As painful as it is to admit, life is often full of no-win situations and times when your fears are realized like never before. These were some of the themes that TPTB sought to explore in the later season 3 episodes like Tic Tac or Final Exam and Other Guy. They did so with mixed success. Last night once again I thought to myself that this is what they needed in season 3. The conflict was organic to the story, the fears real and realistically portrayed by characters whose actions and motivations were clear and known and in character. I’ve said that to myself many times this season, but last night I felt season 4 finally quit repairing season 3 damage and took off on the maiden episode of its own story. And what a story we got last night. After the jump.
Meet Mama B. She is, as was hinted at, bad ass. She is, as hinted, what Sarah could still become. And she is Chuck’s worst nightmare. Mary Bartowski is the embodiment of how the spy life tears people away and traps them, sucking out what was vital and joyous about them, leaving only regrets and a sense the game needs to be played to the end for what is left of life to have any meaning. The only truly meaningful things are what you left behind to protect. We’re still not sure of Mary’s endgame, but perhaps just a part of her needing to see the meaning of her life one last time is playing into it at some level.
Linda Hamilton was superb. In fact the whole cast is back to firing on all cylinders (aside from Yvonne’s flubbed line at the beginning, but that’s more of an error of direction or editing that they didn’t get a good take into the final cut). The meeting at the park was a spectacular scene. Note the initial hostility from Mary towards Sarah, both as the younger and more beautiful spy and (if as she claims she knows everything about Carmichael) she must know, or at least suspect the only woman who Chuck fully trusts and confides in. Chuck’s introductions are great. The haughty flip of her hair from Sarah as if to say “that’s right, he’s mine now”, not full lioness mode, but close. Note Mary’s quick appraisal and once over of Sarah. We can only speculate what her thoughts are at this point, but I like to think it’s along the lines of seeing herself, realizing that men really do mary their mothers.
So we are set for a helluva ride, but before I start off I want to restate one of my basic principles for watching and dissecting an episode. Don’t forget, we see more than any single character, so before we judge a character’s actions, put yourself in that character’s shoes.
Chuck gets people. He can understand what isn’t on the surface, but is perhaps the motivating force. I like to think the most basic example is Sarah. She wants to do the right thing and be good, and he gets that, and loves that about her. He can tap into a very deep part of who a person is, empathize with that, and bring it out. It may be a part that the person doesn’t even know they have, and that can burn Chuck in the short-term, because sometimes they aren’t quite as sure as Chuck about who they are or what they want. He also sees how people can rise to the challenge. He’s been disappointed by people, most notably mom and dad, but he’s seen people go to great lengths to overcome those disappointments. Ellie, Morgan. At his core Chuck believes in people, and their ability to change and surprise you. Sadly it seems he’s losing a bit of that.
Sarah reads people. She got that talent from her dad. She may have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Chuck, but mostly because she reads him, who he is, what he does, what he seems to want. She doesn’t always get him, who he wants to be, what he can do, what he really desires and so she is constantly amazed by him. But she sees him as uniquely amazing and doesn’t really get that other people can surprise you too. Her life isn’t one of being happily surprised by people.
One other thing to remember going forward, if that shot seems overly dramatic for such a simple act, it isn’t.
So Chuck and Sarah are on the same page, Mary is giving them an opportunity to get a deadly weapon off the street, but every instinct Sarah has is screaming deceit. She goes with Chuck, she needs to at this point, but the looks between she and Casey are telling. He knows and she knows they are taking a huge risk. They’re more familiar with what the spy life can do to a person, and Mary’s plausible, yet paper-thin story holds little sway with them. Sarah looks ashamed when Casey casts that suspicious gaze at her, but he’s willing to let his partner have some slack. Bartowski more than Walker. She should know better.
But slack is a curious thing. How much you cut depends on what you know versus what someone else knows, and what you think you know. There are the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. The last will definitely bite you the hardest.
So Chuck is the buyer for a deadly chemical weapon. He goes prepared, and it is amazing to see Chuck put on a persona. The confident Carmichael is more Bond than Bond lately. Oh, and as an aside, after Chuck asking about getting one of those outfits for home, exactly what was going on in the monitor over Casey’s shoulder at about 14:45 (on Hulu). It looks Like Sarah is sitting on his lap?! OK, I digress, I tend to dissect a lot. Where oh where is my iTunes release? Guys, you want to sell it that they have a great (ahem) romantic connection, two words, Weinerliscious outfit.
