Approaching Normal — Chuck Versus the Business Trip

Chuck is up to his neck in bombs in this high stakes game that begins with an assassination attempt on Morgan, nearly kills Sarah, and ends with Casey’s arrest for multiple homicide. As serious all that is, it is also seriously fun … and funny and romantic and heartwarming and crazy enjoyable.

Throwing stars, Beckman, finding an assassin at a Buymore convention, baby Clara, awesome CS, Bartowski family goodness … what’s not to love? I’m even liking the Buymore plot (and that’s something I thought I would never say).

Chuck Versus the Business Trip contrasts Chuck and Sarah’s two worlds as the spy world mingles with the normal world, leaving our favorite couple to ponder what it might be like to be normal, how to balance their two worlds, and what they really want in their life together.

Getting Morgan Back To Normal

Before Chuck can get his friend back to normal, he has to keep him from getting dead. Chuck stops Morgan from blowing himself up. But this is Morgan … and it is a detonator … so the odds are good that eventually something will blow up.

The scene in Castle was so much fun, with Sarah telling Morgan they called in the big guns and the look that passed between Chuck and Sarah as Beckman entered Castle. It was fun to watch them exercise the Intersect one last time. Chuck and Sarah have a blast indulging Morgan’s last wish, while Casey and GB are not amused. Almost as impressive as Morgan’s catching the stars was Chuck (and Sarah’s — duh) ability in throwing them. Sarah’s entering into the fun is wonderful and entertaining, as is her reaction to Casey’s sucker punch, and her dead pan agreement with Morgan that Chuck’s beloved Die-Hard-Star-Wars-Chewie-Yoda-Yippie-Ki-Yay is gibberish … and the playful look she gives her wounded husband.

The rest of getting Morgan back to normal is a video crash course to restore his sci-fi-hero-nerd-pop-culture knowledge. Casey’s pranking Morgan about watching films he wouldn’t like and spoiling the ones he would like is very funny, especially for Casey. Who knew he was such a nerd? Casey has to work his way through the forgiveness process, unlike Chuck whose forgiveness comes easily. In the end, Casey offered his forgiveness in a bag, with a set of Indiana Jones videos and an invitation to move back in.

It’s nice to have the normal Morgan back.

Happy and Normal and Nice

 The courtyard is the place of some of the best Chuck moments (we should do a poll). Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I think that Chuck and Sarah would walk in on a Mommy and Me group … and not freak out. In fact, they look rather happy about this wonderful normal occurence. No deer in the headlights look from Sarah or panic face from Chuck. They take time to squat down and share in Devon’s happiness. Chuck looks at Sarah to gauge her reaction. Her smile says maybe one day she might like some little-person happiness of her own. One of the courtyard’s finest moments.

Ellie and Devon have always been Chuck’s normometer. For a long time he held their life as his ideal … until he embraced his spy destiny and realized that life with Sarah was way better than normal. Every once in a while Ellie and Devon trigger his desire for a normal life, How great are Ellie and Awesome, huh? They’re just a nice, happy, normal couple. Sarah knows him well and clues into his mood, Yeah, they are. Chuck has hit a wall with all the recent challenges and wonders if they are at a fork in the road. Sarah hears him. She knows the day will come for more taco nights and fewer evil cabals, but for now she reassures him that together they will figure out the whole free-agent spy thing, even without the Intersect. It’s a wonderful CS married moment … all except for GB’s untimely interruption.

Obstructing Normal

Decker. Oooo. I really do not like that man. Neither does Beckman. Decker brings a new level of evil to Chuck. He called in a top assassin to off Morgan? Grrr. (Sorry, that was me, not Casey.) He’d really like to call off the hit, but he can’t. Uh-huh. Looks all broken up about it, too. (Did you notice how Decker misled them. He implies that the Viper is a man and that he only has Morgan’s name.)

Chuck naively thinks it was all over when they kicked them out of the CIA. Sarah’s remark and the look on her face tell us she knows better, He’s not done with us. Shiver. (Did that send a chill up anyone else’s spine?) This is the part of the spy world that Sarah and Casey are all too familiar with.

Decker only becomes more detestable after the assassination is foiled. His mock relief, his faux good-guy protestations, the meaningless cancellation of the hit, and his disdainful comment to TeamB. Good luck running a spy business with no Intersect, huh?

Speaking of disdain, Beckman has it in spades for Decker. Look at her face. It shows disgust for Chuck and Sarah’s raw deal, an injustice she has no control over. I also see regret over the loss of her best spy team. Morgan and Chuck are not the only ones who miss the Intersect.

See ya never.

Yeah, right!

