly venting anger and bitching about it.

    I thought I had finally gotten it out of my system
    and come to terms with it while being utterly cynical about what a 4th season might be, not really
    giving a damn one way or another- if I like it I’ll
    watch and if I don’t I won’t, that’s it and here it
    is being brought up again. Not your fault of course
    Joe. I like reading your posts simply because you’re
    insightful,hardworking,thoughtful,generous, fair, not to mention a fountain of information. I especially enjoy the videos, music, and other sites
    of info you and the other writers provide for us and
    I thank you for it.

    I swore I wasn’t going to write another word about
    my feelings regarding Season 3, TPTB, and the betrayal of the fans who in my view were taken for
    a ride they made clear they did not want to go on,
    used, and then doublecrossed. I really meant it but
    since you’ve so generously given me an opening….
    Well, sorry folks I just can’t resist kicking TPTB
    ONE MORE TIME! Joe this is all your fault, not my
    doing. You just provide too much temptation! (Just
    kidding of course).

    The last comment I’ll make is that you are absolutely right in yout comments above with your
    critique of Season 3. You hit the nail right on the head. TPTB changed the characters’ personalities and
    motivations completely, all of the main characters
    with the exceptions of Casey and Morgan, without
    warning the viewers or bringing them along gently.
    After 8 months of waiting, with the fact the the fans
    saved the show, that is what lit a slowburning fuse
    that exploded in episode 7. The anger was vented in the long ratings swoon that still really has not
    totally played itself out yet and may never will.
    I only disagree with you in your generosity with
    the TPTB motivations. But then you’re a good guy
    and we wouldn’t want you any other way. Unfortunately I can’t be that generous. Well that’s
    it finally for me on Season 3 and it ‘s time to move

    One last favor if you can. You stated you had the
    music for all 3 seasons. I’m assuming that would
    be title,artist, and episode. If it’s not a whole of
    extra work please post or send to my e-mail address
    when you can, no rush. If you can’t no big deal. I
    know you’re very busy, thanks.

    • joe says:

      We aim to please, Robert! 🙂

      But I gotta say, first and foremost, this place is a sounding board. It started out as one for me (’cause I really needed it!), but as you can tell, others needed to sound off too.

      It’s not about merely liking the show. In fact, in some weird way, that almost seems besides the point. The need to say stuff about what you’ve seen – commit it to the Internet for future generations – that’s because it matters to you (to whomever does writing).

      Chuck and Sarah are as fictional as characters get. And yes, everyone wants to see themselves as Chuck or as Sarah. The truth is that there absolutely is a little of them in almost everyone. The truth is that we want the relationships they have; not just each other, but the partners, the friends and family.

      The truth is that we find our lives mundane, but there’s excitement in it everyday, especially when it’s scary. We live up to the challenges and try to do the right thing when we can.

      The show doesn’t really have to have the best bad-guys and the funniest comics in it to be successful. We do have to see ourselves, though.

      Ah! Got carried away there! For the music, I’ve been relying on the compilation at (try here for s1, here for s2 and here for s3).

  13. Joseph (can't be Joe) says:

    Just so you know, I’ll make this my last post about S3. I think it time to put it behind us. I had to take most of the day to come up with a reply to Joe’s comments and it was difficult because I think “Joe the politician”  wrote the article. I can’t disagree with much of what you said except that I didn’t necessary like the characters very much in the first 13 and I don’t see Shaw as the catalyst for anything good that happened on the show except making it hard to watch.

    First things first. The back 6 were excellent episodes, I wouldn’t change a things. My biggest issue with the back six was why weren’t the first 13 that good? They obviously know how to do it.

    Next, let’s get Shaw out of the way – way out. Shaw was originally planned for 4 episodes, IMO episodes 4, 5, 12, & 13, and in those episodes he’s OK. But the decision to pencil him in to more episodes was made, and it showed. Take him out of 7, 8, 9 & 11 and I have no doubt the story would have been better. Having Shaw in those episodes effectively killed the character to the point that he became that proverbial “elephant” on the show that would not go away, hence nearly killing the show. By the back end of the arc the show was no longer about Chuck becoming a spy, it was about how long do we have to endure Agent Sh** for Brains. The story really didn’t matter anymore. Joe states that – It was Shaw who drew from Sarah the answer to the question “Who are you?” – Here I have to disagree. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my not understanding Sarah’s supposed journey in S3, is directly related to the poor character that was Shaw. My final comments on Shaw (not BR) are that if you ever see him walking on the side of the road – HIT HIM and put us all out of our misery.

    I’ve come up with 2 ways to describe S3, so indulge me.

    S3 was the season that was 3 minutes too long.
    In other words, if you could remove 3 minutes from each episode (most of them it’s the last 3 minutes) I think we would have all been in a better place. Tic-Tac is a prime example. Excellent episode. Had a smile on my face until Beckman talks to Sarah and then she’s in the cab in Washington. I’m sorry but that scene is what I took an episode that was a 10 and made it a 7. Admittedly by episode 10 I just wanted the dreary storyline to be over with.

    I also see S3 as the season that could have been.
    Sarah killing Shaw wife and having Shaw gunning for Sarah could have been great and kinda cool – in episode 5. In episode 12, it should have been a climactic moment, but it wasn’t. The whole point of the Shaw arc was shown to us in 1 minute of episode 12 and 15ish minutes of episode 13.
    Chuck and Sarah finally getting together could have been great, dare I say epic, except for the fact that Chuck had all sorts of time to figure out he couldn’t live without Sarah but Sarah had no time to realize she couldn’t live without Chuck. Time should have been taken for the two character to fall in love again.

    The last point I’ll make is something I’ve been saying since about episode 4. I have no doubt in my mind that when people sit back and watch S3 over two or three nights that it plays better, mostly because once you get to the depressing end of an episode you can move on to the next. I’m also of the opinion that all these critics and other “special” people who get the 5 episode screeners and profess “your gonna love it” aren’t really watching the same story as the rest of us weekly schmucks.

    My expectations going into S3 were obviously too high. I’m not making that same mistake with S4. Here you go – I challenge TPTB to try and get me as excited for the show as I once was, and the only way to do this is to “bring it” in S4.

    Sorry for the length.

    • atcdave says:

      Some great comments Joseph. I agree about the three minute rule; especially in Tic Tac and Final Exam. Or better, Just cut Shaw out of everything except the last seven episodes; works for me!

