Chuck vs The First Fight = One Fantastic EPICSODE
First Fight had it all! How can one episode swing from the high humor of the airplane to the deep drama of the Woodcomb living room? How can such a great fight/action sequence effuse both the humorous and the serious without ever missing a beat. Can one episode deliver the light tone carried by the harmless Tuttle and innocent, bleating sheep as well as the heavy tone imposed by dark strains of Russian music and the very, very dangerous … Volkoff … Alexei Volkoff. In the space of an hour can we be warmed by a mother placing a strand of hair behind her daughter’s ear and chilled by that same mother binding her son for execution. First Fight pulled it off without a hitch, gave us everything that Chuck has to offer, and entertained us mightily. The episode was as layered as any I’ve ever seen, a fitting playground for the layered characters that deliver the story. Read on to explore the layers of First Fight.
The character layering was most evident among the Bartowski women, and masterfully portrayed by YS, LH, and SL. Brilliant! And speaking of brilliant, Timothy Dalton’s layered performance as Tuttle/Volkoff was exactly that. His utter believability as Tuttle made his Volkoff that much more sinister. Perfectly done. I can’t wait for more of Dalton’s Alexei Volkoff, but I’m a little sorry to bid farewell his quirky Gregory Tuttle.
Linda Hamilton played us all as the enigmatic Mother/Spy. From all we’ve seen in Anniversary, Aisle of Terror, and First Fight, Mary Bartowski’s spy and mother personas are tightly intertwined. For now, it appears that her spy actions are heavily motivated by her mother love, unconventional as it has become after 20 years undercover in a world where love is considered a weakness, if it’s considered at all.
In the aftermath of Mary’s return, Yvonne portrayed Sarah’s heart struggle as Lover/Protector. These two aspects of Sarah’s love for Chuck are as inseparable as the ingredients of a cake after it is baked. In this particular circumstance, though, Sarah finds herself trying to sort them out. And she’s not the only one sorting them out. MEB is sizing up Sarah as much as Sarah is scrutinizing MEB.
Sarah Lancaster showed us Ellie as the Woman/Girl accepting her past and taking charge of her future. Ellie spent her life as an abandoned girl trying to raise a man. Her anticipation of becoming the mother of her own little girl has spurred Ellie to possess her life, rather than being possessed by her past.
From the first pan down to Mary Bartowski in custody until she walks away with Volkoff, MEB is the focus of this episode, which is fitting because this is still her mission. Almost every thing she does from start to finish is a calculated part of carrying out her mission. It is the “almost ” that intrigues. The question isn’t if it’s a mission, but rather is it a Spy mission or a Mother mission? Where does Frost leave off and Mary begin?
The first time we see Sarah after the arrest, she is watching Mary/Frost so intently that she completely ignores General Beckman. “Agent Walker, you made the right decision bringing in Frost.” Sorry, GB, but Agent Walker checked out after the arrest.
Since then, Sarah has been parsing her feelings as she tries to figure out the Mother/Spy before her. As Lover, Sarah is feeling the pain of it all, especially arresting Chuck’s mother. In spite of all Frost has done, does Sarah want to find some good in her, whatever Chuck sees in her, something of the mother that once loved her children? Sarah cares about her on some level, because Chuck does. She doesn’t want Mary harmed (look at her face at the mention of “black site”), because that would devastate Chuck.
As Protector, her love compelled her to do what she did. She can’t fathom why a mother would hurt her own son, especially this son who is everything to her. Sarah’s conundrum: she can’t protect Chuck from his mother without hurting him, but if she doesn’t protect him, someone else will hurt him. Either way Chuck gets hurt and she’s to blame. She voices her struggle later on. “I don’t understand why he keeps trusting her. She just hurts him.” If only he didn’t trust and care about her, Sarah’s struggle would go away. Lover and Protector could be friends again.
When Chuck sneaks in to talk to his mom, we have one of Mary’s few overt Mother moments toward Chuck. “You shouldn’t be here.” Typical mom advice, you know, like Don’t forget your sweater … Always activate your tracking device … And … Never consort with enemy agents. Well, those are mom sayings in a spy family anyway.
