Faith starts off:
“Chuck, we have so much together, we have a real life and a future.”
When I first reviewed this episode, I did so in gushing fashion. What can I say, I am a shipper but in looking back, I am no less enamoured with this episode months removed from my initial viewing and I’m sure Joe is too. With fond memories, and the promise of new ones, Balcony set off to warm the hearts of fans and casual viewers alike in true Chuck fashion, during a mission, the hard way.
Joe Watches and Sees Beauty
It started off simple enough, a restaurant, a callback and a reveal.
There was a moment in The First Date(episode 2.01) when Chuck & Sarah were sitting in a restaurant. It went like this:
Chuck: Wow! No faith in the little bearded man. Okay. I think you should know he’s always been very supportive of our fake relationship. And he’s never found it remotely unbelievable that a guy like me could be dating a… you know.
Chuck: Um, you know. You…
Sarah: What about me?
In Chuck vs. The Balcony, we saw them in that nice, romantic, Italian restaurant.
Chuck: No… Um, I realized something, you know, after all the stuff with my mom and Volkoff and I, I realized that I – I… haven’t really been thinking about us. You and me. I’ve been so wrapped up in all the things that I couldn’t control, that I forgot to focus on the things that I could. Like tonight.
Sarah: What about tonight?
She asks interesting questions; What about me? and What about tonight?
Chuck is nervous and distracted, but Sarah’s words don’t put Chuck on the spot either time. It’s not the words exactly, but her smile that’s so beguiling and calming. Man, I love that smile. It’s precisely what Chuck needs at those moments. Sarah seems to be completely aware of what Chuck is thinking and of what he’s about to do, and yet, she seems so innocent of it all at the same time. How does she do that?
[Note to all fathers in the audience: Awareness and innocence. Teach that to your daughters!]
So what could go wrong? Well, Sarah (innocently) blows Chuck’s proposal efforts out of the water. It’s okay though, because it’s clearly not a rejection; it’s just a little bad timing and an unfortunate coincidence. It happens. Especially to Chuck, it happens. I’ve mentioned before that I really react badly to humor that relies on embarrassment. I seldom find it funny. It would have been so easy for TPTB to embarrass Chuck at that moment.
And they started to. Balloons, champagne with music, a horse & carriage… Add one Morgan and stir well. It would have been the standard cliché, and I am soooo grateful the cliché was subverted! That would have been a cheap laugh – it would have been too easy. Instead, we get something different. It’s a delay – another one – for something we all know is coming. Chuck’s proposal is inevitable.
Still, Beckman’s call and the intruding mission are almost welcome. Turns out, Chuck&Sarah (no space between them, of course) are heading to a venue much more suited to Chuck’s plans, and wow, is it beautiful. This episode is full of beauty.
The Loire Valley in France is gorgeous, even if you’re being chased by a pack of dogs, like Agent Rosenbaum (named for Chuck writer Scott Rosenbaum). The wine cellar in which he’s trapped is also beautiful. It’s rustic and elegant at the same time. He also finds a beautiful solution to his problem, and it’s almost too bad the French terrorist Pierre Melville kills him anyway.
Back in Castle, Chuck asks with concern in his voice if Melville isn’t one of Volkoff’s men. I have to ask, at the time, did you think that was a “throw-away” line? I’m always so amazed and gratified to discover after re-watching that TPTB almost never show us anything unimportant. That single line becomes a crack in Chuck’s universe.
But this is Chuck, and you can’t have Chuck without teh funny. You want teh funny?
Casey: [Grunt] Colonel in the Marine Corps, demoted to man-servant. For a nerd!
That’s funny! Add in Lester’s pre-occupation with his impinging arranged marriage and you have serious chuckles. Poor Lester has issues with the traditions of “the old country” and his parents ridiculous dietary restrictions. Those of us who are 2nd generation immigrants know the feeling. But “Hinjews of Saskatchewan?” I spent some time cleaning up spewed soda after that.
I love it that Lester’s doing okay in the dating department. He’s dated three “4s” (out of 10, I presume), and everyone knows that’s the same as dating a “12” (out of 10, I’m sure). Nice way to look at it, Lester!
One of the most amazing things about the way this episode is put together is the deftness with which we go from silly to dramatic. Right after Lester does his “Hinjews of Saskatchewan” bit, we go to Sarah in Castle, asking to talk privately to Beckman. She knows that Chuck is concerned and preoccupied about Volkoff because of the threat to his family and friends and she’ll do anything to help bring back his mother and to bring down Volkoff’s organization. Anything. That’s not meaningless or idle; this is Sarah Walker, super-spy, we’re talking about, and for her it’s a sub-mission. I didn’t know it at first, but just then we were shown Sarah walking deliberately, and with full knowledge, into a trap.
