Journeys and Stories and Plots (Oh My!)

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.

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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
This entry was posted in Angst, Fan Base, Inside Chuck, Inside Sarah, Observations, Season 3, Wild Speculation. Bookmark the permalink.

94 Responses to Journeys and Stories and Plots (Oh My!)

  1. amyabn says:

    Well, I have to quote your not so favorite writer/producer: what an EPIC post! I will attempt to post a more intelligent reply tonight after work, but well done! Now how do we get Schwedak, et al, to read it!?

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Thanks Amy. I guess I should clarify my views on Schwartz and Fedak (also known as Schwedak). In a way they are my favorite writer/producers since they bring us Chuck, and I know I bash their decisions on occasion, but it’s kind of like bashing the hometown sports hero for not pulling off the difficult win. That’s kind of how I was feeling about season 3, when it looked like the end of the series. They wasted so much of the little time we had left with a standard done to death story for the romance when there was the potential for so much more as seen with the back 6. But like the hometown sports hero who the fans can get together and bash good naturedly, if it goes too far or an outsider piles on, it’s circle the wagons and protect “our” guys.

      As for their creative failings it’s a little tougher. I kind of hold them responsible for not living up to my ridiculous expectations. Kind of my point at the end was that I think their greatest failing was in not recognizing exactly what was special about their show and not believing in themselves enough to try and pull off something different. So their failings are kind of like just missing the Bronze at the Olympics after two consecutive Golds.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    I want to make sure to mention here something that was origionally in the main body but was edited out. Hey, I was trying to keep it under 7,000 words (I failed).

    I started this post as a reply to Buy More Associate (BMA) about the difference between plot and story in response to her question about the season 2 plot and some of my past posts.

    While I was writing that post I was also involved in a great discussion with Dave, Joe, hgs, JC, Jason and Frea O ( a cast of thousands!) about writing and fiction, and listening to Old Darth’s excellent interview with Frea on Castle Inanity (part 2). I started to expand this post, borrowing a lot of their discussion to frame certain things, but I have to thank Frea for the lightbulb over the head moment with her statement about the writers rule; show don’t tell. With that, what I was trying to explain about not seeing things that were probably writen into the story portrayed on the screen (and vis versa) fell into place. So thanks to all involved for the inspiration and the ideas. So you can blame them for the length. 😉

    • Frea O says:

      Ernie, I think this will be the first time I’ve ever been involved in something long, since my own stories and posts tend to be frightfully short.

      *snerk*

      One note: I think you’re getting plot/story/perspective mixed up. To me, plot–or as you define it, a sequence of events–is the story and the perspective is how you tell that story. Season three is just a writing SNAFU. Mismanaged characters, ignoring basic principles of writing, wish fulfillment versus quality and organic writing. An unfortunate desire to expand and move away from what’s worked so well on the show before, which would have been amazing if handled well but instead left a bad taste in the mouth of many a fan.

      A friend of mine pointed out an interesting theory as to why the reset button happened in Season Three, and why the writers chose the arc they did, and it made a hell of a lot of sense to me (but you’ll have to stick with me for a minute here):

      It’s Sarah’s fault.

      Obviously, the writers wanted the Big Damn Hero moment. They wanted the so-called Hero’s Journey, they wanted Chuck to embrace being a spy completely, to stand up on his own and “pull his weight” and be the kick-butt action hero. Only, in their eyes, he’s never going to do that with his ninja spy girlfriend there as a constant crutch to lean on. He’s not going to have his Big Damn Hero moment in American Hero (which…yeah, do NOT get me started on that, actually. I hope at least one of the newer writers is a feminist because Sarah deserves so much better than the low-grade sexism so constantly present on the show) if he’s got the old ball and chain at his side “holding him back” from his “true spy potential.”

      Or, if you play the Season Three drinking game, from being a “real spy.”

      So how do they do that? Can’t get rid of Sarah, she’s the reason most of the audience comes back every week, and Yvonne Strahovski’s got a contract. Option one is a no-go. Option two is to break them up so that you can focus on Chuck’s journey without having to balance in a changing character/romantic dynamic, but to split them up really horribly, so that Sarah’s the one who doesn’t want to be there and to be the crutch. Which means a reset, only we don’t want to make Sarah a villain now, so we’ll place the blame on Chuck. It’s a kill five or six birds with one stone sort of deal, on the surface: your hero is all set to go on his journey, he has to work to win back the fair maiden, he can come into his own without leaning on others in his life, your fair maiden character similarly becomes self-sufficient…

      Two problems:

      1) None of that actually happened.

      2) You have to alter everything about Chuck, everything he’s said that he wanted for two seasons, to make the initial blow (aka Prague) work. And to keep it working, you can’t have any communication between these two leads, so contrivance steps in and makes itself at home. It goes by the name of Shaw, it goes by the name of Hannah, and like any guest, it more than overstays its welcome.

      So the fallout from keeping Sarah from being the crutch ended up with several things happening throughout S3 and its writing.

      a) Sarah the pod person. This is partly because she had no dialogue, so I never understood where she was coming from one week to the next because she’s such an isolated character, she has nobody to talk to about it. So we got several episodes of trying to interpret the wonderful range of sad faces that Yvonne Strahovski can make. Meanwhile, for several weeks in a row, we were forced to come watch a character most of us loved just be absolutely miserable and do nothing about it. And as time wore on, she became less and less of the rounded character we remembered from S2 and more and more the plot chameleon necessary to keep Chuck on the Journey that the writers had decided for him.

      Frankly, it was an insult. To me, it felt like the writers had never done a single “What is your character thinking?” exercise. I’m okay with characters screwing up. We’re human, we err. I’m just more upset that the writers let Sarah continue to score touchdown after touchdown with the Idiot Ball. This woman has survived as a spy since she was maybe 17 or 18, and she doesn’t think, “Hey, maybe going to Paris with the guy whose wife I killed years ago by myself–a guy who has outright admitted to me he set SOMEBODY’S FACE ON FIRE–is perhaps just a little bit of a bad idea?”

      The writers tried so hard to make Sarah not a villain that they made it worse, I think. She was hurt by Prague, she’s upset about her Red Test. She’s upset, so she freezes and she shuts Chuck out, and we’re supposed to be sympathetic for her over that. Somebody put it once that the writers are kind of tone deaf sometimes, and this is definitely the case. Sarah’s passivity just made absolutely no sense to me, and it made her a villain because Chuck worked so hard to be “worthy of her” since she was the “wronged party,” but her passivity made her just as bad as he was. She went from a dynamic, kick-ass woman to somebody entitled and almost spoiled because she did nothing while Chuck struggled, and I really, really missed gestures like getting Chuck his Stanford degree, or searching for Chuck’s dad.

      b) Way too much Tell, Don’t Show. Ernie already covered this with Shaw, and complete word to everything you said, Ernie.

      c) An unlikeable hero. Sorry. I did not like Chuck at all in Pink Slip or Three Words or Mask. In fact, I find his situation in Pink Slip to be the most contrived spot of the whole season, which, way to start out on a low note! I liked him okay in Fake Name, but I see two very different Chucks in that episode, the guy that pretended to be Rafe and then the Impostor. It’s like the dude, whenever a hot brunette comes in, just suddenly forgets 85% of his personality (minus the Lou thing, that was a different situation). Sleeping with Hannah and then breaking up with her in front of her parents sounds like something one of the cast of “How I Met Your Mother” would do, and to me, it had nothing to do with the overarching plot (Chuck finding his own as a spy) except to condone Sarah’s own relationship with Shaw.

      d) Less Casey. He got more storylines on the tail end of the season, but this reset button meant for the first nine episodes, he either reverted back to S1 levels of meanness or he was just benched, and the worst part was that he didn’t seem to CARE. He made one token grumble in Beard, ONE. When the character I remember from S1 and S2 would have disliked Shaw on principle because Shaw being around means there’s less fun for Casey to be had, aka blowing stuff up.

