ANGST: If it is what it is when it ain’t what it ain’t, what is it?

Angst is living up to its name as a topic of discussion. As I read the angst comments, I began to see various layers and components conflicting with each other needlessly, or somewhat needlessly … maybe. As I analyze the various pieces, they divide into two sides. One side of angst can be evaluated objectively, while the other side can’t, nor ever should be.

So, I wade into the rising waters of angst, hoping to stick my finger in the dam. Color me totally crazy for broaching this topic (I blame Joe. It was his idea). I may lose my pension and my bowl of gruel.

Read at your own risk.

Angst: An acute but unspecific feeling of anxiety; at least that’s what one dictionary says. Other dictionaries say other things.

The very definition of angst allows for, even demands, a certain measure of subjectivity. That alone makes it hard to reach a consensus. Add to that all the different layers of angst and … well, speaking with authority becomes tedious at best.

So I speak, but with no authority what-so-ever.

I see angst operating in 2 realms: the realm of story and characters and that of the viewers. There is character angst, anxiety displayed in the characters. There is viewer angst, anxiety provoked in us by character angst or disturbing situations they face. Viewers may even feel angst that the characters don’t, or don’t yet. Viewer angst is subjective and varies from one viewer to the next. [Here’s a confession I may regret. I HATE animal angst. (I blame childhood Bambi trauma) Do not ask me to watch Old Yeller or White Fang or Where the Red Furn Grows. I even thought Beethoven was stressful. So I’m sure my angst meter differs from some (OK, most) other movie-goers.]

Character Angst

We can define various types of angst and even evaluate whether or not the angst is believable in its context.

Adolescent angst is pretty uncompelling, except to one demographic (you get 3 guesses and 2 don’t count). Smallville was used as a recent example. Rather than angst, this produces in me boredom and uncontrollable eye-rolling.

Baseless angst is contrived, manipulative, and unnatural to the story and to our previous understanding of the characters. It may be used as a plot device to move the story in a direction. Ring any bells? This produces angst in a lot of us, but when unresolved for, I dunno — 12 episodes, leads to ravaging frustration and raging anger. Or maybe that’s just me.

Gratuitous angst, whether natural or not, exists for the sole purpose of provoking angst in the viewers. It is unnecessary to the story and serves no discernible purpose for the development of the characters. After the fallout clears, everything is pretty much the way it was, and many viewers wonder, “Why did they do that,” and “they should never do that again.” That may ring some bells, too. This angst provokes immediate anger in me (after the stomach clenching subsides). I do not like being toyed with.

Then there’s organic angst (don’t know which of you first used the term, but I’m borrowing it. I’ll give you half my bowl of gruel). It is endemic to the story and natural to the characters as we know them. I think we’ve been calling it “good” angst. Maybe “believable” is a better word.

Even believable angst can be introduced and played out in dishonest ways, decreasing most people’s tolerance for it, especially if there’s already a history of baseless, gratuitous angst.

What we have so far from Aisle of Terror is believable in that it flows naturally from the story and is in keeping with Chuck and Sarah as we know them. How can this mom hunt not generate angst in Chuck and Sarah? Granted it was a loaded setup, but given that, their actions and angst were believable.

I knock it down a little on the honesty scale for its over-dramatized introduction. If the fight is drawn out too long, it won’t seem true to the C/S relationship we’ve watched develop this season. However, if their internal conflict is resolved and replaced by an external one, one that flows from the inevitable fallout from the mom debacle, then the angst will still be believable. However, drawing out the residual angst too long will become manipulative and dishonest. The main story needs to move along or you end up with a soap opera, the very definition of baseless angst.

Viewer Angst

How we react to what we see is totally subjective. In this group of highly-intelligent, mostly like-minded viewers, we all demonstrate different thresholds of tolerance for believable angst. Some people are fed up and never want to see it again in any of its forms. I will never say you are wrong for that. Some people want to see more. While I personally hope you don’t hold any sway with TPTB, I will defend your right to want more angst, albeit with trepidation, gulp. Everyone I’ve read, whether my angst meter is in synch with theirs or not, has presented a good defense for their take on the angst.

My angst meter? Thanks for asking. (you didn’t?) My current angst meter reads hopeful. I don’t mind one more round of C/S conflict since it is honest … as long as it doesn’t drag out. Don’t let the sun go down on your angst, er anger. I don’t mind external pressure, it’s part of life. I’m OK for now, as long as the conflicts resolve soon and Chuck and Sarah emerge stronger for having worked through them.

Angst … we can appraise it objectively, with the acknowledgement that we all have different angst meters. I can argue the merits of the angst I see, but I can’t impose my angst meter on any of you. … You may love Beethoven.