So, the meet. Chuck cool calm and confident. A very Terminatorish moment when Mary’s boot hits pavement, and then the drama of Mary laying her hand on Chuck’s shoulder!!! Why the climax? It is critical. She’s checking him for a vest.
This is a brilliantly constructed scene. Mary is the consummate spy. Everyone’s reactions will be genuine, Chuck will be safe, Volkof will see everything, until she shoots the camera. A seemingly insignificant detail, yet oh so critical to her plan. This script is tight. Which makes the stupid stick to come so much worse. But back to my point, Chuck has seen part, Casey has seen part, Sarah has seen part, we’ve seen it all. Context to follow.
So aside from that Mr. Bartowski, how was lunch?
Little things matter if you want to see the story rather than the plot. To both Chuck and Sarah Mary showed up to kill Chuck, because she missed her chance at the park when Chuck brought backup. To Casey Chuck is being, well, Chuck, and Walker is letting her lady feelings get in the way again. It is however a great addition to the dynamic that Casey has seemed to accept this as part of Sarah, as he’s apparently come to experience something similar.
So Chuck is taken hostage. Chuck sees one story, his mom had to “kill” him to protect him, and gave him the weapon. Chuck is a quick study, but he sometimes seems to forget lesser mortals minds don’t follow as quick, and he sometimes seems to forget to mention relevant information. Chuck now understands. That seeming affectionate rub of the shoulder, so in character for a mother, but so foreign to a spy approaching an opponent, now makes sense. It isn’t even clear that Chuck ever clues Sarah in that the whole lunch date was because Charles Carmichael was now on Volkof’s radar as a threat.
Sarah sees another story. Mary missed her chance, and so she sets up Chuck with someone who can manage to release a debilitating toxin with no repercussions to himself, and then escape. So, a quick aside, then back to the story.
The stupid stick. I hate unforced errors. Chuck and Sarah didn’t need to be disassembling a chemical weapon for it to pose a threat. It could be safely contained, waiting for pickup, and still pose the same threat. In a locker or containment unit, all the sudden it activates. There’s an explosive charge, a plexiglass cube won’t help. Emergency. Mary knew Wheelright was immune to the toxin. We know that. For a consummate spy, that detail shouldn’t be trivial.
Hate to, but I’m calling sloppy, beyond the normal suspension of disbelief. But as I’ve often said, when Chuck is full of win, we forgive a lot.
So, toxin released, Chuck’s greatest fear, he misjudged his mother, and it may cost him Sarah. Hallucination aside, it may come to pass.
Here’s what we know. Mama B is on Chuck’s side. Here’s what Chuck knows, despite some surprises, his mom seems to be on his side. This doesn’t even tap into Chuck’s ability to “get” people. From Sarah’s POV, Chuck has let his desire to get to know his mother get him into three traps. Griffin Park, where she was able to thwart the plan by having Sarah as backup. The Lunch Date, where Chuck’s fortunate wearing of a vest saved his life, and the docks, where approaching agents aside, the whole purpose may have been to get a weapon into Castle. And then Mary proposes another meeting.
Are you getting my gist. All the sudden Casey doesn’t seem unreasonable. Mary wants Chuck to meet again. Chuck isn’t seeing this. Call Chuck? Insane. Even if he can think like a spy about his mother, that leaves him in the position of burning his mother. Say she ignores the information she has and lets her go…Chuck’s mother, one of the most wanted women on the planet, goes back underground. How many lives has she forfeited for her loyalty to Chuck. Protect Chuck, or confide in and trust Chuck, when everything you see screams that will lead to his demise?
Well, there’s a dilemma.
So Sarah does what needs to be done, based on what she knows. There is a deadly woman, who sows mayhem in the world, and who seems bent on killing the most precious man in her life, and he doesn’t see it. And he’s admitted he can’t see it. And he’s asked you, the one person he trusts, to see it for him. Then he sets up yet another meeting. And you aren’t invited.
So when your trusted spy partner professional tells you that your beloved’s instincts may be wrong. The same beloved who seems to have walked into three traps in a row, going for four…what do you do?
Drama? Angst? Romance? They did it right. More thoughts to come.