      And in what universe would Casey have looked at Shaw as a good spy or a “stallion?” I mean, come on.

      So let’s see what the Big Damn Hero moment and the Hero’s Journey cost everybody? Good writing, excellent characterization, the sometimes-holey-yet-amusing plots we had every week, the Team Bartowski team dynamic, Sarah’s IQ level, Chuck’s innate hero….

      That’s what I call lazy writing. If exactly the same things happened but there was a concrete, understandable reason behind everybody’s actions besides “This is what we want to happen in this moment and the plot demands it,” I probably wouldn’t enjoy it still, but I would accept it. You can beat the hell out of your characters, you can send them to the edge of darkness and bring them back, but you have to give me a reason why that character would act that way and that reason has to make sense. And I just didn’t see that happening in S3.

      • ChuckNewbie8 says:

        Joe and company if you don’t mind me saying so…delete ^this post and make it a guest post. It’s that brilliant.

        Thank you Frea for the words. Inspired and apropos.

      • alladinsgenie4u says:

        First, a big thanks to Ernie on this humongous, yet enlightening post.

        @Frea – Awesome post- I mean reply. For people like me who are not articulate enough to air such detailed thoughts – this post right here has more than compensated for it. Thank you Frea and as CN8 said – Inspired.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Awesome post indeed. Here’s the kicker. I agree with almost everything you say.

        Unfortunately I leave today on vacation, so a reply (because I haven’t said nearly enough on this topic) will have to wait a day or so till I’m comfortably back online.

      • atcdave says:

        Thanks Frea for your quick little note. Seriously great comment. I especially appreciate you bringing the malfunction all the way back to Pink Slip. They may have planted the seeds in Ring, but Pink Slip is where they started ticking me off.

      • Joseph (can't be Joe) says:

        (Hands over head and bowing, “We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy”.) Great Post.

        I’ve said it before, at its core Chuck is a show about relationships and when they’re not working or functioning in some form, the story (the hero’s journey in the case) is not enough to carry the show.

        S1, S2 and the back 6 work because the relationships (all of them) are working. Without these relationships the entertainment value plummets.

        As far as “show, don’t tell” thing. This was done way to much with the Sarah character, especially through the middle arc, where her actions are open to a (grand canyon) wide variety of interpretations.

      • Frea O says:

        Verdammt, I was really hoping to cause chaos. 🙂 Well, I take that back, mxpw was hoping I would cause chaos. He likes unleashing me on subjects like this and watching the fallout. Usually it’s not quite this compliment-heavy (Burn bridges, me? Never!) Just wanted to say, I’ve thought long and hard about why I don’t like S3 (as you can tell by that Fates-length chapter I just wrote up there) because saying, “I’m sure Brandon Routh is a nice guy, but he can’t act!” can only carry you so far in a debate. So I’d like to thank you, Ernie and ChuckThis, for making sure all of those hours I spent analyzing weren’t wasted. Y’all are good people.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Oh, so you came here for an argument? Sorry that’s down the hall, this is congenial discussion.

        Really, I also wanted to reply to mx too (mxpw is just too long, don’t you think?) since he raised some good points, but I just REALLY need to get packed and on the road today.

        Honest, we can stick pins in each other (genially) later. I don’t agree with EVERYTHING.

      • Frea O says:

        I’m just naturally attracted to chaos, I think. A day in which I haven’t giggle maniacally is a day wasted, don’t you think?

        I call him Maximus. It’s longer than mx, but it suits him, I think. Also remember: the pin is mightier than the sword. *cue groans*

      • atcdave says:

        I think our discussions can only be considered congenial amongst ourselves; pretty sure TPTB wouldn’t always agree.

        Did want to add to the unlikeable hero comment above too. While an unlikeable Chuck is a fatal flaw, an unlikeable Sarah is hardly much better. It was the strength of both leads that made this show so irresistable to me for the first two seasons. So if Chuck was damaged by loosing his decent everyman sort of appeal; Sarah was equally damaged by loosing her devotion as Chuck’s champion.

        Talk about shooting yourself in the foot, they ruin both main characters simultaineously.

      • OldDarth says:

        If anyone is going to get stuck with pins Frea it will be me. All your points are well taken.

        Yet Season 3 is still my favorite season. So there you go the target is fixed squarely on me once again. 😀

      • joe says:

        @Faith/ChuckNewbie8 Waaaaay above here…

        Oh yes, I agree! I’d love to post Frea’s comments up front, highlight and advertise them with search-lights! They’re that good.

        But it would be wrong of me to use her good name and talents for my/our benefit.

        And Frea has her own blog that deserves eyeballs.

        [Of course, Frea, if you ever want to write a guest post for us, lemme know. Now why do I feel like a teenager who just asked a good looking girl out for a date???]

        Okay, to the post. So many of you, and Ernie, obviously, have studied and mastered the mechanics of writing and story-telling far beyond my abilities. But I have some experience in things that help me to understand whats’ going on. Oddly, it’s in music.

        From way out in left field, I once read that Music is one of the few disciplines where people start from using “the right side of the brain” and migrate to using the left (almost exclusively, in both cases) as they progress. In other words, for students who are serious about it, music starts out as an emotional experience and becomes an intellectual exercise much like computer programming.

        That explains John Cage. It also highlights Chuck’s line that still rattles in my head “Go with your heart, buddy. Our brain only screws things up.”

        Now I have to ask a weird question: What’s your favorite Beatles Album? Sgt. Pepper? Revolver? Rubber Soul, maybe? My answer is always “What year is it?”

        My tastes change with time, yes, but there’s a certain property of timelessness that’s found in art. “Pop” anything lacks this property (as does pron, btw). The easy stuff doesn’t age well, and right now, I can’t tell you which season of Chuck will be my favorite in another five years. That’s a head game.

        All I know is that now, I want to react emotionally to the story. The problem is that the first 12 of season 3 is not ever going to make me feel good. They weren’t supposed to. It’s easy to shy away from the punches to the gut that are coming every time you watch The Mask or Fake Name. It’s still incredibly hard for me to get through American Hero and that Restaurant scene to which I react so viscerally. And that’s AFTER I know the pay-off is coming.

        Yet, that’s what I was after. I want to react to what I’m seeing, even if I don’t understand why. The sweetness of Sarah telling Chuck in S1 that he doesn’t always come in second to Bryce is wonderful, but now it only makes me impatient for him to understand that. It makes me want to see Chuck face down Shaw.

        And that’s where I’m at. Intellectually I can only agree. Emotionally, it’s very personal, very private and very complicated! Not without pain and not in a straight line, they (Schwedak) got me to S4.

        And before I stop typing, I want to thank everybody for the great comments…

        … and Ernie for the great post.

