As journeys go, my introduction to the world of fandom about a year ago on the NBC boards, through being invited to join this blog and blogging through the darkest parts of season 3 has been … interesting. It has also been a tremendous learning experience and a rather enjoyable (at times) process of self-education. In a vain attempt to write intelligently (perhaps I mean vain rather than vain) about something I cared about and invested heavily in I decided to dig into the nuts and bolts of it. I was familiar with The Hero’s Journey and a very little bit of creative writing and screenwriting methods, such as the three act model, but as I dug into the tools writers use to try to make sense of things I increasingly got drawn into arguments about the plot, inconsistencies and problems that seem intrinsic to the writing of the series. Last February when much of Chuck fandom’s mood was bleak I was given to writing on both sides of the fence, mostly because I felt the counter argument to the shipper disappointment needed to be made. I guess I still am on both sides. I wasn’t happy about the direction TPTB took, but I still managed to enjoy most episodes. So here I go, third or fourth time through this argument, with hope that I can add something to the conversation, clear up some confusion, and help people come to terms with the past season. This is a post about reading and writing, about journeys and stories and plots, and hopefully about trust and forgiving too. After the jump. My Shippery Heart Bleeds for Schwedak At heart I’m a shipper, mostly because I saw the WT/WT as played out by the end of season 2 and thought the great on-screen chemistry between Zach and Yvonne would carry them through where the unresolved tension and longing had before. I thought that TPTB missed an opportunity to do something different from the formulaic TV romance that is resolved in the last 5 minutes of the final episode. Chuck was already different and was approaching the troubled romance in a rather unique way, so perhaps I’d come to expect more. Upon hearing they planned to go around with the other love interests one more time I was a bit disappointed, but figured I’d have to give them the benefit of the doubt. With the discussions on the boards digging deeper I started looking into the tools storytellers use to try to help me understand what was going on and share that with the rest of the fandom. In the process of this self-education and my attempts to write something compelling and memorable, even if just on a fanboy blog for fellow fanboys and fangirls, something happened. As I dug into the story and the season played out I felt sorry for the hated and vilified Powers That Be, also known as Schwedak. There was a story being told, if problematically at times, and I thought I could see and point out what I thought the story was and where it was going if I opened myself to seeing it by letting go of my preconceptions about characters and the story I wanted. When it came down to it I really found only one aspect of the story truly problematic. Why Shaw? I could see Shaw the mentor for Chuck and the confidant for Sarah, Chuck’s growth and subsequent arrogance and detachment from his friends and family, Sarah’s occasional self-loathing and alienation, Chuck’s doubting his decision, all those made sense and were reasonably well done. Sarah falling for Shaw was the part that didn’t really click. That may be an understatement. Throughout the season and post season I’ve both stated my objections to, and presented my views on the story, its direction and my enjoyment of it. I won’t say that I’m always fully consistent because often what I write depends on my mood, the last episode or my ability to see (or as some say create a strained rationalization for) the story. I’ve speculated on the creative process, decisions and talent involved at many levels, and I’ve talked about my expectations and the adjustments to them for me to enjoy the show. And I did enjoy the show, for the most part. Individual episodes or elements of the episodes were sometimes more or less enjoyable, and some answers were far too long in coming. My patience was tried at times, but in the end I like the story and the season if not all aspects of it. I like where we are as we’re ready to start season four. It’s a journey, and it’s probably best to try to enjoy both the trip and the destination. When one is going poorly for you, adjust your expectations for the time being, and focus on the other if you’re too invested to quit. If you’re not too invested, well, it’s a weekly contract. I apologize in advance for the length, but I intend to be excruciatingly clear in my terms, definitions, criticisms and what it is I look for and enjoy at various points. I was asked about how we could reconcile season 3 characters and their actions with season 2, so I spend some time in season 2 exploring that and in the process laying out how I started to look at season 3. This post is a bit of a journey. Before I go on I want to clarify something. This blog was very negative at times, and while I occasionally crossed over to naming names and what I perceived as their creative failings (i.e. Fedak’s plots are all over the place and he can’t write relationships or romance) for the most part we here avoided personalizing our disappointments. It’s a line I may have crossed, though I can’t recall doing so, but I decided was my limit. And I think it’s a good rule of thumb for the