Chuck Versus The Rule of Cool

The World's Coolest Nerd

I’ll let you in on a little not so secret secret.  Chris Fedak knows bullet trains probably don’t have air ducts or crawl spaces large enough for a full-grown woman to crawl through and thus drop down through a suspiciously large vent on unsuspecting bad guys in the nick of time.  He just doesn’t care.  I don’t either.  He also knows there’s no such thing as an instantly disabling tranq gun, an intersect, and that 6″ spike heels aren’t the most practical tactical footwear.  But man all those things are cool.    (OK Ladies, I get it, but Yvonne makes them look cool.)

There’s a well-known TV trope called “The Rule of Cool”.  The definition, according to tvtropes.org is:

The limit of the willing suspension of disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to the element’s awesomeness.

In other words, if the result is cool enough, funny enough, or epic enough you can get away with almost anything.  Hong Kong wire work, impossible car chases and the entire Die Hard franchise are all pretty much built on this trope.  Chuck regularly lives and dies by The Rule of Cool.  Last Friday night the Sarasect wiped the floor with the rule of cool.

This post initially started, as a few have, as a reply to one of our readers.  At some point the reply was abandoned, but the ideas stuck around in my virtual scratchpad.  I do this because you never know when they might apply.  Some of this also comes out of a few BTS conversations with Faith and Joe last summer about the nature of Chuck and the way it’s presented.  See Faith thinks I should be willing to be more critical, that I shouldn’t gloss over the occasional (or frequent depending on your POV) stupid stick moments or plot holes.  They seriously don’t bother me, but I get her point, it makes it look as if I can’t be critical of the show, that I can’t see these problems at all.  Or to the commenter who revived all this for me, Big Kev, it looks like rather than ignoring or accepting the flaws I’m defending them.  I don’t think I am, though I do believe in the generous application of the rule of cool, especially when it comes to Chuck, but this bears some looking into, and I thought there was no better opportunity than while discussing Chuck Versus The Bullet Train.  Oh, and since I brought it up this is what Kev had to say:

In general, I think there’s a difference between accepting the flaws of the show (which I try to do) and defending them (which I can’t do). Your defense that “the mythology has always been poor” is true – but it’s not a strong defence [sic]. And once you’re 5 seasons in, cracks build upon cracks and the mental gymnastics required to hold things up becomes harder.

The quick reply, I think there is a distinction to be made between the strengths and weaknesses of the show and actual flaws and who sees what as which.  This is also something to consider about how we watch the show.  And if I may briefly quibble with Kev (in the friendly traditional forensic manner) you’ve enclosed in quotes something I did not say, nit-picky grammar, I know, 😉  and mischaracterized my point, my fault I suppose since I didn’t clarify sufficiently, but my point was that what you call lapses (and in some cases I agree) and what I call an intentional decision not to bog the show down in unnecessary ways has been a part of the show since it’s beginning, and what has been forgiven in the past, and has been present throughout the series tells me that it is more about the paths TPTB have taken not returning enough “cool” to some of the fans for the rule of cool to apply anymore than any decline in quality.  And that’s fine, for what it is, enjoyment is a personal emotional response, but if you want to be an honest critic you need to recognize your own biases.  Calling strikes in the 9th inning that were balls in the first isn’t fair in my opinion.  Your disagreement and contention that it’s a cumulative thing (no quotes) is noted.

To me one of Chuck’s great strengths is its broad multi-genre appeal.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, but it comes at a cost.  For example, in Chuck the actors need to move between comedy and drama, sometimes the broader sillier comedic characterization or performance clashes with the dramatic appeal others like, so in any given episode the exact thing one fan likes will be the thing that annoys another.  That’s just sort of a caveat for the rest of the discussion.  It applies a lot.  With each of the strengths that someone likes, the broadly outlined and intentionally ambiguous mythology allowing us to use our imaginations and allowing the show to stay nimble and move in unexpected directions, comes an inherent danger, the tendency of viewers to fill in a more detailed mythology that then may conflict, violently, with some future story or where the relationship between the old and new mythology becomes strained beyond the return for redefining the context of what we’ve seen in the past.  Some fans will see something as a strength, others as a flaw.

Chuck Versus The Bullet Train, to me was the perfect time to examine this, before the finale.  Just about any scene you want to point to starts with some TV trope or overused plot device.  But here’s the funny thing.  I don’t think that’s an accident.

Chuck is written by TV nerds for TV nerds, and they expect, even want us to pick up on the homages, references, the meta-humor, and the irony that infuses all of their uses of these conventions.  While honoring them, for all the great fun they brought us, they also ever so subtly mock them for the obvious contrivances that detail obsessed nerds see them as.  But they also deliver the awesome, and in doing so invite us to recover that innocence and that joy of experiencing the awesome for the first time.  We may be watching Die Hard or Memento again via Chuck, but Chuck delivers on the emotional impact, even on re-watch, and that feeling is real every time.  Not many of us get a second chance at virginity.

On the bullet train, Sarah and Casey, freed from their coffins pursue the “big bad” (qfe).  Everything seems to go easier with the intersect, and thank goodness a real spy has it now.  Sarah, the consummate professional, understands the potential and the proper use of the intersect.  It isn’t for partying in Vail or thwarting convenience store holdups, it’s for missions, critical missions, important missions, like rescuing Chuck.  There is no more important mission.

Bullet trains have crawl spaces and large vents, and Sarah apparently insisted Chuck’s wedding ring include something special, but Sarah is a show-me kind of girl, so instead of an engraving, it’s something from the heart.  A custom lock picking feature.  Considering their relationship, it seems oddly appropriate that “custom” wedding rings weren’t ready and twist ties had to suffice.  Oh, but those rings are still special.

