If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do…
So far I’m a big fan of season 4. But some fans consider some of the earlier episodes too relationshippery and angst heavy. Some fans consider the spy stories early on to be a bit on the lite side and think we’re getting a bit too much Chuck and Sarah. Some fans consider the latest Chuck and Sarah angst and separation just another trip to a nearly dry well. Have we had this conversation before?
And I feel like I’ve been here before…
It’s a common complaint, especially lately. Some of the episodes seem like just a retread or a re-telling of an episode we’ve already seen. How is the Chuck and Sarah drama in Chuck Versus The Suitcase different from Chuck Versus The Role Models? Didn’t we already deal with Sarah’s issues about things changing and putting down roots? For that matter, didn’t Chuck Versus The Honeymooners through Chuck Versus The Tooth deal with pretty much the same issues as Chuck Versus The Suitcase through Chuck Versus The Coup d’Etat? Sarah hates change, has issues with intimacy and opening up, and needs to go slow, but in the end loves Chuck and wants to be with him. Chuck has problems with the truth now that he has Sarah’s heart and can hurt her, but at the same time wants to move forward with the relationship, all the while wondering about where he fits. Haven’t we been here before? Yes and no, after the jump.
Best Season Ever
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Before season 3 ever aired the arguments had started and the fanbase was split. Sides were chosen, and though there was a pause while we waited for episodes, it was clear that it wouldn’t take much to blow up the fanbase. Little did we know we were sitting on a powder keg to boot. With some declaring it the best season ever right out of the gates and others gritting their teeth and vowing to ride it out, the winter of our discontent finally was made glorious summer by Sarah’s smile in Honeymooners and grim visaged Shaw had taken a powder courtesy of Chuck. We’ve dissected the problems of the first part of the season, the execution, the concepts, the character damage and Shaw ad nauseam, but there was a problem with the back 6 part of the season. Well not a problem with the episodes per se, but a problem that arose because of the front 13. Call it a missed opportunity.
In the most dramatic season ever TPTB made the mistake of hiding the drama under a rock. OK, behind Sarah’s various pouts and frowns and Chuck’s jealous quirks, but it was for the most part hidden. It basically made the drama melodrama. Yes, Chuck was on a Hero’s Journey to become a spy and Sarah was on an emotional journey to re-connect with her humanity, and Chuck, but the drama of those journeys was largely played through the dysfunctional relationship between the two and how each step affected them and that relationship. So why the dysfunction?
In seasons one and two we understood the relationship and the barriers keeping them apart. In season three, for the most part we saw no barriers. We saw the initial hurt, the reluctance, then a couple of confusing re-bound love interests, but we never saw anything keeping them apart, except themselves. So why the dysfunction? It was hinted at, and through some Talmudic study I think we all came to the understanding that Chuck lacked the confidence because he wasn’t a “real spy” and Sarah never wanted the spy life for Chuck and was afraid she’d driven him to do something that would destroy the man she fell in love with. Sound familiar? But we never understood, fully, the neuroses and problems they both had at the root of who they were and who they wanted to be. Mostly because they were crap communicators and precious looks and whimsical makeups weren’t getting the message across.
At her core, spy Sarah didn’t like herself much. She was a bit too much like Heather Chandler for her taste. Sarah wanted to be more like Chuck. At his core BuyMore Chuck didn’t like himself much. He felt worthless and directionless and felt he needed to be more like Sarah to prove himself worthy. The time to explore these feelings and problems was while they were apart so we could see why they were apart. Instead we got the OLI arc of confusion. A standard TV trope, instead of the drama and character growth we were promised. They did try a bit of back loaded exposition about Sarah’s red test in Final Exam and Chuck’s interrupted speech to Sarah at the restaurant in American Hero, but nothing was resolved. They clearly wanted to be together, wanted to believe in each other and themselves, but nothing changed. Nobody grew.
Oh, well yeah, Shaw turned evil, betrayed them and Chuck saved Sarah so again there was nothing between them so they decided to be together.