    • joe says:

      “Joe the Politician”??? Ha!
      You’d never know that I was the oldest child in his family (5 younger!), used to dominating, getting his way, and getting stuff off the dinner table first! Would ya? 🙂

      There’s a lot of truth in what you say about episodes being 3 minutes too long, Joseph. I got that too. What it means is that the story was great, and then we the audience were violently manipulated right there at the end, and consistently too, as a technique.

      What I don’t know is if we (the invested and attentive watchers who are addicted to the show) were the intended target of the manipulation (perhaps it was for the few newbies they hoped to capture?). And if we were, then I don’t know if it was because they thought it was a dramatic way to tell the story (and that we could handle it) or if “the devil network made them do it.” I’m notorious for being too forgiving about such things.

      Regardless, I don’t think it worked with the audience I’m familiar with. For myself, my reaction was consistently “I don’t think the fans will like that!”. That is, I didn’t say “I didn’t like that.”, but was distracted by my estimation of others’ reactions. It was a classic case of over-thinking on my part! It’s my version of the expectation game, and it’s really hard to not have expectations.

      Perhaps that’s why I have to re-watch each episode. Besides that fact that they really do pack a lot in each that I miss the first time, it gives me a chance to form my own impressions, instead of guessing about others.

      Oh, lastly, it’s always a good thing to run down zombies when you see them on the road.

  14. Robert H says:

    Joe, thanks for the reply and the info. As usual
    your comments in your reply very relevant and to the point. I also agreed with the post by Joesph
    and atcdave’s reply. Maybe Season 3 might have been
    salvaged if the ” 3 minute ” observation had been
    followed and other tweaks/adjustments done as Joesph
    suggested in his post. Too bad we’ll never know.
    Hopefully TPTB will have learned something from all
    of this that will be reflected in a postive way for
    Season 4 but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. We’ll
    have to wait and see, thanks.

    • atcdave says:

      Yeah Robert, you know my optimism is always guarded. The first two seasons, and the end of S3 were mostly good. Hopefully they learned from their mistakes and S4 will be good again. The front 13 of S3 will always be a lost oportunity.

  15. DignityRLI says:

    Just had to pipe up… I love the show just like you guys do and I find that I am really invested in Sarah’s journey, more than any other element. You guys helped me figure out where she was coming from in S3 because on first watch I just couldn’t figure why watching the video of Chuck in the vault didn’t ‘fix’ everything… now I know it takes until Final Exam S3E11 to figure that out.

    None of you have used the one word that covers the entire in-between for Sarah. Prague to Casey’s confession in S3E12.


    S3E01-follow orders, be dutiful seductress spy again, try to forget the rest.
    S3E03-try just being friends with Chuck, that might be enough, right?
    S3E07-screw it, try unfulfilling relationship with DS, Chuck is moving on, I don’t need him!
    S3E11-this isn’t working for me, and I think I’m responsible for Chuck becoming tainted in a way I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Uh, help? Said meekly.


    • joe says:

      Hi, Dignity. Always happy to see new names here.

      You make a good point. But in my defense, I’m going to say that I was fighting for the same concept but using the word “lost” to describe Sarah. Adrift is good.

      Lost is what I saw at the end of Fake Name when she looks so ineffectual against Rafe, and confused about “Sam”. Adrift is what I see after that with the shoulder massage stuff.

      I have a growing suspicion that Sarah’s journey is far from over.

      • DignityRLI says:

        Lost is definitely true. I tried to amplify that. I thought ADRIFT covered a little better how she moves in unpredictable directions… never quite identifying where she is trying to go anymore… inconsistently following orders, committing treason, supporting chuck, leaving Chuck hanging in his darkest hour, having a relationship, but not a deep one.

  16. Crumby says:

    Great piece Joe!

  17. Gringo Chuck Fan says:

    Hola Amigo – once again – a most eloquent synopsis and captivating summary.
    I agree with much of your assessment:
    Shaw was a tool…
    I also agree that we are too generous with some critical factors surrounding the show- its writing and the character development. [ not so much the acting – or general plot]
    I’d love to see a Ground-Hog day of Season 3…
    where we start at the train station – Chuck still reluctant – but then rework the events and the sequence. Ok – that will never happen – but it should provide TPTB with enough fuel to make S4 the best of what Chuck can be. As you clearly wrote – we have had several layers peeled off our beloved characters – and we now have a better view of who they are and what depths they can fall into…
    I’m waiting with great expectation to see what heights they can climb.
    To Infinity and Beyond! …. ok – sorry for that…
    Lets start with an awesome 13 and go from there.

    Much of Season 3 saw the cast struggle as individuals – which happens to every good team without a good coach… or somebody at the lead-
    Which sets the table for our hero aka Tumbleweed-man
    to start to take control of his own destiny.

    Cheers – DC

  18. thinkling says:

    Late to the party, I know. Only heard about Chuck and began to watch in May (yes, 2010). Sorry for the length. Just had to get this out of my system. Thanks.

    “Grueling Detour Ahead.” That’s what the last screen of the S2 finale should have read, instead of “continued.”

    When I am forced to take a detour, I like to know why. Is it construction; or pot holes; or a bad wreck …? In the case of Chuck S3.1-13, the highway department just blew up a bridge. How? By re-intersecting Chuck. Why? Because Chuck remaining a civilian and Sarah quitting to be with him would have been the Chuckverse bridge to nowhere …game over, no more “Chuck.”

    I don’t like gratuitous angst, and for me there was too much. But since I love the show, especially C/S, I had to find a way to make peace with the detour. To make peace with it, I need to make sense of it. So here’s my S3 peace treaty. Can I make sense of all of it? No. Was the narrative always logical? No. Can I live with it now? Yeah. Remember, my purpose is not to float a plausible alternative that I would have liked better; it is to wrestle with the story that was told and walk away on terms I can live with. So, I’ll refrain from commenting on what might have been.

    One of the things I love about “Chuck” is its bold character growth. In S1-S2 Chuck grew a lot. But he is still the asset, and the once-deep Chuck-stay-in-the-car well has run dry. So, what’s the next logical growth spurt for Chuck? What should S3 accomplish? Chuck needs to take ownership of the “life he didn’t ask for, but was meant to have,” and not just by deciding to make the most of the hand he was dealt. It must be his free choice. He has to ask for it this time.

