How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Making Apologies

I apologize. Things have been just a little slow around here lately, and even to me it seems like forever since I penned a substantial post. To you, it must seem like I’ve become a bit bored with writing or even worse, bored with Chuck. I assure you, I’m no where near that with either.

Fact of the matter is, I’ve never been more fantastically inundated with Chuck-stuff. In the vernacular of the Jersey Shore, lemme tell ya what’s doin’ wid me.

First and foremost I started my summer Chuck marathon viewing a couple of weeks ago, watching one or two episodes a day as time permits, and I’m about half way through. The original intent was to watch them in order, but Hulu and NBC-U had the first episodes of season 3 available only through last week. I decided to watch S1 and parts of S3 in parallel. I’ll pick up with the last 10 of S3 starting Sept 8 or 9 (right?) which leaves me comfortably watching one a day until the new season starts.

But that’s not what’s taking my time! I also wanted to learn more about some of those newfangled computer thingies, so I learned to spell XML and XSLT and CSS and started on a browsable database of episode information. As I watch, I note the guest stars, director, key dialog, music, A, B and C plots, my own impressions and points of interest. You see, I need this computer-enhanced, artificial aid just to keep up with you guys and your encyclopedic knowledge of the show’s details. It may never get “published” (sadly, WordPress doesn’t have that facility), but it helps me to stay organized, and it’s been a fun learning exercise. Of course, all that means it takes me about 27 hours to go through one episode… Oh, okay. I lied. It’s only 26 hours. 🙂

There’s been a side benefit. The effort has really helped me to understand the clever details in, and general wonderfulness of, Frea O’Scanlin’s epic What Fates Impose, which, oh by the way, takes up another 48 hours a day THAT I DON’T HAVE (huff-huff). It’s worth every second. So if you haven’t read it already, do it. DO IT. DOIT-DOIT-DOIT!!! But I digress.

More? Sure. Thanks to Amy’s music post I’ve also spent considerable time of late re-organizing my play-lists. I bought the latest from Band of Horses to add to my collection, and both my wife and I are enjoying that immensely. Recommend! +1 Amazing!

In addition to all that, I’ve been compelled to watch each and every episode of Firefly. I have to. It’s an addiction. I blame Ernie. My wife blames me and is suing for custody of the cats. The cats in turn blame George Bush.

The rest of my time is actually taken up with, you know, personal stuff that I like to do, like eat…

For all this Chuck immersion, you’d think I’d learn something, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be right. I learned that I really didn’t like Chuck all that much at first. He was a schmuck.

Oh, of course Chuck was every bit as charming as Sarah told Beckman, told him and told us on occasion. You couldn’t help but like the guy, eventually. But Chuck was indeed unmotivated, whiny, docile, lethargic and immature when we first met him. Just like for Ford MoCo when “Quality (was) job #1”, Chuck’s reaction #1 to danger was to scream like a little girl. His first reaction to Sarah was something akin to “She’s too good to be true, so don’t bother,” a reaction on which he fell back every chance he could. Does that sound like one of your friends? Not mine either. As much fun as it was to see Chuck land a helicopter using only his “flight-sim” skills (and to see him prance around trying to high-five everybody in sight), Sarah was quite right to read him the riot act for his first reactions to just about everything. His instinct (but definitely not his heart) was in the wrong place.

The good news is that we got to see Chuck’s second reactions too. I may have stuck around for Sarah, but I had to give Chuck a second chance in order to do that. And sometime between fixing her phone and defusing a bomb with a computer virus…

Well, you know what I mean. The reality is a bit more complex, but the truth is still that Chuck, the character at the end of season three, is very far removed from Chuck the character who would rather skip his own birthday party. Watching S3 and S1 together has thrown this into stark relief.