An Island of Normal

That would be Jeff, in a sea of Buymore … subnormal(?). Who’d a thunk? Jeff is the new Chuck. OK, not quite. But he’s responsible, discerning, demonstrates positive leadership skills, and won’t be manipulated. One of his favorite pastimes is … reading? And his initiative in problem solving gives Chuck the idea to flush out the Viper.

I’m loving the whole Jeff plot: the contrast between Jeff reading a book and sipping tea from a teacup (the classical music was a brilliant touch) and Big Mike slouched over a bowl of cheese balls; Jeff’s new ethic at war with, rather than an unwitting tool of, Lester’s machinations; the unclouded view of the difference between Jeff and Lester. Jeff is a worthy subject for Big Mike’s camera, Devon’s medical case study … and an oasis in the desiccated landscape of Buymore plots.

Of course, there’s a shark in the Buymore waters that hates the all new Jeff. Lester stoops to an all new low to get his Jeff back. I applaud the arrest and can’t help wondering if we’ll get to be a fly on the wall to see how Lester makes out in prison. Good thing Yuri the Gobbler is gone.

Surrounded By Normal

Normal, normal, everywhere
Nice folks, no guise, no lies;
Normal, normal, everywhere
For everyone but spies.

Operation Buymore Magnet. Given Chuck and Sarah’s present susceptibility to the sirens’ call to a normal life, this is probably the worst place for them to carry out a dangerous mission. They are surrounded by normal people doing what normal people do when there’s an open bar and a swimming pool.

Showing the spy world mingling freely with the normal world is a brilliant encapsulation of Chuck and Sarah’s dual-world dilemma. I love their not-normal husband/wife conversation — priceless. Usually it doesn’t bother them, but right now they are a young married spy couple, just going through your typical existential spy crisis. (Yvonne and Zac are perfect throughout.)

It’s food and drink, laughter, sun, and crazy fun … for everyone but Chuck and Sarah. They get their mingle on and search for the lone assassin in a crowd of normal people. They look normal, act normal, and talk normal … but they aren’t normal. They interact with normal, while never connecting with normal. It’s survival. And it’s hard to do when you’re craving normal.

That brings us to Sarah. Last year she was trying to adapt to normal. Now she has embraced it and is thoroughly enjoying her normal life. (It’s obvious and one of the wonderful, endearing aspects of watching Sarah this year.) So here, surrounded by genuine people laughing, having fun, and accepting her as one of them, she craves more. She wants to expand the normal part of her world. Logically that means having her own friends apart from Chuck’s friends.

Sarah does her job, and does it well, even passing her own lie detector test (which saddens her a bit). Everyone checks out, including the emotional wife and mom who wants to befriend her … and kill her.

The Viper In The Garden of Normal. Jane gains Sarah’s trust, a rare and precious commodity. How? Jane really is good at what she does. She establishes common ground, tearfully citing a phase she’s going through — getting so accustomed to a role that you forget how to be a regular person outside of that role — a normal, real-world phase that mirrors the sum reality of the spy world. Sarah immediately identifies with her and warms to the idea of a real friend.

Chuck and Sarah lose themselves in the care-free bubble of poolside drinks and jovial conversation with the nicest people in the world, and they connect, however briefly, with normal. For me it’s just fun to see them normal and happy and nice, a glimpse, perhaps, of what that other fork in the road might look like some day.

Here’s a shocker. The people hanging out at the pool didn’t all turn out to be normal. In a group of 7, there were 3 spies (and the bartender makes 4) and a pervert. It’s a good reminder that in any group, anywhere, there will always be people who aren’t who they say they are. If you want to find a friend at any party, your odds are good, but the goods may end up being odd.

Trust and Consequences. Chuck is enjoying himself, but it’s not a unique experience for him … unlike Sarah, who has probably never had an experience like this. It shows. I kind of love it here. [giggles and smiles] … We checked everybody, and everyone is exactly who they say they are. It’s amazing.

Maybe a little too amazing.

My heart constricts a little at Sarah’s happiness that someone wants to be her friend, especially her defense that it’s because Jane really likes her.

Talk about your role reversal. Sarah has somehow switched into normal mode, trusting that people are who they say they are (albeit with the help of a polygraph). Chuck is the one thinking like a spy. His remark (that Jane is the Viper) is not an affront to Sarah’s likeability. He’s just thinking like a spy. Trust no one. Suspect everyone, especially if they befriend you out of nowhere. Chuck’s desire to assure his wife shoves his suspicions to the back of his mind.

Reality check: Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I mean I’m not really sure what type of friendship is founded on lies. With that crushing thought, Sarah returns her focus to the mission.

