The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children; therefore, I promise you, I fear for you. I was always plain with you, and so now I speak my agitation of the matter: therefore be of good cheer; for, truly, I think you are damned.
William Shakespeare — The Merchant of Venice, Act III. Scene V.
Stephen J. Bartowski is back. Just as in the climactic arcs of both season 2 and 3 Orion’s legacy and what it means to his children is brought front and center, and the sins of the father are laid upon his children. Another Ernie & Faith production, after the jump.
We all love Chuck. It goes without saying that those of us who have been blogging here for up to 2 years really love Chuck. If you asked some of us why you’d get an answer, most assuredly. You might get different answers from each, or depending on when you asked you might get two or three different answers from each of us. There is so much to love about this unique little show. The characters, the cast and crew, the romance, the drama, the comedy and the action… We’ve been over all that countless times. Last Monday however something really struck home. Our faith (heh) in Team Chuck, though it may be tested on occasion, will be rewarded in the end. In its fourth season with many saying the creative force is gone or the stories played out, Chuck is still a show that can surprise and delight, taking the characters and the story in amazing new directions and remaking the fabric of the entire story without destroying all the richness and texture that came before.
“I am my Father’s son” — Chuck Bartowski
Chuck uttered these words not so long ago during Chuck Versus The Push Mix. It’s funny to think about it now because back then that was considered by most (not by Chuck, nor the viewers) a sign of weakness. After taking down Volkoff using his father’s memory and legacy we’re reminded and Volkoff was convinced that Chuck is an able foe. Stephen was a great man, who tried to be a good father and husband, but was somehow caught in a world he couldn’t seem to escape because of his unique gifts and talents. In the end, a father’s memory, a partner’s and a mother’s dedication, and a hero’s sense of purpose could do what a solitary man or woman couldn’t.
Chuck (the show) has the magic. They have this magical strength that pulls at your heartstrings by revisiting Stephen Bartowski’s memory and yet it does this without apology, or explanation for the man that he was. Only that he loved his children. In Season 4.0, there were questions about the sympathy we were supposed to feel for MamaB but in the end, much like Stephen, we love her because he did. Because she loves him. All we needed was a fairytale-esque memory (with spy connotations) told by a loving grandmother of a lasting love.
We as viewers love Stephen as much Chuck and Ellie did. We cried with Ellie when Stephen was killed, we were heartbroken for Chuck knowing that he had a hand in his father’s peril. And we remember that although he wasn’t a great dad, he was a great man:
Ellie: I can’t believe that he’s gone. Our crazy dad.
Chuck: He wasn’t crazy. Our dad was a hero. He was a great man who did amazing things. He wasn’t perfect, not as a dad, no. But he was great.
In the end, Stephen gave his kids all that they needed: each other, and a purpose.
“This is what we call the twist.” — Alexei Volkoff
Alexei Volkoff is back.
It’s an understatement to merely gush about the implications such a twist brings to Chuck. It’s brilliant really. The psychology of all of this is inspired. And it is all done without diminishing what came before (much). Contrast how the stories play out, because we may never know if this was the master plan, or a master stroke. Sometimes Chuck leaves us wondering whether we have the whole story or whether something got lost along the way. We never, for instance found out what happened with the release of RIOS. It may not be that important, after all Rourke was defeated and we can assume the CIA was then able to take over RI and it’s facilities and get what they needed, if we feel the need for closure on a plot point. Or we can assume, or wish, that there is still something insidious out there growing in the world’s computer networks, and given enough time it will be revisited. Truth be told, in practice it’s probably a bit of both. Something that couldn’t be fully fleshed out and close due to circumstances, and a potential story on its own. In its own way this is brilliant (or GENIUS!). It allows each of us to take what we want or need from the story either closing, or without closing off the story.
Twenty years ago Mary Bartowski went on a mission that she thought would be her last. Her mission was to “take out Volkoff” and we are left to surmise what that meant. Perhaps a simple assassination? The kind of thing the old Sarah Walker or John Casey would do over a long weekend? Seems simple enough, but somehow she became trapped in that mission. Alexei Volkoff discovered she was CIA and she was forced to join him. But he never fully trusted her. She was never allowed access to all his secrets, but was privy to enough to know his death alone would do little good in the end. His contacts and organization and ability to control them was known only to him, but he had made arrangements to hand over control, and as he told Chuck, to extract his last measure of retribution should he be killed. So Mary is stuck. She can’t simply shoot Volkoff and walk away, it would do little good and would be suicide for her and a death sentence for her family. She couldn’t leave and return home. As we saw, Volkoff would follow. She could only carry on, hoping against hope that some day she would get the break that would allow her to complete her mission and return home without putting everything she loved in danger. In the meantime she was stuck in a life where a man’s infatuation and inability to truly love are as scary as they are empty. Sarah said it best, “I was lucky, I was assigned to you, your mom was assigned to Volkoff.”