    The other crucial element is that Chuck must become a spy without becoming someone else. The intersect requires a special brain, but it also requires a special heart … the kind that always does the right thing. The intersect belongs in a certain kind of hero … the kind who doesn’t really want it but chooses to set aside his personal feelings to become a spy for his friends and his family and the woman he loves; a guy who would never use it to make a quick buck; a guy who would risk his life to save the man standing between him and the woman he loves. Most of the planet need not apply.

    The goal for Sarah’s growth spurt is similar, only in reverse. She needs to emerge as a real person, experiencing real love, in a real relationship; *and* she needs to remain a spy. Running away from half of who she is in order to become the other half is only half a solution. She must reconcile her two worlds.

    Sarah and Chuck are traveling toward the same destination, but from opposite starting points. If they arrive at their mutual destination, they will be together and happy, with fully integrated lives; that is, with each of them having harmonized their spy life with their real life so that they are empowered and fulfilled in both spheres.

    There are two polar dynamics at work in S3. #1: “Chuck, it’s time for you to become a spy,” the visible dynamic that drives the plot. And #2: “My red test was the worst day of my life,” the invisible dynamic that drives Sarah’s behavior … and drives a wedge between her and Chuck.

    Dynamic #1: The re-intersection of Chuck is the first domino to fall, scattering asunder all the lovely patterns so artfully arranged by the end of S2. Midway through “Three Words,” we look about and nod in bewildered agreement with Sarah, “It’s quit a mess we’ve made.” And like Chuck we’re really hoping they can clean it up. At the end of “Three Words,” Sarah sees that Chuck still loves her, and she understands his decision, probably forgives him. This sets up what would be a decent platform for reconciliation, were it not for the constant undertow of dynamic #2.

    With the primary goal in mind [Chuck becoming a spy], I entertained some questions, “Could it be accomplished without disrupting the blossoming C/S relationship?” While wishing the answer could be yes, I conclude that the answer is no. Did the disruption have to be so … apocalyptic? I don’t think so, but some disruption was inevitable on Chuck’s journey to becoming a spy. “Could Sarah, given her relationship with Chuck, train him to become the spy he needs to become?” Even without Prague, even without dynamic #2, I think it would be very hard for her.

    Dynamic #2: Sarah. (For my take on Sarah and the C/S relationship, see my comments on Sarah’s journey.) The red test reveal unpacks the last of Sarah’s baggage for us and explains so much. Like why Sarah was so closed and why she was drawn to Chuck’s innocence and honesty; why *he* was the one to touch the real Sarah and stir a hope that she could be that person again; and why his love was her redemption. It explains her urgent warnings to him about what the spy life is really like, as well as her precipitous plea for him to run away with her. She wanted to be a real person again with Chuck. She was fully convinced that would never happen and her hope would die (along with the real person she wanted to be) if he became a spy …because he wouldn’t be the same person … and she wouldn’t still love him … because after her red test, she could no longer love herself.

    It’s important to note that Sarah wasn’t looking for redemption, and Chuck wasn’t trying to save her. She didn’t love Chuck because he represented redemption for her. Chuck’s love for her (and hers for him) took her by surprise. She fought it for lots of reasons, but once she let him love her, she found redemption in that love. So, if he becomes a spy and a person she can’t love, her loss will be utter and complete. This kind of fear could drive a person to do things that seem irrational to everyone around her. The worst for her is that she is tasked with helping Chuck become that person. The torment this causes her finally spills out in Final Exam.


    To paint the road from asset to spy as easy, would be disingenuous at best. The pitfalls and obstacles, both external and internal are myriad. For the story to be honest, it must take us down some bumpy, desolate roads, even to places where the road disappears, and our heroes have to find their way again. It’s painful, but it’s honest, because life is like that.

    We know that Sarah is already living a personal, existential crisis. It began with Chuck’s first step on his journey, and won’t be resolved until his last.

    It’s not unreasonable to expect that before journey’s end, Chuck will face his ultimate “existential spy crisis.” (Sarah’s words, s1 Truth)

    So, with all this in mind, how well did the various pieces work to help Chuck and Sarah make it through their next phase of growth? Did they help Chuck become a spy without losing his essential goodness and core honesty? Did they help Sarah become a real person again with Chuck *and* remain a spy? Every episode and every interloping love interest should contribute to these ends; otherwise why tell the story or introduce the character. I’m only going to look at the interlopers and the turning points.

    Shaw and Hannah. Hannah first; she’s easier. Hannah was a great character …sweet, likable, smart, beautiful … the kind of girl I’d want Chuck to end up with if he had never received the intersect and met Sarah. Unfortunately, Hannah becomes the casualty of Chuck’s existential spy crisis. She is also a foil to the not-so-nice guy he has become. Were it not for his relationship with Hannah, he might never have noticed his descent. Chuck reaches his nadir in Fake Name, when his existential spy crisis hits without mercy. He can’t talk to Sarah, so he talks to Ellie. With tears in his eyes, he confesses, “I feel like I’m living a lie … I feel like I’m not me anymore.”

    Fake Name is about living a lie, not just telling them. Chuck has to live a lie for his job, impersonating Rafe, but that’s not the crisis; it’s just part of the job. Chuck has to tell some lies to protect his own cover and the people he loves. That’s not the crisis. The crisis is in not being true to your character and convictions. The crisis is in living a lie in your relationships. The salient point of Ellie’s speech isn’t the part about his feelings for Sarah; it is that his relationship with Hannah is dishonest. And it’s the one place he can start to clean up the mess he has made of his life. In breaking up with Hannah Chuck turns a corner. He’s never looked more miserable, but the prodigal son has turned toward home.

    So, Hannah worked well, both as a love interest and as someone who helped Chuck move forward on his journey.

    How about Shaw? There was a lot to dislike about Shaw and how he crippled the dynamic of Team B. I’m not going there. Did he help C/S reach their destinations? Yes. I believe he deserves credit for pushing Chuck, over the protests of Casey and especially Sarah, to become a spy. Chuck would not have evolved as quickly without Shaw.

    Did he help Sarah on her journey? Did he work as a love interest. Hoo-boy, here goes.

