Cougars is part of that awesome S2 beginning that still generates so much excitement for Chuck. For me, it was around Cougars or Tom Sawyer when I first realized I was hooked on Chuck like nothing else I’d ever seen. We have five episodes in a row that seemingly get it right in ever way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see any kind of reset back to this time. Chuck is still a long ways from being a real spy, Sarah is still trying to be professional by holding Chuck at arm’s length, teamB is loyal to each other but the balance of power is radically different from what we see now, and Morgan is still a slacker maximus.
So what makes this episode so special and well loved by many of us? For starters, its the first Sarah back-story we see. This is where we first learn about her con-man/jail bird father; her nerdish past (oh and kudos to Yvonne for her willingness to be shown as something less than glamorous); some of her bitter high school rivalries; the many aliases she has lived under; and how she was recruited into the CIA straight from high school by Graham himself.
Another thing really special in this episode is how we see Chuck as willing to “protect” Sarah. Not in the heroic, larger than life way Sarah protects Chuck; but rather as a friend who can be trusted with her dignity. In fact, Chuck does much of the “handling” here, as he helps Sarah get ready for the reunion mission.
I think a surprising thing about Cougars is how Chuck and Sarah are really not in a good place for much of this episode. Sarah is very stressed out (to say the least!) by so much of her past being brought to light. Her handling and scolding of Chuck both in the beginning Orange Orange scene with Heather and again before the double dinner date is laugh out loud funny, and not the sort of thing we would accept cheerfully in a more recent episode. We’ve seen so much growth from Sarah since this episode was new.
But in the end, I think the awesome last scene, where Chuck and Sarah share a cheeseburger, is what really makes this episode one of the very best. Chuck has proven his worth to Sarah as a friend, and we’ve enjoyed one of the great warm and fuzzy moments that this show does so well.
Thinkling~ Oh yeah. I totally agree, Dave. The first 5 episodes of S2 continue to be some of my favorites. I loved them then (well,Breakup had to grow on me) and I love them now. Of those outstanding episodes, Cougars is my favorite.
It is so much fun to rewatch these episode with a S4 perspective. I think it was in these first episodes of S2 where our heroes’ paths took a distinct turn toward destiny and real love. The first 3 episodes establish a new baseline, and Cougars is the first episode where we see what the new normal looks like. So I’ll back up for just a bit and take a running start at the set up for Cougars and Chuck’s new normal.
Chuck tries on Carmichael for size.
First Date. In a Chuck life-or-death moment, Chuck plucks his fictitious Carmichael from the imaginary corporate world he always wanted for himself and transfers him to the all-too-real, unwanted spy world. He’s confident, in control, and just a little cocky … very different from the whiny, insecure nerd. He’ll have to grow into the larger-than-life Carmichael, but all in all, it’s a good fit.
In Seduction, he tries out his new persona on the “black widow” with mixed success: a dash of charm, a dose of panic, with a hint of girlish scream; but in the end he swings in to save the day and the girl. Maybe there’s something to this Carmichael spy guy.
Sarah gives Agent Walker some time off.
First Date: In a Sarah now-or-never moment, Sarah allows her inner real-girl to surface along with her real feelings for Chuck. Anything you wanted you could have … very daring. She agrees to a real date and a second real date … doubly daring. The difference is as stunning with her as it is with Charles Carmichael. Sarah’s real-girl is uncertain, shy, and the tiniest bit needy … very different from the world-class spy handling her mark. The feelings fit her well … wearing them in public will be a long time coming. And actually being that real girl will take growth and help. But the liberation has begun.
In Seduction, those feelings are simmering too close to the surface. After the famous seduction kiss, like Roan’s Martinis, Sarah is shaken and stirred. She denies her feelings with such a vengeance, one has to wonder whom she’s trying to convince. After Chuck’s unorthodox rescue, her feelings are undeniable and unhide-able.
In Breakup, Chuck thinks he’s ready for the majors, only to be told he is the water boy. Despite the rocky start, he winds up the hero. He is becoming a real spy. Hey, even his cover got a cover identity … Agent Jorge Carmichael.
Meanwhile, Sarah’s feelings just will not stay hidden. They are obvious to everyone (except for maybe Chuck). By the end of the mission, her denial to Casey is paper thin, and she realizes that if she expects to keep her job and keep Chuck safe, she will have to somehow shove them back where they belong.
For the first time Chuck understands the potential dangers for spies who fall in love and does what Sarah has had to do all along … push her away for her own good. And Sarah gets a feel for this process from Chuck’s perspective … real feelings, real hurt. Resetting the relationship is a formality, though, and they both know exactly what’s happening. Spies can’t fall in love … at least not for now.
