Like Chuck at its best, Chuck Versus the Balcony brought some of everything to the party. The Intersect brought its flashing best in action mode, and TeamB brought their trademark banter and teamwork. Libations of laughter flowed freely, and the Buymorons served up their usual shenanigans. Chuck & Sarah revealed the tender, giving nature of their love; demonstrated the lengths they will go for each other; and drew back the curtain on some of their most romantic moments. Not to be outdone, the CIA brought the drama, dressed to the nine’s in their evening assault-attire.
Did you notice all the doubles in this episode? I started to name the post “On the Double,” because there were two of almost everything … and because one good Danny Kaye reference deserves another. There was only one balcony, but there was double of almost everything else. Double Intersect action. Double missions. Double headsets. Double nano chips. Double double-agents. Double proposals to the double power. Double double-cross. Double trouble. And in the end we’re brought to the bittersweet reality that double the pleasure sometimes means double the pain.
The episode left many fans with mixed feelings. Well, duh. There was some pretty heavy stuff in there: tough decisions made in light of grave realities, self sacrificing love on the heels of euphoric romance, Chuck & Sarah’s love about to be tested and their future in the balance. Don’t despair. Don’t crumple under the weight. There was so much to enjoy in this episode, and frankly a lot of reason to hope.
THE GOOD STUFF
When I was little and my daddy used to tuck me in, he would always ask, “What’s the nicest thing that happened today?” There’s a lot of wisdom in that. So, I’m going to start with the nicest things, the best things that happened in Chuck Versus the Balcony.
Action. While not action heavy like Best Friend or Ring, the Intersect action was some of the best, especially the wine balancing and wall bouncing. Their ride off the balcony was fun, a call back to Anniversary, perhaps. Always a good idea to bring the chutes repelling gear.
Comedy. I smiled a lot in Balcony, and I laughed a lot, too. OK, the first aborted proposal was way over-the-top, as Sarah so innocently and cluelessly pointed out. In trying to ease his mind, she set in motion Chuck’s frantic attempt to abort the mission, without her knowing it, as well as the elfin footman’s futile efforts to recover his balloons. Chuck’s relief at news of a mission mirrored Sarah’s relief over the cancellation of the romantic Moroccan mission.
The laughs got better as the mission wore on. Casey as Agent Bartowski’s personal man-servant was hilarious from start to bloody finish: “Rghh, Colonel in the Marine Corp demoted to man servant for a nerd;” Sarah and Chuck’s facial expressions; Chuck’s abuse of the situation; and some fitting retribution that, alas, we will probably never witness. Sarah’s tipsy (and deadly) flirtations never fail to entertain me. I especially enjoy the change in her demeanor as she cold conks the enchanted victim. Chuck’s scramble to find the nano chip made me chuckle, especially the look on his face when the one wine bottle he was tracking disappeared into a sea of people with dozens of bobbing wine bottles. The homage to Danny Kaye’s Court Jester was a nice touch.
The funniest scene by far, though, was the Morgan/Sarah scene, with call backs to similar hilarious scenes from Living Dead and First Fight. At least Morgan no longer cowers behind a riot shield, but he does quickly put the desk between him and Sarah, because as she reminds him, she is someone deadly. I loved Sarah’s takeover of the mission, her motivation (which I was pleased to note, included herself), and the way she pulled it off. Besides the humor I like the nascent rapport between Morgan and Sarah … sort of a best-friend-in-law thing. Morgan is gentle, but honest. He gives her the Intel that she is so anxious to gain … insight into the sides of Chuck that Morgan knows and she hasn’t quite figured out. Chuck is a lucky guy to be the center of their good-will conspiracy.
And speaking of the Bearded Sage, he was in good form in balcony. He encouraged Chuck, kept him prepared (the ring, the mints and the … tide sticks?), did his homework, and gave Chuck some pretty savvy advice on picking the spot. He was helpful in the first double mission, but he was at his bearded best as the Double Agent with the dueling headsets, handling the double mission and the sub-mission’s double proposal. That would be Chuck’s proposal … that Sarah was running … so that Chuck could give her the proposal of her dreams.