However, once Chuck says he’s going to prove her innocence, Frost takes over to put her mission back into play. She says she burned her CIA ties to keep Chuck and Ellie safe from Volkoff (I believe that much is true). She admits only what she has to and omits as much as possible. What Chuck believes to be a mission to prove his mother’s innocence is really Frost’s setup for her original mission — to get Volkoff away from her family, protect her cover, and take him down. She uses Chuck to put it in play by sending Carmichael to Volkoff, knowing Volkoff won’t hurt him until the end game.
One of my favorite mom/Chuck moments was her hesitant pivot from Spy to Mother when Chuck told her about his fight with Sarah. “Do you … want to … talk about it, or …” A perfect bit of awkward bonding.
When Casey and Sarah confront Frost, she continues to execute her plan by stipulating her part of the bargain — to talk to her daughter. I don’t doubt that she wants to see Ellie. It was that one Mother action that landed her in CIA custody. At this point, though, the spy reasons trump her personal ones for wanting to see her. Meanwhile, she continues her evaluation of Sarah by baiting her about the fight. She is met head on by Agent Walker and Protector Sarah. The Protector appeals to the Mother, “I can’t protect your son, unless I know where he is.” And the Mother responds, “I’m trying to protect him too.” On some bizarre level Sarah and Mary are connecting across the wide synapse of suspicion between them. Enter Morgan, and Sarah realizes that he may be just the man they need to get around the spy dance. Behind her Mother facade, the Spy negotiates her deal.
Mary, Ellie, and Sarah — The 7 Layer Scene That Seemed Like 8.
Ellie sets out lemonade. How do you entertain the mother who walked out on you 20 years ago? What does she expect? (The only up side is that with 20 year intervals, you don’t have to keep the house clean in case she drops by.) But lemonade and coasters are just a cover for what she’s feeling. The Woman wants to be reserved, show her that I’m an adult, that I’ve been just fine since she left. But deep down inside there’s the Girl who’s been waiting 20 years for her mom to come back … The other part of me just wants to hug her. But one thing is clear. Both the Woman and the Girl want answers.
Sarah leads Mary to the door, Sarah’s family’s door. Love/Protect Chuck = Love/Protect Chuck’s family. She looks at Ellie Is she ready for this? With understanding and emotion in her voice, she apologizes for having to stay. Ellie accepts Sarah’s presence without any hesitation. The exchange can’t be lost on Mary/Frost, who is still studying Sarah.
This scene gives us as much of a glimpse of the Mother as we have had thus far. The Spy is still there. She has to be, but for the most part, this is an awkward, poignant reunion for Ellie and her mother. The Spy hands off the ball to the Mother and disappears for the rest of the visit. The Mother tries to connect with the Girl she remembers, the one who stands before her as the Woman. She confers understanding and validation when she stills her daughter’s fretful hands and tells her It’s OK!
The car is the mission’s main objective; so, the conversation starts there, but the delivery is all Mother. With the image of the burgundy, ’68 Mustang, with blue leather seats firmly planted in Ellie’s mind, the Mother continues, “Watching you sleep in between us, on those long drives, was one of my favorite things.” This is where she got me. It’s a universal mother-thing — the pleasure of watching your child sleep.
But here the Woman takes charge of the conversation “I just want to know what happened? I want to know the truth” The truth is a tall order for the Spy, but the Mother takes a sip of lemonade and gives Ellie what she needs to be free … the truth. After Casey’s quiet interruption, neither one knows how to say the forever good-bye. The Mother pushes a strand of hair behind the Woman’s ear. The Girl smiles.
And what of Sarah, the Lover/Protector? From her discreet perch, she is riveted to the scene. The Lover watches, eager to learn more about her family. The Protector keeps her eye on the Mother, still trying to understand her. But Sarah brings another layer to the room. I’m going to call it Daughter-too. We don’t know anything about Sarah’s mother, except that she is no longer part of her daughter’s life. However that happened, even if it always was, her absence is a void in Sarah’s life. Whether acknowledged or not, this is a bond between Sarah and Ellie. Sarah’s emotional connection with Ellie is palpable from the moment she apologizes for her intrusion until the last look she exchanges with Ellie. It’s a side of Sarah, we’ve always known about but never seen … until now. Sometimes an absence is a presence we have to learn to live with. Sarah and Ellie have this in common.
Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
How I wish he’d go away.
Once the Woodcomb door closes, the spies take over. Frost continues to execute her mission, but only after one last appeal as the Mother, “I know you don’t think I care for my family, but I do.” For some reason, Mary wants Sarah to know that she cares about Chuck and Ellie. Perhaps because Mary is beginning to see Sarah as an ally.
The Fight — Layers of Fun.
This was a perfect scene on so many layers. It is a Frost deception inside of a Frost/Volkoff deception that will continue to the end. It is a C/S argument within a C/S fight. It provided the levity we needed after the Woodcomb living room. Watching Sarah lead Chuck and Mary and Tuttle from pillar to post was pure fun. Watching the Mother/Spy watch her kids’ first fight was spy family entertainment at its finest. I loved the Mother moment “Kids, kids. You need to stop this now. We need to do something.” Following, as it did, on the heels of Sarah’s explanation, “Oh what, and watch you commit treason and go to jail,” I suspect it was also the Spy’s way of steering clear of any mention of family ties. Sarah’s reply drew Mary into her first Bartowski family fight in years, “You’re not doing anything.” And let’s not forget the round of Fine’s. I predict family fun in the Bartowski home for years to come. The fight was a C/S dynamic-duo fight scene worthy of Honeymooners, except this isn’t the honeymoon; it’s the first fight. Do I detect a pattern?
The fight within the fight was perfect. They said what they needed to say. In the end, Sarah has an epiphany about her man. She was giving Chuck love in the form of protection (a natural for her), when he needed love in the form of trust (less natural). Sarah doesn’t wait until a more propitious time; she loves him on his terms … because she does love him. Does that mean she trusts MEB? No. But she believes in Chuck, because he asked her to. There’s a time to lead and a time to trust. This is her time to trust (but not without her gun, of course).
Orion’s Base — The Layer At The Bottom Of It All
I love a nostalgic, walk in the family basement. Except our family basement had toy trains, a few Civil War relics, and a pretty cool stereoscope. We did not have next-gen laptops, weapons guidance systems, or a cool PSP Intersect device. Oh, and ours wasn’t nearly so organized.
Except for the contents of the basement, it all starts out as that typical family outing. Mother, Chuck, and Sarah exploring the old homestead together. Mom goes exploring one way, while Chuck and Sarah (Lover in the lead/Protector at the ready) go find the computer. When both disks turn up empty, Sarah eases into Protector mode and goes looking for dear old Mom. Mom finds Chuck and speaks the last family words uttered. “Chuck, your father never wanted you to see this.”
With that the Spy returns, “But I know now he was wrong.”
Sarah the Protector to the rescue. Well … almost. Just when you think a basement can’t get any darker!
Chuck awakens to his mother tightening the ropes that bind him to a chair and watches Alexei Volkoff set the explosives that will destroy the Bartowski legacy.
Sarah is unreadable. However, since things have turned out as she feared, that is, Chuck is hurt and she’s to blame, Sarah the Protector is right back where we first saw her … wondering how a mother could hurt her own son, especially this son who is everything to Sarah.
Chuck’s last words to his mother, “I believed in you” … I loved you
Mary’s last words to Sarah, “Protect him” … Love him
And her last words to Chuck & Sarah, “Shall we finish this” … Time to finish my mission, together
As Chuck feels his world crumble around him, Sarah begins to hope. Maybe, just maybe, the Lover/Protector has found what she was looking for in Frost, something of the Mother that still loves her children … and perhaps a Spy who isn’t a traitor.
Sarah’s stiletto in Morgan’s jugular. Her perfectly delivered But he always wants to talk about … anything and He told Ellie, too? Too great a scene not to acknowledge.
The last shot of Chuck and Sarah — Chuck saying the Intersect is gone, Orion’s base blown to smithereens, and the house burning in the background — calls back the end of Colonel — Orion saying the Intersect is gone, as Fulcrum’s compound burns in the background. Young Chuck entertained the possibility of a normal life with Sarah. Grown-up Chuck dreads the possibility of losing the extraordinary life that he and Sarah now share.
Looking back we see that the Intersect story is as layered as the lives it touches. Right now I can’t wait for the next layer of the Intersect.