With Chuck Versus The First Fight we start to get into the meat of season 4. We’ve finally met Frost/Mary and found that while she does seem determined to protect Chuck, her methods and her agenda are…murky. With evidence that Mary had gone rogue Sarah and Casey staged an intervention/abduction to grab her up before she could endanger Chuck or Ellie again, or go back to working for a dangerous arms dealer. Problem was Chuck saw the whole thing, before they could tell him, and he’s feeling a bit betrayed by his team, and Sarah in particular. Now we find that no good deed will go unpunished as we settle in for a few twists and turns in our latest episode. After the jump.
Joe Spots the Mysteries
The mystery of Frost deepens, yes? We got a big introduction in the episode prior to Chuck vs. The First Fight; steel in her eyes, controlled and threatening as she pointed her gun and said calmly “…And who might you be?” It’s a good question. Who is this woman who shoots her son yet buys a teddy bear for an unborn grandchild, who easily resists the interrogations of two trained agents, but succumbs to the memory of a nine-year-old boy who liked Rice Krispie Treats? Who is this woman who absolutely must have one last emotional meeting with the daughter she hasn’t seen in 20 years, but subtly provides the one clue that only that child could know about? Frost blows ’em up, mamaB saves ’em. The phrase is often used in a totally different context, but yes, she’s all that.
Linda Hamilton totally dominates the screen every time she’s on it, and Timothy Dalton equals her performance every step of the way. Tuttle is an amazing comedic character (“Cool! A tiny weapons stand off!”), bungling and joking his way though assassination attempts, torture threats and parachute jumps from a jet. He’s totally ineffectual in the bank when Chuck and Sarah do their thing and is loath to threaten sheep with thoughts of mint jelly. Yet just like Mary Elizabeth transforms from Frost to mamaB, Tuttle straightens his shoulders, changes his accent from slightly British to slightly Russian and is transformed into – yet another mystery. And a daunting one at that.
As per the title of this episode, Chuck and Sarah are having their first fight as an official couple, but I must say it’s an odd one. Chuck shows from the first he’s capable of very passionate anger, but he can only bring it out in front of Morgan. Sarah knows that she’s done “the right thing” by arresting Frost and she’s even done it for the right reasons. But Sarah’s the one who gives in and gives Frost the keys to the cuffs. Chuck trusts his mother, and “That’s good enough for” her. I have the oddest feeling that Chuck and Sarah are not fighting each other.
And they certainly don’t look like they’re fighting each other. I love me a good fight scene, and the one in Chuck vs. The First Fight is one of the best. I like it even more than their scene in Paris in Honeymooners, mostly because the action is so well coordinated, looks so second-nature and so effortless.
Sarah: This is exhausting!
Chuck: Yeah, tell me about it. How do you always fight these big guys all the time?
Sarah: No! I mean fighting with you is exhausting. I hate it!
Chuck: Me too. I’ve been thinking about you all day.
That’s the way lover’s fight. At least, that’s the way they should fight. C&S work flawlessly as a team and the rest of the world can’t touch them.
Frost, Tuttle, the fight… Those are the big things, the things we noticed the first time. That and the meeting between Mary Elizabeth and Ellie. What an amazing scene! Frost melts away and the strong mother explains what she can to her strong daughter. Sarah looks on, awed by the strength of a family bond she’s only beginning to understand.
But we don’t hear all that’s said. Is Sarah seeing herself in 20 years? Does she fear becoming so lost in a mission that she loses everything she’s gained now? Does she think Chuck can become so lost – that it’s an inevitable part of being a spy, or an inevitable part of not trusting anybody?
Ernie, I’ve been spiraling around these questions for a couple of days now, and I think I have come to some answers. But for this round, what did you see?
Joe, I want to start small and build. First things first. Frost and Sarah. That opening scene is amazing. Frost stares at the camera. She knows Sarah is looking. Sarah is looking. She knows Frost knows she is looking. From the beginning these two women have seen themselves reflected when they look at each other. It seems to scare Sarah a bit more than it does Frost, but it clearly has an affect on Frost, and Mary.
Then there’s Chuck. What can you say about Chuck. He has to practice being mad at Sarah. He knows, intellectually, he’s been betrayed both personally and professionally. Blind spots or no, Sarah took back the role of handler, deciding for Chuck what he could and couldn’t handle. And while Chuck can’t seem to find it in himself to really be angry he knows that this is something important. He’s trying to work through exactly how offended or how angry he should feel. In truth he really isn’t ready for this fight, and I’m sorry to say little is resolved this episode. Neither Chuck nor Sarah really wants to fight, but they both seem to know that the other has a point, and with their newfound communication skills they really should resolve this.