Romance/Relationship. Chuck really shines in this episode, once you know where to look. I’m not talking about the return of his confidence as a spy, though that was a welcome change. I mean the guy who wants to make Sarah happy, who wants to wipe the slate clean of every bad memory and replace them with something amazing and romantic. This time the mishugaas isn’t about Chuck’s usual insecurities and neuroses. It’s all about his love for Sarah and wanting to give her what she deserves. This is the guy who went dumpster diving for Ellie’s ring; whose one demand of the CIA was a romantic evening for his sister and brother-in-law; and the guy who spent the better part of a year’s paycheck to give his sister her dream wedding. I forgive him his nervousness, because of the intent of his love … well, that and he was proposing, after all.
Is it just me or is Sarah … different? She’s seems so much more comfortable with love and real life, since Phase 3. She’s relaxed and able to enjoy the moment, from the intimate dinner to the views in the Loire Valley. Did you ever think you would see Sarah Walker pause to enjoy a sunset … during a mission? Sarah was a delight to watch in this episode. It’s not unusual for Chuck to go on about things (the Swiss air and the milky chocolate), so Chuck’s enthusing is no surprise, “Is this place amazing or what. It feels so…” But when Sarah gets all wistful and finishes his sentence, “Romantic … I knowww,” then enjoys a kiss … well, I didn’t know which to do first, pick up my jaw or smack the silly grin off my face.
A couple of years ago, Chuck warned her that if she wasn’t careful she might actually turn into a real girl, one day. And sure enough, not only is she a real girl, she’s a woman in love, complete with butterflies. O course, Sarah has loved Chuck fiercely and been in love with him for a long time, but she’s never abandoned herself to the luxury of being a woman in love.
Sarah’s mood sets the romantic tone for the episode. The best of the four proposals, the one that would have been the real deal had the CIA not dropped in to make an arrest, nears the top of my list of Chuck’s most romantic moments. Why? For starters, it’s a proposal, and proposals are romantic (well, except for Lester’s … Run, Jinsanah, run). Second, it’s a very romantic setting, not that bus stations and holding cells won’t get the job done (they will, and Casey’s advice was timely and true), but if a girl had her choice … Well, give me the full moon over a French chateau, any day. Third, Chuck’s words. He finally found his voice and spoke from his heart. Fourth, Sarah’s mood … her first-time butterflies and her complete readiness for the question that not too long ago, she didn’t think she could even process. Finally and mostly, I love this proposal because of the focus of each on the other. For Chuck, it’s all about Sarah. For Sarah it’s all about Chuck. He wants to give her happiness and the proposal of her dreams. She wants to give him that pleasure because it means so much to him to do this for her. It doesn’t get any better than that, leaving out the CIA’s unwelcome appearance and abysmal timing, of course.
As Sarah is hauled away under protest, the mood evaporates and the moon’s magic disappears … and with it my joyful anticipation. Robbed. Anyone else besides me feel robbed?
THE HARD STUFF
Tough Decisions Made In Light Of Grave Realities. Sarah told Beckman that she was willing to do anything in her power to bring back Chuck’s mother and eliminate Volkoff and his organization. What’s behind her decision? The immediate context is Chuck’s concern for his family and friends. Let’s add some more context to give us perspective. Last time MamaB was with them, Sarah saw a clear picture of her situation and began to sympathize with her in a way that few people could. After Mary saved Sarah’s life, gratitude joined sympathy and kinship was born. Add to that the fact that Mary is Sarah’s future mother-in-law, which means that Sarah’s love for Chuck radiates to his mom as well. That in itself is probably not enough for her to make this decision. But all of this is set against the dark backdrop of looming danger. Volkoff knows everything about them: where they live, where their base is, their names, that Ellie is pregnant. How long can Mary hold the madman at bay? This is basically a hostage situation. Volkoff holds hostage all that Sarah holds dear: Chuck, their future, and her new family. Every minute that Volkoff is free, they are all at risk. If someone doesn’t stop him, constant danger and probable death are the guaranteed outcome for everyone she loves, especially Chuck. Sarah could never live with herself if her own inaction resulted in harm to Chuck or his family. That is the grave reality that tore this decision from Sarah’s heart.