    Shaw as a love interest failed miserably. And that’s a good thing. That means he succeeded as a change agent. Bryce, Cole, Shaw all represent a spy relationship. Chuck is the real deal. Relationships based in the spy world will not fulfill the needs and longings of the real Sarah. She won’t grow and flourish as a real person in a spy relationship. The contrast has been drawn before. Roan said, “You have feelings for him, real, *non-spy* emotions.” In The Break-up, we see that the feelings she has for Chuck are on a different plane than the ones she once had for Bryce. So if Shaw had succeeded as a love interest, it would mean that Sarah had given up, allowing herself (the real person she wanted to be) to hibernate once more in the dim comfort of a spy relationship.

    1. How did Shaw succeed as a change agent for Sarah?

    Shaw was a foil to Chuck and provided Sarah with a clear choice. Granted it’s a choice she has made before …twice, but everything shifted when Chuck reintersected himself. The red-test factor must be overcome for her to choose him as a man *and* a spy.

    Loathe as I am to admit it, Shaw did give Sarah a sounding board. Carina was gone. (And kudos to her; she was a real friend to Sarah this time.) Casey is not that guy. Who else could she talk to … Morgan? Ellie? Beckman? I don’t think so. She needed to voice some of her feelings out loud to be able to deal with them.

    2. Why did Sarah almost succumb to the lure of the familiar? Shaw offered something when she thought she was losing everything. And to her, in her crisis, perhaps something … anything … seemed better than nothing.

    I am fully persuaded that Sarah never loved Shaw and that she never stopped loving Chuck. Her love for Chuck manifests in different ways and varying degrees, but it is there in every episode. Her reasons for being with Shaw were reactive, not proactive, and certainly not because she stopped loving Chuck.

    Shaw offered her a sympathetic ear … nice. But he took advantage of her, knowing she was vulnerable, and knowing she was still in love with Chuck … not nice.

    When Chuck got together with Hannah, her hopes collapsed. The look on Sarah’s face as she watched the Bartowski dinner with Hannah in her place says it all.

    Sarah was sure she was watching a train wreck about to happen. If something is too painful to watch, it’s easier to divest and detach. Watching what she believed was Chuck’s impending destruction and knowing she was partly to blame was just too much for her.

    Sarah reaches her nadir in Final Exam when she disengages and shuts down. Game over. She has retreated into the shadows of her spy life and settled for a spy relationship to numb her regrets and silence her desires.

    American Hero is the rescue of all rescues. Chuck takes charge of his life, finally, after a kick in the pants from Ellie. (Interesting that she is the voice of reason at two crucial moments: his integrity crisis and his love crisis.) In what is probably the most extreme measure a man has ever taken to show a woman how much he loves her, Chuck risks getting blown up to rescue his competition …not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because Sarah cares about him. (This is in sharp contrast to Shaw, who seemed to have no compunctions about blowing up castle with Chuck inside.)

    Having clearly demonstrated that he is still the same Chuck, red test not withstanding, he makes an unabashedly bold declaration of his love. And just in case all that’s not enough, he offers to give up everything to be with her. Once again his love draws her out of the familiarity of her spy life into a real life with him.

    They are in the home stretch. A few loose ends and hurdles later and they finally get on a train … together and happy. By journey’s end they have integrated their two worlds and have stopped trying to run from who they are.

    • atcdave says:

      Are you Chris Fedak? Okay, kidding. An excellent and thoughtful post. But I do disagree with your underlying assumption that the break-up, and taking such different journeys was necessary. The problem I have is that “Chuck” is not a psychological case study; it is entertainment first and foremost. TPTB choose a route that was painfully not fun for many of us. We already knew through two seasons that Sarah was a complex and conflicted character; but I think they made a foolish mistake in letting her go such dark places (the Red Test) and sink to such depths (Shaw). I have never said Chuck and Sarah should have had an easy path, or that the characters didn’t need to grow. But growing and learning together; as Sarah helps Chuck deal with the emotional and moral issues of the spy world, Chuck helps Sarah deal with the dangerous minefield of real relationships; I think would been a far more satisfying story for a huge chunk of the fandom (like probably most of those viewers who gave up during the season).

      I know there is a place for the darker themes you mention that the show attempted to do justice to in S3. But I don’t think “Chuck” was ever it. People I know who watch (and all of those I know who quit watching), watch to laugh, have a good time, and be heart-warmed. Way too much time was spent in S3 on depressing story lines, that took all season to play out. While I was unhappy right from the start of Pink Slip, the situation was not irredeemable. If they had indeed worked on “fixing it” after Three Words, most fans would have been fine. But thirteen weeks was past the breaking point for most of the fun loving crowd. If the show had been aimed square at BSG fans from the start it would have been no problem. But the audience that had embraced Chuck since 9/2007 was different. Many of us needed Colonel to mean something. And when Chuck and Sarah spent most of S3 apart, it felt a lot like TPTB were spitting on us.

      I am sorry to respond to your rational post with an emotional response. But to so many of us it was a very emotional situation.

      • amyabn says:

        Thinkling, a great post! But I have to agree with Dave. I”ve hashed this over so many times before, so I won’t digress again, but as you used the road trip metaphor, I didn’t enjoy the ride. I would have taken a different fork in the road to avoid the bigger potholes. 🙂

      • JC says:

        I don’t mean to pile up on you Thinkling that was a great post. I love how some fans have tried and found some meaning behind S3.

        Its not about dark or light its Chuck doesn’t do one thing great. Chuck as a drama, comedy, romance or action show would fail miserably. What it had done for two seasons was blend all the genres together almost perfectly. But with S3 they dragged out the melodrama for 13 straight episodes. The writing and plots aren’t strong enough to do this.

      • thinkling says:

        Thanks for reading and disagreeing so nicely :). Actually, I don’t disagree with you, three. If I had *liked* S3, I wouldn’t have had to make peace with it.

        After S2’s great ending, I couldn’t wait for S3. Then Pink Slip was like a sucker punch. I didn’t like all the same stuff you didn’t like, Dave. In fact, if Other Guy had been the last episode, it would have been too little return on investment IMO.

        I like the show and the characters too much to stay torn up about it, though. So to un-knot my emotions I tried to understand where the writers were coming from. So I took it apart, tried to find some purpose in the various pieces, and put it back together. I got to the point that I could accept it as a plausible scenario and find things to appreciate about it. I can re-watch the episodes and enjoy the the good things that are there and not dwell on my original negative feelings.

        That said, I too would have been much happier with a different fork in the road. Dave’s thoughts on Chuck and Sarah helping each other adapt is indeed more appealing. I hope that’s the way it stays going forward.

        On a positive note, I am looking forward to season 4 since it seems they have decided to stop grinding the angst mill on Chuck and Sarah.

