Masquerade Unmasks Opportunity and Growing Pains
Masquerade changed its mood–and mine–as easily as, well … changing masks. I enjoyed the highs and lows, every scene and every mood; and I never felt like I was being jerked around. From a very, very bad bad-guy to a mysterious socialite to an enigmatic NCS director; from humorous beginnings to poignant final chapters, Chuck’s hallmark character growth and change provide the drama marbled throughout the fun of Masquerade. And everybody finds themselves moving on up.
As some others have said, Masquerade had some heavy lifting to do. Season 4.0 concluded its main arcs oh-so nicely. Seduction Impossible and Cat Squad gave us a heartwarming and hilarious interlude to catch our breath and be entertained. Time to move on.
More than any other show I’ve known, Chuck and its characters grow and progress. It’s like a video game with multiple levels. Each season (or half season, as the case may be) moves everyone up to the next level. By my count we’re about to begin level 6. Masquerade sets up Season 4.5 and positions all of our Chuck friends and heroes for new things yet to come. Well except for the Buymorons — some things really never change.
Things change, and it’s not really a bad thing. I think it’s going to be OK. Morgan
Valentines Day Disaster
From over-kill Morgan to buzz-kill Casey, the Valentnes Day fiasco was pure comedy, marbled with sweetness and punctuated with a romantic tease. I loved the contrast between Morgan’s over-the-top decorations (9 bear-skin rugs and that huge stuffed heart) and Chuck’s sweeter, more sensible ones (heart shaped chocolate soufflé, champagne, candles, and music). Well, the shirt was a bit much, but underneath it all, he is still a nerd. Sarah was so cute feeling her way through her first real-girl Valentines Day (only giving herself away by not knowing about socks and college door knobs). She was so pleased with herself over her chocolate strawberries. Apparently strawberries are her specialty.
The comedy of errors that follows when Chuck goes to retrieve the strawberries, and he and Sarah inadvertently witness Morgan and Alex’s, um … zen patty-cake love ritual was role-on-the-floor funny. Sarah’s winged surprise was too cute (definitely a new side of Sarah Walker we’re seeing).
The scene does feel like Chuck and Sarah are the parents and Morgan and Alex are the teenage couple. What is happening? Ah, but then the real parent ruins the mood, embarrassing one and all.
Happy Valentines Day, everybody.
Kiss Normal Good-buy
Meanwhile the Drs. Awesome are not feeling, looking, or smelling awesome. The new has worn off of new-born bliss and turned it into baby exhaustion and eau de vomit and Cheerios. Been there. Done that. Threw away the t-shirt. More comedy gold as Ellie and Devon go in search of sleep remedies. They finally find the perfect solution … and steal it. Jeff and Lester are at an acceptable, even funny, level of weird and creepy as they do stuffed animal recordings and stalk nursing mothers. Ellie shows off more of her prowess as queen manipulator as she lures them away from their Sleep Sheep so that Devon can shepherd it safely into the Woodcomb fold.
Masquerade … Vivian Unmasked (sort of)
The Masquerade treats us to creeped out Chuck and funny! Sarah. Sarah yanks Chuck’s chain about sex-crazed, orgy parties. So. Funny. He is such fun to mess with, and it’s twice the fun when Sarah does the messing. Casey and Morgan bicker back and forth about their relevancy status with TeamB and Chuck and Sarah, unwittingly priming each other to make some big decisions.
Finally, we meet the mysterious Vivian MacArthur, whom none of her guests seems to know. Curious. Gregarious host she is not, hiding out in anonymity, first behind a mask; then finally completely away from her own party, in the stable giving her attention and affection to her horse. Curious. Not that she’s hiding, I understand and sympathize with that part. I just wouldn’t have thrown the party to begin with.
Chuck and Sarah discover that Vivian is the daughter of Alexei Volkoff, apparently by a woman named Ms. MacArthur. Not surprisingly, she knows nothing about her father. Well, if you sold nukes to banana republic dictators and frequently shot your disappointing employees, would you tell your daughter the truth? Yeah … me neither.