Don’t ever take Sarah Walker’s man away from her.  This is reinforced in more ways than one.  The baddies get an A** whooping with a capital A for doing so, and Chuck get’s a … OK, no better way to say it, a simultaneously slightly disturbing yet oddly satisfying lap dance from his wife.  Oh, and for the record, I think TPTB played out the consequences of this scene perfectly.   Those consequences being #sexytimes.  After initially dispatching the bad guy of course.  All made easier by the intersect.

Chuck and Sarah are ready to move on, no matter how awesome the intersect is.  But Casey is vulnerable in a way he has never been before.  The characters, who they are, and who they’ve become, that story drives the plot, and the characters and their lives take center stage.  Who are you John Casey?  Faced with an impossible decision, your team-family or your blood-family what do you do?

Well apparently, as best you can, you let them know that while you’d shoot them if you had to, you want them to help you avoid that scenario.  Casey’s betrayal is played perfectly.  Totally believable, totally acceptable in the world our heroes live.  Protect the ones you love.  When in conflict, protect those who can’t protect themselves first.

The team is together, and all Casey needs is to know he has time and his team on his side.  Loyalty was never the question, timing and opportunity was.  But we also see the change in priorities in the aftermath.  No blame is assigned, no recriminations, but each member of the team now concentrates on their priorities, understanding they don’t always match, realizing the others will help in any way they can, but that each member needs to protect their own first.  There is a new entry in “God – country – duty – Corps”.

As most of you know the plot holds far less interest to me than the characters and the story.  To me it is largely there to move from situation to situation where they can create a series of scenes that connect the audience emotionally to the characters and their story.  When the plot and the story can connect, it’s magic, but not always happy magic.  I like dramatic magic too.

So through a dramatic event we find that the tantalizingly close future is further than we thought.  Sarah has downloaded a toxic intersect, she can’t control the flashes, and it could kill her.  The time she thought she had doesn’t exist, it’s already run out.  The explanation for the difference between Sarah and Morgan’s rate of deterioration is both simple and elegant, and well established from the Morgansect arc.

Casey has reconnected with his daughter, but it has made her a target and him a potential traitor.  Sometimes character growth has a downside for the happily ever after, and considering the world they live in, kudos to TPTB (who made that world) for not ignoring that.

You don’t get out unscathed.  This world will extract it’s price somehow before it is all over.

The intersect, and it’s legend is spreading.  In no small part thanks to Morgan.  But we’ve known this for some time.  As early as the first season “The Intersect” was a widely known phenomenon amongst the top spies.  By the second season it was actively sought and there were attempts to reproduce it by rivals.  By the beginning of the third season, it was established, even if imperfect technology.  By the end of the third season, it’d been hacked and reproduced.  By the fourth season it had become government policy to deploy a beta version, complete with a more brain friendly architecture, courtesy of one Ellie Bartowski-Woodcomb,  and tools for suppression and/or removal, and by the 5th season it is being bootlegged.

Seems about right for new technology.

But that’s just the technology side.  We’ve seen before that the intersect offers something more.  While I hesitate to call it a shortcut, the original version clearly wasn’t, it offers something very tempting and seductive.  Call it the easy path, the dark side, it tempts and sways those who do, or could poses it.  Is it the one ring, the dark side, or is it the sword of truth?  Is it conceived by and created for evil, is it an ill-conceived shortcut, or is it something meant for “the one” to wield?

At this point my money’s on one of the first two.  In a pivot that started with Chuck Versus Bo it seems that the last “big bad” will in fact be the intersect, the Bartowski family’s own Frankenstein, or ring of power.  I now believe Chuck’s last heroic act is likely to be destroying the intersect.  Quinn’s role, I think,  is more that of Golum than Sauron.  The intersect itself being unleashed on the world may be the biggest bad guy we get.

For now Sarah has the intersect, and Sarah won’t stay in the car.  Did we ever think she would, any more than Chuck would?  Once again we are treated to a glimpse of what it is that unites our heroes.  And of how it can go wrong.  Who these people are, the world they inhabit, the world they seek to escape, that is the source of the drama.  It is a remarkably tragic and moving scene, to see both Chuck and Sarah watching the future that was so close torn from them, the longing and despair is palpable.

And it rests on the premise that a super-spy can be instantly disabled by a tranq in a moment of bravado.

In a way, somewhat appropriately, the Chuck crew creates memories and inserts them into the audience.  They do this visually with the way the scenes are shot and they use music to heighten the emotional impact, and the ever-present musical montage helps to inform the audience what the characters are feeling, not just what they are saying in dialog or doing on the screen.  When we think back on our lives or experiences we don’t see a continuous narrative flow, we see scenes and events, experience emotions and remember songs, places and what it felt like to be there, doing what you were doing.  And if you think back on previous seasons or episodes of Chuck you likely see it the same way.  It is a brilliant device, one I don’t think I can recall experiencing before.  For all I know it isn’t even intentional, just a byproduct of the chemistry and the way they shoot, but it is why I think people will remember and re-watch Chuck long after other shows fade to obscurity.  Does Chuck sometimes have problems with some shaky plots?  Of course.  I still think American Hero is a terrible episode largely because, while I eventually saw what they were trying to do, it was so poorly plotted and presented that it seemed like they were trying to tell us that Shaw had suddenly become the leading man and deserved the happy life with Sarah and she with him.  Shaw was the true hero and Chuck would never measure up.  The only way for Chuck and Sarah to be together was for Shaw, the self-sacrificing hero, to gracefully bow out, as the bigger man he was.  So yes, it can go wrong and skew your ability to see the larger story.  But it has it’s strengths when it works, as noted above, if you allow it.