blog. Criticize the product and if you must the creative decisions of specific people, but don’t impugn their motives or demonize them personally. That stated, back to my post. Chuck Versus The Plot The plot is a sequence of events. The story is what those events mean and how they change the protagonists. The plot is not the story. Sometimes the story is something far different from where the plot seems to be taking things. This is the first thing to remember when we’re talking about the direction of Chuck, especially as it relates to season 2. Buy More Associate (BMA) is right, through all of season 2 the underlying plot that pops up repeatedly is that Chuck wants to get the intersect out of his head and go back to his old life. But that’s not the story and that isn’t what season 2 is about. Chuck is learning to take control of his life as opposed to being carried along by events. In his quest to free himself from his situation Chuck gains the confidence and maturity he needs to move beyond the Buy More and his old life. It is that growth that allows him to step up and decide to become the intersect, and a spy, and a hero, rather than have them thrust upon him. Chuck is no longer a victim. This is the part of Chuck Versus The Ring that didn’t bother me in the least. I fully expected Chuck to be the intersect again by the end of the episode. That cube in Castle at the beginning was Chekov’s gun and we all knew Chuck would be the one to pull the trigger. For the Hero’s Journey it was a necessary step I think. The Hero needs to own his destiny by making the decision and crossing the threshold, even if it is pre-destined. The story can take us places the plot said we weren’t going. Chuck repeatedly said he wanted his old life back. It wasn’t true. Chuck’s old life was as an underachiever working at the Buy More and living with his sister. We know as early as Chuck Versus The First Date that his old life is no longer enough for Chuck, but circumstances as they are, being the intersect, he hasn’t had a choice and so hasn’t really considered the life he wants. We get the first hint in First Date:
Ellie: Any ideas about what you’re going to do next? Chuck: Ummm, yeah a few. Ellie: If you say pilot the millennium falcon I will hit you. Chuck: I, I, uh why would I say that? That’s absurd I’m going to be a ninja assassin. Ellie: No. Try again. Chuck: Ummm, Olympic… Ellie: Uh-uh. Chuck: Secret agent. Ellie: This is what happens when you sit in front of the television set to long. Seriously, what are you going to do? Chuck: I don’t know I’ve got a bunch of ideas you know, a bunch of things to think about and choose from. I mean I want to go finish college I think that’s important and I want to travel and… I don’t know I want to learn an obscure language that, you know, only really cool people know. Oddly enough not one of my dreams includes working at the Buy More another week. Ellie: Uh-huh. Well look who’s growing up.
This gets to the heart of what good writing does. It tells the story by showing us what the character feels and does, not by what he says. If you follow only the plot Chuck tells us repeatedly he wants his old life back and wants to live as a normal guy, but in a way that is totally organic to the character and the script the story is so much more. Chuck has already outgrown his old life, and maybe that secret agent thing has started to appeal even if he thinks he’s not up to it at this point, but the main thing that scene shows us is that Chuck wants to choose his path not have it forced on him. There is one other thing this scene shows us. It’s not that Chuck hates the intersect or having it, it’s the consequences of being the intersect Chuck chafes against. While he is the only intersect he doesn’t control his life. The new intersect would have freed him from that, or so he thought, even if the intersect would still be in his head. This is where it sometimes helps to know a bit about the Hero’s Journey as a writing tool. We can identify exactly where Chuck is if we look for the signs. He is restless and dissatisfied with his life. He feels confined by it and yearns for new and bigger things. We know the next step will be for him to choose to leave that life and that comfort behind. And it’s probably going to be pretty traumatic when he does. In this case they did it right. They showed us what was coming and where the story was headed, even while the plot was telling us something completely different. Chuck & Sarah Versus The Plot Point A story is usually made up of three parts, based on either the Hero’s Journey or the three act structure common in most writing. There is the prologue, an introduction to the characters and their situation. At the end of the prologue something happens to propel them into a new situation where conflict arrises. Through confronting other characters and situations a resolution is achieved shortly after the climax of the conflict. This leads into the epilogue where a lesson is learned, a boon is gained and characters changed. The characters in a story need to be changed by events that make up the plot. How they experience events, react to them, and are changed by them tells the story, especially if it’s a major character on a hero’s journey. The change should be established and gradual for the most part, sort of a feedback loop. Chuck does something surprising, like facing down Colt as Carmichael. We’ve never seen Chuck do that before. It seems shocking, almost