      • jason says:

        joe – u have more tolerance for the pain of the misery arc than I did, I can’t let u go without a ?, had the show ended at 3.13, does it go down as an all-time fav for you? I think it might just have ended up being a show for me, one with great promise unfullfilled.

        I also would have had trouble ever watching a fedak or schwartz show again. Now, I am on board, although if s4 goes great and they intentionally mess up s5 – the show is still an alltime fav – but I don’t know if TPTB could restore my faith in them twice?

      • atcdave says:

        There are obviously some differences on expectations. While I accept there is often pain in life, I will never choose pain as a major part of my entertainment. I can accept it short term, as long as resolution is imminent. But I’ve dealt with so many hurting/sick friends and family, I just don’t get why I should spend my entertainment time wallowing in it. So I will never choose to.

        I watch TV to have a good time at the end of the day. I expect quality in many dimensions, but I don’t want serious drama on TV. That is why the first part of Chuck S3 failed for me. Had they pursued something so bleak in S1 I would have never watched to the end of the season. But they waited until I was hopelessly hooked. Even so I’m not sure I would have stuck it out without constant spoilers that things would end well.

        Proudly shallow and demanding!

      • joe says:

        Jason: u have more tolerance for the pain of the misery arc than I did, I can’t let u go without a ?, had the show ended at 3.13, does it go down as an all-time fav for you? I think it might just have ended up being a show for me, one with great promise unfullfilled.

        That’s a good question, Jason. I honestly don’t know. There’s so much relief for me that occurs after The Other Guy – after Honeymooners in fact, that I have a hard time imagining that I’d find enough enjoyment in Paris. But then again, had the back 6 not come through, much of the first 12 would have been different.

        But that’s intellectualizing again. All I can say is that my low point wasn’t in Mask or in Fake Name, but much later, in American Hero. I think that my low was lower than the average fan, too (I was insane for a bit). I also think I was brought back farther than the average fan. [Oh – by “average fan”, I certainly mean no one here. I’m talking about the median person in that batch of 4 million or so that tuned in on any given Monday.] It’s what I asked for back in the summer of ’09. As they say, I got it. Good and hard.

      • JC says:

        I still think those first thirteen could have worked with Bryce Larkin and some minor tweaks. He has established history with C/S so as an audience we wouldn’t question why Sarah ran back to him. With Bryce I could see why Chuck and Sarah would trust him but with Shaw I saw none of that.

        After watching S3 again, I noticed something. It was a poorly written and plotted rehash of S1. From the LIs to the vague spy story that never really went anywhere. Sarah is leaving with Bryce/Shaw, Save you later/ You saved me. Watch S1 and then S3 the similarities shocked me.

      • Joseph (can't be Joe) says:

        JC – Although I agree, it could have worked better with Bryce (shudder), the problem starts before Agent idiot shows up, right from the get go in Pink Slip.

        Pink Slip is an good episode, if you disregard everything that happened for the 2 prior seasons. They lost me at the train station, sent me on a wild goose chase at Mask and the fog only started to part at the end of 3.13.

      • atcdave says:

        I’ll agree with Joseph’s comments. While Bryce may make more sense as a pure love interest (he had history with Sarah and some credibility as a spy and hero); the malfunction of S3 started before the first love interest was on stage. It had to do with the shattering of trust between Chuck and Sarah. At least that’s what sucked all the fun out of everything for me.

      • JC says:

        I also said some minor tweaks to the story. 😉 Prague could have worked if Chuck had told Sarah what his reasons were like in Three Words. The concept of Chuck giving up a chance with Sarah for something greater works( Break-Up). But it was the way they handled it was the failure. The same goes with Sarah pulling back and losing faith in Chuck. An episode or two, yeah I can see it but half a season not really.

        They went to such extremes that when Other Guy rolled around it fell flat. I saw no reason why they wanted to be together at all. The whiplash during Mask was bad but it was nothing compared to Other Guy. It felt like oh crap we’re running out of episodes, we better hook them up and hope the audience doesn’t remember anything that happened.

      • Joseph (can't be Joe) says:

        Some relationship reconciliation was required by at least 3.11 for the DLYM moment in 3.13 to have been better.

        Honestly some relationship reconciliation was required by episode 4 or 5 or 6 ….

        This will be my last post ever (finger crossed) about S3 – The Shaw Wars. I will never be able to make sense out of the utter nonsense that was presented. It seems that with S4 TPTB have seen it fit to forget most of what happened in S3 (I know I want to) and move on. Starting now, I choose to do the same.

        Let’s all have some fun again watching our favorite show, and let’s hope that it will in fact be “our Chuck”.

      • BDaddyDL says:

        I have avoided delving into season 3, again, but I will say 2 things. I too will try to never mention season 3 negatively again.

        after the beard Chucks focus was again Sarah, and by the end of American Hero Sarah Walker seems to have killed the pod person. She was going to run with Chuck.

      • atcdave says:

        I’ll ditto most of Joseph again except the never mentioning S3 part again. I too am ready to be entertained by S4, and expect good things. But I never want to let them forget how they screwed up S3. I have never been more let down by a TV show (yes, that’s largely my own fault for getting so invested in a TV show), and its maddenning to me that with so much feedback they still did it. They let down fans, network, and advertisers needlessly.
        I’m ready to move on, and I will forgive; but I won’t forget.

      • Frea O'Scanlin says:

        Heh, BDaddy, I don’t think Sarah killed the pod person entirely after “American Hero,” as her idiocy pretty much served to make the plot of “Other Guy” work, which is one of my main problems with S3. If you have to beat your characters, who you’ve told us are good at their jobs (as it is implied from Sarah having survived as a spy for over ten years) with the stupid stick in order to make your plot work, you have a problem. And they WALLOPED her with that stick in “Other Guy.” She made steps in the right direction, yes, but I’d much rather Sarah had either taken Chuck with her to Paris, or Shaw had kidnapped her prior to Paris. I’d rather see characters punched in the face/get knocked out/be in mortal danger than act in a really stupid and incomprehensible manner.

        But yeah, I agree with you, Dave. At the end of the day, I like to be entertained, so the misery arc had to be really well-written for me to even like it, and that wasn’t the case. But Season Four has already made me more cheerful with everything they’ve released online!

        And Joe, if you want me to guest blog sometime, I’d be delighted and honored and flattered. I love the crowd at ChuckThis. Not sure how it equates with “asking out a pretty girl” since I’m more Janeane Garofalo than Uma Thurman and I’m really mean to the writers, but like I said before you guys=good people. 🙂

      • alladinsgenie4u says:

        @Frea,atcdave,BDaddy,JC,Joseph – Thanks you all for your insightful comments.

        My final two cents on the Misery Arc henceforth referred by me as the bull crap arc.

        There have been numerous attempts both on this blog and other forums to rationalize what happened in Season 3 and try to achieve closure. Honestly speaking – although I participated and read all the discussions, I still find it difficult to digest what happened. And believe me, I tried hard, but to no avail. So,moving on from Season 3, I have at last, finally adopted one way to achieve closure. I have come to accept the Hack and Sham arcs for what they really were – total and utter Bull Crap – that was forcibly fed to the fans until the story of our favorite couple instead of being heartwarming became nauseating to a very high degree. We may bring ourselves to forgive but our memories have been too scarred to forget.