Which was great.
But it works now because… ? They are still the same crap communicators and the same dysfunctional couple, but the fan base, or a substantial portion of it had no more tolerance for couple angst at that point. TPTB knew they had a problem, and they did their best to fix it in the back 6 with precious looks and whimsical makeups, but they’d blown their best chance at some real grown up drama with Chuck and Sarah on their way to coupledom. So they are and will remain a couple, but it occurs to me that in our psychoanalysis we neglected one important aspect which is now leading to most of the angst some of us are suffering. Battered fan syndrome. We were force-fed the angst until the mere whiff of it makes us queasy, and so now the real drama and character growth, the stuff done right, is called a re-tread and too much angst. I understand that feeling that a lot of the fan base has. I will however beg to differ.
Characters You Can Depend On
Chuck and Sarah still got you distressed? They’re still working through issues about how to be a couple and how to be spies together. And how to be a spy couple or a couple of spies. It’s still complicated. It probably always will get complicated from time to time, but they talk, and they fight, and they tell each other how they feel. There is no cover relationship or manufactured angst to hide behind, and lo and behold, Chuck is Chuck and Sarah is Sarah, yet at their very core of who they are there is still the potential for two very different people to both love each other and for conflict to arise between them. They are real and three dimensional people to me like never before. We see the heroic and the tragic in both of them, and unlike last season where sides were often chosen, we can see both sides, and root for them both.
Call it angst if you must, but it is a real and natural angst that arises from trying to accept and love someone rather than change them. In season 2 it was outside forces that kept them apart though they longed to be together. In season 3 it was themselves that kept them apart because they weren’t sure of who either they, or the other really was for a time. Now they are finally learning who they are and who they want to be together. Seems to me that was the story a lot of us asked for instead of another round with the OLI’s before they got together in the last 10 minutes of the last episode of the show. I’m glad to be getting it, even if it is a season late and even if some of it seems like a retread. Revisiting an issue isn’t all that bad if you have something new to say about it. Re-telling a story is fine if the retelling is more enjoyable.
Not a fan of Morgan and his screen time? I can understand that even though it doesn’t bother me too much. Morgan had to grow up a bit to enter Chuck’s grownup world. His safety net Chuck had pretty much left him to deal with his own problems in seasons 2 and 3, but Morgan needed to learn to stand on his own some time. The problems Chuck deals with are a bit larger than the Mighty Jocks or Emitt or Harry Tang in his face, and if Morgan was going to remain a part of Chuck’s life, he needed to be able to handle those types of things on his own. Say what you will, Morgan is the character they developed, still Chuck’s occasionally clueless best friend who has a misguided sense of limits between friends and who gives some dicey advice outside his areas of expertise. This is the new (somewhat more) grownup Morgan.
Think Casey is a bit too soft now? Well finding that there is someone out there who wants to be a part of your life and wants you to be a part of theirs can change your perspective a bit. It changes the way you look at life, and duty, and your priorities. All of the sudden you may find some purpose to life other than the next mission, and you may come to understand what it was you were fighting for, fighting to protect all those years. It also makes you understand there could be a cost. Now you have something to lose, but maybe that actually helps.
Where am I going with this? Oh yeah, I’m going there. Morgasey. That’s right, Casey and Morgan are Chuck and Sarah in the extreme. Minus the kissing I hope. Their individual journeys and developing partnership/friendship mirrors Chuck and Sarah’s individual and professional journeys. Again, without the kissing please.
Who Are You?
This brings us to the new additions to Chuck’s world. Frost, Volkoff and de Smit. Just as a fun aside, if you were to translate Adelbert de Smit from the Belgian Flemish to the English equivalent, he be Al Smith. Make of that what you will.