        I think I’ll stop now before I sound totally schizophrenic. To late? Well, I hope not.

        One question from the newbie: what is TPTB and BSG? Thanks, you guys are very patient.

      • joe says:

        Ah, I can help with that.
        TPTB stands for “The Powers That Be”, referring not only to the shows creators, but sometimes to the Network and studio execs. who have a (too) large say on what gets on the screen.

        BSG is Battle Star Galactica, but generally refers to the remake and not the 1970s version with Lorne Greene.

        There’s a page that’s linked in the “About Us” box on the right near the top where we tried to list the commonly used acronyms and phases in our corner of the fandom.

      • atcdave says:

        Sorry Thinkling, your thoughts were so well formed and structured I assumed you were a forum vet. TPTB means “The powers that be”: we use it for whoever is making the decisions, since we often don’t know between writers, producers, studios, directors, etc… who is responsible for a particular decision. BSG refers to the recent incarnation of “Battlestar Galactica” which was famous for its dark, angst-filled drama.

        I do understand trying to make sense of what we saw. For myself, I embraced fan fiction. While, by definition, it will always be non-canon, there are many clever and imaginative writers who have come up with much more enjoyable “journeys” for Chuck (and Sarah) in the S3 time frame.

        I also agree the 3.13 “payoff” episode would have been completely inadequate if that had really been the end. I’m very thankful we got that back six.

      • JC says:

        The thing is thinkling you shouldn’t have to try and make sense of what you saw.

        Chuck isn’t a complex show, its the constant inconsistencies that make it maddening. And its not the minor ones either like Carina’s last name.

        Spies don’t fall in love and the whole spy relationships vs real ones is blown up by Shaw and The Turners. Being a spy changes you into some monster is one giant contrivance created solely for S3. It’s completely different then the how the world was portrayed during the first two season. Its these things that keep the show from being great.

      • Anonymous says:

        JC – I like both of your posts just made, I read most of this recent stuff, would like to add one observation, season 3 for most fans of the show who are active bloggers, required some attempt at rationalizing the season, because of how lacking what was on the screen – there are a few exceptions, but by and large the bulk of us needed to vent, rationalize, etc. The most recent postings are no exception to that.

        I am getting immune to it all, I find most of this sort of writing (including my own) to all look / feel / read alike at this point – and I am ready to move on. Each of these forays into the quagmire allows more and more fans to find their way free from the disaster, and I hope the writers support said effort with a great season 4.

      • Merve says:

        @JC and Anonymous: I want to agree with you guys, I really do, but here’s the thing: so much of the analysis aimed at convincing others that season 3 was nonsense is just as convoluted and contrived as the analysis aimed at rationalizing season 3. In the end, if what the show told me made sense, then no one is going to convince me that it shouldn’t have made sense.

      • JC says:

        Merve my post wasn’t directed at convincing people who like S3 that they were wrong. If you liked what you saw and can go with it that’s fine. I’m not trying to sway anyone.

        I’m just saying this show isn’t The Wire or Deadwood and someone who didn’t like the show shouldn’t have to write large essays about character motivations to have it make sense.

      • joe says:

        JC, you’re right about that. But what’s endlessly interesting to me is that no one really has to! People are still hashing this out though, but only because they want to.

        Something – I think it’s an intense interest in the characters, myself – something is driving intelligent and observant people to work hard to understand what we saw, just as if these were real events happening to people close to them. We’re still mulling it over in our minds and searching for greater understanding. That alone speaks volumes, both about the fans and the show itself.

        My opinion is still that what it’s saying is mostly good!

      • JC says:

        Don’t get me wrong Joe, I enjoy reading those essays. I love the in depth character debates we have here, I could ramble about Bryce Larkin for days.

        My problem is we shouldn’t need them to explain a season. If you’re going to fundamentally change the way a character acts we as the audience need a reason. Its the job of the writers to tell me why, I shouldn’t have to fill in the blanks.

      • JC says:

        Let me add its not that I don’t think the show or the characters aren’t layered and there isn’t deeper meaning.

        My problem is they tend to explore ones created by inconsistent writing and not ones created by the story they crafted.

        Nacho Sampler should have explored whether Chuck was in love with the real Sarah or the one she created to get close to him. Instead it focused on him burning someone who deserved it.

        Likewise with Sarah during Fake Name and Final Exam. Does she love Chuck the man or the idea of what he represents. What we got was her complaining about him lying, etc. Would’ve been great if Chuck didn’t lie his way through the back six. Where was the over blown angst then?

    • joe says:

      Absolutely great post, Thinkling (I believe that’ll be a unanimous verdict).

      You wrote: Hannah becomes the casualty of Chuck’s existential spy crisis. She is also a foil to the not-so-nice guy he has become. Were it not for his relationship with Hannah, he might never have noticed his descent. That’s very well put.

      I differ with my colleagues here in that I tend to enjoy going “to those dark places” to find my way out (even though I recognize that Dave’s and Amy’s judgment about the fan base is probably accurate). And since I readily admit that Sarah is a character I will never fully understand, I can’t argue with what you’ve said about her. In fact, as I watch S3 through for the 4th or 5th time, I’m just now seeing that even when Shaw and Hannah were in the picture, Chuck and Sarah never, ever stopped loving each other, not for a minute. Makes me feel slow on the uptake!

      I admit feeling the need to think about what’s coming next and move on to S4. But I can’t put S3 down completely either. Maybe there was so much going on emotionally in the darkest parts of S3, we can’t. I’m forming the judgment that what we saw was more personally meaningful than we admit. It’s a lot of weight to be carried by one little TV show.

    • aardvark7734 says:


      Dave stole my joke. But you know, it’s not the first time. 😉

      I want to say up front that I’m envious of this post. It was brilliantly argued, which I suspect is not the last time I’m going to be saying that in a response to you. You constructed very believable rationale for what we saw, and you stitched everything together under your two overarching dynamics. You also wove in a healthy assortment of time-proven ideas as supporting infrastructure, which made some of your less provable assertions that much more convincing. All in all, very, VERY well done.

      Secondly, I realize you constructed this post, as you say, to help you rationalize the season and accept it. It’s not my place to poke holes in it – it only has to work for you.