Why didn’t Sarah just close her eyes?  Well, they did present a premise, that once she started flashing she couldn’t control her body if the intersect kept flashing, and that what Quinn had was an intersect stimulant.  A thin premise, but a premise nonetheless.  But why not for the first flash?  Well the bad guy was explaining for our benefit, not hers, so Sarah seems to hold the stupid stick, agreed, but an exposition weakness, not a character one, and something that should be familiar to fanboy-nerds.  The bad guy always reveals his devious plot.  Also I think it helps to ask what would addressing those complaints cost?  What would having Sarah immobilized with her eyes taped open have cost that scene?  First of all it violates Chuck’s third law, Sarah can not be made to look ugly, and taping open her eyes is at the very least unattractive.  Second, we’ve seen Sarah tied to a chair and beaten a few times recently, but this time, with her life being ripped away while suffering agonizing pain, is clearly the worst and that has to be shown physically with her reaction.  You lose the impact of the scene if she can’t react.  For Yvonne, selling a scene means using her face and letting the emotion pour out.

It is the reverse of the rule of cool.  When details and plot drag you down and destroy the impact, especially the emotional impact that a show like Chuck is built on, is it worth the cost?  Isn’t the point, the story, worth it?  It’s a personal decision, but I like to think they can take us to amazing places, both highs and lows, if we let them.

It’s for us to decide, on our own.  But a bit of respect and deference among the fandom couldn’t hurt.

So the plot has holes and the stupid stick gets passed around on occasion, these are things that are largely the writers fault, I agree.  The audience however, particularly the fans, also have a responsibility.  Let them tell their story. Don’t force your preconceptions or desires or expectations into the story they are telling a priori.  Watch, and then decide if it fulfills your desires, meets or exceeds your expectations or gives you something delightful or unexpected. If it does, great, go from there.  If it doesn’t, fine, its a weekly contract.  That’s just my personal take on how to go with the Chuck flow, others may not see it that way.  But we have occasional flare-ups in the fandom with both the conflicting visions of what constitutes Chuck’s strengths and weaknesses, and when fans from the myriad factions start to attach objective quality or moral standing to their preferences for the show or it’s direction.  OK,  I think their loss, but a personal decision, but sometimes they are preventing both themselves and others from being able to enjoy the story, and not even intentionally, but just from their perspective that the backstory is as they’ve imagined or filled in, regardless of how sparse the canon is.  So here is where the fan responsibility comes in, and points to what I’ve always thought one of my roles as a blogger was.

Don’t create problems where they don’t exist.

We do this constantly.  I’ll give a few examples, from memory, so I’m not going after anyone personally if I use a pet theory or peeve as an example.  As has become my habit, apologies in advance.  I’m guessing this is where I get accused of defending the show’s flaws or weaknesses, and it’s probably partly my fault, but what I see myself doing is correcting misconceptions.

Let’s take the infamous Red Test as the first example.  I recall a lot of discussion of how it destroyed Sarah’s timeline because she’d been a spy longer than 5 years, then when CAT Squad came out it was destroyed again because suddenly she wasn’t Bryce’s partner and she been a spy for two years before her Red Test.  Contained in both those complaints is an assumption about the Red Test, that it’s a universal spy entrance exam.  That assumption is the problem, not canon.  The assumption doesn’t even survive the Red Test’s conceptual introduction.  Sarah is shocked when Shaw tells her that Chuck is being given a Red Test as his final exam.  If it is universal, where is the shock coming from, and why would Shaw need to keep it secret?  She’d know it was coming, wouldn’t she?  But Chuck isn’t a regular spy, he’s being fast tracked for the leader of an autonomous team.  His training isn’t the normal path, it was decided upon by Shaw and Beckman.  In the next episode we’re filled in on Sarah’s red test, and the concept is fleshed out.  Take in to consideration the world Chuck’s spy world pays homage to, and subtly mocks.  Casey is a public menace without a license to kill.  Bond anyone?  This is the elite of the spy world, trained assassins.  Any good soldier or policeman can fire a weapon to defend themselves or others, or even snipe at an opponent who is a combatant in a war.  It is a very different thing to kill on the basis of nothing more than an order to pull the trigger on someone you know nothing about, other than someone wants them to die and you are the weapon of choice.  The Red Test isn’t the spy entrance exam, it’s the 00 entrance exam.  If they’re going to give you a license to kill they want to make sure you’ll do so when ordered.  In cold blood.  It has the added benefit of sending a message to potential traitors and of eliminating the need to try to prosecute someone with government secrets as part of the evidence.

With one assumption you create problems with what is on the screen and canon, with the other it all makes sense.  This is how I think you judge TPTB intent.  Now granted, some of these skate pretty close to the edge and are not without basis called retcon, but I think the viewer needs to be willing remove their assumptions from show canon and to accept at some level the premise TPTB present before decrying the sloppy production and mythology.  In any case you aren’t required to like it, but I think to be a fair critic you have to at least attempt to accept the premises TPTB lay out.

I’m not trying to defend problems, I’m trying to clarify what I see as the intent.  I’m not trying to tell anyone they should or shouldn’t enjoy the show, I’m showing how I do.  I’m not saying there aren’t problems if you are looking for a tightly plotted show with a detailed mythology, I’m just saying I don’t think that’s where they put their emphasis, and so I think it’s easier to enjoy when we don’t either.  I look for the emotional connection and the characters and their journeys because that’s where I think TPTB put their efforts, and where I think the big payoff is to be found.  I understand that’s my Chuck and my take, and it won’t be universal, but while the fandom is still alive and Chuck has an episode left to air I wanted to share my love for the show and what it delivers with the greatest fans in the world.  So in parting I’ll just say this.

Let them tell their story.

Don’t create problems where they don’t exist.

Be awesome to each other.

Have Faith 😉  that the journey and the destination are both worth the wait.

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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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45 Responses to Chuck Versus The Rule of Cool

  1. Faith says:

    Ernie and I have had our disagreements, in fact we tend to disagree on this one as well. But…allow me a tangent.