Borrowing from the song Both Sides Now:

I’ve looked at angst from both sides now
From theirs and mine, and still somehow
It’s angst’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know angst at all.

Thinkling’s thoughts.

About thinkling

In my [younger] youth, I was a math teacher, basketball coach, and computer programmer. In 1984, we moved to Brazil, where we serve as missionaries. I like to design things and build things, read things and write things. We now live part-time in Brazil, part-time in the US. Love them both. Wife, 37 yrs; mom, 30 yrs. I am blessed.
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47 Responses to ANGST: If it is what it is when it ain’t what it ain’t, what is it?

  1. joe says:

    Thinkling, marry me! Oh – wait…

    Talk about your great first posts…

    I once was told something about that kind of teen-age, depressed, self-defeating thinking that we all hang onto way too long. There’s something about it that’s like a candle flame. You’re hypnotized by it, you want to keep it close and keep it alive because of the little light and warmth it provides. I just can’t deny that there’s much of Chuck in the first two seasons that brings that all back. Every time I head some of that music, it comes back. I understand anyone who recognizes the wonder and cold beauty in that awful longing we saw in the characters.

    It’s a suffering that we learn to put down as adults. Growing up, in large part, means learning that we always had the power and ability to put an end to all that. It’s about learning to live life the way we want.

    Or at least, try to. It’s been so good to see Chuck & Sarah get beyond it and get on with the business of life. It’s almost worse now to see them regressing even a little to that same ol’ state of “angst!” Fans who say “Enough, already,” are expressing that sentiment, and it’s more understandable now than ever before in the series.

    EEEssscchhhh! I can get so preachy, sometimes.

    Anyway, TPTB have shown us that C&S are more mature now. I’m positive that what we’ll see next is nothing like a regression back to the way teenagers look at relationships.

    When it’s all over and done, I’d bet I’ll be seeing Stephen and Mary somehow together looking at their children with a lot of pride, all grown up.

    • thinkling says:

      Aww, Joe, you’re the master of happy endings. Well, not endings, because I want it to going and going and going.

      • thinkling says:

        keep. Keep going and going and going

      • joe says:

        That’s me in a nutshell. Ever hopeful!

      • Lucian says:

        Outstanding post! There is such a thing as “good” angst (some might call it dramatic conflict). When done right, we empathize with and grow in our appreciation of the characters and what they are dealing with. Looks to me like they are getting back to some good angst (I’m hoping).

  2. atcdave says:

    Congratulations on your first article Thinkling! Very nicely constructed breakdown of a rather loaded topic. I especially agree with your take on baseless and gratuitous angst.

    I think I was the first to bring “organic” into it; the adjective comes from a rather odd source. I’ve mentioned before my passion for war gaming; organic is attached to orders of battle. It describes if a piece of equipment is permanently attached to a particular unit or not. Since most of what I do is WWII based we see it often applied to trucks. In most armies an infantry unit is as mobile as their conditioning and boots allow. It is often a planning and organizational nuisance to find motor transport for most of your infantry units. The US was the only military in WWII to have “organic” transport for ALL of its infantry divisions. Its nice to know your trucks will never be reassigned! As one soldier pointedly shouts at a column of German prisoners towards the end of “Band of Brothers” (hard to verify any historic validity for the quote) “You have horses?! Have you ever heard of General Motors? Ford? Chrysler?! What were you thinking? You have horses!”

    Sorry, just a brief etymology according to Dave.

    • thinkling says:

      Good to know, Dave. So, we won the war because we masterfully used organic transportation. I get it.

      Well, I owe you half my bowl of gruel. I’ll pay up as soon as I get it, which may be a while given my current location.

  3. alladinsgenie4u says:

    Just gave a quick read and found myself nodding in agreement throughout. Fantastic writing. Will be interesting to see the follow up comments.

  4. Rac2873 says:

    Great post,

    This is where I am at.

    Even believable angst can be introduced and played out in dishonest ways, decreasing most people’s tolerance for it, especially if there’s already a history of baseless, gratuitous angst.

    It’s all about the history. So when Chuck is willing to ruin his relationship for his absentee mother, well it rings false to me.

    But that is my own fault for reading the synopsis and getting ahead of myself.

    • thinkling says:

      I may not have read all the same spoilers you have, but I didn’t get that Chuck was willing to ruin his relationship with Sarah.

      The thing about Chuck is he wants to save everybody. He would have gone absolutely crazy on the Titanic. I’m not quite satisfied with how Sarah fits into his world of family yet, but I think it’s coming in fits and starts.

      For now, he believes his mother is innocent of all charges, mostly anyway. And he has a huge capacity for forgiveness. Remember his speech to Ellie when he brought Dad home for dinner?