Enter Morgan Grimes to throw fuel on the fire. I’d hardly call it a relationship crisis, both Chuck and Sarah realize it is a fight that should happen but hardly seem to think things could end over it. Still, Morgan manages to set a lot of things in motion. Chuck avoiding Sarah, talking to Ellie then to Mary/Frost, finding Tuttle/Volkoff. It’s a busy day for Morgan the therapist/spy.
There’s Two of Everybody
That opening scene *is* amazing, Ernie. Sarah is watching Frost on the monitor, whose countenance is inscrutable. Even though she should be paying attention to Beckman, Sarah’s lost in thought. It’s the same when Mary Elizabeth is telling her side of the story to Ellie. What is Sarah thinking?
I believe she’s thinking she doesn’t trust Frost at all, but Chuck does. I don’t understand why he keeps trusting her. She just hurts him! No, Chuck trusts his mother. Sarah’s confident she’s right, yet with every interaction between her and Frost, in the interrogation room with Morgan, in Echo Park with Ellie, we see Sarah move towards Chuck’s point of view.
At the end of the episode we hear one of the best Chuck songs ever, Nico Stai’s One October Song. The lyrics are especially hard to pick out, but the last lines are relevant:
’cause you know that thing
that you say you sometimes dream of
well I think it’s happening to me
Chuck has been the naive trusting one and Sarah the cold hearted pragmatist, but we’ve watched them slowly changing since American Hero. By the end of this episode Chuck is the one who’s crying “You were right about her the whole time. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t want to see it.” His naiveté is shattered. Sarah comes back immediately with “Chuck – your mom gave us a way out.” If Chuck dreams that Sarah is becoming more trusting, and if Sarah dreams that Chuck becomes more realistic about what they’re doing, well, it’s happening.
I’m restating the obvious here, but everyone in the story has this dual nature; Frost the Volkoff operative and Mary Elizabeth the mother; Tuttle and Volkoff. Mary Elizabeth has put a complete wall between her two natures and Volkoff we come to see is certifiably “schizoid”. Chuck and Sarah feel that same divide between the two worlds they inhabit. At least we can hope (and we trust) that our heros can successfully navigate between them.
You mention Morgan arriving to throw fuel on the fire. He certainly does! But who shows up – the hero we saw in Couch Lock or “The Magnet”, aka Casey’s buffoon? Why, it’s 9 year old Morgan Grimes who gets through Frost’s well constructed wall, with the help of some Rice Krispie treats. Go figure. If there’s one character who’s comfortable with his dual nature, it’s Morgan, and it shows.
There’s one more character who plays a big part in this episode. He wouldn’t let himself be ripped apart by his two-worlds. It’s funny that he was more damaged than anyone else because of it.
I don’t understand why he keeps trusting her. She just hurts him! Chuck is very familiar with being hurt by those he loves and puts his trust in. His father and mother both left, but both as it turns out to protect him. Sarah has had to hurt Chuck more than once to keep him safe, including by arresting Frost. I suppose that the question of trust and faith in each other is the last hurdle before they can move on the the impending engagement. But in spite of the fight within the fight, little is settled, except as you say Joe, Chuck has lost some of his naiveté when it comes to his mother and Sarah has seen that Chuck has a way of picking the right people to trust. Sometimes.
It was hard to see the OC (Orion Cave) go up in flames. But I think that it brings home something that was set up in the finale of season 3. Orion left Chuck and Ellie a legacy. And it’s not always a happy one. The song playing at the end, when Chuck and Sarah have been betrayed by Mary once again is fitting. It is like watching his father die again for Chuck. For now we don’t quite know what to think of Frost. She’s still protecting Chuck, and we suspect that she is still on her mission, but her deception has exacted a terrible price. The intersect disabled and Orion’s legacy destroyed, all because Sarah tried to protect Chuck’s blind spot. Or to be more precise, all because of Orion’s last wish for his son, to find the woman he’d spent his life looking for and return her to the family he spent his life trying to protect. Was Frost Orion’s blind spot also? We hope not. We want Linda Hamilton’s Mary Bartowski/Agent Frost to be one of the good guys in the end. We don’t want Chuck played for a fool.
At dawn I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay
I’d remember all the things my mother wrote
That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table
We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust
Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love
So if I were you, I’d have a little trust
That’s from the song being played when Ellie and Mary Elizabeth talk, We Don’t Eat by James Vincent McMorrow. It’s powerful stuff. Stephen is the unseen presence through the entire episode, though we don’t realize it until the very end, when Ellie read the note he left for her. Yeah, I heard some objections. It’s ridiculous and throw-up-your-hands nonsensical to have a ’68 Mustang with it’s top down, a letter and a laptop left inside for who knows how long. It may be a cheap way to move the plot along and leaves tons of unanswered questions, but you know what? From the instant I heard Scott Bakula’s voice, I DIDN’T CARE!