        And I agree with Frea – after hearing and seeing so much about Season 4 – I am ready for a fresh start.

  3. atcdave says:

    Really excellent post Ernie. I still think you make too big a thing of the “Hero’s Journey.” I think we all get it. Its a little like me complaining my lawn is too long and I don’t feel like mowing; and you responding with a lecture about fertilizer.
    The failure was always at the weekly contract level. They failed to entertain, which ultimately is the point of Hero’s Journeys and three act plays. You did discuss that issue, very well I might add; but it came too late in the article, apparently just as consideration of it came too late in Schwedak’s thought process.

    It is amazing to me that they had so much feedback indicating what was wanted, and what wasn’t, and yet they still got it wrong. That’s why I used the term hubris; which really seems fitting when you’re discussing Hero’s Journeys.

    • atcdave says:

      Just for the record, I’m not mad at Ernie! We agree so much on what we enjoy and want from the show. I think the difference is in watching the train wreck. Ernie has to watch, I can’t bring myself to.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        More like I need to analyze the train wreck in stop frame to identify every failure of every nut and bolt.

        What can I say, it’s a hobby.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      The failure was always at the weekly contract level. They failed to entertain, which ultimately is the point of Hero’s Journeys and three act plays. You did discuss that issue, very well I might add; but it came too late in the article…

      But Dave, you miss the point! This article is structured as a three act Hero’s Journey and the discussion of the weekly contract failure is placed at the climax of the conflict, leading to the resolution and epilogue of the back 6. 😀

  4. OldDarth says:

    Congrats Ernie. Major piece of writing.

    The one thing that jumped for me was your point about the show holding back on Sarah’s issues around the Red Test. Totally agree this was held back far too long. This should have been revealed much, much sooner. Within the first 3 or 4 episodes.

    Season 3 was really A Tale of Two Cities. It had the best and worst episodes. The most frustrating thing is the right pieces were there but they were in the wrong order.

  5. jason says:

    ernie – well done, I enjoyed it, but the experience for me as a fan compares to reading a novel explaining the horrors of world war 2 during the week of my daughter’s wedding, just too psyched about the upcoming greatness to want to spend much brainpower thinking about the misery in the past.

    I don’t know if you remember, but probably the longest, most thoroughly documented article ever was written on this site was released by liz james after episode 3.7. Unfortunately it was released moments before a really important blogger with inside connections spoiled episode 3.8. Your piece reminds me of liz’s, if released at the right time, I would bet it might generate 200-300 or more responses.

    I hope it still does, if it doesn’t – maybe once this season is over, you could update it and re-release this work, as it strikes me both as some of your best work, and some of the best that this site has seen.

    • jason says:

      sorry – I meant ever written on this site, not ever written, liz is indeed awesome, but not woodwardesque – LOL

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I agree, it’s late in the game to post something like this, and I almost didn’t, but I was asked about aspects of it so I started to answer and it just kind of … grew. Then I couldn’t bear to just toss it aside. If you look at the numerous links sprinkled throughout I’ve written about most of this before, so I just kind of re-purposed it as an epilogue for season 3.

      I doubt we’ll need to think nearly this hard about season 4. 😉

  6. Buy More Associate says:

    You wrote:
    Chuck repeatedly said he wanted his old life back. It wasn’t true.

    Sorry, Ernie, you’ve written 7,000 words of totally unconvincing revisionism.

    At EVERY opportunity, Chuck wants his old life back in Seasons 1 and 2. EVERY opportunity.

    At the fountain at Break-Up, he is SO adament about getting his old life back that he is even willing to sacrafice Sarah because HER not being normal would not be what he wants from HIS life.

    At the fountain in Lethal Weapon, he remains adament, but adjusts it to include Sarah in his life.

    At the end of Colonel, with the intersect out of his head and her with him, Sarah SPECIFICALLY asks Chuck how it feels. I believe he says, “Great, actually.”

    At the beginning of Ring, Beckman offers him a job AND calls on his patriotism and he says no. Without hesitation or regret.

    You wrote 7,000 words of revisionism. But the facts are clearly and totally against you. The driving and overweening arc of the first two seasons is Chuck wants out and has NO interest in the life the intersect or spying offers.

    Season 3, starting with the last few minutes of Ring, changes the show, the characters and the game. But as Fedak himself has admitted, it a new show created in the shell of the old. It was NOT an evolutionary change. It was a recreation.

    Trying to claim there is support for Chuck’s Season 3 mentality in the first two seasons is simply revisionism that ignores canon. It’s a non-starter.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      BMA, somehow I didn’t think you’d be convinced. 😉

      As I tried to convey, what Chuck thinks he wants, says he wants and what he really wants aren’t necessarily the same thing.

      What the story shows is that he wants out of his present life. He equates that with going back to his old life, but the first thing he does when he gets the intersect out is to quit the BuyMore and ask Sarah to go on a vacation with him, just as in the beginning of the season the first thing he thought about doing was quitting the Buy More and going on a trip through Europe with Sarah. None of those things he very specifically says he wants to do and plans to do are aspects of his old life.

      Anyway, as I said, pick the story that works for you and enjoy. I just look at it in a different way.

    • atcdave says:

      I think its fair to say Chuck is divided. As early as Helicopter Sarah grills about wanting the intersect out; Chuck says yes, but then you’re gone too right? As S2 unfolds Chuck gets more ivolved in the spy life even choosing a mission at the end of Third Dimension over a weekend off; and I’d even say in Colonel when he acknowledges the Intersect is gone and it feels great, it seems to me there is a touch of regret.

      I think this makes it a fairly easy sell when the need for re-intersecting comes up; that he knows some of what he’s in for.
      I admit, I wish it had played out more this way. That is, Chuck embracing the role of hero with growing enthusiasm instead of the more abrupt shift we saw. At any rate, I don’t see Chuck’s decision to re-intersect as being that shocking or out of character. Now walking away from the train station with Sarah thinking he’s dumping her, that’s another story…

    • Merve says:

      BMA, that’s a very one-sided approach to examining Chuck’s desire to be or not to be a spy, ignoring all the instances in which Chuck expressed interest in spying. That’s also revisionism.

      • Buy More Associate says:

        By this logic, then Chuck also “secretly” wants to be a race-car driver because he’s twice fantasized about that.

        You can fan-wank anything you want, but every definite action Chuck took, every definitive statement he made, and every definitive choice he made in Seasons 1 and 2 were an attempt to get out of the spy game.

        And most on point is that TPTB specifically start the season 2 end game by having Chuck begin the search for Orion. He was so desperate to get out that he went around Sarah and the CIA/NSA and started the search himself and that is the search that yields the Orion connection.

        So fan wank and revisionist think all you want, but Seasons 1 and 2 are about Chuck not wanting to be a spy. Full stop.

        There is not a shred of evidence that indicates otherwise.

      • Merve says:

        You can’t seriously equate Chuck saying he wants to be a race car driver with Chuck wanting to do something meaningful with his life. The former is clearly played for humour; the latter is a significant character development.

        This discussion raises an interesting question, though. Was it really wise for a show whose premise was based around a guy having a computer stuck in his brain to centre a story arc around getting the computer out of his brain?

  7. Bernardo says:

    Shaw as poochie is, perhaps, the best definition of the whole third season.