But first, Chuck&Sarah have to complete the CIA’s mission. Morgan, being a pretty good spy himself, preps, directs and cajoles Chuck with advice, directions, ring (in the left pocket), earpiece (in the right pocket) and mints (in both pockets) from halfway across the globe. Ring? The sub-mission – operation proposal – is on. What a wingman!
Did I mentioned that the Loire Valley was beautiful? Chuck&Sarah think so too. Even Sarah (she who’s been to the most beautiful places in the world without ever seeing them), finds it romantic, and hey, wasn’t she an “ice-queen” once, long ago??? What a change! Of course, Casey hates everything about it, and you can hear him muttering something derogatory about “frogs” underneath his breath.
Chuck: You there! Jonathan. Have you unpacked the lady’s luggage yet?
Casey: Call me Jonathan again I’ll break your leg.
Chuck: [Dropping the accent] Cover! Remember your cover. You are supposed to be searching underground for the nano-chip while Sarah and I search above ground for the nano-chip with all the wine and cheese! [Casey turns to leave] Oh, one more thing, Jon-Jon. Could you put my slippers out for tonight? That would be very helpful. Thanks so much. Off you go. Chop-chop.
Casey: [Grunt #8 and leaves]
Can’t you just hear the accent? 😉
It’s romantic, beautiful, and yet Morgan, Casey and the accent make it funny as all get out. Just as Sarah walks up, Chuck sends Casey off to fetch his slippers using that same, British “RP” accent. She’s smiling because of Casey’s grunt, and I can’t help but believe that Yvonne is smiling because both Adam and especially Zachary are so devastatingly funny, charming and witty at the same time. Together, Chuck&Sarah are as beautiful and relaxed as the valley they’re in (and I don’t care if it’s some back-lot at the WB studios. It’s a gorgeous backdrop, and I bought it).
A west-facing balcony in the Loire Valley at sunset is a perfect spot to propose, as was the romantic Italian restaurant. Fate has to intrude, right? Chuck gets to chase after a bottle of wine while Sarah gets to save Casey, tipsy blonde style. OMG, Yvonne is hilarious acting tipsy! Chuck’s chase gives the cast an opportunity to do the “Peppery Pinot with a stable on the label and a stork on a cork” bit (straight from Danny Kaye’s classic The Court Jester), and the panache with which they perform it (especially Josh Gomez) is (how do you say in English?) epic.
Chuck: Uh! [Whispering] I didn’t want to have to tell you this, but there is something in your wine there!
Enthusiast: Yes. There is something in the wine. TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF FRENCH HISTORY! The blood and sweat of my ancestors! The pride of Lords and peasants alike! You, sir, wouldn’t know the difference between this and a glass of “Two-Buck Chuck!”
Chuck: First of all, I happen to like “Two-Buck Chuck.” Great bang for your buck. Second of all, you are dangerously close to becoming a walking cliché, sir.
Sarah saves Casey, Casey saves Sarah and Chuck saves the mission. Everything is perfect, especially, it seems, the balcony at sunset. Does that seem too pat? Of course it is. We can’t leave the Loire Valley with incomplete sub-missions. Just as Chuck and Morgan are about to complete theirs, fate (in the guise of Casey’s well-timed grappling hook and ride) has to step in. For all us ‘shippers, this is getting frustrating!
Who’d have thought that General Beckman, no less, would be the one attempting to subvert fate? Chuck&Sarah need to return to the Loire Valley to sell a (fake) chip to Pierre Melville the French Terrorist. It’s a sub-mission, so the sub-mission is on. And, yes it’s true, so is – the sub-mission.
Meanwhile back in Buymoria, it turns out that Lester’s intended, Jensana, is indeed a “12” (out of a possible 10). Big Mike’s little sub-mission is off, and Jeff’s is on (but don’t you love the combination of Jeff’s sitar and NHL Hockey together in the same atmosphere? Certainly the food has to be a combination of curries and Molson). There is more to be concerned about, though, because Chuck and Morgan never seem to realize that the walls have ears. Actually, Castle has air ducts, and Sarah has ears. Before they leave again for France, Sarah finally understands what Chuck’s been trying to do for the past couple of days. For a super-spy trained to be incredibly observant and keenly attuned to the nuances of human nature and its deceptions, that seems a little – uh – incongruous. In other words, Sarah, “Duh!”
Why oh why do I find her naive innocence so alluring? Hum? 😉 Okay, Sarah’s not so innocent, really (she is somebody deadly and hates surprises after all!) when she takes charge of Chuck’s sub-mission and turns Morgan to her ends. She’s just a little slow on the up-take when it comes to relationships. Fortunately, she’s taking charge of the sub-mission for Chuck’s sake (and for hers).