You know that I always put Orion in the role of Gandolf the Grey in my mind. He is now Gandolf the White, and I’ll gladly let him be the unseen force that pushes Ellie and Chuck in the right direction once again. I’m easy that way – can’t help it.
I failed to list all the mysteries earlier. Most of the remaining puzzles concern Stephen/Orion. Why did he not want Chuck to see that odd device (the “PSP”) that prevented Chuck from flashing? Is that the the only thing it did? Perhaps. But does it have anything to do with Orion foreseeing that all his data might be destroyed?
In his last message Stephen told his son “Chuck, it’s time you learned about your family. Because, I did it all for her.” But what was “it”? His spy work? His plans? Something beyond the Intersect that’s been in Chuck’s head? Finding and rescuing MamaB may have become Chuck’s mission, but it was Orion’s for 20 years. And “Doing the things governments are afraid to do” was part of that mission. That’s his legacy.
By the way, have you counted the number of times that Chuck’s been ready to abandon his mission? He’s stated the reason he wants to – because his search endangered Sarah, Casey and Morgan in Anniversary and again in Couch Lock, and for Ellie peace of mind in nearly every episode this season. There’s been one reason he hasn’t, and that’s been the direct actions of Mary or Stephen or both.
At this point in our re-watch this looks very much like a chess game. Every little thing that Frost and Mary Elizabeth do look like moves on the board and Orion and Stephen look like their partner and “second”. All the pieces are moving and only the best players can tell if the pieces are about to work together in harmony or not. The rest of us watch and see only part of the game.
A Minor Ernie Rant
OK, just a bit of a rant about a pet peeve. I don’t like plot holes and continuity problems either, but so often it seems we create them. The car was sitting outside with the top down and the note on the steering wheel. Is there any reason whatsoever to assume it’s been that way since Orion’s death? Obviously someone had to place the ad, to store the car, to take responses to the add, and to make sure it didn’t get sold to the wrong person. In short, clearly Orion/Stephen had someone looking after the car, and when the right person responded to the ad that same person obviously prepared it for them, as per his instructions. Ellie even remarks that said person told her the car would be waiting for them. Orion was nothing if not a planner, and as Joe hints I suspect that he and Frost have a few more surprises in store. Intersect 3.0 being among them. But that is a subject for later reviews. For now I’ll put my last thoughts together.
Great episode. Some heavy stuff to digest, but also a lot of fun. Sarah nearly killing Morgan with a stiletto, Morgan’s … Morgan-ness, the fight within the fight, all great fun. In addition some of the series best dramatic moments and a stunning montage with great music as Mary tells Ellie, and by extension Sarah a story. We haven’t heard that story, yet. But clearly it had an affect on Sarah. I think the Mary and Sarah parallels are only beginning, and it’s great to watch.
I can agree with that, Ernie. Fully understanding that errors, breaks and discontinuities drive some fans nutz (and some more than others), I was never bothered by non-explanations. It’s enough for me to know that some explanation exists and I don’t always have to know the details to enjoy the rest. There comes a point when enough is enough, and holes become errors become distracting. For me, we’re not close to that.
But that’s not really what I’m seconding. It’s the little things in this episode that make it so enjoyable. The Sarah-Morgan-Stiletto interaction, MamaB gently asking her son “You want to talk about it?”, Morgan re-introducing himself to his best friends mother, and of course, Ellie finally getting to talk with Mary Elizabeth. Those are great scenes.
On top of that, the episode gave us great action, mystery and puzzles that seem much deeper now that we’ve travelled further into the depths of the enigma that is Frost. That part of the story has aged very well in the weeks since it aired. When I first watched I may have been impatient with the head-snapping changes in our interpretations of her actions, and maybe I even subconsciously considered Chuck’s inability to flash at the end too reminiscent of the plot at the end of S3.
Ultimately, it doesn’t seem so. Here’s a thought I’m going to post more on, perhaps soon. Chuck and Sarah are being portrayed very realistically as a couple, and I have been waaayyyy too impatient for them to take the next step. There are real issues, obstacles and considerations mature people should (and must) face when they become close, and the fact that these are two exceptionally fictional characters shouldn’t change that. I’m impatient, but they don’t have to be.
YMMV, but knowing what’s coming down the pike for these two has led me to reconsider any qualms I might have had about the pacing of their romance. I like it.