  8. JC says:

    Wow you went all out on this, great post Ernie.

    But I wanted to touch on some things you didn’t mention.

    For me a huge problem with S3 was they didn’t go far enough with Chuck losing himself. Manoosh, posing as Rafe, etc I never bought that as Chuck changing so Sarah’s reactions became overblown. And since that was the crux of the season they lost me early. They really needed to push the envelop but instead his actions were morally gray at best. This also ties into Sarah’s journey. It didn’t matter when they brought up her Red Test and her issues. I saw nothing that would lead me to believe Chuck would become a killer so I can’t buy Sarah believing it.

    Those issues lead me my biggest problem with the show and that’s consistency. Red Tests and being a spy makes you emotionless killer are all creations of S3 “darker” nature. It goes against the way the universe was presented the previous two seasons. The same goes for Hannah’s introduction, on a show full of spies nobody questioned her showing up? Compare that to Lou in S1. I could go on with these but those were just two glaring examples that stuck out to me. They change the rules on the show to fit the story instead of working within the universe they created.

    Now onto some points you brought up.

    Sarah as a plot device. While she isn’t one to the degree Shaw was, she was from Mask till Fake Name. I had trouble explaining her actions because they were nothing more than ways to push Chuck towards his destination with her as a prize. All her loathing of the spy world and the worst day of her life is swept under the rug. It never mattered because it served it’s purpose make Chuck the hero. Her “growth” wasn’t for the benefit of her character but for Chuck’s.

    Then there’s Shaw. Watching him fail at everything he did and people still praising him took me right out of the show. This also killed him as a villain, if he wasn’t competent as a “good” guy he’s not threatening as a bad guy. It’s not like turning evil made him smart.

  9. jason says:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/09/12-tv-shows-youre-not-watching-but-should/62973/

    below is Kevin Fallon’s description of chuck which caught my eye because my description to others after season 2 was very much alike. Problem with season 3, the description below had very little to do with what was shown for the first 12 hours – I think season 4 will return on point. (notice the writer did not use the word drama?)

    “As TV’s only spy-comedy-romance, Chuck is at once thrilling, charming, and touching. Chuck Bartowski is a nerdy IT guy at a Best Buy-type store who becomes CIA’s most valuable agent after a computer chip containing top secret information—as well as martial arts and weaponry training—is accidentally downloaded into his brain.

    The hour long show plays like an exhilarating action film—Mission: Impossible meets Get Smart—as massive stunts, effects, and action sequences are peppered with the slapstick of Chuck’s buffoonery as he gets his sea legs in the spy world. Add in the surprisingly captivating romance between Chuck and his partner Sarah and the show’s endearing supporting cast, and Chuck manages the necessary depth and heart that makes the caper antics and mysteries worth coming back for week after week.”

  10. mxpw says:

    This was a good post, Ernie, even though I found myself disagreeing with you quite a bit during the first part of the article when you talked about the Hero’s Journey and the mechanics of writing. Though I found myself agreeing with you a lot more once you got to Shaw being a plot device. Completely disagree with you on Sarah NOT being a plot device, though. Her characterization has always been dependent on the plot of the week, but that’s really an argument for another time.

    I’ve studied writing for a while and there is very little I’ve learned in my time studying it that leads me to believe that, from a technical writing standpoint, Season 3 was anything less than mostly a failure. Whether or not it was a success from an entertainment standpoint is obviously up for considerable debate (obviously, as you seemed to enjoy the season overall whereas I hated probably 75% of the episodes), but there is little they did right in S3, I don’t think. Plot construction, and more importantly, plot consistency was shoddy at best with the former and practically non-existent with the latter. Characterization was haphazard at the best of times, and completely in flux from episode to episode at the worst. The story was muddled, the characters poorly handled, the retcons flew fast and furious, and at times, outright insulted my intelligence as a viewer (the Red Test is maybe the single stupidest thing the show has ever done). You talk about the Hero’s Journey and that being the story they told, but I didn’t see a Hero’s Journey. I saw what they THOUGHT was a Hero’s Journey (a rather poorly told one at that), but in actuality was more like a Hero’s Meandering Through the Woods in Hopes of Someday Reaching a Destination Even Though He has No Idea What He’s Actually Searching For. And please excuse that ponderous bit.

    They were lazy storytellers, plain and simple. Instead of telling a complex story that they intended to FULLY commit to (which is the ONLY way you should ever tell a story), they hedged and obsfucated and misdirected throughout the whole season, either because they were too afraid to actually tell the story they wanted to tell (perhaps best evidenced by Living Dead, where the Sarah/Shaw relationship suddenly became much more serious than it was ever presented onscreen while actually occurring), or realized their basic storyline would completely alienate the audience and (heh, press interview after Mask, anyone?) so compromised their vision, producing a half-hearted, poorly thought out version instead.

    Season 3 began falling apart in Ring 1 (which is really more an S3 episode than S2), crumbled to the ground in Pink Slip, turned the ground fallow from Mask till American Hero, and only started to rebuild and regrow itself at the end of Other Guy. But by then the damage had already been done, and the Back Six wasn’t really enough to put the story, from a writing standpoint, back on solid ground.

    Though you were dead-on about Shaw being Poochie.

    • atcdave says:

      Wow, and I thought I disliked S3! Great comments.

    • Joseph (can't be Joe) says:

      The thing about Sarah’s supposed journey in S3 is that, for whatever reason it ceased being compelling when she deciced to hook up with Shaw.
      We were supposed to buy into the fact that Shaw was an alternative when everything about him screamed douchebag. When that fell apart so did Sarah’s journey, and she becomes a plot device in order to keep the plot device that is Shaw around.

      Possible truly compelling story lost.

    • Robert Dammers says:

      Amen.

  11. hiswings says:

    Okay, I’m not done reading this novella yet, but wanted to weigh in on the post. WOW!! We should be earning college credit for watching Chuck and participating in this blog!! I continue to learn more and more and am beginning to appreciate the writers, the producers, the showrunners and even all the bloggers. What I have just merely taken for granted over the years makes so much more sense when put into this perspective. THANK YOU!! I will continue to digest the rest of this post.

  12. Rick Holy says:

    WOW! Agree/Disagree/Meet somewhere in between – that was one heck of a treatise on S3!

    MY major disappointment with S3 had less to do with the technical aspects of writing/storytelling that you and others who are more skilled/versed in this area have noted, but just the fact that it lacked much of the light-hearted fun that was so much a part of Seasons 1 and 2. As much as there were episodes and parts of episodes that I liked, it just wasn’t the same “CHUCK” for me (and apparently for a number of others as indicated by the ratings drop throughout the season).

    I know that there were “serious parts” of S1 and S2, but they were in small enough doses to keep the overall flavor of a “fun to watch” show. S3 had too much drama – too much “seriousness” than I would have hoped that it would have. That’s not what people tune into CHUCK for – and imho is why so many tuned out (or stayed tuned in only to be p.o’d).

    It wasn’t just because of the “Chuck and Sarah” being kept apart STILL that turned some people off. It was what is basically a COMEDY (call it a dramedy if you want) trying to be more DRAMA (including the dreaded “A” word). That doesn’t work – especially after what fans came to expect of the show after Seasons 1 and 2.