You remember how it went. The hand-off to Melville goes smoothly (and yes, I have absolutely no problems with Sarah-the-spy kissing Melville the terrorist/mark). The sub-mission is complete, and now it’s time for the sub-missions. The only thing more perfect than a romantic Italian restaurant and a balcony in the Loire Valley at sunset is that same balcony in the moonlight. Morgan, Chuck and Sarah know it.
Does that make anyone nervous? Well, yes. Sarah, the super-spy. Remember the woman who used to get merely frustrated when a computer nerd thought she might actually need his help to get out of handcuffs? Now she’s nervous!
Let me take stock here. So far, I’ve been struck by how beautiful everything looks in this episode. I mean, even before you get to Sarah’s smile, and even before you see “Lord and Lady Carmichael” sampling wine at the French Château, you see beauty. The gentle humor of Lester, Morgan, Casey and even Sarah make me smile after the 6th viewing. We’ll get to the romance part, but there’s one other ingredient that makes a truly wonderful Chuck episode – the action.
Chuck’s fight scene with Melville and his goons is awesome! It rivals Sarah’s best. It’s fast, furious and not overdone. But the best part of that scene (and maybe the most beautiful part of the entire season) is back at Castle when Casey walks in and figures out about Morgan’s little sub-mission. Think about it. Wouldn’t the Casey from Season 1 put a stop to it and then go out for pancakes? The new and improved Casey decides to help them! It’s not just Morgan’s sub-mission any more.
How do you make perfect more perfect? Let Sarah have butterflies, that’s how. For just a moment she’s a minor wreck. Is this a disaster? No, it’s an opportunity for Morgan to be charming and beguiling, and he seizes it. He’s quick to calm and reassure Sarah by giving her “permission” to marry Chuck, and given who they are, it’s audacious. It’s also perfect. For the umteenth time this episode, I sigh with satisfaction.
Now you know fate has to intervene. Of course it does. What we don’t know (until Casey points it out) is that during his fight with Melville, the ring box fell out of Chuck’s pocket. The perfect romantic moment we all see coming (again) is about to be spoiled (again). Now that’s the disaster we’ve all been dreading!
Sometimes it really does take a village, and this time it’s Casey to the rescue. He spots the ring, but what can he do from Castle when they’re in the Loire Valley? What can anyone do to not break the spell of this romantic moment?
It’s always a mistake to underestimate Sarah Walker when she’s on a mission. She picks up the ring box, and after distracting him with the moon, deftly places it back in Chuck’s pocket. I take that back. It’s no distraction – it’s perfect. I hate humor that based on embarrassment. I absolutely love the idea of everyone helping everyone else be absolutely perfect.
Sarah: I’ve been to so many places around the world, but I’ve never been to a place as beautiful as this.
Chuck: [looking at the moon] I have. [looking at Sarah] Every day. Every morning I wake up and I look at you. When we brush our teeth, tandem style. When we watch TV together, whenever. Anything. Always. Every time I look at you it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I just – I feel like I should be James Bond right now, you know, the guy who’s standing on this balcony with you right now at this moment I mean…
Sarah: I didn’t fall in love with James Bond. I fell in love with you.
Chuck: Sarah, I – I’m gonna ask you a question right now, so please don’t freak out, okay?
Sarah: I won’t.
Chuck: I want to spend the rest of my life with you, going on missions and saving the day and being heroes. But mostly, though, I just want to be with you, at your side, always. Sarah, will you…
The Loire Valley is beautiful, but not as beautiful as Sarah’s smile. The fact that the proposal was interrupted at that moment is – well, almost irrelevant. It was (for the third time this episode) perfect, and all but official, over and done. And really, there’s been no mystery about it or about Sarah’s answer since Coup D’etat.
Chuck is upset that it didn’t come off, of course. He should be. He is about to get more upset that Sarah has accepted a mission to go deep inside Volkoff Industries. It’s the same mission that ensnared his mother for twenty years, and that represents fate not just intervening but something more like smacking Chuck in the head with an Intersect. Casey’s story about his somewhat less than romantic proposal to Kathleen in a Buffalo bus station (one I’m familiar with, btw) can’t lessen Chuck’s anguish.
But the dirty (and dingy) bus station in Buffalo isn’t relevant either. The story serves to strengthen Chuck’s resolve. He’s come so far from the schlub we first met in the Buy More, the one who had already given up on the idea of being someone who meant anything (even an assistant manager), the one who always let fate roll over him, the one who had no chance with the beautiful woman who came waltzing up to his desk… Fate is not going to stop him from living his life any more and it’s certainly not going to stop him from proposing, perfection be damned.