out of character. Chuck has changed, but that change was pre-established at the beginning by showing Chuck’s newfound confidence both with “hey, it’s me” to Casey and asking Sarah on a real date. Those were only a little surprising. We add those little changes to our mental list of things Chuck can do and suddenly it opens up more possibilities for Chuck in the plot and the story. Chuck facing down Colt was a fun and slightly shocking turn, but in retrospect it makes sense. This is called a plot point. When done right little plot points establish bigger ones, which in turn establish even bigger ones. This structure upon structure is important to how the writers operate and therefore it helps us see and foresee possibilities as the story unfolds. I doubt there is a hard and fast rule, but in a traditional three act structure there will be two major plot points to separate the acts of introduction, confrontation and resolution. In TV each episode will generally follow a three act structure and have a story of its own. Depending on the show that episode can serve as a part of a larger story that can run from a few episodes to the run of the series. My favorite example is Chuck Versus The Living Dead. The three acts are built around the return of Chuck’s father, setting up in the first major plot point when Stephen rescues Chuck on the roof. This initiates the conflict between Chuck and Stephen that is resolved with the second major plot point at the cabin, where Chuck and Stephen are essentially reconciled. But the entire show was basically the prologue to set up the finale episodes. Depending on the show the season may serve as a self-contained story, but may also serve as the prologue to or a part of a larger multi-season story. The same structural elements apply. If Season 2 is a self-contained story that doesn’t preclude it from having smaller stories like the search for dad included. These are usually refered to as story arcs since they are multi-episode largely self-contained stories. The Jill arc told the story of how Chuck resolved his unresolved feelings over his breakup with Jill, but those episodes also contributed to the larger picture of the season and Chuck’s overall character arc. So to quote Sarah, it’s complicated. We need to keep track of a lot of things. Some plot points seem small in an episode, but can be very important in the larger arc or the season. Some character changes may only make sense when the next major plot point is revealed. Occasionally, the twist happens, and the major plot point seems to come from nowhere to change everything, but then makes sense a few episodes later when some other plot point puts it in perspective by revealing something that changes our view of a character. Think of Jill and how knowing she was Fulcrum suddenly puts a new spin on her wanting to rekindle a romance with Chuck after he was revealed as a spy. The plot made sense before, Chuck wanted a resolution with Jill, but the plot twist re-defines what was really going on in the scenes we’d previously watched. Linear progressions are boring. This stuff is cool and engaging, so not only do I disagree with the notion that you can’t continually redefine the story and the characters actions as the story progresses, I consider it a requirement. It is precisely this power the story has to reach back and change our perceptions that caused so much alienation this last season. The new story seemed to cheapen our characters. It took what was special about the story we saw and seemingly tossed it on the altar of a television cliché. One more round of WT/WT angst and PLI’s, characters and season 2 be damned. I wrote a whole post about it. I think it happens, the looking back and the re-evaluation, whether we like it or not, otherwise who would care that Sarah flaked out with a hunky new guy or Chuck dumped a girl after a one night stand. Nobody, unless we fear our beloved characters weren’t who we thought they were, or are going in the wrong direction. Re-evaluation also has the power to work in the other direction, to make us see previous actions in a more positive light. I speak, of course of Barstow. On occasion the characters will get to talk to the audience in a way as they interact, informing us where the character is due to the changes wrought by events. Like Chuck in first date expressing his restlessness and desire to move forward we sometimes get a glimpse into the mind of Sarah Walker. The most notable for me is the beginning of Chuck Versus The Beefcake.
Sarah: Look, tell them we’re taking things slowly, and that while we enjoy each other’s company, we don’t really feel the need to label it, and who knows what the future holds for us. Chuck: But that’s just another lie. Isn’t it? We’ll never really be together.
It’s rather reminiscent of the sleepover in Chuck Versus The Truth where Sarah is using the cover relationship to try to hold on to Chuck. At least this time she’s not trying to play him like a mark. Again Chuck’s restlessness and need for resolution, for motion, for something he can call progress and control in his life is evident, but Sarah’s silence speaks volumes. She has no idea if they can ever be together, but we get an idea that despite what Chuck says there’s more than a little truth to what Sarah is saying. It’s the hope she clings to. We get confirmation in the end of Chuck Versus The Lethal Weapon.
Sarah: When you meet somebody you care about, it’s just hard to walk away.