With Vivian safe in Castle, the remaining tasks are divied up. Casey takes paperwork over people work (no surprise there). Sarah volunteers to make Morgan feel less like a third wheel (double take there). That leaves Chuck to debrief Vivian.
Chuck and Vivian. Chuck, the good guy who wants to help people, doesn’t stop with the perfunctory task of debriefing Vivian.
As we drill down into Vivian’s past, we learn that she has led a privileged life: attended the best schools, no training spared, no advantage witheld. She lacked for nothing, save the love of family, which in the end matters far more than privilege.
Chuck tries to help her feel better about her father and more hopeful about her future, [Maybe] he was trying to protect you from the very dark and dangerous world he was a part of. … And now you have a chance to do what you want.
The punch line? This accomplished, privileged woman has absolutely no clue what she wants to do with her life, I can’t believe I still don’t know what to do with my life.
Chuck, of course, has been in her shoes. He doffs his agent cap and dons his hero cap. That’s right. This is our hero, still rescuing people on a personal level.
You should’ve seen my life a few years ago. I was working a dead end job. I was living with my sister. And then something … an opportunity just fell in my lap. I never expected this to be my life, but here I am, and I’m … happy. And if you give it some time, I’m sure you can find that for you as well.
I’m going to pick these as the most significant words of the arc. OK, maybe not the whole arc. I mean this is just the first episode. Come to think of it I do will probably be the most significant words, but I digress. I believe these words set up the story.
We know Chuck’s story and how the Intersect, along with Sarah of course, propelled him into the life he didn’t ask for but was supposed to have. The opportunity (the Intersect) didn’t make Chuck a hero, it gave him the opportunity to be the hero he already was. As we drilled down into Chuck’s past, we learned that he was prepared to be the Intersect all along. He had a special brain, uploaded the Alpha Intersect as a child, and demonstrated a unique aptitude at Stanford. The opportunity suited him: his aptitude, his training, and his character — his hero’s heart.
What about Vivian? The necklace is her opportunity. And the rest of it?
You were skeet shooting at age 7, had your black belt at 13, and by the time you graduated from the London School of Economics, you were fluent in 5 languages. Your whole life, your father’s been grooming you. You are his succession plan.
That’s the training. How about the aptitude? Does blowing someone away with a shotgun, without hesitation, count? Left-handed no less. The unknown is her character. Does she have the heart of a hero or the heart of a villain? Who will influence her along the way.
That’s the Vivian story … or my spec on it anyway.
Casey. An opportunity drops into his lap, too. We know almost nothing about it. Just that it’s with NCS. Here are the pertinent parts of the invitation so far.
Bently: Afternoon, Colonel. Paperwork, bar tending, any chance your skills are being wasted here? You started working for the NSA because you were America’s best sharp shooter, and now … you’re so much more than this, Colonel. I’m putting together a new team, and I want you to lead them.
C: What’s the directive?
Bently: You’re not going to spend the rest of your career with this team, and you know it. Sooner or later, you going to have to move on, Colonel. Why not today, when you can go out on top?
This sounds oddly familiar. There must be a course.
Keller: How would you feel if I told you that there was a covert black ops team of America’s finest snipers, rangers, and men willing to do anything to protect this country … and that team wanted you?
C: I’d say that sounds like a dream come true, sir.
Keller: Then I’d say you have quite a choice to make. You can either go home to your family or you can become the soldier you always dreamed you could be. Tic Tac
Casey has changed. He’s learned some things. He’s a little more cautious. He knows he doesn’t want to leave his team, and he absolutely will not leave his family.
It’s only a thread to go on. We have no idea where this is going. I’m not sure I trust Director Jane Bently. But I trust Colonel John Casey.