Just like a certain middle aged rock-‘n-rollin’ ex-rocket scientist and martial artist who does not do brain surgery on the side, Chuck had to grow into being someone I like, someone who could take what he had learned and not throw it away out of naïveté or for fear of losing. Chuck may have thought he was being brave by deliberately walking into a fight or just getting out of the car, and he was, in a way. But taking a punch, even to show someone you’re not afraid when you are, is easy; you just stand there. It’s also dumb and it’s next to giving up.

Throwing a real punch – being effective at anything – is much harder than that, especially when you’re really fighting to win. It’s much harder than taking a hit because you can’t be naive about it. You cannot be unmotivated, whiny, docile, lethargic and immature, because that punch – effectiveness in anything – doesn’t come out of nowhere. It starts with that same bravery it takes to face a bully, but continues with hard work and painful experience. Chuck may have thought that being honest with Sarah about his feelings was going to be enough too. But like walking stupidly into danger, he was just being brave and foolish, exactly like Casey said.

Chuck started season 3 apologizing to Sarah for Prague, for what he had done and for who he was. It took the wrenching experience of being tossed into the deep end by one Daniel Shaw, but when he emerged Chuck was a schmuck no longer. He (and we) learned he had nothing to apologize for.

So what changed? Why, nothing. In the course of S3, Chuck became a fully realized person who acts on his own behalf with deep consideration of everybody around him. But that’s not a change; he always was that person. The difference is now Chuck knows that about himself too and he’s no longer naive. If there was something a little silly about Chuck before, it’s been replaced with conviction. Chuck knows what he wants. He doesn’t react out of (bad) instincts, but acts out of mature, hard won conviction.

I can’t help but think Chuck would still help ballerinas and their fathers in the Buy More if the need arose and I really hope we get to see something like that again. But he’s certainly not running away from his own birthday parties any more. Chuck is not running stupidly into danger anymore either, in need of Sarah to rescue him and Casey to catch him when he falls. He’s carrying a ton of weight on his shoulders, and I like this guy. I like him much more than I did before precisely because he is an adult, completely different, and at the same time completely familiar. He’s someone I can relate to, even if he’s no longer that 26 year old man-boy I knew so well from the beginning.

Perhaps you can tell. As I watch all 55 episodes of Chuck, I find that they’re telling a story I still find intensely personal and rich, even after three years of more than casual viewing. That’s amazing. No one needs to apologize to me for that.

– 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.
This entry was posted in Inside Chuck, Season 3, Season 4. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to How I Spent My Summer Vacation

  1. Faith says:

    Joe, it’s an oversimplification in my opinion to say that the apology is for the story-telling.

    Who Chuck has become is something we’ve all hoped and rooted for. An adult Chuck, one with conviction and as he says in American Hero:
    “That guy hated himself for not knowing what he wanted to do and who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.”

    When once he was aimless and unworthy, now not so much. But it’s not that simple. What is unsavory isn’t necessarily the growth itself (as I’ve said, that’s something I in particular have hoped for) but how it came about.

    Without his heart, without his humanity, Chuck isn’t Chuck. And a large portion of Season 3 involved a little too much of that Chuck (pseudo-Chuck). And therein is where the apology matters. They’ve destroyed the characters we fell for as plot devices when there could be so much better ways to go about it.

    But since this is all in the past, I’ll end this post with this:
    The growth is significant…Chuck has been redeemed in my eyes and I hope others as well. We all stray from our paths but how we return to glory is what matters. Who Chuck is now is far removed from who he was, and I’m thankful for that. No longer will he cower and whine, no longer will he stand by while Sarah makes out with the Cole of the world…now he fights for her and as I have recently finished American Hero…the fight is a sight to see.

    • joe says:

      Well said, Faith. But the apology wouldn’t be for the storytelling, so much as for the conception. And that is what I think isn’t necessary.

      I’ll always respect differences of opinion about the necessity of how Chuck’s growth came about. I have to. My own opinion changes about that daily. As for this:

      Chuck has been redeemed in my eyes and I hope others as well. We all stray from our paths but how we return to glory is what matters. Who Chuck is now is far removed from who he was, and I’m thankful for that.