And yet two episodes later in Chuck Versus The Broken Heart, on orders after the 49B she does precisely that. She leaves on orders with no more than a note as her final violation of protocol. While Chuck is restless and looking for something he can call progress or something he can control or a way out of his situation Sarah is in a state of emotional paralysis throughout much of the second season. She can’t move forward with the relationship, she can’t bring herself to walk away. She’s stuck without the possibility of either physical intimacy or the emotional intimacy that sharing the unvarnished truth brings, and it’s the most emotionally fulfilling relationship Sarah has ever had. It seems that for the first time in her life Sarah is loved unconditionally and she doesn’t quite know what to do with that. Until she’s faced with a choice. Orders and the life you’ve known, being used by the CIA as a weapon, but this time it means using the one thing in her life she cherishes, Chuck’s trust and love to get him in the bunker without a fight. Or she can preserve Chuck’s trust and how he feels about her by risking everything else for Chuck. Barstow looks real for both Chuck and Sarah and we see it, not without reason as a major event, as a big plot point that shows how far they’ve come in their relationship. We see it as growth. Then comes THE plot point. Chuck Versus The Ring. If Chuck is on a multi-season Hero’s Journey in three acts, Chuck Versus The Ring was the first major plot point of that story. The events of The Ring changed everything, and like many big twists it may take some time for the full ramifications to appear. Chuck’s decision to be a hero and embrace his destiny changes everything as the hero crosses the threshold, leaving behind everything he’s known before for the world of adventure. But how could Chuck leave Sarah? Isn’t Sarah everything Chuck ever wanted? Shouldn’t Barstow mean something? The relationship reset in The Ring was infuriating the first time I saw it, and became more so after Chuck Versus The Pink Slip. Why? It was a rigged game. TPTB set up a no-win situation and told us it was a choice on Chuck’s part for two episodes, then hid much of the exposition in a broken up scene, until the end of Chuck Versus The Three Words where Sarah, and we, finally start to understand. It’s only when we painstakingly go back and re-create Chuck’s entire speech in the vault that we get the full context of what Chuck was saying.
Chuck: “Sarah I don’t want to regret not telling you everything I need to tell you. I’m not a normal spy, you know that, I know that. I’m a regular guy who works at a Buy More. And the decision that I made in Prague, I know what it looks like, I know that it looks like I chose being a spy over being with you but that’s not what happened. How I felt about you is real, it’s very very real. And I know that you know how I’ve felt about you for a long time. You know, but when Carina told me what you said, those three words that I’ve been waiting to hear for so long… Look, Sarah, I know that you’re probably very hurt that I didn’t run away with you in Prague. You have to know that you were everything I ever wanted, but how could I do that, how could I be with you, knowing that what I’d turned my back on. Knowing that what I had in my head could help a lot of people. And you’re the one that [sic] taught me that being a spy is about something bigger, it’s about putting aside your own personal feelings for the greater good and that’s what I chose. I chose to be a spy for my friends and my family and you. I chose to be a spy because [door opens] Sarah, I love you.”
Of course Chuck loves Sarah, and of course he’d never choose anything over Sarah, unless it was the right thing to do, like in Chuck Versus The Breakup. Or if Chuck thought Sarah was never going to be his and he needed to move on with his life, like in Chuck Versus The Truth, Chuck Versus The Ex, Chuck Versus The Beefcake… and Chuck Versus The Ring. This was not a shocking twist in retrospect. Much of season 2 was spent establishing Chuck’s penchant for selflessness, sacrificing what he wanted for others. Once Chuck re-intersected, made possible through the re-use of the threadbare and fraying blanket that covers any and all romantic misunderstandings “they don’t talk”, the deal is done. Chuck will sacrifice what he wants and do the right thing. So what’s up with Sarah? Why the running? This is the second part of the no-win scenario. Why did Sarah initially make it a choice of life on the run with her or becoming a spy? How does Sarah set up Chuck rejecting her as the right thing to do for Chuck. Well obviously by presenting Chuck with a false choice, by not talking…again…for more than two sentences before having to make a life altering decision. The obvious explanation, Sarah wants a life with Chuck. OK, but then why the running away? If Chuck is a real spy like Bryce or Cole, why couldn’t they be together? We suspect, but don’t really know it’s because Sarah was ready to quit the spy life, but then she’s still a spy when Chuck comes back so at least in the short-term we aren’t sure. Sometimes it takes some time for a major plot point to make sense. After the reset, just to make sure no reconciliation is possible, it’s made clear that Sarah thought Chuck rejected her, something she wasn’t sure he was capable of. Before she found out anything different, due to her cutting Chuck off every time he wanted to talk for a change (wow, a new twist on they don’t talk!), she made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him any more, and beat it into him that if he wanted to be a spy, they were over. So maybe, as Chuck discovers in Three Words it was more about Chuck than Sarah being done with spying. But Sarah keeps dating spies and co-workers, just not Chuck. Does that mean it’s only because she really loves Chuck that they can’t be together if they’re spies? The things that keep Chuck and Sarah apart are getting more and more tenuous, so they toss in the whole emotional malfunction of the intersect and Sarah and Chuck back to handler/asset status just for good measure. Sarah is tough to read in the best of times, and we don’t really get the full story till Chuck Versus The Final Exam. That’s a bit too long to wait for the full exposition only to have another creaking plot device, the red test, heaped on top to keep Chuck and Sarah apart for one more episode. Pushing Sarah this way and that to keep the angst running and to keep them apart ill-served her character. This often leads to the dreaded Sarah is a plot device meme. Sarah is not a plot device. Daniel Shaw, Plot Device From the Wikipedia entry for plot device:
A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot. A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience.