      It’s both endearing and annoying, but it’s the nerd we love.

    • alladinsgenie4u says:

      It’s all about the history. So when Chuck is willing to ruin his relationship for his absentee mother, well it rings false to me.

      What steps has Chuck taken to ruin his relationship with Sarah? Can you please elaborate.

      And on the topic of Chuck going the full distance for his mother – just because his mother abandoned him in his childhood doesn’t mean that Chuck should disregard her now, when she has again turned up in his life. She may have made some poor judgments in the past – but it would be unbecoming of a son to abandon his mother in her hour of need (in this case – proving her innocence)

  5. jason says:

    Nicely written thinkling – I hesitate to comment, as I pretty much am alone with my views at what seems like a celebration of epic proportions of tv dramatic angst excellence.

    Unfortunately, this reminds me of the beautiful stuff ernie and liz james wrote in season 3 to justify the story we were told, right around the mask ep.

    I just don’t think fedak’story board has now 7 different adjectives for the noun angst.

    But since you added a few different types of angst to justify you POV, here is one from me – ‘800 lb gorilla angst’ – the type of angst that keeps the viewers from enjoying the main plot because they are so angry about being played by the showrunner.

    Thinkling, if you think about it, the end of 4.6 set up a powerful dramatic moment, nothing to do with CS and angst, everything to do with chuck, ellie, and mary, life as a spy, life as a family, wonderful stuff that indeed is ‘organic’ to the story of chuck. But even for the fanboy and girl type fans, the 800 lb gorilla has gobbled up all interest, your well written piece included.

    Some shows angst (sorry there is only one type) works, some it doesn’t, it just doesn’t work on this show.

    For most of the season, I really thought Schwartz was going to send the gorilla back to the Gossip Girl jungle, but I am really starting to have my doubts, not just for 4.7-4.10, but for the entirety of the series. I hope I am wrong.

    • thinkling says:

      You’re right, Jason, there was a great dramatic story without the C/S angst. Just because angst is believable doesn’t mean its necessary, or even the best choice.

      For your sake and for many others, I hope the zoo keeper comes quickly. I’m in no way bonding with the gorilla.

      • alladinsgenie4u says:

        From what I heard, the gorilla isn’t from some zoo. It’s the private pet of Schwedak.

    • atcdave says:

      Jason don’t worry about being the “voice in the wilderness.” If three or four episodes from now they’re still clubbing us with this stuff, you’ll look like the genius/prophet and we’ll be acknowledging your brilliance! If, on the other hand, the story is in a happier place, we’ll forget everything you said.

    • atcdave says:

      Jason I do want to add, to me the point of calling it organic is that there is a certain level of angst that can’t be separated from the story. From the beginning (Bryce’s betrayal, Casey or Sarah being some sort of mole?) the show has played with uncertain loyalties and dangerous situations. Some of that will always be attached to Chuck. Like you, I am profoundly tired of Chuck and Sarah relationship based angst; I like and believe in both characters and I want to see them work things out. Well mostly, they have. For 12 episodes they’ve established a foundation for Chuck and Sarah.
      Now we’re seeing a little of the angst that naturally comes with this story rearing its ugly head in Chuck’s life. I’m neither surprised nor upset by that, I expect some of it. How it plays out is key to me. I will be very happy if we see Chuck and Sarah rise above it pretty quickly, and show a determination to fight for each other. But it must be resolved pretty quickly or I will be as disappointed as you are.

      • thinkling says:

        That’s a good point, Dave. If a story produces no angst where it is expected and appropriat, then the story is just as artificial as the one that grinds out angst when there should be none.

      • jason says:

        dave – the future is what it is in the show.

        I want to be lucid about one thing, right now my only problem with the show, is 4.6’s end, the only one. I also am not fond of the spoiler and synopsis I have read, but that is my fault and has nothing to do with the show on screen, which by all accounts looks to be great in 4.7 at least – right?

        I loved the first 5 hours and 55 minutes so far. Also, I expect to love most of the remaining 75 or 80 eps, give or take a few scenes when the show takes itself too seriously.

        But if Fedak doesn’t send Schwartz 800 lb gorilla back to the gossip girl set, yep, I will not be happy, but as you said, I will not be alone. They can’t possibly be that dumb? Nah – things will be ok!

      • jason says:

        dave – think – angst is no longer appropriate in this show – it has had its chance – there is a book out there somewhere ‘105 ways to generate drama’ – please move to technique #2 – #1 has now been tried for 4 seasons.

      • atcdave says:

        “remaining 75 or 80 eps” I love it. That’s a prediction I would be happy to see work out!