      …beautiful. Much better than I could ever put it!

  2. JC says:

    The thing that bothers me is this impossible standard Chuck is held to. Both Chuck and Sarah are both broken in the pilot. Sarah the spy and Chuck the underachiever were products of their respective pasts. Neither had idyllic childhoods or early adulthood. The key difference is Sarah’s past gives her a free pass while Chuck’s doesn’t. If Chuck lies or acts like a jerk somehow he’s a horrible person. Sarah on the hand its the whole “you know how I grew up” excuse.

    That’s one my problems with show and S3 in particular. Chuck has to be a saint while everyone else can be flawed.

    • JC says:

      That’s weird somehow half my post was lost. This should have been at the beginning.

      I loved Chuck from the pilot episode. I understood and sympathized with him. Here was a guy who was abandoned by both parents. He gets a fresh start at Stanford and then is betrayed by his close friend and a girl he had thoughts about marrying. He gave up on himself just like he thought other people had. Then something changed, Sarah gave him the push to drag himself out of the dark.

      I know I’m in the minority but I liked Chuck in all of S3. Well not the Hannah thing and he should’ve knocked Shaw out after talking about taking Morgan away. But he finally embraced his destiny that was denied him by his father and Bryce. This was the man he was supposed to be until he hit that five year detour.

    • joe says:

      Interesting, JC! For me, at the beginning Chuck was just an underachieving good-guy. Morgan pegged it – he had lots of potential and wasn’t living up to it. Sarah, on the other hand, was Sarah. She could do anything.

      Chuck had nowhere to go but up, Sarah had nowhere to go except to come back down to earth. I’m so glad they met there in the middle.

      So for me, it’s not so much that Chuck had to be a saint, as his saintliness was revealed, layer by layer. Sarah wasn’t given a pass so much as having her soul stripped naked and being revealed as “merely” human. Maybe I should type merely exceptionally human. What remains for both is that they are exceptional, yet retain their humanity. It’s what we like about them, I think.

      • JC says:

        I understand that Joe. I just don’t like that Chuck’s past is so easily dismissed when he screws up or someone hurts him. I give Chuck and Sarah the benefit of the doubt because of their flaws. But it seems like the show and some fans only give Sarah that consideration.

        Tooth is a perfect example. Why weren’t people angry at Sarah for not saying “I love you” to Chuck. Instead they focused on his lie at the end of the episode. Both of them were wrong yet people were complaining about how Chuck could lie to her.

      • luckygirl says:

        I think the reasoning for Tooth is lying in general is usually seen as negative, especially when a character billed as an honest guy does it. Alot of people also didn’t quite buy the need for it. Whereas Sarah is actually trying to overcome a fear which is almost always seen as positive a sign of growth. A fear which she actually overcomes. Then we don’t see Chuck come clean.

      • Crumby says:

        I hear you JC and I have to agree with you about the fact that I forgive Sarah more easily, and that it is unfair. I’ll think about that next time! Thanks! 🙂

        Also, about Tooth, it is also true that if Sarah had told him that she loved him sooner, he wouldn’t have gone to the opera by himself (and Cobra). He wouldn’t have been scared to be abandoned again, and would have had gone to her.

        They really screwed things up with this lies overkill. At some point, that’s all we were seeing and we’ve forgotten about his reasons.

      • JC says:

        Thanks, Crumby. I was just venting about the way Chuck is treated on the show and by the fans. He tends to take all the blame for everything. I’m not saying he shouldn’t take the blame when he screws up but so should the other characters especially Sarah.

      • Crumby says:

        Well JC I’m often interested in how you see things about Chuck because I’ve noticed you “defend” him a lot when I often “defend” Sarah. Not that this is a fight or anything. But it is interested to see your POV and what I’ve missed.

        Tooth is a good example. When I saw Chuck going to the opera with Cobra I thought: here we go again, after his several lies about Orion in S2, Chuck is going down that road again with Sarah. He still couldn’t trust her like he trusts Ellie and Morgan: the two people that have never abandoned him. So I was mad at Chuck for doing that, forgetting that if Sarah had told him what he needed to hear, he may not I’ve been scared of losing her.

