Much like Couch Lock earlier this season and Role Models before that, Chuck vs. The Cat Squad begins with a tribute of sorts to a television show from another era, Charlies Angels. You know – light, comedic, fun. You sit back in your recliner, eyes start to glaze over because the blondes are so very stylishly-nice to look at and the jokes are boozy-sophisticated-funny.
Sarah: Groan… Head. Hurts.
Chuck: You’re… very dressed up, for bed.
Sarah: [Groans] Went to a club in Hollywood and then another one in Vegas and then an after-hours spot in Miami. Who knew that Mikhail Gorbachev could dance so well?
Odd thing, though. The episode refuses to stay that way.
Sarah: I don’t need help with my job! And I don’t need help with my past. So stop trying to help me, okay? I DON’T NEED HELP!
Oooooh! That’s not good. Sarah and Chuck are a loving couple, right? Sarah’s outburst is a punch that packs the wallop with a lot of momentum behind it. It has a history. In fact, if you had never seen Chuck before, you’d still know it was a BIG THING.
We’ve been dropped smack dab in the middle of a bunch of situations that are not so light and airy as Charlies Angels. Take Morgan, for instance.
Carina: Something is different about you. The confidence. The straight spine. It can’t be true, but… you’re behaving like you’re having regular sexual intercourse. Huh! Martin, get back in this bed!
Like he has most of this season (and very much like this episode), Morgan refuses to be merely a clown and just a sidekick. He’s still got a couple of problems with growing up, but is problem is not exactly Carina Miller. His problem is the secrets he’s keeping from Alex. It’s not a small problem.
Or take Zondra as another example. It was in 2003 that Sarah, Carina, Amy and Zondra were the “Clandestine Attack Team”, solving problems like the drug lord Gaez with high caliber machine guns. Turns out they also came up against one of those problems that no amount of fire power was going to solve, and that was problem was a loss of trust. It didn’t go away, either. Sarah can’t trust Zondra, Zondra can’t put up with Sarah’s mistrust, and that left Amy and Carina caught perpetually in the middle.
And then there’s Casey. Everyone’s got a past, and Casey’s past includes Kathleen. His first reaction might be to use the usual high explosives to extricate himself from this particularly sticky situation, but even Casey knows that’s not going to be effective this time. Kathleen is not going away because Alex is not going away and Morgan is going to be there bringing the sit-rep. to his attention constantly.
Oh, we’ve got the spy-adventure story with Gaez. But the real deal is laying underneath.
Ernie’s Take On The Under-story
Chuck and Sarah are still works in progress, and a work in progress. Sarah is still fiercely proud and self-reliant. She still doesn’t do vulnerability well, as we saw at the end of Seduction Impossible. Chuck is still determined to “fix” everything for Sarah, to make it all better, as we saw in Balcony. He’s a bit pushy and a bit nosy, but then again she did agree to marry him… Chuck understands something about the past that Sarah doesn’t. By ignoring the past, spies like Sarah and Casey feel as if they are freed from it, but in a way it robs them of a future. There are no lessons learned, no regrets, no “I’d do it different if I could” and so no growth or emotional movement. Their lives are characterized by packing light and constant travel, but they are lives that are headed nowhere. There is no final destination to look forward to. Well there wasn’t before Chuck.
As stuck as Chuck was when they met him, both location and lifewise, Chuck is different. As soon as someone told him that his life was not allowed to go beyond certain bounds he rebelled and pushed back. The slap to the face woke him up.
Chuck has faced his past, and reconciled with it. Bryce, Jill, his father, his mother, and even to an extent Sarah, as much as she’ll let him. Does Chuck carry some baggage because of that? Well he has. He’s had issues with trust and abandonment and lost opportunities and moving on with his life, all because he can’t seem to let go of the past. As he’s dealt with it all he carries something different with him, a life full of memories that can be accepted as a part of him and his life, even if they aren’t the most pleasant, and a life that has direction and purpose and progress. We saw Ellie doing the same thing in Suitcase, dealing with a past she felt might come back to haunt her even as she was determined to face her future as a mother.