      But put briefly, it doesn’t work for me. There’s so much that I do believe scattered throughout in it. So don’t take this as some kind of wholesale refutation. It’s just that there are discordant jumps in there that I didn’t take with you. Like “So, Hannah worked well, both as a love interest and as someone who helped Chuck move forward on his journey.” Uh, using what measure? I found her almost completely ineffectual to the outcome of the season, since every effect she had on Chuck was replicated multiple times elsewhere in the story.

      Another thing that doesn’t work for me is that I can’t deconflict the idea that Sarah’s worst day of her life, her red test assassination, the thing that represents the dreaded end product of Chuck becoming the thing she can’t love much like she can no longer lover herself – that this idea is compatible with her bringing both halves of her life, the spy life and the real life into a happy whole. How can the whole be happy? Isn’t half already tainted by self-loathing? I don’t understand how this works.

      There’s more, but I see that Frea just posted the next ‘Fates’ chapter and I must go read that immediately.

      Again, wonderful post.

      • thinkling says:

        Thanks, aardvark, for the thoughtful critique.

        1) I didn’t mean to imply that Hannah was indispensable. But since they were bound and determined to do the love-interests thing again, she worked. She was believable as the kind of girl Chuck could go for, one I could be OK with if he had never been intersected to start with. She represented a life he could have had, were it not for the fateful e-mail. But since he chose this spy path, he can’t really have that life, certainly not in the way he was pursuing it.

        I think Chuck’s deceit with Hannah was the deepest. With everyone else, he told lies. But with her he had gone from telling lies as part of his cover to living a complete deception and dragging her into it blindfolded. He recklessly pursued his happiness without any thought of what it would do to her. His conscience wouldn’t let him be happy there for long. So, to me the Hannah relationship helped him see his duplicity, as well as the true cost of being a spy and the attendant responsibility.

        2) If we accept that Chuck’s love is a redeeming factor in Sarah’s life (which I think fits with what we see in S2 as touching Sarah’s past baggage), then his love could extend as far as helping her deal with her Red Test. If someone as innocent and good as Chuck can love her with all her baggage, then maybe there’s still something in her to love, and she can become whole again. His love can absorb her self-loathing and free her to be happy and whole.

        His love is pulling her out of a well, but if he falls into the same well, they are both lost. He has to keep his balance for her to get out.

        I wouldn’t think she has reasoned this out consciously, but I think it’s a plausible explanation for her attitudes and actions. I also think the whole Red-Test thing was swept away too easily to have been the one event that drove all of Sarah’s seemingly inconsistent behavior for the S3.1-11.5. (not to mention that it was Shaw’s wife …they didn’t really deal with that at all)

        In my mind she and Chuck still need a heart to heart (or 3) on the matter for her healing to be complete. I accept that we’ll never see that. (or maybe it happened on commercial breaks )

        Hope this doesn’t sound defensive. I really appreciated your comments. I know I can’t really rationalize and reconcile everything. After all, “it’s quite a mess they made.”

        Thanks for the discussion. 🙂

      • aardvark7734 says:

        I’m going to extend this a little further, at the risk of squeezing these points until their eyes pop out of their sockets (if they haven’t already!). Sorry if this seems excessive.

        Following your format:

        1) You had me at “didn’t imply that Hannah was indispensable”. 🙂 At that point, I’m good, because otherwise I buy your reasoning about what she represented and how she was used. But just to finish off this subject, I’d like to tell you that the prevailing consensus at a different discussion group was that Hannah’s main purpose was to clear the path for Sarah’s dalliance with Shaw.

        Their argument is that, in the writers view, Sarah’s decision to pursue more than a work relationship with Shaw was made more forgivable if Chuck had already moved on. I think there’s merit to this viewpoint, since onscreen time was spent showing Sarah react to Chuck “getting lucky”, and her visible resistance to Shaw’s persistent advances eroded quickly thereafter. It’s not a stretch to assume this was meant to be the last crumbling brick in her resolve to repair her relationship with Chuck.

        2) On this topic, there is still discord I’m afraid. It’s not that I can’t agree with nearly everything you said here. Chuck’s love is her redemption and he can heal her. But his power is not infinite. The problem, I think is that there is no definition of what specifically it is about her Red Test that made it the worst day of her life. Because if what made it the defining moment for her was that it birthed the Sarah Walker that could kill on orders, if it broke the wall in her moral code and began her period of self-loathing, then no Chuck love can fix that. It’s integral to her career as a spy.

        Even if the rush of family and acceptance takes her most of the way to being the person she secretly wished to be but had long suppressed, that original wound, so deeply struck, will never fully heal. Left unresolved, it would fester and corrupt the new life she’d achieved. I think the only logical path for this character’s full redemption is that she must leave the CIA and find an avocation that either obviates the need to kill or at the very least, makes it possible for her to do so in accordance with her own moral code. She’ll never be that whole person until she stops doing the thing that made her hate herself.

        But you know, in the way the show often does, they ret-conned this utterly in ‘Honeymooners’. Sarah’s spy life became, suddenly, the thing she lived for – the thing she would ultimately regret having given up if she ran away with Chuck. So all of that “corrupted soul enslaved to evil overlord” feel just flies out the window there.

        This is what makes the preceding 13 weeks of Sarah fretting over Chuck becoming a spy so completely vaporous. If the show was headed towards presenting the duo’s spy life together as a happy nirvana, they shouldn’t have spent two thirds of the season pitching it as a haven for the damned.

        And I’d bitch about this, but for my own selfish reasons I don’t want them to switch back. I think the show works best with things as they are post ‘Honeymooners’. I don’t want to hear about Red Tests or suffer any more hand-wringing about Chuck maybe having to kill someone. When he does, he will, and it will be difficult but he’ll do it for the right reasons.

        Rolling all the way back to my original response (which I never finished due to Frea’s impromptu publish), I want to summarize by saying that there have been many, many attempts to rationalize S3 on this blog. Yours ranks among the best I’ve seen. But despite my earnest tries to apply these patient, methodical and well-constructed explanations, I’ve never been able to escape the feeling that this is all just salve for wounds that should never have been inflicted in the first place.

        And I’m just not happy with that.

        So I’ve decided to put my faith in Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. For me, I hated the first episodes because the story they told was unappealing, sloppily told and depressing. The episodes I wanted to see, the ones that represent what Chuck means to me, didn’t happen until the back six.

        I can live with it being just that simple.