Don’t make a plot device a co-star for six episodes. ‘Nuff said. The Intersect is a plot device too by the way, but it manages to work without overwhelming the story. So now you’ve had a hopefully not too frightening peek inside my mind, what I look for and how I watch. I think that it’s helpful to be able to see, or at least identify where the bones are because what we see might not be what was intended, and that can cause problems. Sometimes if you can try to see the story they wrote, the story they intended to show us it can put things in a different perspective and make it a little easier to understand some things that don’t seem to fit. In addition it helps clarify, at least for me, what bothered me about the way it was handled, with ever more strained and overused plot devices that should have been put to pasture rather than the critical elements of the plot used to move the characters to a new place. Where the characters ended up wasn’t unreasonable. How it was done, the mechanics, bugged me. In the end it’s always going to be a subjective and personal experience, what we see, and the story that moves us. I say find the one that works for you, and enjoy. The Orchestra Metaphor (again) It always starts with the writing. The plot, the script, how the characters are written, they are the foundation and the initial direction for the show. They both tell us and show us the story if done right. But it is the performers who give life to the writing, and their contribution can’t be ignored. It’s the musicians and the conductor all adding their individual interpretations and skills that make art out of notes on a page. If the score the composer wrote is a cacophony there’s little chance the performers can pull out a masterpiece, so we rightly concentrate on the writing as the artistic foundation of the show. But there is more to it than that, because we find the story not through the plot or even the dialog, but through what we see on the screen, whether the writers intend to show us or not. As written I can imagine Chuck and Sarah having a pretty stunted relationship. They can’t talk, both out of fear of being hurt and out of fear of the surveillance. Neither is going to date anyone else, they can’t really stray too far, yet they can’t progress the relationship to anything like the next level. The writers do take a stab at showing us where the characters are a few times. In Chuck Versus The Suburbs we see both Chuck and Sarah living a few precious moments as a normal couple and how they react, but most of what we see isn’t scripted dialog, it’s the actors and their interaction. We are shown rather than told something about what our heroes want; the life of a couple, normal things like breakfast together and a dog, and leaving for the office with a goodbye kiss. It doesn’t always fit with the dialog or the plot. In most of season 2 that sort of ambiguity, what we see and what they say that never quite fits added to our enjoyment because there was a whole different story, a real romance, playing out under the surface. The question is was there supposed to be? I think so, but maybe not quite as much as we saw. The Cadenza A cadenza is a musical term for what was initially an improvised solo where the performer could interpret the piece in a manner that best highlighted their skills. Eventually composers just started writing the cadenzas because the soloists tended to take liberties, and some might suspect showed up more than a few composers. Chuck Versus The Colonel has a cadenza. The turning point scene in that Barstow motel has not a word of dialog to distract us from the story the actors are telling us. I don’t know, but I suspect the entire scene consists of a line or two in the script to the effect of “Chuck and Sarah wake up in each other’s arms and passion overtakes them. They are interrupted when Chuck can’t find a condom.” In its own way the motel scene in Chuck Versus The Colonel captures Chuck and Sarah’s entire relationship in one scene and moves it forward in an absolutely believable way that the writers may never have intended. The writing it seems was all prologue to this moment where not a word is spoken. The non-writers are showing off what they can do, and they pretty much show up the composers. Chuck and Sarah find themselves together, intertwined, perhaps not quite sure how they got there. There’s a comfort, a tenderness and a warmth that they are both enjoying, so neither seems to question how they got there. As the scene moves each becomes more aware of the other and what they are experiencing together. Neither wants to stop. In fact, both want to move forward, and do. We see intimacy developing before our eyes. This is not a frenzied we’re going to die kiss or a provoked moment of unleashing pent-up passion, it’s considered. The long moment before the first passionate kiss Chuck and Sarah have that conversation we’ve been waiting for. Is this real? Do you want this? Are we really going to do this? As Sarah