    I understand – or at least I think I do – TPTB trying to take the show in a “different direction,” perhaps hoping to build up the fan base/”grow the show” – but it didn’t work, unfortunately.

    From what I’m seeing in the previews of Season 4, it looks like there’s more of a return to the overall “light hearted fun with just enough seriousness/drama” to make the show the entertaining show that we know it has been and can still be. And the whole idea of “FAMILY” which is going to be an undercurrent/theme of the season – whether we’re talking about the Bartowski (now with Mom involved or soon-to-be-involved) Family, the Ellie/Awesome/Baby Makes 3 Family, the Casey/Alex/Old Flame Family, the Chuck & Sarah “Family,” etc., I think is a good move. Afterall, the show IS on during the “family hour” of prime time.

    Let’s BRING ON MONDAY & Season 4! And hopefully a heapin’ hunk of great, entertaining and FUN storytelling in the “classic” CHUCK mold!

    Peace, all! Have a great weekend. And “Keep on Chuckin’!” (And don’t forget Subway!) 😉

  13. Merve says:

    @Ernie: That was a very well though-out post, Ernie. Though I have a considerably more uniform view on the 3 seasons, your assessment was very fair.

    @Everyone: After reading the comments, I’m going to be blunt: Arguments about “lazy writing,” “plot holes,” “plot vs. character,” etc. are just roundabout ways of saying “I don’t like what’s happening.” Take ownership of your opinion; it carries more weight that way.

    • mxpw says:

      Let me be equally blunt: You’re wrong.

      Was that taking ownership enough for you?

    • atcdave says:

      Merve there is such a thing as poor writing. I would agree much of the fire involving S3 comes from personal taste and opinion, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t serious writing problems as well. Now I’ve enjoyed plenty of tripe in my time, so I admit if I’d enjoyed the season more I probably wouldn’t be among those complaining. But I do believe plot/character failures were significant enough to merit comment on their own.

      • Merve says:

        I was a little too absolute in what I wrote. There’s a difference between “I felt x plot development was contrived because of y” and “Season a had b, c, d problems.” I welcome specificity; sweeping generalizations are easily dismissed.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Well if you’ll pardon me jumping in as the ever present schoolmarm perhaps I can add something. We do a pretty good job of self policing here and keeping things civil. Usually that is maintained because posters and commenters allow that there is a valid alternative view and respect people who express those views. The problem is that occasionally something comes off as somebody stating fact. And while I’m sure this is not the intent, it comes across as personal. “Chuck Versus The Mask was objectively bad, therefore if you liked it you have no taste” or “Only crazy spoiled shippers hate The Mask”. I’m not directing this specifically to any post or poster as guilty, that is just an admittedly exaggerated example of how most of the misunderstandings on this board have begun, and there are and have been guilty on both sides.

      We don’t censor on this board, and civil anarchy is a difficult thing to maintain, so we ask that everyone go just a bit above and beyond in considering how a post might be received by someone who cherishes an opposite opinion or in reading something you disagree with in the most generous way possible.

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

    Wow. I’m glad I didn’t start reading this late at night 🙂 Excellent Post. The thing that stood out for me and sums up S3 in a nutshell was the question you asked at the start.

    Why Shaw?

    If there was ever a character that did more harm than good to a television show and / or its characters, I can’t recall one.

    Fonzie can now rest peacefully, because in my opinion people will now use the term “Jump the Shaw”, it was that bad.

  15. thinkling says:

    Great post Ernie … very informative … educational even. Do we get college credit for it?

    I hardly know where to begin (in a good way). As I read your post (twice+) my thoughts were churning. So, I’ll just pick a spot and jump in.

    Stories and characters and plots. I think it’s fair to distinguish between story and plot. Going forward, the way we live life, plot would be, as you say, a sequence of events. Let’s say many of those events are beyond my control (like, I don’t know, somebody sends me an e-mail of government secrets that get uploaded into my brain). As I respond to each event (rationally, emotionally, relationally, and volitionally); as I make plans,decisions, and choices, I create my story. Sometimes my plans and choices play a hand in shaping coming plots. Sometimes the plots come out of nowhere. And so it goes. My life’s story is woven by the warp of events and the weft of my response. However, it’s only in looking back that I see the story. Only then are the turning points (plot points) obvious. That’s how a good story should feel.

    With fiction, the writers control both warp and weft. They create the characters and pull their strings; choose the plots and weave us a story. More accurately We get pulled into ongoing stories. For the stories to be believable, within the universe the writers created, the writers must have already woven the back-stories. They must know everything about the characters, much more than they will ever tell us. Why? So that the characters will behave consistently and the story make sense. When we learn some of the back-story, we should say, “Oh, so that’s why he did that. It all makes sense now.” (Kind of like you said about the Jill arc.) New parts of the story should be consistent with patterns already present in the story that’s been woven. All of this contributes to the characters coming off as real people making real choices, as opposed to marionettes being jerked around by amateur puppeteers. Unfortunately S3 came off as the latter.

    The “Chuck” story begins, as Chuck’s story and Sarah’s story converge and begin to entertwine. (These are the stories I see. Others may disagree.) The story is about two people whose past has robbed them of their future. One is the story of a guy who was meant to be a hero but is living a mediocre life in a dead-end job. The other is the story of a beautiful, smart, acomplished woman whose life is filled with excitement and adventure but lacks the roots and companionship, the love and warmth she secretly desires. They become embroiled in the same plot. As they respond to their shared circumstances and to each other, it becomes clear that each is vital to the other’s story. She recognizes and encourages the hero in the guy. He loves the woman and stirs in her the lost hope that she can have a real life of love and belonging. Each one becomes an integral part of the others journey, until we can’t shake the feeling that they are bound for a shared destination. At the end of S2, the destination was in sight. Then came Pink Slip … uh, hello, we woke up in a different story … on a different loom. OK, but it sure felt that way. It was like TPTB totally forgot that Chuck’s and Sarah’s stories were inextricably entwined and interdependent.

    What should happen when your characters reach their shared destination? Just like life, each destination becomes the trailhead of the next story. How I met my husband and fell in love is just part of my/our story. There’s lots more after that. So, if someone asks how we met, I tell that story. If they ask what happened next, I tell the next part of the story. The story Schwedak told didn’t feel like the next part of the story. It felt like a bad rewrite of the story that had already been told, with alien-replacements standing in for the characters we had come to know and love. (In my mind, a better alternative for what should have come next would have been a courtship arc with our two leads communicating on more intimate levels, working through hurdles and issues, and continuing to help each other fulfill their objectives and desires.)

    So, why is it so hard for TV story tellers to tell the next story? In part, I think it’s because they’ve taken the 2-hr-movie, romantic-comedy paradigm and imposed it on a TV series. It’s fine for a season, but then its time to tell the next story, something that romantic comedy movies don’t do. To tell the next story, you have to dig deeper … wrestle with relationship shifts and new directions.

    The good news is that season 4 looks like it will do just that. Chuck and Sarah are together and will have different sorts of challenges. He has become the hero he was meant to be. She has found love and belonging. That was the beginning … the requirement for their continuing journey. Now, they are ready for even greater adventures. From now on their relationship (its passion, love & commitment) should be the strength of their journey rather than its destination. I’m ready for lots more Chuck and Sarah adventures. May their journey be long and satisfying!

    Oops got a little long …again.