Mission over. Viper captured. Chuck offers to finish up and let Sarah go for a drink with a friend. Her tentative acceptance blooms into shy pleasure, Really, you mean, like, I can go and have an actual normal friend? … OK. Well, I’m going to go have a drink with a friend, like a real live person.

What follows is the most tension so far this season. Chuck’s spy brain niggles him into full alert, just in time to keep Sarah from being blown up. It doesn’t take long for Sarah’s spy brain to catch up, and Yvonne’s face sells the fear. Fantastic bomb defusing scene.

Do-not-mess-with-me Sarah is back. She calls Jane to distract her, and to force her voice to reveal her position. Then she Takes. Her. Down. Woo-hoo. Great scene.

I’m a spy. Boy it feels good to say that to a real friend. By the way you’re amazing at what you do. I really trusted you. And I don’t do that very often.

Jane’s words are a redundant warning, Well, you shouldn’t. Sarah takes the words to heart, as she gives Casey the nod to keep tabs on the Viper as she leaves Castle.

The Viper won’t get within striking distance again.

Interludes of Normal

These last two juxtaposed scenes are … moving. Powerful. I don’t know of a more powerful 4 minutes of Chuck, ever. (I guess Ellie’s living room scene in First Fight is a close second.)

Sarah opens the door into an interlude of normal, a moment out of time, in a haven away from the spy world that holds their real world hostage.

On the other side of town John Casey keeps the evil at bay. He hears an assassin vow to kill Walker, Grimes, Casey, Bartowski, his daughter. He hears Decker sanction a kill on all but Walker and Bartowski. He does what he has to do to keep his friends and family safe for another day.

As Casey runs off, the image of Jane’s vacant stare fills the screen, and a mournful melody fills the silence. Jane represents the spy life plus nothing. Hers is the logical end of the brute spy life. The road of ever decreasing sensitization to life, love, and moral awareness ends like this, in a dark ally with no one to mourn an empty life. The cold ally and her empty life stand in stark contrast with the warmth of the Bartowski home and the people who belong there, including some spies of a different breed … spies with a moral anchor, who have a real life and real love, something to lose and someone to fight for.

Back at Casa Bartowski, Ellie revels in the open conversations they can finally share. They laugh about Chuck posing as Morgan, and joke about the beard. Chuck and Sarah are open with their affection and enjoyment of their family.

Casey comes in from the cold. He and Sarah exchange a fleeting look (our families are safe), the party never missing a beat. Wine flows. Casey hugs his daughter and laughs. Awesome feeds Morgan, and Sarah laughs huge. In this place, in this moment, smiles and laughter, warmth and shared love overflow. Yet even these moments are haunted by the mournful strains, a reminder of their loss, the high cost of duty, and the dangers on the other side of the door.

What matters most, though is the life they share within these walls. Sarah raises her glass in a toast:

Chuck and I have been a little sad this week that we aren’t normal people. I’ve been having a hard time with the fact that I have no real friends. But I look around here at all of you today, and I realize that because of Chuck I do. Nobody in the world is closer than we all are. So, thank you, and cheers.

Now that’s a normal life, no matter what job you put it in.

~^~ Thinkling

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About thinkling

In my [younger] youth, I was a math teacher, basketball coach, and computer programmer. In 1984, we moved to Brazil, where we serve as missionaries. I like to design things and build things, read things and write things. We now live part-time in Brazil, part-time in the US. Love them both. Wife, 37 yrs; mom, 30 yrs. I am blessed.
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28 Responses to Approaching Normal — Chuck Versus the Business Trip

  1. joe says:

    Who else could use a word like normometer, Thinkling? Beautiful!

    Chuck used to be the naive one, right? And Sarah was cold and cynical (enough to kill the French assassins and be glad about it). Wow, have they come a distance. Chuck is counseling skepticism and Sarah is seeking out friends. Despite this, Chuck is still seeing the best in people and Sarah can still deck perverts and spies with one punch. That’s what I call a happy medium.

    It’s the new normal!

    Well, I can’t quite wrap my brain around Jeff’s new normal, but there you go.

    Know what the strangest thing about all this is? The Intersect is gone. Somehow, it and hacked predator missiles and codes hidden in copies of arcade games seemed “normal”. A nerd at the herd’s desk actually having a chance with a Porsche and Lotus driving spy who looks like she belongs with James Bond, Neil Caffrey and Superman seemed “normal.” We have a new normal and, to paraphrase Alexei Volkoff, it looks like real life.