The new normal is established. Chuck is becoming a bit of a spy. Sarah, though still not acknowledging them, can no longer deny her feelings at least to herself. The real girl has found the one person she could take a chance with … if she dared to take a chance. There’s been stunning progress from the real breakup of their fake relationship in Truth to the fake breakup of their real relationship in Breakup.
That’s the new baseline — the new normal for Cougars. So, let’s see how it plays.
Dude, You’re the man!
Yes, he is. This is the all new confident Chuck. His Charles Carmichael persona gets a promotion: Special Agent “Mad Dog” Carmichael. He steps into the role with aplomb, and handles Ratner like a pro, albeit with a lot of help from Casey in the fighting department. Carmichael assures Ratner, No one’s gonna mess with you, man. I got your back, and Ratner is a true believer.
On other fronts he is acting a lot like a real boyfriend … and treating Sarah like a real girlfriend. Take the scene in the OO, have we ever seen this Chuck … at ease, in control, and paying no attention to Sarah’s protests. After the lethal pencil toss (how does she do that?) and the mission/date, he picks up on Sarah’s discomfort. Though he has no idea what could have been so bad about her past, he steps in to help, like a real boyfriend. This is Chuck’s first foray into Sarah baggage handling.
The question is, Who are you?
Just when Sarah has allowed her inner girl to surface and ponder real life with Chuck, part of her real past returns to remind her of all the real things she never wants to remember or think about again … ever. Who is she kidding. If she wanted to be a real girl again, who would she be, and what would it look like? Jenny Burton? Katie O’Connell? Or how about Rebecca Franco? Underneath all those names was a real girl who never got to figure out who she was. Now, she has to relive the miseries of Jenny Burton, with Chuck watching.
Time for a Walker heart to heart with Mr. Punching Bag.
Chuck the boyfriend shows up with a new dress and charms her … a little. Anger spent, her sadness seeps out in a moment of naked honesty, and Sarah lets Chuck in just a little bit. He reassures her and asks for her trust, Hey, it’ll be OK. Trust me. Maybe it feels good to have someone to trust.
Wait, you’re Jenny Burton? … I am if it says I am. That about sums us Sarah’s past. Hand me a name, and that’s who I am.
As Chuck and Sarah stroll into the gym, they’re just a normal couple. Yeah, there’s a mission, but Chuck is more concerned about his (girl)friend, No one’s gonna mess with us, Sarah. I got your back. Tonight, the handler takes takes a back seat, and Sarah becomes the girlfriend. And Chuck is every bit the boyfriend as he steers her through the hazards of high school reunions and old nemeses.
Sarah’s entrance into the gym as Chuck talks to Ratner is one of my favorite CS scenes, of all time.
I’m just a guy who likes math, you know, and somehow I managed to get a beautiful girl like that to fall in love with me. I have to pinch myself sometimes. It’s like I’m dreaming. Little does Ratner know that he’s preaching to the choir.
Enter Sarah … whose look directed at Chuck is anything but professional. You know what Mark? Sometimes the Nerd gets the Girl. And he knows it’s true.
Moments later, we have the first verbal acknowledgement from Sarah that she has fallen in love with Chuck.
Why would a girl like me ever fall in love with a dorky nerd like him? Heather, also preaching to the choir.
You’d be surprised. For a million reasons and no reason at all, Sarah Walker had fallen in love with her nerd … and fallen hard.
Giving Love. He’s her Special Agent. She’s his real girl.
Yet another favorite scene. Chuck comes over to take care of Sarah, first the black eye, then her hunger. Next he works on the baggage a little, telling her she was just a typical high school student. (You’re past doesn’t bother me.)
In return she grants him one question about her past. (I trust you.)
No thanks. I don’t need to know more, not about who you were. Because as much as you don’t think so, I know who you are.
He might as well have given her the moon. For the first time, Graham’s question doesn’t sting so much. Her name doesn’t matter. Her past doesn’t matter. Chuck sees her … knows her … loves her.
If she wanted to be a real girl again, who would she be? The one Chuck sees. With him, maybe the real girl has a chance at real love and real life, after all.
Dave’s Closing Comments
You know its funny teaming with Thinkling on something like this, I honestly can think of nothing else that needs to be said here. I’m sure our readers will prove me wrong and we’ll find plenty to discuss here in the next few days. But this has been so much fun to have an excuse to re-watch some old favorites. We still have three months before new episodes, but it’s nice now that we have so much show history to discuss and explore.