Sorry about the title, I couldn’t resist the urge to stir controversy. I was just being dramatic. Drama is a part of Chuck. The drama, tension and yes, even occasional heartbreak we experience with our characters is what binds us to them and makes them matter. It is where our investment comes from. We have all felt what they are feeling, and connects us to the characters like friends. Angst, that shorthand we’ve adopted to mean emotional turmoil due to relationship woes, well yes, there is some good angst. Who can forget the fountain scene in Chuck Versus The Breakup or Sarah’s face when she’s dismissed in Chuck Versus The Broken Heart or Ellie’s reaction to Chuck covering for Devon in the same episode for a non-romantic bit of drama. And it isn’t all relationships. Think of the closing scene of Chuck Versus The Fat Lady where Sarah and Casey dash to Chuck’s rescue only to find him gone off grid with his watch left behind. When Chuck does drama well, and it does it often despite some disappointments, it makes for a truly memorable episode. Our picks for the top three dramatic episodes, after the jump.
It’s tough to narrow this one down because there have been so many good dramatic moments. Some I’ll save for spy-moments and some for romantic moments since drama is a pretty catch-all category if you include those. So I’m trying for not necessarily romance or action related drama, but those can certainly play into it. While it’s easy to pick dramatic scenes, sorting out the episodes proved to be a tougher task for me. And there’s no guarantee my mind won’t be changed by some of the comments. As of this moment I’ve managed to narrow things down to my top three.
Chuck Versus The Final Exam. I know this one is going to cause a bit of a stir, and I understand a lot of people find it either disturbing or contrived. That said if TPTB were going for more realism, higher stakes and more drama they had to deal with Chuck facing his aversion to guns and violence if he was ever going to be a spy. Sure the red test is a contrivance, but nothing hits home like Chuck’s goal coming face to face with his principles. The outcome was a bit of a cheat, but at the end, Chuck sitting alone trying to understand who he is now and facing it alone gives more weight to his decision and what it could cost him. He can’t let Casey or Sarah tell him who he is or what to be, but he could use a friend. Sarah is facing herself and her decisions too. Despite all her good intentions throughout her time with Chuck she finally has to realize that her presence in Chuck’s life has changed him forever. She has changed Chuck, not Chuck has changed. She is not an innocent bystander in his life watching, as she seems to have thought at the end of Chuck Versus The Nacho Sampler. She is doing the changing as much as he is, and she has to face that. But at the time he needs her most, she can’t face him out of fear of what she has done to him.
Chuck Versus The Truth As one of my top ten episodes I wasn’t sure where this one fit at first. But it is, overall a dramatic episode. Sarah and Chuck are both having existential spy crises. Chuck’s formerly compartmentalized life is starting to intermingle, as is Sarah’s. They’ve each awakened a side of the other that was long dormant or missing in their lives. While in both cases that’s a good thing it comes with complications they will have to accept and work out. Chuck is now a hero, but he has to face a life that has changed forever and danger to him and his family is now a part of it. Sarah is discovering the joys of friends and family, but has to face the constraints of her job and what it means to both her and Chuck.
OMG This IS A Hard One
Drama? I got that. Angst? I think I understand. But put the two together and my brain goes “SPPRRROOOONNNGGGGGGG!” So what I settled on are the three episodes that I think contain the most or best drama in the series, whether or not Chuck and Sarah’s romance is involved. And that’s not ignoring the angst, because Chuck and Sarah’s romance is in every scene! Well, nearly.
On my first cut I came up with about two hundred scenes that I think verge on remarkable drama. Oh, okay. I exaggerate, but only a little, and only for effect. There are dozens, though. But one scene does not an Emmy-award winning episode make (I think). So I came up with half a dozen episodes with drama that made me seriously worry about the characters for a week. The ones that didn’t make my list? The Other Guy – Chuck shooting Shaw and saving a uniquely helpless Sarah was incredibly dramatic. But the whole episode is memorable for other reasons. Tom Sawyer – The triple action sequence of Sarah fighting the bad guys at the station while Casey prepares to destroy the satellite from Castle and Chuck saves LA while playing Missile Command is as exciting as it gets. But Tom Sawyer doesn’t pull the heart strings. Fat Lady? – That final scene where Sarah and Casey run in slow-mo to save Chuck from the evil Fulcrum agent he’s running away with (and um, sleeping with) as Frightened Rabbit’s Keep Yourself Warm plays is incredible at many dramatic levels. But the whole episode is about how Chuck and Jill solve the many puzzles left by her dead boss. Ack! How to choose???
I pick as my top three:
Chuck Versus The Alma Mater There’s a wonderful level of excitement throughout as Chuck has to face the assassin’s (Magnus’) crossbow, his Stanford trauma, the memories of Bryce and finally, the truth about what Bryce had done. And on top of that, so does Sarah. It’s not only the action and the pace that makes this episode dramatic. It’s Sarah’s deeper level of understanding, her simultaneous relationship with Bryce and that nearly tear-filled final scene as she leaves Chuck with the knowledge that makes this one special.
Chuck Versus The Colonel (so long as you start with the last scene of First Kill). Okay, that’s a little cheat, but I’m a sucker for the lovers-on-the-run idea. Oh, you can argue that Chuck and Sarah aren’t quite lovers (yet). But not for my money. You can say that their commitment to each other was demonstrated earlier, and it was. We know already that they’d die for each other. But I say it wasn’t demonstrated this deeply, and never in a way that was this overwhelming. For me, there’s nothing more dramatic than their facing danger together (uh, that would be mostly Casey, so it’s very personal), their resignation in the cell and Casey’s redemption. And for all the wonderfulness that we had seen from Sarah up to this point, she’s was never better as she stops Casey (twice) and never, ever loses her cool or credibility as a character. Mere girlfriend? Not here. Not in The Colonel.