    A good friend of ours Moggy (@moggyvouk_82) asked me a question awhile back, an innocent question but one in which my response best sums up our state as a fandom of late: “Can what we saw in Honeymooners be topped?” And my response was this: “I doubt it. We’ve become increasingly cynical over the years” that Honeymooners or Colonel could very well be staring us in the face and we’ll miss it. We’re too tied down to what we think the show can’t do, and what the show does well that we often miss what is right in front of our eyes. So far this year we’ve had a number of very entertaining episodes, some flawed (admittedly), some I myself personally exclaimed to be the bane of my existence but yet others that have challenged its predecessors. This is Chuck’s last dance and though most may not agree, the writers and the show is doing their best to top those that came before. They’re taking risks that they’ve never taken before, they’re taking liberties on the dramatic, the humorous, the romantic and yes even the painful. But isn’t that what entertainment is supposed to be/do? Make us feel something? Make it easier to live through the monotony of life and for 43 minutes every Friday night, take us away from our minds and make us feel something?

    I’ve been guilty of this myself, I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I admit that I’ve dwelled on the mistakes of the past, the present and sometimes the future. As mentioned I’ve had discussions with Ernie for not doing so. But I’ve always, with thought to those that read my words, been honest about how I feel. I’ll tell you the truth: I knew coming in that Sarah was going to be intersected. I’ve kept quiet because well, for one: I didn’t like this final storyline, for another: I didn’t want to take it away from others that would and do, but I felt the churning in my stomach and in the back of my mind all I can think about is this is the end, and this is what they give me? But like I said in my review, something interesting is happening…I’m finding that I like it. I like that which made my stomach acids churn and my heart beat a little too fast in anxiety. Why? Because I’ve let go of what I want Chuck to be, and just for once allowed myself to be entertained, to feel. (Well that and I’m assured…well we’ll leave this spoiler free shall we? Heh). And you know what, they’re giving me something, making me buy into something I didn’t even know I wanted…in fact I assumed I didn’t want.

    Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I will never forget how Chuck has made me feel and in these remaining 2 hours, I’ll treasure every minute of it. In that I’m with Ernie, for once ;).

    • Shepperd of Lost Sheep says:

      “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

      Which is why you can still get involved in S3 discussions, on Twitter, 3 days before the finale. 😀

      • Faith says:

        Haha yes. This after proclaiming I can no longer meet the passions on either side…turns out I can, sort of. Those feelings are inescapable.

    • Wow Faith!!
      Many thanks for the shout out, that is just awesome.

      I do agree with what you are saying, it really is human nature to cast your mind back to halcyon days of old and remember the good times especially when it comes to the things we love. Meanwhile missing the great stuff happening right in front of us, we often say we want to live in the moment but how many of us actually do that? I don’t … I wish I could but I just don’t seemed to be wired that way.

      I am very much experiencing that gut churning feeling with this Chuck finale. I liken it very much to riding a roller-coaster… you go up, you down and you even feel like your guts will shoot out your mouth (sorry for the visual). However it is not until I step safely out of the coaster and back on solid ground that I will appreciate what a great thrill the ride was because on the journey I was absolutely packing it!!

      So guess what I am saying is I don’t know how I will feel about the final plot until after the finale. Right now I feel as deflated as I was after “Fear of Death” but that was followed up by “Phase Three” which was so freaking amazing.

      Faith, as you have told me numerous times on twitter the angst, pain and fear are just as important emotional experiences as the love, hope and excitement. In fact they make you appreciate the good times so much more. Often it is not all until after the story has gone its full arc that we appreciate that it is what we initially feel worst about is actually the best told part of the narrative.

      I however have never been the most patient of souls… If I had to wait those 3 years between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi I would have been a shot duck! Thank god I was born in the 80’s and didn’t have to wait…but I digress.

      Hindsight is always a good thing to have, these 91 episodes of Chuck are not going anywhere and we can go back to them whenever we feel the need. My feelings about certain Chuck episodes have changed over time and will continue to do so.
      I can guarantee that Chuck still has me feeling some intense and visceral emotions; I am just as invested in the characters…in Chuck and Sarah as I ever have been.

      Thank you Chuck and farewell…

  2. atcDave says:

    Ernie would it surprise you that I mostly agree with this? Every show ever made will have shortcomings and flaws on occasion; a show like Chuck, which clearly sets out to be entertaining will likely have more than a show that tries to be an accurate reflection of some setting or situation. Especially since time and money are such tyrants in the production process; the current Schwedak interviews with Sepinwall are illuminating about this, they constantly bemoan their loss of money after S2.

    But there are times when that very “rule of cool” works against the show (well any show, but this is about Chuck…). I’m thinking mainly of S3, but a few moments in Gobbler, Curse, and Kept Man would also qualify. That is when some element of style or story fails the entertainment test. I agree that we can give them a pass for many lapses; and I even agree it’s sort of inevitable that works for some won’t work for all. But the biggest disappointments for me will always be reserved for those ideas that disappoint us in the characters we love and/or relate to. And pushing the limits of what an audience is likely to accept is directly at odds with that need for patience and good will that the “rule of cool” requires.

    So I’m trying to be optimistic and upbeat about the upcoming finale. I fully expect to like where we end up. But I remain a bit skeptical about the story choice. It doesn’t “seem” cool to me. I really will try to be open minded and be pleasantly surprised. But they’re playing catch up, I remain uneasy about the choices they made.

  3. Aerox says:

    Um, with regards to grammar, Defence and Defense are both correct versions of the word.The UK usually spells it with a c, although both forms are allowed and accepted.

  4. MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

    As I said elsewhere, very cool post Ernie. I especially like the takeaway:
    – Let them tell their story.
    – Don’t create problems where they don’t exist.
    – Be awesome to each other.