Are there unanswered questions? Sure, like why would a married mother of two be chosen for, let alone take on such a mission? We’re left to wonder, and perhaps lose some sympathy for her plight. She, like Orion made a choice about her life’s work, and like Orion it led her to make a terrible decision, but she did what she did to protect her family from some evil she had unleashed, and was forced to abandon them. In the end she’s not that different from Stephen. “The choices [she] made to protect the people that [she] love(d),” for her was “the right choice.” To understand Chuck and Ellie’s story, that’s enough for now. They were abandoned by their parents and suffered because of the forces their parents had unleashed. The sins of the father were visited upon the children.
Mary’s break, her redemption, came in the form of our favorite team, and her husband’s life’s work to rescue her from her endless mission. But now we are left to ask exactly what was that mission? And the questions and possibilities expand exponentially.
We can now see, because of a CIA experiment gone wrong and a monster released by her husband’s work in the form of Alexei Volkoff, dozens of reasons why Mary might be called upon by the CIA, and feel obligated to take on such a mission. Was Volkoff to be “taken out”? Perhaps the CIA felt that Mary, who knew the man under the machine and could perhaps still touch a part of him could either extract him, or failing that get close enough to “take him down.” Perhaps Mary felt that she was the best chance to rescue a former friend, or if not, obligated to remove the evil her family was complicit in creating. And what went wrong? Was there some spark of recognition from Hartley Winterbottom that Alexei Volkoff picked up on? Some residual love between friends, or crush left over between Hartley and Mary that Volkoff twisted and distorted into his weird non-sexual affection for Frost? Did Alexei Volkoff, the creation of Hartley and Stephen realize that should Mary succeed he would cease to exist? How self-aware was Volkoff, and how suppressed was Hartley? And yet all that came before, Mary took on what she thought would be her last mission, and somehow became trapped, remains fully intact.
The choice of the son, or daughter
We are all products of our genealogy. Who we are is greatly shaped by who and what we come from and the life we live. Through all the hardships and the loneliness, Ellie and Chuck learned to rely on each other. Through privilege and wealth, Vivian learned to take and act but what of free will?
Chuck was given the tools through genetics to be a “special” man. Above average intelligence from his father, heroism and courage from both his parents, and a sense of family and compassion. But is he a “special” “good guy who wants to help people,” because he was born that way, or was it because he lived a hard life with only his sister to rely on? Did Ellie shape Chuck’s destiny or did he create his own? Or did Chuck, throughout the years of hardship decide to be the man he is today? What of Chuck’s role in Ellie’s life? She too has recently found her purpose. Is her life dictated by fate or by choice? “There is always a choice!” Chuck’s path was laid before him by his father’s life and legacy, yet we’ve seen again and again how Chuck has had the choice to turn away, yet chose to continue because of the hero inside. “How many times do you have to be a hero to realize you are one?” (Sarah to Chuck).
What of Vivian? When we first met her we saw a privileged socialite. One whose isolation called on our sympathy and whose lack of direction and need for a purpose reminded us of Chuck. We came to learn that she’s Volkoff’s daughter and from that we drew conclusions. Evil is within. A man with such a capacity for violence and manipulation must have passed it on to his daughter and we see this potential unleashed by Volkoff’s manipulation and unwittingly by Chuck’s unintended betrayal. Once again the CIA has created a monster, and a Bartowski has played a part. Then came the twist. Volkoff is not Volkoff but rather Hartley. A man who is eerily similar to Stephen. One of a kind, gentle heart; intelligent, compassionate, one with a loving upbringing. A man who disliked guns. So the question becomes, did Vivian turn to the dark side out of fate, or was it choice? If she didn’t inherit those sinister characteristics where did she get them and what brought them on? Was it simply life and choice? Did she chose to follow in her father’s misguided footsteps, or is there more to it? The story has not fully played out yet, and we may yet see to which father Vivian really is a daughter. Which legacy does she seek to claim? In any case, just like Chuck chose to follow a path he could have turned from so did Vivian. In the end each made a choice and it’s one for which they are solely responsible.
With this choice comes purpose. One for good, another for evil. In life there’s always a balance and Chuck’s found himself a true nemesis. Vivian’s purpose is clear, take back the legacy she feels was stolen from her and take her revenge on those she feels stole it. Now Chuck’s purpose is clear. Protect your family and the world from the forces you’ve helped, however unwittingly, to unleash.
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. — Ezekiel 18:20
Ernie and Faith.