Chuck Versus The Dream Job I choose this one as the most dramatic even though it may be the one episode where the romance seems to have been forgotten. Well, it *is* forgotten, but that’s only because the level of drama is so high we can put it out of our minds. The angst is not on Chuck and Sarah, but purely on Chuck. Our concerns, and his, are on his father. Perhaps my favorite scene of all time is Chuck suiting up to save Stephen with Luisa’s Bones playing in the background. Chuck slapping the handles of the pistols together, his first forced-flash, Roark’s amazing mocking-humor-evil, Vincent’s ominous sneer and then Sarah and Casey dragging Chuck out of the Intersect room – wow. I kid you not, I feel my adrenalin levels rising as I write about it. Except for Casey getting tranq’d and going “Whoooo”, I don’t remember a single laugh from this episode, and it’s still wonderful. Well, okay, Sarah and Casey dressed as geeks was funny, but the whole episode exploded with excitement and tension.
That’s my top three!
This is a tough category for me. I suppose no one will be shocked when I say I don’t really do drama. I’m pretty much an action/adventure/comedy kind of guy. It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate good drama; it’s just I rarely choose to watch it, and I very rarely enjoy it. So I wasn’t sure at first how to approach this. I can see where episodes like Nacho Sampler and Final Exam were very dramatic episodes, but I seriously didn’t enjoy them. So if I limit myself to those episodes I really did enjoy, can I still come up with three that could be called “dramatic.” Once I got going on it, I found there were actually quite a few. And I quickly had a familiar problem, how do I limit it to only three? Dang. With Chuck I end up having a good time with some of the sort of material I wouldn’t normally look twice at. I believe that is testimony to the quality of this show on many levels. I am often drawn to an episode for its humor and action (yeah, and I’m still a sucker for sweet Chuck and Sarah moments, like you all didn’t know that!), and end up really liking the impact of what’s going on for the characters too. So without further ado, these are my picks for top three “dramatic” episodes of Chuck.
Chuck Versus The First Kill. I’m kind of cheating about this from the opposite direction than Joe did. This is a good episode throughout with one of the best action sequences of the series. But the final series of events, climaxing with “Take off your watch”, is easily the most electrifying moment of the series to me. And I mean easily. I was sure Sarah would do something, but I think I held my breath for five minutes until it happened. I’d love to include Colonel as a best dramatic episode for how these events play out; but I think that episode has a higher calling (it will be on at least two of my future lists).
Chuck Versus The Nemesis. I really didn’t appreciate the drama of this episode when I first saw it. I’m not subtle about my thoughts regarding love triangles; but that’s never what this one is ever really about (well, maybe a little). The relationships here are beautifully complex. Bryce is of course Chuck’s Nemesis, but he proves himself to be Chuck’s friend too. He has ruined Chuck’s life, and he saves Chuck’s life too. He makes Chuck feel totally inadequate where Sarah is concerned, and highlights that Chuck can “never” compete as a hero or partner. Sarah’s struggle is different but nearly as dramatic, it’s about her new life vs. her old one. Her agonizing choice in the end is the first time I realized Yvonne Strahovski is more than just a “good” actress, she is perfectly cast. What an awesome scene. Sarah’s choice is personified by Chuck and Bryce. But it’s also about duty vs. adventure. Ironically, it’s about the life of adventure she’s used to, versus a more stable life that frightens her. Bryce may be exciting and fun, While Chuck truly needs her for protection from bad guys, the bunker, Casey, and the government.
Chuck Versus The Delorean. This is the episode I really waffled on for this list. There are so many good “third choices” for me. This is one of those episodes that just works in so many ways; it could be in the running for most of these lists we’re doing, and I might even mention it again. But between the hard drama between Sarah and dad; and the “good” drama between Sarah and Chuck, this episode is wonderful.
Chuck Versus The Nemesis. Bryce Larkin is back, Sarah has to choose. There is the epic battle at the Buy More. This was a real turning point for Sarah. Chuck went from having his family and a nice turkey day feast to watching the love of his life making out with her ex. The post-fight scene offer of “We’ll always have Omaha” remains one of those hanging threads in the Chuck universe. The anguished choice of staying and facing her feelings or going with the old, safe partner (safe in an emotional sense) really struck a chord in me.
Chuck Versus The Pink Slip. Wow, that wasn’t the kiss I was expecting either, Sarah! The hurt demonstrated by both Chuck and Sarah was palpable. Even Casey recognized it and told Sarah to put Chuck out of his misery, but he failed to see that Sarah was in her own personal level of hell. The reset of the relationship was jarring and painful to watch. I don’t despise the episode as many do, but whether you love it or hate it, you certainly felt it.
Chuck Versus The American Hero. Chuck lays it on the line, Sarah makes a choice, Shaw is a dope. I can argue against my own choice because I never bought the feelings toward Shaw that I watched trying to be sold to me on-screen. However, the episode as a drama pick redeems itself with Chuck’s actions. I also love that he stood up for his feelings with Sarah. The speech he gave at the restaurant was so touching. His emotionally plea to have one secret (to protect Casey) is touching and in retrospect, rather ironic since most of us had issues with the lies being told to Papa B and Sarah in later episodes. And his reaction to save Sarah was as heroic as any I’ve seen. Loved it!