      • luckygirl says:

        Aardvark – I don’t really see her wanting to be a spy as a retcon. I think she grew resentful of the spy life because of what she thought it had cost her & Chuck but I never thought she wanted normal for herself. I don’t think she wanted it because she wanted it. She wanted it because she thought that was what Chuck wanted and because she assumed, as did Chuck, that it was the only way for them to be together. When both of those things proved to be false she was free to express what she really wanted. At least to me, Chuck was the only normal she ever really wanted.

      • Merve says:

        @aardvark and luckygirl: Any arguments about Sarah wanting out of the spy life for herself fall flat for one simple reason: if she really wanted out, she could have quit at any time.

      • atcdave says:

        Thanks for another great comment Aardvark. I agree entirely about sarah wanting out of the biz. I know in the original Pilot script we were supposed to think out; but that’s not the story we ever saw onscreen until the front part of S3. She even stated in 1.11 that being a spy was the only thing she’d ever been good at. We know Sarah sees herself as trying to do good and be the hero from speeches she’s made to Chuck in 1.02 and 2.12 (and others). So to me, the Sarah of 3.14 and later is more consistant with S1 and S2, while the Sarah we saw for the first part of S3 simply doesn’t fit the pattern.
        While I accept that there may be something I’m missing or I may be a dimwit; that is my interpretation. I also want to see the heroic Sarah who is comfortable in her own skin return in S4. No more hand-wringing please!

      • aardvark7734 says:

        @luckygirl: I think I see what you’re saying. In fact, the way you describe it is exactly how the writers want us to take it, based solely on the depiction in ‘Honeymooners’. So that’s certainly a valid interpretation.

        I look at it a little differently, that her reservations about the path her life took and what she did as a spy reached much further back than her time with Chuck. That maybe she felt like her life had been dictated by her father’s influence and how they paved the way for her indoctrination into the CIA. That maybe she’d never had a real choice.

        I like to believe that Chuck simply awakened those dormant feelings, fed that tiny flicker of hope she kept alive. Maybe filled in her dream’s amorphous characters with real faces and names, making it seem more achievable. By the time she mentions it to Casey in ‘Crown Vic’, her discontent had grown so strong that she was willing to reveal it to her partner, a man who she could guess would hardly be a sympathetic ear. To me, it had to be bothering her quite a bit for her to do that.

        @Merve: I dunno. If you go with my premise, once she realized she’d been tainted by the assassination, and had begun to hate herself for what she’d thought she’d become, I can see how she might have felt that being an agency operative was all that was left to her. That she didn’t deserve anything better.

        She could have subverted any pursuit of salvation until meeting Chuck showed her a concrete example that something else was possible. And maybe awakened hopes for herself she couldn’t sustain before.

      • thinkling says:

        Aardvark, eyes popping or no, I’ve really enjoyed the discussion. I don’t think we’re all that far apart. Maybe I just have a greater need to grapple and rationalize.

        1) Interesting take on the Hannah motivation. It does have merit, but I don’t buy it as the *primary* reason for her character. She was too good in other ways (and I’m sure too expensive a guest) to be used just to clear the path for Shaw/Sarah.

        2) Excellent points about Sarah’s Red Test and its lack of definition and magic disappearance. I wouldn’t bet the farm, but I seriously doubt this was part of Sarah’s background from the creation of her character. That’s why it requires such mind-bending gymnastics to rationalize.

        You said, ‘For me, I hated the first episodes because the story they told was unappealing, sloppily told and depressing. The episodes I wanted to see, the ones that represent what Chuck means to me, didn’t happen until the back six. I can live with it being just that simple.’

        That may be, in the end, a better way to handle it. More power to you! I just couldn’t leave it alone. I had to dissect it down to its spleen and connect the capillaries in a way that made some sense and gave meaning to the wounds. I’m far too analytical for my own good 😉

        I agree it’s time to close the never-ending angst chapter and move forward … to the honeymooners and beyond.

        Thanks for discussing. What an amiable bunch to tread such well-trodden paths with a late-comer.

      • luckygirl says:

        aardvark – I do think she has always had a curiousity about “normal” and wishes she had other options open to her. I just don’t think she ever really took anytime to figure out what she wants. I think she would have to do a little more growing as a person to even be able to make a proper decision about quitting or not. I hope the family dynamic will see to that growth this season.

      • luckygirl says:

        Merve – I don’t think she wanted to quit for herself, to me it was always about Chuck for her. I feel though that if she had wanted to for herself it wouldn’t have been as easy as just quitting. She knows nothing really of the world outside of spying and cons. It would be a terrifying prospect to be out in the world alone for the first time in her life. The thought of adapting to just being herself with no alias or cover to hide behind would probably be enough to scare her into inaction.

      • Merve says:

        @aardvark: That makes sense to me if I view S3 in isolation, but I can’t reconcile it with the Sarah that we were shown at the outset. In “Helicopter,” she made it clear that she took pride in her work. It’s been some time since I’ve seen any Chuck episodes, so while I’m pretty sure that she has talked about her duty and protecting people several times, the one example that I can think of is in “Third Dimension,” when she convinced Chuck to talk to Tyler Martin about performing. She wasn’t presented as someone who did the job for the sake of the job. If she were that kind of person, I think that it would have been easy for her to walk away from the job. On a more practical level, in “Pink Slip,” we were shown that running away was as simple as getting some fake papers and hopping on a train. If her desire to run weren’t solely linked to Chuck, she could have just done that by herself.

        @luckygirl: In “Pink Slip,” Sarah was prepared to quit the CIA, but with yet another alias. She wouldn’t have had to live as “herself.” In fact, until Chuck heard from Jeff and Lester that Sarah was still in Burbank, he thought that Sarah had run away.

      • JC says:

        The problem with Hannah is she was a rehash of Lou. The normal girl in the spy world relationship. And what’s even funnier is that none of these highly trained spies batted an eye at that.

        Like Aardie I tend to believe she was used to make Sarah moving on OK and to have someone call Chuck a jerk. Because they couldn’t have Sarah do it that would require talking to each other.

      • luckygirl says:

        Merve- She was only quiting to runaway with Chuck. She didn’t want to quit just to quit. When he left her she went back to what she knew and understood. I personally think it would be a very daunting task for her to even think about quiting for herself (if she wanted) because she has no idea who she is and what she wants.

      • aardvark7734 says:

        @atcdave: Yep, agreed about the discontinuity in Sarah being that part of S3, at least with regard to her comfort level as a CIA agent. Had Sarah simply stayed who she was in S2, and spent her fret time on whether Chuck could grow his capabilities sufficiently to survive as a spy before being KIA and, secondarily, on whether becoming a spy would change who he was, no character mutation would have been needed.