says much later, yes, yes, and yes. To reinforce that this is not the same as the other moments of frustration and passion breaking loose, they pause, and have another conversation. As Chuck pulls away from a kiss and their embrace you see a shadow of fear and loss cross Sarah’s face (and perhaps not a little lust). She attempts to follow him as he rises up but can’t. Chuck waits, looking down at Sarah. He’s waiting for her to stop him, to pull back again, to tell him they can’t do this. She doesn’t. The smile on Chuck’s face says it all, they had that second important conversation, much like the first. Is this really happening? Are we really going to do this? Again, yes, and yes. As I said above in reference to the story versus the plot, what you show us is always far more powerful than what you tell us. What you show us tells the real story. With TV and the movies this principle is even more important, because if the writer can’t see what the audience sees as opposed to what he wrote, we’re headed for trouble. Reading & Writing Versus Showing & Telling Well the first thing TPTB apparently decided about season 3 was that it would be a reward to the fans who saved the show by unambiguously putting Chuck and Sarah together in the end. They had 13 episodes and were unlikely to get renewed again. (Thank you Jay Leno) The fans apparently loved the push and pull of Chuck and Sarah and their longing to be together, so give them a full season of that with a satisfying ending where the last five minutes establishes that Chuck and Sarah live happily ever after. You see where I’m going with this? So what do you do when you’ve written yourself into a corner? The two characters you wrote who hardly talk, the woman who can’t express herself even without the professional constraints, or find a way to move, emotionally, and the man with multiple neuroses and abandonment and trust issues have just taken it to the next level. And you really didn’t plan it that way. The fans love it, but it’s too soon to lose that romance and the spark since that third season came from nowhere. So how do you give the fans what they want? Take the characters, as written, and put them together. Show us what a disaster it is and why it’s too soon, make it quick and complete; burn it to the ground. Then take the season and rebuild them, replay all that longing and the push-pull by having them grow up enough to find each other again, but outside the constraints of their old forced relationship. This time there will be no doubt it’s real. Chuck and Sarah had “broken up” about three times since the beginning of the series, so one more shouldn’t be too bad, especially since this would be the first “real” breakup outside the constraints of a cover and working relationship. It would be something new and a new way to write about and see the characters everyone loved, but with a fresh take on the relationship since they wouldn’t be cover dating. Now their breakups had real consequences, and the potential pain and loss could be greater and the stakes higher. They’d been doing this for two years and everyone loved the push and pull of Chuck and Sarah, so give them a full season of that with a satisfying ending where the last five minutes establishes that Chuck and Sarah live happily ever after. What could go wrong? You see where I’m going. Whether they intended or not, Schwedak showed us something different with Chuck and Sarah. It wasn’t the push and pull everyone loved, it was the fact that no matter the push or pull they managed to keep faith with each other and never give up. It wasn’t the drama of the emotional rollercoaster, it was the subtlety of the emotions and the romance that had to be played out under the surface, occasionally boiling over. The love was always there, we saw it, and loved it. Thinking they knew what it was, the traditional push-pull of the standard TV romance, TPTB decided to do it one more time, only more so. So they broke up Chuck and Sarah and spent a season telling us why they couldn’t be together yet. Chuck’s emotions, Sarah’s heartbreak, professionalism, Hannah, Shaw, Chuck changing and finally Chuck’s red test. They never showed us why. Instead they did the last thing any of us wanted for Chuck and Sarah, they played the romance like any other TV romance, complete with all the clichés and strained plot devices. Then there’s Shaw. If ever there was someone who broke the show don’t tell rule it is the walking plot device that was Shaw. The master spy, except when they showed him send Chuck up against two seasoned agents without enough intel to know his plan wouldn’t work, nearly getting him killed. Or when they showed him nearly tripping the gas by poking a stick in a hole to see what would happen, nearly getting himself and Sarah killed. Then there was the master stroke of leaving a defenseless Chuck alone in his base after it became clear the Ring knew he was hiding nearby. Yep, one heck of a spy, as they showed us. But clearly Shaw and