Sarah is different too. The super-spy who once disdained any help whatsoever and who would stop at nothing – including killing – to complete her mission, hesitates out of nervousness, depending on advice from a (former) bearded troll. For just a moment, we watch Sarah struggling with something totally outside her experience, where all her talents and strengths are useless. This is about relationships, after all.
Humor, beauty, three almost perfect proposals, unbearably frustrated love – what more could you ask for?
I know, I know. Patience.
Three almost perfect proposals, each typically Chuck.
Initially, I was more focused on the emotion prompted by the interrupted proposals to really examine them. Who was the moment really for? Morgan said to Sarah that the proposals and the emphasis on them were important to Chuck because it’s a new beginning. A beginning he wanted to give to Sarah. We know that Chuck, the hopeless romantic who decorated his sister’s apartment with red rose petals for her and Devon wouldn’t slight the love of his life with a moment as big as this and as Casey so aptly phrased it, we know that in the end, “all you need is the girl.” So what was with the need to repeatedly try and attempt the perfect proposal?
That smile, as Joe points out. It comes back to that smile. And of course, “Chuck, we have so much together, we have a real life and a future.” There was this moment before Sarah said, “Wait, Chuck was planning on proposing at the restaurant?” where she, for just a moment, softens. It was subtle but no less powerful. That moment illustrates why it was so important. And if that wasn’t clear she puts emphasis on it with, “we’re going to make this proposal happen, for Chuck’s sake and for mine.” This after self-reaffirming her GBSM persona with “I am somebody deadly.” The contrast is brilliant and quintessential Chuck.
Chuck was understandably nervous; he was understandably anxious during every single attempt. They’ve become pros at balancing the job with the romance so it was fitting that the job got in the way, repeatedly, and yet every moment counts. In some ways it parallels their journey to this point, full of pitfalls and interruptions (if they ever have another interrupted kiss, I will revolt! Kidding) but in the end the real proposal, the absolutely perfect moment, came with it that smile and that promise. We just, as Joe pointed out, had to be patient. In the meantime, we had some laughs, some tears, and some heartwarming moments trying to get there. Morgan even got to reverse his Marlin stance of making Chuck break up with her before Chuck ever got to proposing.
Perhaps the only truly negative aspects of the episode (for me) was those that are excusable. Namely, the production values. Unlike Joe, I had trouble buying some of the shots because the green screen was obvious, and I couldn’t understand the awkwardness of the camera angles during Chuck’s otherwise adeptly accomplished fight scene. Then again who can complain when you’re given such a strong episode, fantastic music (plus score), drunk Sarah and of course the banquet of proposals where the acting was top notch, the speech was memorable and the setting, picturesque. Some could even consider it three 4s, for a 12.
Faith, you asked a really great question. Who was the moment really for? I think I have an answer.
It certainly wasn’t for Chuck. He’s been planning this proposal for weeks and weeks and episode after episode. We heard about the original plans, complete with horses and sports cars, mountains and sea-shore, way back in Phase 3. If Chuck’s anything like the guy I know, he’s been tinkering with that plan in some form or other since high school. Those early plans got tossed out the window when Sarah came to the Buy More looking nothing at all like the petite brunettes Chuck knew in his youth – especially the ones on whom he depended. You know – Mary and Ellie. When it came, the moment almost took him by surprise.
The moment wasn’t for Sarah. She deliberately buried such thoughts a long, long time ago and covered them with cast iron. Sarah saw it as a mission, one she had to complete for Chuck.
It wasn’t for Casey or Morgan or Ellie – they have all struggled for their moments and can only encourage their friends when they can with all the wisdom, support and love they can muster. Nothing less will do, but nothing more will help.
And all that is exactly wrong. You see, Casey, Morgan and Ellie have helped much more than that. They’ve each sacrificed much – nearly everything – for their two friends. And every bit of it has helped. It’s for them. And that shell around Sarah’s heart was penetrated from the very start. It took everything she had to NOT admit it to herself, and even that effort was doomed to failure. The time it took to get to the proposal is testimony to the obstacles in Sarah’s way, not to faults in her character. It’s for her.
And of course, the moment was for Chuck. He wouldn’t think otherwise for a minute. No sane man would.
Lastly, that moment, and all the moments leading up to it, were for us, the fans. We’re the ones who experience those emotions, again and again.
How’s that? 😉
Good enough. The moment was especially for the both of them. Sarah “I don’t get butterflies” Walker and Chuck “proposal plan since the 8th grade” Bartowski. And for us.
Was it awful that the last perfect proposal didn’t come with it the brass ring? Not really, in again typical Chuck fashion, it happened as it usually happens, except this time we don’t have to kill Morgan for stealing the moment. And this time we know, the moment is just to be continued just as Chuck and Sarah’s life together is just beginning.