    Speaking of Volkoff, isn’t Richard Burgi great? He was a (sort-of) baddie on Desperate Housewifes the last I saw him (and I caught him once on NCIS and Castle), but his character is as heartless as it gets. Man, this show has had some great bad guys; Ted Roark, Vincent, Heather Chandler, Volkoff (of course) and even Daniel Shaw. Decker is right up there with them.

    • Gord says:

      I’m still hoping that Chuck gets the intersect back. It’s true he doesn’t need it now, but I thought Chuck with the intersect was so much fun.

    • joe says:

      I used to commiserate with Chuck, Gord, back in the days when just wanted to get rid of the thing and be “normal” again. I was surprised to find myself saying “oh no!” when I realized it was gone.

      I’m having a hard time reading TPTB with this one. I can’t decide if it would be better to have the Intersect gone permanently or not.

  2. Gord says:

    Great review, and I agree with just about everything but the throwing star bit in the castle. I didn’t hate it, but I thought it ran way too long, when there were so many other excellent scenes in this episode they could have spent more time on.

    This is by far the best episode to air this season so far, at least for me. I am so relieved Morgansect is over.

    BTW, I’m really hoping that we see Casey and Lester sharing a cell at the police station. Perhaps maybe even Casey protecting Lester from some hardened criminal that wants to make him his girlfriend. I think some great potential for comedy gold in that.

  3. lappers84 says:

    Funny how Chuck was spot on by saying Jane was the Viper only to backtrack so not to hurt Sarah’s feelings. And one thing I thought was funny that you didn’t mention was that small scene when Sarah is going to meet Jane and sees Lester up to no good, and she shakes it off with the whole’ ‘normal thoughts’ lol.

  4. atcDave says:

    Great job summing up another wonderful episode.

    Anyone else catch what Jeff was reading? It was “Flowers for Algernon.”. The story of a moron who has an operation that makes him a genius. but it doesn’t stick and he goes back to being a moron. Foreshadowing?

    • thinkling says:

      Good catch, Dave. I tried, but couldn’t pick it up. I really hope not [on the foreshadowing]. That would be so sad. I want it to stick.

    • joe says:

      Yes! Great catch.

      Wow, that brings back memories. When I was a junior in high school, the senior class put on that play. I knew the guy who played the lead – a good friend of mine. He was a bit of a jock, and not known for being a straight A student – not by a long shot.

      But he was incredible in that part. His “younger self” was played by his kid brother, and the strong family resemblance made it instantly believable that he was talking to himself, the handicapped child into which he reverts. It was very moving, especially for a high-school production.

      Yeah, it’ll make me sad if Jeff reverts too.

  5. sd says:

    Great write up, Thinkling!

    I think the Jeff sub-plot makes the Buy-More more interesting than ever before.

    I don’t think Chuck gets the intersect back because the story-line won’t allow it…imho, I think the story ends with Chuck and Sarah finding a normal life outside of the spy biz and with Sarah pregnant. If Chuck has the intersect it will always be the train scene during Honeymoon when he flashes…

  6. SarahSam says:

    Great review as usual thinkling. So many great one-liners, so many great moments in one of the all time episodes. I notice different little things on each viewing , like the bomb diffusing scene in the Lotus, when Sarah has lifted her leg , try as he might, Chuck can not resist taking a peek. As a married guy, I thought that was very cute and realistic. LOL.. Of course, Sarah has transitioned to spy mode but is totally trusting that Chuck will diffuse the bomb despite the distraction. Good stuff. Let’s keep it going.

    • thinkling says:

      You’re right SS. Every scene had good stuff. The whole episode was just great. I loved the comfort level between them during the bomb defusing, with both the actual defusing and the awkward position. It’s a whole other plain of comfort and working together.

    • herder says:

      Great write up Thinkling, one of the things that I enjoyed about this episode was that they got almost all the small things right. This leads to lots of the story being told by glances between characters rather than exposition, it works when the other stuff around it is working, when the other stuff isn’t it all falls down. Think about all the glances: Sarah and Chuck after she had said that Morgan’s geek stuff was unimportant, Sarah and Casey before and after the Viper’s demise, Chuck and Sarah in the hall outside the Hotel rooms and the like.

      Also in terms of sight gags, some are telegraphed with dialogue, others are just there, compare the Castle pinball machines and all the Buy More logos at the pool party (especially the woman in the Buy More Bikini). With all the small things done so well, the really well done big things just float on top of them. A treat.

  7. SarahSam says:

    Lol, wrong defuse by me thinkling, thanks. Still a great review and great episode though, so many plot set-ups that can be used going forward.