Sarah were meant for each other in some other universe. They told us so. Again and again they told us that Shaw was a stallion, a closer, he and Sarah were an attractive couple… he’s a stallion. Look, Sarah likes him with his shirt off… Expectations When it became clear that all I was going to get out of the romance part was a formulaic cliché ridden re-hash of every other soapy romance I’d seen I stopped waiting for anything better and resigned myself to increasingly strained justifications for keeping them apart. When it became clear Shaw was no more than a walking plot device I stopped waiting for an explanation of his role in things. He was a McGuffin for most of the season, a replaceable component to make the other characters act a certain way. He was Poochie. There was no evil plan. There was more than one story in the front 13, thank goodness. I was pretty much down to Chuck’s ambition and his principles coming into conflict and how he’d resolve them. When they cheated on that one the thing that saved it for me was we finally got some movement in several stories and some exposition on what was up with Sarah. It was enough to keep me around for another week. The plot was finally moving the story forward. They nearly lost me again with American Hero. They wore me down till I was about a week away from giving up and catching it all on DVD later. Only the leaks about the back 6 kept me invested. The Weekly Contract Here’s a quiz. Try to match the quotes with the producer. One is on his sixth multi-season hit show and has been in the business of producing TV shows for 20 years. The other is Chris Fedak. Well I guess I kind of stepped on that intro.
“We’re one show away from losing the audience every week.” – Chuck Lorre as quoted by Mo Ryan on Twitter “Who closes the book after chapter seven? That’s the thing.” – Chris Fedak to Alan Sepinwall
There seems to be a learning curve involved somewhere here. What is it that Chuck Lorre seems to understand that has escaped Chris Fedak? Chuck Lorre makes his living as a television producer. Chris Fedak apparently still considers himself a writer operating under a writer’s rules, but he’s in the wrong medium. The front 13 had some good stories, and some, IMO poorly chosen ones, but the biggest problem was the execution in telling some of them was off and the story we saw wasn’t always perhaps what they intended. It seemed the serialization of some very long stories was weighing on the fans. Having the fans loyalty is a great thing, but it shouldn’t be tested too hard. They need a reason to stick around when you’re telling the dark parts of the story. They need some resolution, or at least explanation to the ongoing stories and the characters actions. If you aren’t providing them in a timely manner the fans will either make their own, or stop caring. You need to show the fans why this matters and why they should stick with you on a weekly basis. That’s what Chuck Lorre understands. To their credit I think Schwedak realized they had a problem early on, but the production lead time was so great there was no way to fix it. So they talked to us, told us the story they were trying to tell and asked for our patience. I can’t think of any other reason to flood previewers with the first five episodes, then make sure they ran three of them within 24 hours. Other than to get to a fun episode and get the dirge of the premier well behind both the critics and the viewers quickly. I can’t think of any other reason a spoilerphobic set started leaking promising details like a sieve, or why they found it necessary to pre-screen episodes that would be showing after a midseason break. Schwartz even said it out loud, we’re asking for the fans patience. They had a back 6 to fix it was the message. They’d do their best to earn back our trust and give us what they now understood we really wanted. They showed me they understood. More mature, sure, a little more serious, OK. It’s still our Chuck.
It’s a journey, apparently, learning what it is that makes your show special. We don’t want anti-heroes and people we care about giving up on each other, especially for an entire season. We don’t want the same thing we can see on every other TV show with attractive leads pairing and un-pairing endlessly in an attempt to hold an audience with a gimmick. We want Chuck, the show that’s fun and funny and entertaining, and has a heart. We want those characters that make us care, because they so obviously do. We want something that’s fun to watch in addition to having a great story. So now, having unburdened myself, at length, I hope my attempts to contribute a perspective I thought was missing from a part of fandom are perhaps a little more clear. Probably not. I’ve out-Ernie’d myself on this one, so if there is anyone still reading, thanks, for everything. Now I’m closing the book on season 3 and this particular part of my journey. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now on to season 4. Show us something.