      • thinkling says:

        I second that!! 🙂

      • jason says:

        You might think that I take back what I said about 4.6, almost the opposite is true, the end of 4.6 could have just as easily been done at the start of 4.7, and 4.7’s title could have been “Chuck versus Family Secrets’

        IMO, my title would have caused enthusiasm for the creative team and the story, as well as been much more appropriate to the ‘mythology’ side, and would have pointed the entire fan base in a positive direction rather than what they did, which was to mess with people again. Eventually, if you mess with people long enough, they do fight back.

      • thinkling says:

        That would have worked well Jason. They could have ended with Chuck and Ellie waiting for mom.

        Or they could have even ended it with Chuck just beginning his sprint toward the van.

        I’m OK with it, because the tension dissipated almost immediately, and 4.07 was a true epicsode.

        However, we would have been spare much hand-wringing and tooth-nashing if they had done it your way.

  6. DaveB says:

    Very nice comparative analysis. “A.I.:Artificial Intelligence” was an example of angst for the sake of angst. It was a deliberate attempt at stirring emotions, and it pissed me off as a viewer because I knew I was being manipulated. Most of “Chuck” season 3 was similar in feel.

    How they handle the next couple episodes will tell me if I’m in for another heavy handed attempt at manipulative angst.

    That being said, I’ve enjoyed the ride for the most part. As long as TPTB don’t take Chuck too seriously, then I’m fine with it.

  7. Ernie Davis says:

    So Thinkling, I see you’ve decided to ease into this gradually with your first post! 😉 Talk about taking on the 800 lb gorilla. I have to hand it to you though, viewer angst is something that never occurred to me to look into, and I think you nailed it. A lot of viewers experienced enough trauma last season that their threshold is awfully low for the character angst and where it’s heading.

    I understand the source. At the same time TPTB were saying trust us we know the dangers of fan fatigue and drawing the story out too long or going to the well too often, they were doing exactly that, even though any discussion board could have told them from about July on (very early in the production) that there was very little patience for just that in a large segment of the fanbase. Those fans aren’t likely to be re-assured easily.

    • thinkling says:

      It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it. 😉

      It’s hard to get people interested in a new gorilla, when odors still linger from the last one.

      I just hope we didn’t replace the carpet too soon.

      • alladinsgenie4u says:

        when odors still linger from the last one.

        You mean the smell of rotting wood.;)

      • thinkling says:

        That may be a bit unfair. I think the air is pretty well cleared, but the memory still lingers.

      • thinkling says:

        Funny Genie! I have a story about that, but NOBODY wants to hear it.

      • alladinsgenie4u says:

        Aha! I see. Splintered memories then or is it still unfair.

      • thinkling says:

        I’m just hoping our worries were for naught and those memories will fade to nothing.

        No brain bleach necessary

      • atcdave says:

        Which is good since we know Genie was trying to corner the market on it…

      • joe says:

        Oh, great. Now I realize that I should have asked Thinkling to write a post on Brain Bleach, not on Angst.

        Much less controversial with this group! 😉

        Oh, well. I’ll just blame Ernie…

      • thinkling says:

        No, Joe, you don’t want me doing a brain bleach post. I’d have to try it out, and we don’t want that.

        No brain-bleach induced inner blonde moments for thinkling.

  8. OldDarth says:

    Kudos thinkling! Interesting read.

    BTW,I am the only one that finds the term – Objective Angst – rather an oxymoron? 😉

    • thinkling says:

      The angst within is subjective. The objective angst is that with the writers have determined, just like they would a wardrobe choice.

      If the characters are real and the writing is good, then we resonate with that calculated angst and feel real angst within.

      That’s my flimsy explanation.

      • OldDarth says:

        Alas, it was a feeble attempt at humor on my part.

      • thinkling says:

        Humor, of course. Now I feel like Spock or Bones. 🙂

        You’re right. The concept of objective angst has a ludicrous ring to it. Where else would we even be discussing this.

  9. JC says:

    Great First Post Thinkling

    No matter the angst organic, fluffy or contrived I do think they have gone to that well once too often for some people. My guess is burnout from S3 and expectations that the show would move beyond relationship drama.

    Personally I would love if more of the drama/tension came from the spy stories and mythology but lets face it, that part of the show is paper thin and doesn’t hold up.

    But I’ve also come to realize that the show is primarily about the romance between Chuck and Sarah. Its a love story and everything else secondary. So I’ve scaled back my expectations about the show.

  10. Paul says:

    Just watched an excellent episode of Chuck and it reinforced something to me: sometimes we create angst when there is none. Sometimes we look too hard for the negative when there really isn’t a negative to look for. Just my $0.02….

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