I remember a character introduced into Chuck’s world who was going to shake it to its foundations, push Chuck forward as never before and make him into the spy he was meant to be. There was also some question where this character’s loyalties lay, and at their introduction, there was great trepidation that there was a hidden agenda that the team didn’t know about. Well that worked for about one episode with Shaw, then everything about Shaw was put on hold. He didn’t mentor Chuck, Casey took on that role. He didn’t disrupt the team, Beckman did that, he didn’t push Chuck away from Sarah and into Hannah’s waiting arms, Sarah did that. Then what happened? Frankly, nothing. We had hints, we had fannon speculation, but we never really knew. Why was it so easy for Sarah to fall into Shaw’s arms? Why was it so easy for her to fall back into Chucks arms if he was so dangerous and unavailable? Because he was her home, and had been for quite some time. Why did Chuck doubt Sarah? Because she always seemed to have one foot out the door, and Chuck has some abandonment issues. Why did they doubt each other? Well they never talked. Why? Well they’re crap communicators. We asked them, vociferously, to fix this, to tell us who these people where and where they were going, and they did so, dutifully, because we needed to know to understand them going forward. It is a tacit admission of failure. Another apology for those of you looking for one.
Frost is no Shaw
And Brandon Routh is no Linda Hamilton. With no ill will towards Mr. Routh and no intention to diminish his apparent talents as a comedic actor, one scene with Linda Hamilton, the first meeting in the park, was enough to show me that she was a perfect fit to the cast. Her ability to play to the strengths of the rest of the cast, their almost universal and uncanny ability to convey so much emotion and so much of their identity as a character with their face was apparent right from the start. You can see her thinking, evaluating, planning, yet still feeling. Again when we see her visit Ellie you see the mother and the spy fighting, and you sometimes aren’t sure who is winning, but you practically feel the conflict as it plays out within her and manifests itself in the tremble of a hand as she sips lemonade to compose herself. The cast of Chuck has the almost magical ability to push subtlety and nuance to the forefront of a scene, and Linda Hamilton matches them every step of the way.
We suspect Mary is one of the good guys at heart, and we know she has an agenda, or perhaps several. We still don’t know her story or where it will take us. But me? I’m already invested. Frost/MamaB already matters to me more than Shaw and his story ever did, and so we re-visit the outsider with the hidden agenda coming in and testing the team, their loyalties and each member of the team individually.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Timothy Dalton and Richard Chamberlin as absolutely marvelous guest stars so far. Both of them manage to convey menace better than any of last years villains. And I don’t want to pass over Armand Assante or Dolph Lundgren or any of the single episode guest stars. Even Steve Austin seemed better this time around. To me, just about everything is working this season. It’s a nice place to be, writing in almost universal praise of what they’re doing this year. Giddy? Maybe…
Whose Angst Is It Anyway?
And still, with all the great drama and performances I’m seeing, I have a sense of regret as I watch. There are some things we’ll never get to see. Things like a well done and dramatic breakup between Chuck and Sarah rather than a strained premise of a miscommunication that serves as a supposedly dramatic traumatic event that drives them apart. In other words a beautifully shot scene that serves as a reset button. It could have been really really great. If only we knew what was happening and why. We’ll still get some drama and some growth to go along with the precious looks and whimsical makeups after big misunderstandings, and we’ll get some complaints from some of the fanbase that there’s too much angst. Others will complain that it’s too much Chuck and Sarah. I understand both, in a sense both sides feel their trust has been abused, but agree completely with neither. I feel like I’ve been here before.
This time there is a difference. In season 3 my sympathies lay largely with the shippers who said too much angst even as I tried to lay out the journey. As I said, there was too much heavy lifting to understand the characters and it dragged out way too long. This season, to me at least, the pacing, the exposition and yes, the angst are all in the zone for me. I love where this season is and where it seems to be going.
A while back when talking about season three I said that in a way, I was over the show after that season. I still loved the show, but it lost a lot of what made it special when the characters went in unappealing directions without any real explanation and when what was special, the humanity and the feeling of reality to the characters became strained, and then clichéd. TV tropes substituted for plot and character development, and I forgot why I cared. In the end I said I’d never feel about this show the way I felt in season 2.
I may have to revisit that statement.