While Sarah seems to be moving on with life and have a goal, she still feels the weight of her baggage holding her back. We saw in Seduction Impossible that her unwillingness to deal with the past had her ready to manipulate Chuck into giving up the big family wedding with his newly re-united family he’d always dreamed of. All because she didn’t want to re-connect, or talk about, her past. And whether she’s ready yet, we don’t know, but at least she’s acknowledging the terror, and how having some family around to talk about it does help. Ellie has had her own share of baggage in her life, and Devon helped her with it, but Ellie realized he could only help her, really help, when she was ready to be helped. Then they could be a team, after talking about it. Chuck just dives right in. And Sarah is about to come face-to-face with her past. The C.A.T. Squad.
She isn’t exactly thrilled. See, Carina was the mellow one.
True to form, the C.A.T. Squad shakes things up a bit, and after an unexpected entrance, a night of partying that either bled into two or involved procuring supersonic transportation to Miami and back (how they may have done that boggles the mind), an awkward (for some) morning and breakfast, and Sarah thinks her trip down memory lane is done. Sorry Sarah, you didn’t face your past, you visited it like a tourist on a long weekend. You aren’t getting off that easy.
Joe On The Fixers
Did I imply that this was ever a light and fun episode? I take it back. The people who blithely think they can just waltz in and fix things are mistaken. Sadly so. Casey is willing to say so outright.
Casey: Y’know I used to be like you, to try and fix everything. Not now. Example: Grimes suggested I approach Alex’s mom. I was tempted at first. But, ah- she’s moved on. So – getting your life disrupted… I let it lay.
It’s true – letting go of that past is not easy at all, and every time Chuck tries to “fix” Sarah’s problems he seems to make it worse. That’s their history. She would much rather be the one saving Chuck from his problems, being the strong one, being the “handler”. For Sarah, that’s easy. Relying on him for help, or anyone else for that matter, is not.
You may not have noticed, but Carina’s one of those fixers too. She loves to jump in the middle of people’s lives and stir things up, her way. She thinks Morgan’s problem is that he doesn’t have enough fun (read, women) in his life and she’s always ready to give the little guy a thrill. What she didn’t expect was to be told off, certainly not by the little bearded man.
Morgan: Okay, listen. I don’t know what it’s gonna take to get through that thick, spy skull of yours, but you need to understand something. You are NOT the only game in town, and I am in love with somebody else.
Carina: You are really angry.
Morgan: You’re damn right I am. I’m through with you, and I’m through being your slave.
Casey is – what’s the word – resigned? He’s resigned to things as they are with Kathleen, and Morgan is something else entirely. He is angry, angry enough to tell Carina to “go to hell” in the very next line he speaks. That, from the mouth of a character whose been a clown and a sidekick. And you know what? On re-watch, I share his anger. I feel Casey’s resignation and capitulation to reality, and I understand Sarah’s frustrations. This episode is more than a mere bow to Charlie’s Angels.
Ernie On The CATS
The C.A.T.s are back, Carina wants Morgan, and Casey is hunting unicorns. Oh yeah, and Chuck is going to fix this for Sarah. The mission may be Gaez, but Sarah is bent on finding closure once it is clear the mole is setting her up. She’s determined to prove herself right, to justify the ill will and the hard feelings she caused, and harbored all those years. Seems letting go of the past isn’t so simple as Sarah (and Casey) think. There is a lot of investment in being right if the only thing you live for is a cause. Sooner or later the possible wrongs start to make you question if you are doing right and if your greater good justifies what you’ve done, or given up. Sarah needs to know she was right. Chuck, he just wants to help Sarah reconcile with the past, to find out what happened and face it so that it CAN be part of the past as opposed to more baggage she carries around. He is after all Sarah’s own personal baggage handler But before that, I want to talk about Casey and Morgan.
Part of facing the past is facing yourself and who you were versus who you are, or want to be. In Seduction Impossible we saw a Casey and a Morgan determined to fix things. It was a marvelous foreshadow of CAT Squad. Morgan was determined to fix things with Kathleen. To get everyone to agree that it was all one big misunderstanding and that they could all move on, no problem. But Casey understood, at some level something else. He made a decision, based on the information he had, and he was probably wrong. Would Casey have “died” and dedicated his life to service if he knew he had a child on the way? From what we know of Casey, certainly not. But with only a woman he loved, he did decide. He decided she wasn’t enough. Was it right? Who knows. But it was his decision, and not only he, but Kathleen and Alex have to live with it. So why doesn’t Casey want to meet Kathleen? Well easy, she’ll hate him for leaving her for a job at the Buy More. Right. Again, you aren’t getting off that easy. Casey, you did leave her for a job. Just one you thought was worth it. Suddenly, your sage advice to Chuck, don’t try to fix things, looks a lot like, dare I say it, cowardice.