    • atcdave says:

      Some great thoughts Thinkling. Among my many annoying sayings I have is that I think when the couple gets together is when the story is just getting good. It has long baffled me why so many writers are unwilling to tell this story. How many times have we seen a good movie romance, been excited by the thought of seeing more growth when the sequel is announced; only to be treated to a reset that has to re-unite the couple rather than show any growth (even in the action/comedy genre I prefer we’ve seen this happen from “Romancing the Stone” to “National Treasure” to “Mask of Zorro.”) I’m not sure if the trend has more to do with lack of imagination or education, or if its just too profoundly hard to write the stories I want to see.

      Part of my disappointment with Chuck comes from thinking it was different; then being bitterly disappointed when S3 showed it wasn’t. I would have yawned if I hadn’t been so angered.
      But I think we’ve shamed them into it now. That or they just got around to watching “The Thin Man” or “Undercover Blues” and said “maybe we can make this work.” I am really excited for Monday to get here, I also hope for a long journey ahead.

      • Rick Holy says:

        With you all the way on that one, brotha (Sorry, I still can’t get LOST out of my head. No matter how good CHUCK might be this season, I’ll still be pining the end of LOST).

        I hope this isn’t too sweeping of a generalization as I DO want to take ownership of my opinion – but S3 in so many of the ways that have been described on this thread seemed to veer off the “CHUCK” track. Now – at least by the interviews and the previews – it seems like we’re back on both rails. TBTG.

        Happy Sunday, everybody. And BRING ON MONDAY EVENING!!!

      • thinkling says:

        I agree. Sure am glad Hollywood didn’t write my life.

        “Thin Man” and “Undercover Blues” are both good examples; and though the parody’s been done, there’s always “Heart to Heart.” IMO, Chuck and Sarah will be way better than any of those. Whatever the case, it looks like we’re finally breaking free from Ground Hog Day.

        I’ll admit that growth stories would be harder to do. There’s no formula for them like there is for the wt/wt romance. The whole notion of a weekly contract becomes law, b/c the audience doesn’t know where you’re going. In the wt/wt formula, we pretty much know what the end game is. Most fans admit that that knowledge is the only thing that held them through 1-13 of S3.

        To write the story where the relationship is the strength of the journey rather than its destination, requires writing a real relationship, rather than a string of plot devices to move the characters. It also requires another compelling destination. Much, much more interesting if done well.

        I’m convinced they can do this. The previews only add to my conviction that they can. And, hey, if they can’t do it with Yvonne and Zach, then there is no hope.

      • atcdave says:

        Yeah, I didn’t mention Hart to Hart because its a little more different from Chuck than the others are. I see it as more sappy-sweet (don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but sappy) while Chuck and the others are more characterized by humor (and still sweet!).

        I sure do agree if the can’t do it with Zach and Yvonne, they just can’t do it.

      • thinkling says:

        @Dave – You’re right Hart to Hart’s tone was totally different, but it was a successful “couple” series.

    • jason says:

      I suppose it is all a matter of what universe you are from, in some universe chuck maybe would walk away from sarah at a train station in prague and say ‘have a nice life’, 7 entire episodes later tell her ‘i’m going to go screw hannah, you may as well do shaw’ and 5 entire episodes after that sarah has dinner with shaw and tells him ‘we should have done this sooner’ and a few minutes after that has an emotional meltdown as shaw goes to sacrifice his life as if she has lost the one true love of her life? What possibly could have the creative team been thinking?

      I will stick to the theory that a few of the writers realized how terrible the story was and ‘messed’ with the shaw character, making him look like a complete moron the entire time – shooting himself, shooting angie harmon in the back, releasing the poison in the room just one episode after casey was very careful in almost the exact setting, the desert line, the cheap shot of both rafe and the beating chuck senseless on the floor, his attempt to assassinate the government’s most valuable asset a few weeks after he said he never lost a man, etc, etc, etc.

      That is evidentily the same universe where the rest of this garbage came from.

      I am super (or supermanish) happy Bryce or Cole was not the LI, the only epic / gamechanging thing about season 3 was how inept and miserable the story in the first 12 1/2 episodes was – with cole or bryce it may have been better and TPTB might have been less apt to end the misery as quickly and starkly as they did – evidentily it is all a matter of what universe you inhabit?

      • thinkling says:

        Thing is, Jason, they had already defined a universe. You don’t get to change universes (or looms in my analogy) in the middle of a story, unless you go through a wardrobe, of course.

      • atcdave says:

        Maybe we’ll find out Chuck and Sarah had been drugged…

  16. MarieM says:

    One of the reasons I don’t commented much on this blog although I’ve read it from early on is that it is filled with too much fannish desire to make TPTB Gods. They’re just writers, and sometimes not too good at it. And ALWAYS they are the whim of the network PTB.

    For example, this argument that Chuck somehow always wanted to be a spy is just absurd. And Ernie, I know your “hero’s journey” meme is something your wedded to. And Merve, I know you are desperate to prove to the world that you’re a brilliant young mind.

    But you shouldn’t ignore the indisputable facts. Here is Chris Fedak talking to Alan Sepinwall in an interview published on April 7, 2009, just as the last few episodes of Season 2 are about to air:

    “Chuck, from the get go, has realized he wanted his old life back.”

    End of discussion. The show’s creator has told you that the show is about Chuck wanting his old life back.

    Chuck wanting to be a spy is an invention of Season 3. Stop trying to backwards rationalize it because the show’s creators tell you that is NOT true. Chuck as wanna-be spy is a Season 3 invention.

    Doesn’t matter which season you like best. Season 1 and 2 is a show about a guy who DOES NOT want to a spy. Season 3 is about a guy who DOES want to be a spy.

    Don’t try to make the twains meet because it smacks of a smarmy intent to be smarter-than-the-room.

    • joe says:

      Hi, Marie!

      Hum… If anyone around here is the fanboy, it’s me. I’ve been more willing than many to cut TPTB a break; It’s easy for me to be empathetic ’cause I’m nowhere near being a professional writer. I can only imagine handing the internals like I know they do and still produce a quality show.

      Like usual, you make a good argument re: Chuck’s desires. I still have to wonder about Chuck wanting to be a spy, though. Certainly he said that he was “a normal guy” often enough.

      But Chuck was portrayed as eager to be part of the team at the end of 3-D mid-way through S2! In fact, he seemed – what.. pleased? self-satisfied? – to be Charles Carmichael for a moment in First Date and a hero in Tom Sawyer. He didn’t shrink from it. Oh gee. He was exuberant when he landed the helicopter in 1.02! You know – the joys of doing something you didn’t think you could do.

      Fedak said that Chuck wanted his old life back, and not a life filled with anxiety and terror. But Chuck’s growth makes “spy life” more normal for him. I sorta like the growth; the last time I remember characters changing – evolving, really – that much was way back with M*A*S*H, and that wasn’t always for the better.

      • atcdave says:

        I just figured it took time for him to recognize the change. His goal was to get out from the beginning; he wasn’t forced to re-evaluate until Ring. But I think it was a long time coming. As season 2 unfolded he became more confident and capable in his position. I really wish he’d accepted his destiny more as a process instead of via crisis; but we didn’t see it unfold that way. I can easily imagine that without his father’s meddling Chuck would have embraced the spy life soon anyway; but I must admit I’m drawing a conclusion from data, not observing a truth.