        Shaw could have stayed a mentor and maybe even a reckless instigator for Chuck’s advancement, and Sarah would have been torn by her desire to see Chuck succeed and her instinct to protect him. Casey could have vacillated, becoming an unpredictable swing vote – which also would have heightened the tension. It would have been enough and no need for PLI’s, IMHO.

        @luckygirl: Agreed on S4. If there’s one thing I want to see, it’s Sarah being integrated into Chuck’s family. It’s low hanging fruit – they just need to grab it.

      • aardvark7734 says:

        @Merve: Would it be breaking my rule for simplicity to suggest that Sarah might have existed with an internal dichotomy? That, as luckygirl suggests, the spy life was all she really knew and that while she was doing it she would excel at it. She would project the duty and loyalty expected of her position. Yet, between missions, in the quiet times, her inner doubts would emerge?

        Because if I can’t do that, my next refuge is to say that Sarah’s character is simply bent to emphasize whatever is necessary for the episode she’s in. Where a creature of duty is needed, she becomes it (Helicopter, Third Dimension). When a woman with strong feelings for Chuck is needed, she changes to that (Marlin, Predator). It’s not as appealing as my first scenario, but I can live with it.

    • Merve says:

      I’m going to be blunt because I’m tired of censoring myself (not that I censor myself often, beyond removing large amounts of foul language from what I’d normally write). Most rationalizations are rooted in a desire to see something that isn’t there. Most repudiations of rationalization are rooted in blind distaste and not logic.

      What am I saying? I agree with almost all of what you’ve presented, and I appreciate it all the more because it’s based on what played out onscreen and not on guesses about what TPTB were “trying” to do. (Tiny nitpick: I’m not so eager to paint Bryce, Cole, and Shaw with the same brush because I think that they represent different things to Sarah, but that’s a separate issue that I won’t touch on here.) So, thanks for your excellent post.

      Now, I could go on at length about why I thought that season 3 was a couple of notches below season 2. (No, I don’t think that it was 5000 notches below; I enjoyed almost all of season 3.) I could pontificate at length about Shaw’s inconsistent characterization, Casey’s temporary transformation into a plot device, or the total lack of direction that characterized most of the back 6. But at the end of the day, most people don’t think about this stuff. Since I prefer statistics and hard facts, I usually refrain from sharing anecdotes, but I’ll make a couple of exceptions. My sister, who is a huge Chuck fan, didn’t like the stretch of episodes from 3.7 to 3.13, “American Hero” excepted, because Shaw was “boring” and Sarah was “not badass.” One of my close friends, who is also a huge Chuck fan, loved that same stretch of episodes because “Shaw’s messing around with the team and he’s really mysterious.” People tend to enjoy or not to enjoy based on simple things. Rationalization comes later.

      I don’t mean to disparage your analysis. Like I stated earlier, I appreciate it. It’s a welcome change from the bitter rejection and ludicrous criticism that has characterized so much of the commentary surrounding season 3. (Seriously, if I have to read the sentence, “Chuck would never have chosen the spy life over Sarah in Prague,” one more time, I will punch a hole in the wall.) In the end, we’re all just circle-jerking here, tossing around ideas in the vain hope that TPTB will read our essay-length comments. That may sound depressing, but hey, at least we’re having fun, right?

      • Merve says:

        Sorry, when I read this again, it came across a lot bitchier than I intended. I’ll chalk it up to a lack of sleep.

      • atcdave says:

        Merve, I really don’t recall anyone saying “Chuck would have never….” on this site. Fictional characters will always do exactly what they’re written to do. Most objections I’ve seen emphasize if we like or agree with what we’ve seen. Most criticism I’ve seen focuses on the decision making process that led to the story; at least that’s how I’ve always seen it. I do object to the many arguments that start with “Chuck and Sarah had to to be apart (or break up) in S3 because…” I object to them for exactly the reason you just gave. But I do enjoy when someone constructs their position well and gives me something to think about.
        I for one, care little about what anyone was trying to do. I care mainly about how I, a viewer, receive what’s presented.

        I think it is fun forming and refuting arguments. I mean no ill by it. I only hope to be understood.

      • JC says:

        Maybe its just me but when I hear the argument “Chuck would never have chosen the spy life over Sarah in Prague” I always assume they mean how he did it. The speech he made in Three Words that’s the Chuck I know not the one in Pink Slip.

        Its just like I don’t believe Sarah would make Chuck choose between running with her or his family. I have no doubt she would try and protect him but not like that. Same goes with her stepping back during his training. I can see her doing it but not as far they went (Doing nothing while Shaw blows up castle, Red Test)

      • Merve says:

        Two things:
        1. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. My earlier comments were directed at the Chuck fanbase in general and not specifically at the commenters on this site.
        2. I don’t have a clue what the writers’ decision-making process is, so I can’t criticize it. I can only criticize what happened onscreen.

      • atcdave says:

        Merve, you are of course right that we can’t know HOW decisions are made; but then that’s why we abstract much of it to “TPTB.” Its just shorthand for “whoever is responsible.” But I think it is always fair game to criticize whatever the process was that led to what we saw (or see). It is often frustrating to complain about something that we have no real idea how it came about; but on the other hand, we can have some clue what a direction might be. Like how recently you’ve expressed concerns over Comic-Con comments that may indicate a disconnect between content and tone. We are (in this case you specifically) addressing that process, even if we aren’t exactly sure what’s going on.

      • Merve says:

        That’s fair, Dave. To be clear, that’s a focus on the message coming out of Comic-Con, and not a focus on what led to that message. I don’t mind speculating about what goes on behind the scenes, but I can’t say something like, “I blame the writers for collectively deciding to make Sarah a weakling for a third of a season,” because I don’t know if that’s true or not; I’m unaware of whether or not it was a conscious decision. However, I’m perfectly alright saying, “I didn’t like how Sarah was portrayed as a weakling for a third of a season.” Do you see the distinction? Sorry, I’m not sure if I’m making sense.

      • atcdave says:

        I get it Merve. That is why I prefer “TPTB” for issues like that. I will sometimes be more specific and say “writers” or even “Schwedak” or something if I think I have a good idea where something came from. But for the majority of what we discuss it will usually be the less specific reference.

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