  3. OldDarth says:

    I hear what you are saying JC. With Chuck and Sarah together in S4 the interesting thing is that they should be now held to the same standard.

    Whether the show plays it that way is another question.

    Joe – you get an A+ for effort. And another for execution. 🙂

    Now if you would only drop that Linux liability. 😉

  4. Jan says:

    I’ve spent the summer trying to go thru all of season 3. I’ve made it thru all but the Mask. While I cannot say that I love the early episodes more than I did originally, I must give the writers and showrunners more credit for moving Chuck forward in his journey. He’s truly not the guy who hated himself for not knowing what he wants. He’s exhibited some less than wonderful qualities (lying way too much to people) and the whole “Hannah” thing was difficult…from the uncharacteristic PDA at the BuyMore to the break up almost in front her parents. But we all make mistakes,including Chuck. More than anything, as difficult as last year was for me, the prospect of a great start to Season 4 is a refreshing change. Instead of feeling ominous dread, it seems that Season 4 will bring back some of the fun of Seasons 1&2…and I believe that’s a good thing. I guess this is all a rehash of what you folks have said for months…
    I’m still trying to rewatch the Mask. Maybe after I buy the DVD to Season 3.

    • joe says:

      Jan, people will hate me for saying it, but The Mask is a great episode, right up to the point where Chuck and Sarah split up at the end. Say, 42 minutes out of a 43 min 25 sec. episode. And even then, when you watch them again, watch their faces. Chuck & Sarah obviously love each other, and they’re clearly thinking that this is the best thing – for the other.

      Sarah knows that Chuck wants to be a spy and is convinced she’s holding him back “both professionally and personally.” Chuck knows now that getting emotionally involved endangers them both and thinks Sarah has moved on. Both have acceptable, if temporary, alternatives, but they still love each other, and you can see it.

      Are their reasons for giving up good enough, or are the characters just being stupid (and ultimately, selfish)? I think the consensus is they fall short, but only because of the limitations of the Daniel Shaw character. From a storytelling POV, it’s not too bad… We have high standards. It doesn’t take much to understand the motivations.

      Their break festered in us, though. I’m convinced the Olympic break changed our collective perceptions. Remember? O Canada! Uh, I mean, the Olympics interrupted the story for 3 weeks, and left Chuck and Sarah looking like fools for too long. Without that break it’s much easier to watch.

  5. jason says:

    joe – season 3’s chuck growth, sarah growth, how shaw effected the season, I am sort of done with it for now, I doubt I will ever be happy about what was done, I am happy some have found ways to stomach the season, but really, a season should not need months of words to explain itself in order to be considered palatable, it should taste good on first bite. The first 13 simply did not exicte my TV taste buds – matter of fact, I was gagging most of the time it went down. The after taste is no better in August than it was in June or during the Olympic break. With all those culinary references, I think I am going to go eat something – LOL.

  6. Crumby says:

    I think how S4 will play out will tell me if Chuck is redeemed in my eyes or not. I don’t have any problem with growth. Of course, I like seeing Chuck going for the girl he loves, finding purpose in his job, etc. But there were things about it that I didn’t like as well.

    I didn’t like his complete 180 from “I want to be normal” to “I want to be a spy”. I understand his motivations: he has the Intersect, he can help people, and after losing Sarah (the girl), becoming a spy is all he has left (purpose). But the way he did it… At some point I just didn’t like seeing Chuck like that. He redeemed himself for me from Beard. After Fake Name, it’s like he had finally realized that he wasn’t just a machine (the spy) but a person too (the regular guy). And after having his best friend back, helping Casey, he also finally decided to fight for Sarah. But even if I felt like I got my Chuck back, some things have changed.