      • joe says:

        I did too. I got the idea (even in The Ring) that when he said he was a normal guy, it wasn’t with conviction.

        Sarah wavered too, didn’t she? In Crown Vic, I think it was, she asked Casey if he ever wondered about having a normal life. Always did want them to meet in the middle!

        You’re right about Stephen, Dave. He was a powerful force keeping Chuck away from the spy life. It’s cool that Orion drew him towards it too, albeit, inadvertently.

    • amyabn says:

      Hi Marie,
      i must say that I see things more like Joe and Dave do. I think I can say that while you quote Fedak, I would have to say that what they put on paper isn’t always we get as the end product. You add the characterizations by the actors and you get something unexpected, maybe unintended, but always well acted by the crew. They also kept telling us that Shaw was a great spy and a great match for Sarah, but what was characterized and written flies in the face of that supposition, so I take Fedak with a large grain of salt.

      Chuck, from Helicopter on, continually chooses to not stay in the car. In my view, he says he doesn’t want to be a spy while he becomes more and more comfortable with being one, whether he asked for it or not.
      I also think he vascilated between the decision to stay a spy or go back to his old life because of the position Sarah found herself in. Her paralysis left Chuck second guessing himself.

      Does that make me smarmy and smarter than the room? Gosh, I really hope not-it’s just my opinion.

    • thinkling says:

      Hey Marie, I’m such a new-comer that I don’t have near the Chuxpertise as the others, but I love the discussion, so I’ll throw in my one cent’s worth.

      I see several things showing and telling us 1, what Chuck wants and 2, what he seems to have been meant for.

      1. What Chuck wants … what he says and what he does don’t always match. He does say he wants his old life back. It’s his mantra. He also says he wants a normal life. I think that’s closer to the truth, b/c he doesn’t really like his “old life.” He can’t wait to quit the Buymore and move his life forward. In fact, one of his primary reasons for wanting to get rid of the intersect is so that he can change his old life [i.e. the Buymore] not return to it. His actions show us a different mantra. He can’t stand staying in the car or being left out of a mission (won’t rehash the examples already given). So, it appears he is drawn to something he doesn’t think he wants.

      Then there’s the destiny angle. This is infused by the story tellers from the beginning. Chuck always wondering [out loud] why Bryce sent him the intersect. Sarah telling him lots of times how good he is at the spy side of his life, the one she says he didn’t ask for but was meant to have. The first episode that was really heavy with the destiny angle was Alma Mater, but destiny was a fairly consistent theme.

      When a sense of calling worms its way into the mind of the unsuspecting, it is not always eagerly embraced. It takes time. Sometimes it is never embraced. But often, with time, the person embraces said calling completely and doesn’t look back (or not very often anyway). We can’t know for sure with Chuck, b/c we’re never really told, but it’s not an unreasonable possibility.

      There is another constant theme, and that is control. It is clear that a big part of what Chuck resents about the spy life is that it was thrust on him, invading every aspect of his life and robbing him of the right to control his own life. It’s plausible that what he resented when it was forced on him was less odious when the choice was once again his to make.

      I think I heard TPTB say that the story is about Chuck becoming a hero. Somewhere in the process, his wants catch up with his destiny … which leads us to S4 where for the first time, we are working from destiny rather than toward it. Should be great fun.

      • amyabn says:

        Wow, thinkling! You summed it up far better than I could! Thanks for that. I love the concept of catching up with his destiny. What an interesting perspective to ponder. Thanks!

      • thinkling says:

        Thank you. I’m always relieved when something comes out right.

        This thread got me thinking. “Chuck” is now working *from* two things that it has been working *toward* for 3 years … the destiny and the relationship. It’s quite a bold move. I don’t know that it’s ever been done. But to me it pulls “Chuck” out of the banal and into the unexplored, refreshing, and exciting.

      • JC says:

        Completely agree Thinkling, I’m a huge proponent of the destiny story on the show. I’m pretty hard on TPTB but Chuck’s destiny as a spy has been around since the show started. So it’s not surprising he’s finally embraced that role.

        Now this might be fanwank on my part but Chuck also could have come to realization that the spy life wasn’t thrust on him. It’s always been his life he just didn’t know it. Like Orion told him, being a spy is in your blood.

      • atcdave says:

        great comments Thinkling. Appreciate your view on what Chuck says vs. what he really wants. He is a conflicted mess for much of the first two seasons. Hopefully it gets even better as he now has more sense of purpose.

        I really want to see him embrace higher goals than just finding his mom. In S3 he had some sense of “greater good” but was still conflicted over how Sarah fit in and ultimately was dissuaded by his sister. I would love to see him embrace the role of hero and champion with Sarah as his full partner; and be able to defend his decision to Ellie.

      • thinkling says:

        Me too, Dave. And I see his embracing his hero role as a greater possibility with Sarah as his full partner.

        As much as I like Chuck’s dedication to his family, it annoys me just a little that it’s so exclusive. Sometimes he seems kind of oblivious to the greater good. I liked Best Friend, but his speech about Morgan captured my annoyance. Frankly I liked Sarah’s reply that “…losing sight of that container endangers many people’s best friends, Chuck, not just yours.”

        Now that he’s caught up to his destiny, he still needs to grow into it. I’d like to see him cast his hero net a little wider, too.

      • atcdave says:

        I agree totally. In Best Friend; Chuck’s speech was pure emotion, Sarah’s reply was rational. Ideally we’ll see them reach a “best of both worlds” situation. If they can discuss their different views and choose the best for the circumstance; well obviously, that would be the definition of ideal.

    • Merve says:

      Marie, I appreciate reasoned debate and discussion. I don’t appreciate personal attacks. You have no clue what my motivations are. Don’t assume.

  17. Rick Holy says:

    I don’t know if this has ever been done before in TV lore – but maybe Chuck will “wake up” at the beginning of tomorrow’s Season 4 premiere and we’ll discover that all of Season 3 was either (a) a dream, or (b) a “flash sideways!” 😉

    • atcdave says:

      That’s a rather infamous twist Dallas employed back in the day to delete a character death, skipped a whole season.

      There’s a part of me that disliked S3 so much I wouldn’t mind. But there was so much good that happened I wouldn’t want to see undone. If it were a computer game I’d want to see a “skip S3” patch that starts with Chuck and Sarah meeting on the platform in Prague and deciding to run; leading straight into Honeymooners. That would actually be pretty seamless (except for Shaw’s reappearance towards the end and Morgan being a part of the spy world).

      I think, if S3 is ever mentioned again, we should find out Chuck and Sarah were under the influence of mind altering drugs for most of the year!

      • jason says:

        when shaw poisoned sarah in the mask, he played a manchurian tape, daniel shaw is a great spy, chuck bartkowski is a liar, you despise chuck barkowski, you love daniel shaw, over and over and over ,,,, it took chuck’s declaration of love in 3,11 and 3.12 to overcome the manchurian programming, but also explains how difficult ILU came to sarah, a remnant of the poison gas ‘mask’ programmed onto sarah

      • atcdave says:

        Helps for Sarah, but still leaves us with Chuck the jerk from 3.05-3.09. Maybe Shaw slipped something in his coffee during the training/briefing of First Class!

    • thinkling says:

      Chuck Vs. The Ruby Slippers, huh? 😉

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