When I became a man, I put away childish things. Ap Paul
Morgan. Sarah volunteers to help Morgan not feel like the third wheel. I found this to be such a sweet, and brave, gesture on her part. Morgan and Sarah give us the gold once more. They only really connect when it involves Chuck. So here sit two people with grape soda and cheese puffs and absolutely nothing in common, nothing to talk about. Awkward. Hilarious. Sweet. Poignant. Perfect.
How does one hang, anyway?
Sarah, desperately searching for any interest to bond over, remarks about the toys on the mantle. Toys on the mantle … did I just type that? It’s clear by Morgan’s reaction that he doesn’t consider them toys. They’re collectibles. Sarah, trying to get in touch with the inner child she probably never had, begins to play with the … toys. Hilarious. (Maybe her kids will get to play with their collectibles — when Daddy’s gone, of course.) Morgan explains, and Sarah adjusts, “They’re really fun … to look at.” Sweet.
“Anyway, I’ve been arranging them this way since I was about 13.” The look that flickers across Sarah’s face speaks of the childhood and best friend she never had. Did Sarah ever have collectibles? How well can you arrange things in a motel room? How many toys can you carry from town to town to town? How many did she leave behind? Poignant. It’s sad that Sarah doesn’t have any memorabilia from her childhood. It’s also kind of sad that Morgan’s memorabilia is on the mantle.
Sarah will gnaw off her arm, though, before she will take that away from him. “No. No, they’re collectibles. It’s different. They have … value.” You have value. She is stricken that he suddenly feels … diminished. Perfect.
Morgan’s epiphany is due. Chuck willingly lets Morgan indulge his inner child. It gives him a chance to revisit his own inner child on occasion. The thing is, it isn’t Morgan’s inner child. It’s his inner … him.
He has come a long way from the guy who took Ellie’s pillow to prom, or the guy who figured if he and Chuck couldn’t get girls they would always have each other. Or even the guy who asked if Chuck quit the Buymore, where would they work? But he is still living with his best friend and his best friend’s fiancée. They would never ask him to leave, but he figures it out on his own. High fives to Morgan.
Chuck needs to let Morgan move out. He’s going to be married in a few months. He and Sarah need their own place. Sarah moved into a bachelor pad, Chuck and Morgan’s place. She’s fine with that. Wherever Chuck is, it’s home. The bearded sage is right, though. It needs to be Chuck and Sarah’s place, and right now it’s not. Sarah’s casual remark unconsciously reveals the truth, So, I know you guys like having these toys around. It’s their place. It will never be her place as long as Morgan is there … not really.
Still, she is genuinely sad to see Morgan go, because she knows what it means for Chuck. She accepts Morgan as family. She now understands and appreciates this friendship that was so alien to her in Best Friend. Her support of Chuck is perfect.
Aces, Yvonne, aces.
The Best Is Yet To Be. Robert Browning
Morgan is determined to grow up. Maybe that means leaving behind something that’s great. But it most assuredly means gaining something that’s better. Alex, maybe?
For Chuck, things are perfect. He has Sarah. He has his best friend. What could be better than that? I guarantee you he’s about to find out.
Casa Bartowski may get a bit of a face lift. That won’t be a bad thing, either. Where will Sarah make her mark? How will they make the Ellie/Devon/Chuck/Morgan/Sarah apartment the Charleses-ez place?
Casey may move on up to a better opportunity. Or he may come back to TeamB with absolute conviction that it’s where he belongs. Or he may prepare the way for them to move on up to NCS, too.
Vivian is moving on up. Will she succeed her father or oppose everything he stood for?
Ah, the youngest member of TeamB? Clara moving on up to the nursery means Ellie and Devon can get some much needed sleep and find their new normal. Even Han and Chewy move on up from merely collectibles to heirloom status.
The heavy lifting is done and done well. Season 4 is set on a new plane toward growth and good things to come. I am excited about the next 8 episodes: the spy story, Casey’s future, MamaB’s involvement, Ellie’s progress, Sarah’s back story, and the wedding.
The best is yet to be.
~ Thinkling’s thoughts