    Some of this reminds me of art. Impressionism and Realism are very distinct art movements. Some people don’t worry about the details and like impressionist paintings. Others prefer realistic portrayals. However if you specifically go to an impressionism exhibit, don’t complain that the paintings don’t look like photographs, and vice versa.

    While I agree with you and loved reading your argument, I’m not sure you are going to convince many people. Consider the following groups of viewers and blog posters:

    Group 1) People who think TPTB should tell their story. If they enjoy it, great. If they see problems, they might point them out, but they don’t let it hamper their enjoyment. While they might speculate, they are mostly “hands-off” and follow the story where it leads them. They also defend TPTB’s choices even when the do not make sense. Eventually, if they don’t like the story, they point out its failure and let it fail.

    When a production studio follows this philosophy, they are hands off, but expect results. If the show underperforms, it is quickly cancelled unless several cost cuts are made

    Group 2) People who think TPTB should tell the story the audience wants. Members of this group seem to think the entire audience wants they same thing as them and don’t realize that the entire audience doesn’t agree with them. If TPTB do not tell the story their way, they are doing it wrong.

    When a production studio follows this philosophy, they take a more hands on approach to the story. They might insist on recasting and retooling the show and will throw money at it in an effort to fix it. If the show still underperforms, it loses money and is cancelled.

    Group 3) A more extreme version of group 2. These people like picking fights because they don’t like something that happened a long time ago (e.g. S3.0 or the Morgansect) and think it is the cause of all of the problems. Some of their complaints are legitimate, but not necessarily to the extreme of what they are saying. They pick at every little thing, complain about how untalented TPTB are, refuse to listen to any justification, and generally make a nuisance of themselves hoping that TPTB will somehow pay attention. It is possible that TPTB have noticed, but any subsequent changes happen so much later and are so small, it’s hard to tell if the complaints helped.

    Group 4) Normal people and casual viewers who tune in when it is convenient and tune out because of things that have nothing to do with the story. Occasionally their views are swayed by ideas held by one of the other groups, but most of the time they ignore the arguments.

    The ‘exercise’ is to match the 4 groups to conservatives, liberals, apolitical, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. The analogy is not an exact match, and I’m not saying someone’s real political views would match their Chuck views. Also, I know people don’t cleanly fit into each of those groups. Maybe they are Group 4 about the Buy More plots, Group 3 about Charah, and Group 1 about Ellie and Awesome.

    My point is these arguments are very similar to political arguments. Most political arguments are pointless because the people entrenched in one groups 1-3 are not going to change their minds. Group 4 isn’t paying attention to the argument. Maybe this is the same way.

    • ArmySFC says:

      very well said and i agree.

    • atcDave says:

      Although this seems the opposite problem, you’re now blaming the fans for complaining when they don’t like something. That’s always a legitimate response. The Sepinwall interviews with Schwedak that are coming up this week have been interesting. In the first of them, the president of NBC at the time the original Pilot was ordered, had lectured them about the importance of finding that balance between too dark and too silly. Too dark could quickly kill the humor entirely; and too silly can destroy any sense of reality or turn the characters into caricatures. Many of the comments I’ve made over the years have addressed my perception of that precise issue. My main complain with Chuck’s behavior in the early part of Kept Man was that his behavior was too broad in a way that was unlike the character I knew, and was not like anyone I wanted to relate to. Of course that’s my opinion, but I think its fair game to point out perceived deficiencies in writing or performance. That’s feedback that can benefit all involved if they’re paying attention.
      Now obviously no show will ever be perfect. And I agree entirely that we often pick on numerous stupid details that would probably be better left alone. But I intentionally want to bring things that are disconnects between entertainers (writers and performers) and audience (at least me) to light. So if a performer may be thinking “gee, I’ll play this scene really funny and stupid and everyone will get a big laugh out of it” I want to be sure to counter with “if your character is the one we’re supposed to relate to, its more important that I like and RESPECT your actions than it is to get a laugh.”

      I realize its hard to get anything like that precise of feedback with any certainty, but at least I can put it out there in cyberspace and hope it either gets back to the performer or influences others who may be looking at their work. And you know the biggie here is Chuckwin’s Law; there is so much dark and depressing entertainment on television these days. I certainly won’t deny Chuck is far brighter than the vast majority of what’s out there. It is VERY difficult for me to find shows that are mostly satisfying to me. So you can bet when I find one as completely exciting as Chuck has been, I will be very quick to point out if they start heading down a bad path. Yes that is very selfish of me. As much as I loved the first two seasons of Chuck it broke my heart to have it turn into something I loathed. And I really did loath about six episodes in one season. My six all time least favorite episodes are concentrated in one arc. So yeah, I want to be sure they know, and never forget, that I didn’t like that!
      The funny thing about that is, it was never about continuity or mythology issues. It was no failure of anything related to cool, or suspension of disbelief. It was about those all-important characters that I will happily suspend my disbelief for. I’m okay with a Nerd Herder with self destruct, ejection seats and remote control. But when the nice guy hero I like and relate to sleeps with a girl on the first date, and lets the woman he loves help cook a dinner for his play thing; I revolt at a visceral level. For a period of time I came to hate the main character that I previously liked so much. This goes beyond suspension of disbelief, this is disgusting to me. THAT is a failure to entertain. So I speak up.

      • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

        “you’re now blaming the fans for complaining when they don’t like something.”

        Actually, that’s not what I meant (this time). Taking an introspective step back, I was talking about fans getting into debates with each other. To use my political metaphor, liberals think they are right. Conservatives think they are right. Lock them in a room and neither is going to convince the other.

        I wasn’t saying people who don’t like S3.0 are in Group 3. I was saying some of the people who are in Group 3 became that way because of S3.0. (The Reflective Property does not apply.) Others just like complaining.