    One example: Honeymooners. Remember when Chuck and Sarah decided to quit but then the spotted the Basque terrorist. They both went behind each others back to investigate. Well Sarah came clean by saying: “I can’t fake this, not with you.” It was good to hear Sarah say that. But a question remains: could Chuck have done it? Could he have faked it and lie to Sarah? Don’t get me wrong: I can’t hold that against him because he didn’t do anything wrong. It would be crazy and unfair to say that he should have come clean first. But the simple fact that the question is there illustrates how disappointed I’ve been in Chuck.

    And after the last four episodes and all the lies… It isn’t reassuring to say the least. The way the all “Ellie wants me to quit” situation will be handle is key. He has found purpose, he knows who he is now, then he needs to tell her. Because a grown man doesn’t promise his sister one thing and do the exact opposite behind her back. When it was understandable that he didn’t want to explain himself to his father who had abandoned him several times and let him figure life out by himself, he doesn’t have that excuse with Ellie.

    Lying about their mother is something else: he hasn’t promised anything, he doesn’t know how dangerous this is, Ellie has her own childhood issues, etc. So I take being a spy and MEB’s search differently.

    Anyway, while I’ve been pleased to see Chuck becoming the spy and more confident man that he is now, I still have my doubts. You said it Joe, one thing Chuck always had was bravery. It was sometime foolish or misplaced but he was brave. He still is of course. He was brave enough to help Casey, to choose not to kill the mole even if it meant losing Sarah, to tell Sarah what he wanted, to save Shaw, to save Sarah in Paris and so many other things. But the Intersect and his spy training have given him power and skills. He has learned to what he could do and he has learned to deflect and lie.

    So now, he needs to be brave and put his trust in Sarah. And he needs to be brave and not use those faking skills with his friends and family, even if it seems easier sometime. 🙂

  7. Robert H says:

    Well Joe another good, thought provoking article.
    Hope you are enjoyng your summer.

    It’s rare that I would disagree with you because I
    have great respect for your writing. It’s sincere,
    honest, and committed. You believe in what you do
    and that is easily seen in your articles. The other
    writers have the same attributes which is why I
    enjoy reading the articles and comments on this site.

    Having said this, however I have to agree with Jason
    on this one. Season 3 ruined Chuck, the character,
    and to almost the same extent, Sarah. Casey, thank
    God, did not change and was the “Rock of Gibraltar”
    during the Season 3 mess. Morgan was the only character who grew.

    I’m not going to comment about Season 3 specifics.
    It’s been talked to death and Ive had my say on the
    subject. Was there some good? Yes, but that was far
    outweighed by the bad. The tone was set in the very
    first episode and never really recovered. The last 6
    episodes could not cover the worst of the first 13,
    much improved as they were.

    I,too, have looked at Seasons 1 and 2, then compared
    them to Season 3. In terms of the character “Chuck”
    it’s not even close.

    In Season 3 Chuck was supposed to “grow up” and become a “man”. But did he really? I suppose by episodes 12 and 13 he had in some ways but not in
    others. The progress was erratic and uneven. Why?

    I think a major part of the problem was there was no
    real bridge of continuity established between the end of Season 2 and the start of Season 3. No reference was made to Bryce’s death until Shaw arrived on the scene. That should have been the
    bridge between Chuck and Sarah (not to mention the
    audience) that had to be crossed and dealt with that
    could have been the focal point of Season 3 that might have changed everything-Chuck trying to support and bring Sarah back from the grief of Bryce’s death, not to mention the impact that would
    have had on them as a couple. That could have made for high drama with no need for a “Shaw” if the show
    were going dark. The audience would have accepted
    this but it was not to be…..

    What did we get for Chuck in Season 3? We got a new
    hair style, a completely changed personality, that
    became more unlikeable and less sympathetic with each episode complete with wimpy handwringing,indecisiveness,a misplaced sense of
    priorities (remember how we heard Seasons 1 and 2-“Sarah, I’m crazy about you”), and lies at every
    opportunity (remember Seasons 1 and 2-” I’m sick of
    lying to my friends and family all of the time”).