Morgan, well, you took a stand way back in the day of Three Words. Carina couldn’t even remember your name right, and kept asking for favors, but then you read her the riot act. It’s Morgan, and you are not the only game in town, so take your suitcase and your leave. Oh Morgan, you were determined to show some backbone and let her know you were not her toy. Until of course she got you into bed and you caved to everything. Call out in the night, restricted Facebook friend, the contact information preciously guarded… Nice try. See Carina is the smart one. She’ll call your bluff. Sometimes that sucks, and you find yourself a helpless hapless nerd, overjoyed she remembered you. Sometimes it helps, like when a video tells you there is no running away from this one, no matter how tempting the offer. In the end Carina is about one thing, you want it? Prove it. Think you’re in love Chuck? Sure it’s not just the fact that a smoking hottie seems to want you? Think staying here, for now is what you want, or that it’s going to work? OK Walker, here’s what you’re dealing with. The CATS back together… Interesting. Zondra is the traitor? Prove it. Walker in a white dress? We’ll see. Morgan off the market? Prove it.
Joe’s Gut Reacts
So, you got that anger too? Honestly, it’s easy to miss because the wrongs are righted so gently, and the anger and frustrations disappear before you realize Morgan’s truly upset.
It starts with the most gentle of characters, Ellie. We’ve seen her get all big-sister/doctor on Chuck, and we’ve seen her supportive of Morgan before. But watching her be a friend is something much more rare.
Sarah: I’m really excited for the party, but digging into the past – old friends and family – it’s um, a bit complicated for me.
Ellie: And Chuck just – dives right in.
Sarah: Head first.
Ellie: Well, I could talk to him.
Sarah: No, I should probably try and get over the – terror – that I’m feeling right now.
Ellie: [laughing] Sarah, if you ever need to talk about complicated family situations, wedding stuff, anything – you can come to me.
Sarah: Thank you. I appreciate that. It does feel good to talk about it. Anyway, have fun.
Ellie: Well – not likely, but, thank you.
Well, of course, everyone whose ever tried to fix things [Joe raises his hand shyly from the back of the room and says “guilty”] learns pretty quickly that a lot of the time no one wants you to step in and actually do something. We all learn that listening is often the best and only thing to do. Know what’s great about Ellie? She also knows that there are exceptions and that her brother is actually pretty good at the doing part, too.
Ernie Faces The Truth
So yeah, back to the CAT squad, the mission, and all that. Chuck is going to fix things for Sarah. Well he will, in his own inimitable way. Sarah, ever the spy, wears a dress with several hundred places to conceal a knife as opposed to the more, (ahem) traditional spy-wear the other CATs choose, and so Sarah gets the drop. But by forgetting about the past, by refusing to deal with the past, and refusing to consider her past decisions, Sarah is uniquely vulnerable. Gaez knows what she wants to hear. He knows she’d accept it gratefully, without question. And he’d probably have given her that, and used it to turn Zondra, or manipulate Sarah, or Chuck. But he doesn’t get the chance.
Oh Chuck, how we love you, and how your occasional cluelessness when it comes to Sarah ends up saving the day. Before Gaez can permanently poison the well, Chuck interrupts, temporarily denying Sarah the closure she seeks, and Gaez, and Amy, the opportunity they seek. But Sarah, she just sees Chuck in the way of what she wanted to hear. Chuck wanting to fix things got in the way of her hearing she was right. She wanted closure, even if it was a lie, just to let go of her past. Chuck made her face it. Zondra, like a real friend, helped. In a very weird “let’s beat on each other” way.
In the meantime Chuck is now carrying the baggage of the entire CAT squad. I’ll leave the reader to decide the degree of the metaphorical versus physical truth of that statement, and it’s implications.
Joe Wonders If Chuck Can Multitask
Watch Sarah watching Chuck on the monitor as Gaez and Amy are going after him. “He has a plan,” she says. “At least, I think he does.” But what the heck is he doing? Chuck is not only shopping for various small electrical appliances, he’s also fretting to Sarah, obsessing over what Ellie’s told him, and apologizing for being such a fool.