        I think it’s obvious from my posts that I have strong tendencies to Group 1. I try not to be too adversarial about defending the show. I’ll acknowledge flaws and plot holes, and then I’ll happily try to fill the plot holes with references to canon or in a fan fiction sort of way. If the people in Group 2 ask questions, I sometimes try to answer them with an explanation. They probable weren’t really looking for answers. They simply worded their complaint as a question. So they look at my explanation as a unwarranted defense of a flaw. The next thing I know, I’ve been sucked into a debate. Sometimes it’s fun (even though it’s probably pointless.) Sometimes the person is really in Group 3. There motivations might be justified, but they start making assertions about the show that are directly contradicted by canon. That’s when it is time to walk away.

        As I said before, I’m not trying to classify people into the groups. For specific issues, plot points, characterizations, or episodes, they might behave as if in one group. For other issues, they might behave as if in another.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah sometimes the debate is fun on its own. Annnnd sometimes its pointless when someone is rejecting what’s onscreen and complaining about a non-existent logical failing. But I wasn’t so much rejecting your categories as much as wanting to assert that there is a legitimate sort of criticism. I’d be the first to agree we can sometimes overlook continuity, logical or technical issues for the sake of entertainment in a character driven show. But when the characters or entertainment value becomes a problem something needs to be said, even if it is primarily a subjective complaint.

      • armysfc says:

        Dave…like the others well put. what i have noticed, and i’m guilty of this too, the groups involved from jeff’s pov believe their way is the only way to watch the show. that’s why the heated discussions come up. this will with out a doubt stir things up ad i’m ok with that. it’s not a attempt to sway anyone to my side. it’s my instant reaction from what i took from the main post and the posts that follow. my instant reaction was who are they to tell me how i should watch a show? that might not have been your intentions but it’s what i read. sorry but true.

        these comments just on this thread illustrate that.

        And that’s fine, for what it is, enjoyment is a personal emotional response, but if you want to be an honest critic you need to recognize your own biases.
        who says they aren’t? maybe they just don’t have your standards so you can’t see them?

        Let them tell their story. Don’t force your preconceptions or desires or expectations into the story they are telling a priori. Watch, and then decide if it fulfills your desires, meets or exceeds your expectations or gives you something delightful or unexpected.
        again why shouldn’t people do that? i hated the gibbs character when he was on JAG. have never watched an episode of NCIS. i knew from 2 eps he would get on my nerves each week, why go through that? it’s the whole point of previews at movies or for the next episode of a TV show. they lead you to believe what is going to happen, to keep you interested. why does wt/wt work so well for a period? the people want the couples to get together, it’s what they desire/want to see.

        but what I see myself doing is correcting misconceptions.
        if nerds as you say are supposed to fill in the blanks because the show didn’t, why is their way wrong? this a go round that happens all the time here for just that reason. there is too much open space on the canvas to fill with paint. when people do draw different conclusions the sides tell each other they are wrong. there always seems to be more than one way to connect the dots, all of them possible.

        While I agree with you and loved reading your argument, I’m not sure you are going to convince many people.
        if people are suppose to draw their own conclusions, view the show in the own way, for their personal enjoyment, why would they need to be convinced to see it any other way but their own?

        They will never be completely happy unless we build a time machine and trade the inexpensive truck for a brand new Porsche.
        just because people complain about a certain things whether it’s the plot, how the characters act, the lack of sexy times or what ever. doesn’t mean they like the show any less. i’m sure if i listened to dave during s3 i would have thought he hated this show. the opposite is true. some people, “Do they take liberties, yup. Do I care? Nope. or *shrugs* I can’t make myself sweat the inconsistencies.” just let it go. they should be able to do that. each viewer should be allowed the watch in their own way.

        my point in all this is not to anger or go against the grain. it’s to point out that even when bringing our points up, we don’t see the others side. we try to assert our side as the one to be on. like i said i do it also. like Jeff said we will never change and this post helps point it out. i know what camp i sit in. when i see bombing in LA, a guy fall out of train doing 100mph+, sarah knocking a thrown knife out of the air by throwing an axe i should be able to call out the stupid stick. to let TPTB know how i thought. others may feel wow that’s so cool! that doesn’t mean others have to or be expected to.

        just wait till we see the reactions after the finale, i bet this site will be all over the place for and against, with some middle ground tossed in for good measure. because what a lot of what people want to see and deem important won’t be met no matter how good the story is.

      • atcDave says:

        For starters army I’d never try to convince anyone they should like something they don’t. When we’re discussing likes and dislikes its more about celebrating or commiserating with like minded individuals. Sometimes someone may have an issue with a moment or plot point that can be cleared up with other fans via discussion (my initial reaction the Sarah/Graham meeting in Baby was retcon; but after discussion with other viewers here I no longer feel that way. It is merely a plot hole that can be explained to my satisfaction). But apart from some of the fun of discussion, there really is no point in telling someone they’re wrong to like an episode; or that they obviously have no taste if they dislike an awesome one! That part is just for fun.

        But the bottom line is there will always be some who love or hate a episode in opposite ways from me. Even Colonel and Honeymooners which scored top honors in our recent “favorites” survey have their detractors; and even Fake Name and Mask (low scores in the same poll) have their defenders. That’s just how matters of taste are. So I take it as a given that however the finale goes there will be those who love it and those who do not. I can only hope I’m one of those who loves it!

      • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

        I thought the NCIS pilot was the worst two episodes of JAG. Gibbs is better in NCIS, but that pilot is part of why I’ve only watched random reruns on USA.