  8. Ernie Davis says:

    Thinkling, great read as usual. I think it’s gonna be tough to top this one, and if they do I fear for the fandom and their collective mental health when this show ends. It’s usually around the 4th episode that the season long conflicts coalesce, and I think you’re right, it’s the contrast with normal and spy, now that they are, legally speaking normal people, yet still spies.

    The last montage is going to be tough to beat in my list of best montages. Right now it’s fighting with the end of Fat Lady for sheer impact, though it delivers the shock first and leaves you waiting for the other shoe to drop (as it seemed Casey was).

    Having to wait till the 9th just seems cruel, but seeing that the 9th will now officially be 2 days after the end of production on Chuck, ’tis a season of cruelty, at least as far as TV is concerned.

    • thinkling says:

      It’s interesting, when I first read the synopsis of Business Trip, it didn’t wow me … but the episode sure did. But before it’s over, though, I bet they top it. That’s how good I feel about the season.

      I had almost forgotten the end of Fat Lady montage, but you’re right, that one is very tense. This one was almost eerie, though. It really got to me. Really great. Yvonne and her face played quite a range of emotions during those brief 4 minutes, and her look at the very end … well, it made quite an impact.

      It’s hard to believe that by the time we watch the next episode, Chuck will have wrapped for good. That is cruel. I can’t wrap my brain around the idea that Zac and Yvonne and Adam et al will no longer be on the Chuck set (or soon to be back on the Chuck set). What a crushing realization.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        In a way, I’m presently treating that final montage as the seasonal synopsis (along with the first episodes outline of where they will end up.) You can’t just walk away, the spy life won’t let you. Casey seemed to sense that, we’ll see how our other heroes deal with that.

      • atcDave says:

        I often feel that way with synopsis; that they don’t really excite me until I see a preview or longer write-up.

        And yeah, very sad to think of things really wrapping up. I will miss this show more than any other I can ever think of.

      • thinkling says:

        Yup, I think so, too. You could almost do a whole post on the final montage. It showed two choices for our heroes. Ultimately it’s one or the other. I didn’t want to delve too much, because obviously there’s a vast difference between Jane and TeamB, but they operate in the same world, where things end badly the good guys and the bad guys, alike.

        You have some spies, like the Turner’s who get to retire and walk away, but with Decker on the war path, plus the Bartowski legacy and the secrets they’re a part of … Chuck and Sarah have to finish it, before it finishes them. The CIA or Decker or the PM won’t let them walk away. Decker won’t let them live beyond their usefulness to his agenda.

        A couple of really important lines:
        Sarah’s “He’s not done with us yet.”
        Jane’s “Well you shouldn’t [trust anyone]”

        Two warnings before they get to more taco nights and fewer evil cabals … or Mommy and Me groups

  9. jason says:

    Interesting how much this felt like a season 2 episode, light, fun, action with probbly 50 or more things I loved about the ep. I enjoyed the silliness which included a college professor like dignity for Jeff, use of a fury rabbit and record references to the ‘Buy More’. Chuck acting as Morgan to lure out the world’s best hit man is a Get Smartish spy plot in terms of logic but is plain and simple – FUNNY. Casey shooting that same hit man and her gang without them squeezing off a shot is a little hard to justify too, but the scene itself, did not fit at all with the levity of the episode. Hence I made the season 2 ‘Suburbs’ or ‘Mauser’ comparison, even if it is ill conceived for my taste. It seems this drama will drive the next ep (or two or three even), so it will have payoff, which is what folks asked for from Mauser and never got (thank Goodness, as I sure did not want to see Sarah go to prison, but Casey going, I love that idea, only thing better would be to kill Morgan!)

    Had Suburbs or Santa Claus ended well, they might have been a top ten or fifteen type ep for me, just like Business Trip was! Now comes the real test for the season. For me in the past 4 seasons, when Chuck amps up the drama, they lose part of me (all of me in Chuckwin’s season 3 misery) & I start to dislike the writers (I can’t dislike Chuck, Sarah, Casey, Ellie and Awesome, they are too lovable). I am hoping this season they keep me 100% on board. So far, they are 4 for 4!

  10. Alex Gheatza says:

    Hey, can you please help me with a little something. I really really cannot find the song from Sarah and Chuck’s “How would you like to be a normal couple like Ellie and Awesome” scene. I would really really appreciate if anyone could help me here. Thank you all :).

    My email is: chill_caffe@yahoo.com

    • joe says:

      I believe the song you’re after, Alex, is Only For You by Heartless Bastards. I understand it’s not available just yet. According to Mel at ChuckTV.net, it might be available in February, when their new album, Arrow, comes out.

  11. Pingback: Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Business Trip (5.04) | Chuck This

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