No, he’s not. He’s dodging the killers, fashioning a weapon from a waffle iron and a CD, flashing on the skill he needs and apologizing for being such a fool. It’s known as multitasking these days, and Chuck’s actually pretty remarkable at it. Did Sarah’s faith in him waiver for a second? No, it didn’t. She clearly didn’t know what he was going to do and clearly worried for him, but believed in Chuck even without knowing precisely what he was up to. That’s the very definition of having faith in someone, and right now, I can’t tell you how important that is.
It’s almost perfect that Chuck&Sarah have come to tacitly trust each other like that, even if it’s not immediately apparent to the outside world.
And you know, that’s the way it was for me too. I’ve often said that I really didn’t care for that unmotivated bumbling whiner that Chuck used to be. I would cringe at the guy with the girlish screams who compared rather unfavorably to Bryce and Cole when they were side by side. Was that Chuck back, shopping in the Buy More, unfocused and ineffective? It turns out that you gotta have a little faith in the character. It might have looked like that Chuck was back, but that lasted for only about two seconds.
Zac Levi and TPTB gently played me for about that long, and the realization made me smile.
Morgan doesn’t have quite so serious a problem. What he’s searching for is a way to be open and honest with Alex in a way that doesn’t scare her away. It’s something pretty much everybody in a serious relationship faces. Suffice it to say that he too needs to have a little faith.
Carina herself tries to fix his situation. The spy with the e-mail address Carina@Azzkicker.com realizes her games playing has just cost Morgan and she seriously tries to make amends properly by apologizing to Alex. Like usual with the fixers, it doesn’t work. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to, because Morgan has learned enough from Chuck to be honest and forthright. He puts his faith in Alex and finds that it pays off.
Oh. And the rift between Zondra and Sarah? Amy’s duplicitous – she’s fooled everyone. My only complaint about this episode is that we didn’t really see a proper on-screen reconciliation between Zondra and Sarah, only their teaming up with the rigorously neutral Carina to stop Amy from pummeling an Intersect that refuses to punch out a woman. I think we can safely assume the reconciliation happened formally off-screen.
Ernie Keeps The Faith
Well, Truth has an annoying tendency to come out. It makes you face mistakes. It makes you face yourself. We all like to be right, but both Sarah and Zondra have some humble pie to swallow. And it is interesting to watch this. Sarah, the new Sarah, gently seeks to bring her old friends into this new reality where she deals with her past and fixes her mistaakes rather than runs from them. She has a real life and can have a real wedding with real bridesmaids who are real friends, not disposable friends.
And then there is the spy thing. Spies hate to lose. The problem is that by nature they don’t play fair. Carina has an amends to make. She crossed a line, perhaps one she set for herself. Martin had moved on, yet she still wanted to win, to be right, to take what others thought they had. It’s a tough thing to face your past, who you are, who you’ve become. To introduce doubt where there was none, a lipstick smear, well, maybe that pushed things a bit. Fun and games and stirring pots might be OK for emotionally detached super-spies, but when there are real feelings involved, maybe it needs to be dialed down a notch.
Speaking of dialed down, let’s party. One can’t help notice the contrast between the parties, all of them. Hmm, where they pointing us at the party girl? Well it was pretty obvious, as Chuck says, nobody is that perky. So, note the evening Chuck had planned for a CAT squad re-union. A quiet evening in with some wine and cheese and fruit. Perfect for a newly engaged couple re-uniting with old friends. And not quite the CAT squad’s cup of tea. Their idea of a party involved continental travel just to get into the right after-hours place. And apparently a lot of drinking and dancing. Sarah’s let’s party is the perfect wrap-up of the new lifestyle. She no longer needs to try so hard to have fun. She has a family, a (soon to be) husband and a home that fills in the places in her life where nightclubs and dancing and drinking couldn’t. It is also funny to note that Zondra, Carina, and Casey hang together, almost as if they are afraid to mingle, or don’t feel part of this world. Perhaps add a yet. Sarah, she lives in that world where engagements and families and weddings are real, not a mission. In that world she’s learned she still needs a bit of help. Chuck really does help her, despite the diving in headfirst. But some things she’s not quite ready for help with, from Chuck at least, given Chuck’s eagerness and style. So Sarah Walker, who claims not to need help, who doesn’t do vulnerability well and is fiercely proud and independent does something amazing. She asks for help. As Sarah and the other CATS see this for real stuff is a bit scary.
Having people you can count on to help you through makes it less so.
– joe & Ernie