        Just to emphasize I’m not always in Group 1
        – bombing in LA – very stupid, especially because it could have been done outside of LA. Stealth planes still make noise, meaning a regular bomber would have made as much sense (as in very little) over a city. It didn’t ruin the episode for me. It just helped bring it down to average.
        – a guy fall out of train doing 100mph+ – unrealistic, but really don’t care because it’s a minor point to me. He wasn’t impaled (the only reliable way to kill bad guys), so he must have survived somehow.
        – sarah knocking a thrown knife out of the air by throwing an axe – *sarcasm on* She’s Sarah Freaking Walker. What’s wrong with that? *sarcasm off* Actually, it was silly, unnecessary to the plot, very cool and set up a great line. On balance, I give it a pass because of the Rule of Cool. It bothered me far less than Stephan throwing the letter opener.

      • armysfc says:

        Dave yeah i know. the indents didn’t take (i added 5 spaces before my replies so they would stand out) to separate the quotes from my replies. when someone tells me they will correct my misconceptions or implies that a certain way of viewing is not right. it bugs me. as far as i know you have never done that. that’s why i added the part about the main post.

      • atcDave says:

        I loved the Sarah Walker axe throw; best part of that episode! (or was it Sarah confronting Morgan in Castle…)

        But yeah that’s a perfect example of “rule of cool”. In fact that one was almost cool enough to cancel out the interrogation scene and make Living Dead a passable episode!

      • sd says:

        Atc Dave…
        I, too, have been reading with interest the Sepinwall interviews. It seemed to me that while the co-creators talk about the show’s “bible”…there were a few psalms thrown out–sorry Fr. Rick.
        It seemed season 2 was their high point…money and a plan for a set number of episodes…and then the whole thing crumbled and as a result we likely had a writer’s room in distress with will they/won’t they order new episodes and how many and co-
        creators too busy trying to save the show on far less budget to continue the “epic” nature of the Chuck of Season 2…which begs the question, would S3 have been a different season were it not for those roadblocks?

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Dave, as you know I don’t object to people not being entertained or sharing with the group why. It’s a subjective thing. This is more about where to look for the payback based on how the creators have made the show and what they emphasize. As Jeff said if you don’t like impressionism why would you go to an impressionist exhibition just to complain that the paintings aren’t realistic? Some people can appreciate more than one type of art, I know I can. But sometimes you need to learn how to appreciate it and put a little effort into understanding where it pays off. If you think of a musical analogy take Jazz and Baroque. Each has it’s own style and can be challenging and entertaining at the same time, and each should be appreciated on it’s own terms. Some people will have a natural affinity for one or the other or even both and some can benefit from having a fan explain what they love about it and what they listen for. If you plain don’t like Jazz, that’s fine too, but it isn’t the fault of the musician. Now can it be a bad performance that throws you off? Certainly. With classical you know the notes each musician is supposed to hit to build the piece and you can tell if someone is out of tune or missing notes. It gets tougher when it’s improv, and the musician goes where their muse takes them. Then even though you may like the genre and the musician you may not appreciate the direction they take. Absolutely fine, as is making your opinion politely known.

        Now, all that as background let’s look at The Hero’s Journey. (Cue dramatic music). It is in a way it’s own genre and requires certain well established steps, one of which is the hero stumbles and fails due to some personal failing or weakness. It is in seeing how they recover from that and learn from it that we get the wonderful growth and added substance and depth that we love in our characters. You don’t get that great heart swelling moment in Barstow without seeing the hurt in Breakup and Fat Lady or Suburbs and Lethal Weapon to see how much this means to them and how much they want it. In a similar manner you don’t cherish Sarah Walker and celebrate her every step towards becomming a real girl without seeing her broken and yearning for something she doesn’t think she can have, or even deserves. It’s the way they choose to tell the story, and while we don’t have to like it we should accept it as legitimate. Too often in the Chuckwin’s Law wars I hear “they can’t do this” or “that is the wrong way to go”. It is the attempt to remove the legitimacy of TPTB’s decisions that irks me. It isn’t the “I don’t like this” it’s the “This is unlikable”. To your credit I can’t recall you ever doing that. The problem with the latter approach is that you are essentially at a classical concert complaining that it isn’t jazzy enough. It can be annoying and distracting to those around you trying to enjoy the music.

        It isn’t the case any longer, but there was a point on this board when it was virtually impossible to discuss season 3 in anything other than disparaging terms without essentially being shouted down and drowned out. There were similar aspects to some of the season 4 discussion.

        So that’s the writ large aspect of this. I would like to see the show accepted on it’s own terms, not endlessly flogged for not being something it’s never aspired to. The Rule of Cool isn’t some ironclad law, it’s simply the terms on which the show operates. They’re not going to sweat the small stuff if they can deliver the awesome. But there is also the more pedestrian aspect of what I often find myself commenting on, and that is stuff like the red test above where a fan misconception or misinterpretation works its way into the collective fannon. Once there it’s tough to remove.

        I know I say this often but I feel season 3 never got a fair shake. I think people misread the state of the Charah at then end of Three Words and then took offense when the direction they thought had been established didn’t pan out. The ending speech that Chuck gave was not a profession of love, though he did say it, it was a reaffirmation of the decision he made in Prague. Sarah had forced him to choose between her and his calling, and he chose the latter. She told him there was no room for love in their world, and he accepted those terms. He’d just dumped her, again. Because of that she wasn’t going to try to pull him off his chosen path and he wasn’t going to persue anything more than a friendship. He in fact told himself they weren’t in love anymore. He couldn’t be if he wanted to be a spy. This is reinforced in Angel de la Muerte with Chuck’s conversation with Devon and Sarah’s with Ellie. Sarah is still in love and knows it, Chuck is denying it was ever really real. At the end when Chuck asks where they stand they mutually agree to keep it simple, friends. That puts Chuck’s subsequent actions into another context. But too often I heard complaints that Chuck and Sarah were not trying hard enough to get back together as a complaint about the season’s storyline when the point was that they weren’t trying period. They’d missed their shot, if it ever was a realistic one, and now they were headed different directions. The story was would one of them figure it out before it was too late. They both still felt that pull, but they also both still felt the pain and had a lot of history holding them back. In addition they each seemed to be losing that part of themselves the other saw and loved.