    Say what you will about the Chuck of Seasons 1 and 2
    but that “Chuck” certainly had his good points. Not
    withstanding his “girlish” screams in the face of
    danger he always somehow found a way to come through
    and do his job. He was decisive and bold when it was
    necessary even if that meant defying Sarah and Casey
    and managed to control his fears, no matter how scared he, himself, might have been. Remember the
    leaping off the Buymore roof in the Roan Montgomery
    episode to save Sarah. Chuck was scared to death but
    Sarah meant more to him than his own life. In effect
    he became the team’s “conscience” and acted as an
    effective break on Sarah’s (and especially Casey’s)
    worst impulses, not to mention Beckman’s orders, too, from time to time.

    What happened to that guy in Season 3? He comes across as a complete stranger, almost alien, as if
    somehow he had been captured,reprogrammed, brainwashed, or cloned by the enemy. But which enemy
    really? It certainly wasn’t Fulcrum or even the Ring. Who changed Sarah’s and our Chuck? The answer
    is obvious. The real enemy who “reset” Chuck was the
    producers and writers who failed to provide that
    necessary bridge between Seasons 2 and 3 as mentioned above. They changed the personalities of
    the two leading characters in the show, Chuck and Sarah. The price to do this was high and we all know
    the results. No more needs to be said on this.

    All things being equal, the Chuck of Seasons 1 and 2
    was much more appealing to me than the Chuck of Season 3. Let’s hope the character reverts, at least
    to some extent, in Season 4 to the Chuck we knew in
    Seasons 1 and 2.

    As always a pleasure to read your articles, Joe.
    Looking forward to your next one, thanks.

    • joe says:

      Ah, great comment, Robert. There’s really no way to for anyone to claim “I’m right!” and “You’re wrong!” on this one (and I’m so glad that everyone recognizes that!) I think I’ve pin-pointed which parts of the elephant we’re talking about when we come up with such disparate opinions, though.

      In this case, it’s a question of which Chuck we like – the guy hanging out with Morgan playing Worlds of Warcraft and saving the occasional ballerina, or the guy who glares are Sarah saying “Was that kiss because mine were the most convenient lips around, or was it really about me?” or the guy who faces down Shaw with “(I) saved the best for last.” It’s more about our own self-image, I think.

      When I watch S1 I feel in a hurry to get to that last guy, myself.

      • jason says:

        joe – I don’t think chuck has changed that much, he just has more tools (with correspondingly higher stakes) to do good, now rather than help the ballerina using his ‘geek’ (or we prefer ‘nerd’) skills, he is using his special skills to defeat the Ring or face down Shaw. Remember how he faced down Harry in 1.1, he could have just as well said ‘Let’s do it’ there too, he was largely unfazed by harry’s challenge in 1.1, as he was Shaw’s in 3.19.

        still the growth in the stakes of being a ballerina saver to a world saver is appreciated by me. The manner in which that growth was achieved in season 3 was epically unappetizing however.

        The Paris destination did not justify the ‘misery’ journey to use schwartz speak (with a little jason speak mixed in).

        I have enjoyed all of the showrunners and such making little comments about season 3 and Shaw but none more than Lauren LeFranc’s recent interview question 5:

        “5. Something she’d change from S3 if there was a rewind button

        * Well we all know how everyone feels about Shaw, but everything that was done in Season 3 was important for all the characters’ growth. And who knows if Chuck and Sarah would be together if Shaw hadn’t been around… Okay, they probably would be, but still!”

        Almost like she realized the load of crap that just came out so she added the ‘okay …..’

  8. Robert H says:

    Postscript: Crumby’s above remarks I also agree with
    wholeheartedly. The 180 degree turn in Chuck’s life
    priorities once again reflects the “reset” which so
    damaged the show. The rest of Crumby’s remarks are
    also right on target. Too bad the producers messed
    things up so badly but Season 3 is now history.

    Nothing to do now except move on……

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