Self Sacrificing Love On The Heels Of Euphoric Romance. Picture Sarah on the balcony as Chuck proposes. Now picture her in the holding cell. I don’t see a woman chomping at the bit to go on a mission. I see a woman with a heavy heart. This is the most heart wrenching scene of Chuck … ever. At the same time, Sarah’s love has never been more powerful, not even in Phase 3. From her statement, “They’re not taking me, Chuck. I’m going,” I infer that she could have refused the mission. She doesn’t. She relinquishes everything, entrusts it to Chuck for safe keeping, and descends into a darkness she abhors in order to rescue her family and buy back her future. The crushing sadness of the moment is mitigated only by the strength of her sacrificial love.
REASON TO HOPE
Binary Solution. Think binary weapon, a weapon formed by combining two components, which by themselves are harmless, but when joined together become deadly. Now think Agent Frost and Agent Sarah Walker. Mary has 20 years worth of Intel, Volkoff’s trust, and access to his entire organization. She is a major intelligence asset, but cut off from outside help, she hasn’t been able to complete her mission. The CIA has the muscle, but they don’t have the Intel. Working independently they have been harmless to Volkoff. Sarah, the CIA’s finest, because of her relationship to Charles Carmichael, son of Orion, both of whom Volkoff despises, is automatically a person of interest to Volkoff. Because of her bond with Frost, she has an instant ally on the inside. She has the entire CIA and TeamB to back her up. All of that plus her background and skills make her uniquely qualified for this mission. Something tells me that the world’s most dangerous arms dealer won’t be able to withstand the binary weapon that’s headed his way.
Love and Redemption. Season 4 has painstakingly laid a foundation of hope for this very moment, building on 2 well established themes of Chuck, love and redemption.
Looking back over the growth of Chuck & Sarah’s love from day one to the present, we see a love that has cleared obstacles, endured trials, and weathered storms. Their love in Balcony is strong, mature, and more confident than at any previous time. It is strong enough to bear the weight of trials to come.
Sarah’s story is one of redemption. (Ernie recently elaborated on this topic in his post about clean slates, where I have more to say on the subject than I will here.) Sarah’s redemption is our basis for hoping.
Chuck’s love redeemed Sarah, bought her back from a loveless life of cons and covers. He gave her a clean slate. In relationship with Chuck, Sarah grows and becomes the whole, emotionally mature, vulnerable woman we see in Balcony. The proposal, or Sarah’s knowledge that Chuck was indeed going to propose, is not just a romantic moment. The proposal brings her redemption full circle. Chuck not only redeemed her from her loveless past, he wants to keep her. It’s not only real; it’s forever. The woman who walked out onto the balcony to help Chuck get through the proposal he so wanted to give her … that woman is confident in the love that redeemed her and in the woman she has become because of it. At this point in the story, the redeemed becomes the redeemer.
What does that mean? It means we’re back to her sacrificial love. It means she lays aside the beauty of her new life, her newfound vulnerability, and the woman-in-love persona. She puts on the old-Sarah persona for just a little while longer. Because she was redeemed from that world, she is the one who must go back, in order to rescue Chuck’s mother, to buy back her future, and to secure the safety of her family. Her test will be to free the hostages without becoming captive to that world again herself.
Why will she succeed? Because she’s not the same person she was before. This genius season lays it out for us. The old Sarah had no sense of home and a poorly developed sense of self. She was anchor-less. She didn’t have anyone in her life that cared about her. All that has changed. She’s different with Chuck. She has a home, a real life and a future, something to lose and someone to fight for. She is anchored in a love that is strong enough to hold her. That my friend is reason to hope.