        Now not finding that entertaining is fine, as is making that known. But I kept hearing “Chuck can’t do this” or “Sarah can’t do that” and wanted to shout at the top of my lungs “BUT THEY JUST DID!” What does that fact tell you? What you think you know or knew has changed and if you don’t accept that at some level you are going to miss what they are telling you. If you miss something important because of that is it then fair to blame TPTB for not shouting loud enough when you have your fingers in your ears? Now I’m not accusing you or anyone of that, but I hope you see the point I’m trying to make. The only other choice to listening and trying to understand is to do what you did, decide it isn’t worth it and move on. Which again, is fine, but when some fans require we all do the same it isn’t really fair to those who are trying to listen. There is a point where investment crosses the line to entitlement, and I don’t think it’s innappropriate to point that out, especially when one fan’s entitlement may rob another fan of their return on their investment, paid out in something they find awesome. A little deference on both sides helps. We are after all hopelessly in love with the same show, it just may be for different reasons. I like to think we gain more by sharing what we love than arguing over what we hate. Especially with the end approaching.

      • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

        Even more great stuff, Ernie.

        To use my painting metaphor with the well reasoned S3 complaints I’ve read from Dave, I think he is complaining about the post-impressionist paintings in the impressionist exhibition, a legitimate complaint, while you and I don’t mind seeing them as much because they show the evolution of the art form.

        Defending can be providing explanations, or it can sound like denying the complainers the right to voice their opinions. Complaining can be justifying why you don’t like something with reasoned arguments, or it can sound like a hostile attack against TPTB and anyone who doesn’t agree with them. The formers two lead to great debate. The latter two create hostile message board environments, that I’ve stopped hanging out in.

      • atcDave says:

        Ernie I understand and agree with all of that. I especially agree that a show needs to be appreciated on its own terms; ideally for what it is, not what we want it to be. And you know I’ve often been just as frustrated as you trying to explain plot points or rationale that can be understood with just a little bit of honest effort.
        But my concern is always finding the right balance. There is such a thing as legitimate criticism. And viewers shouldn’t feel like a villain for not liking something and wanting to spell out why. As long as we’re expressing opinion there will always be the issue of disagreement. You enjoyed S3 and I did not. That is a complete impasse no matter how much we might try to understand the other’s position. So if I express my opinion passionately it will step on your toes a little. I can try to frame things carefully with “in my opinion” every other sentence, but obviously that makes for tedious reading and writing. I think we all have a responsibility to accept the opinions and criticisms of fellow viewers in good faith and just allow for those differences in taste. And I know that isn’t easy; the first response is usually to get fired up and defensive when someone expresses a strong contrary opinion.

        And Ernie I know you know this and are not trying to stifle such legitimate expression. I just want to be satisfied for myself that this distinction is clear. We have an obligation to judge the show fairly by what it is. With a show like Chuck a lot of that will be laughing along with the ridiculousness of certain things; like Quinn is obviously part spider (or cockroach). But when something fails us at the very base level of what we’re watching for a criticism/response is completelly appropriate.

      • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

        Dave, I’ve figured out a fix for Spiderquinnroach. The problem was casting.

        The actor who played Yuri the Gobbler previously played Uri in Tango. Using that precedent, Arnold Vosloo should have been recast as Quinn. They could have given him an eye patch. Who would question the Mummy surviving the fall? Plus it would better satisfy the Rule of Cool.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Dave, I understand, and understand that you understand, and understand you understand that I understand. We’re verry understanding. I have no problem with legitimate criticism or with unresolvabe differences in taste. What bothered me in season 3 was that legitimate criticism often crossed the line into ad hominem attacks on the character and motives of TPTB or those who disagreed. As Jeff points out, that makes informed debate a lot less fun. But even short of that, without sprinkling IMO through every post, there is a difference between stepping on toes in a crowded room and walking through swinging your arms and gesturing wildly. They may both be carelessness, but one seems wreckless. With the former it’s easier to moderate your response and with the later it’s natural to react as if it was intentional rather than carlessness. Also the later has the potential to do some serious damage.

        To everyone’s credit here I think we’ve established one of the best environments I’ve ever experienced on an anonymous unmoderated board, but I think that takes a continuous effort from everyone. I guess I bring this up because I can see what’s coming. I’ll make this confession. I’m excited by this last storyline. I like the potential of it and think it’s going to be amazing and I don’t mind that they chose to close out the series this way. In fact I expected something angsty and gut churning right up to the last few minutes. I expect that my opinion isn’t widely shared, and that reactions to the end could vary widely.

        So I go into the series finale excited for the show and worried for the fanbase. I guess I’m just trying to reinforce that we should be focusing on what we enjoy, bear up through what we don’t, and allow that TPTB are trying to find the right balance to please us all, which is a pretty tricky wire act. Let’s not let our possible dissapointment at some of this arc turn into resentment because someone else may have gotten exactly what they wanted. Let’s be happy for each other each getting some of what we love and share that in the final days rather than be dissapointed we didn’t get all we wanted for ourselves.

        Let’s enjoy watching each other unwrap our presents rather than complain we didnt get enough. Cause this is pretty likely all there is and our last chance to share a new episode of Chuck.

      • atcDave says:

        Good call Jeff! Its obviously a casting problem.

        And Ernie, I understand….

    • joe says:

      Jeff, there was one more item on that list – Have faith. Seems that’s the most inconsequential, almost empty and symbolic thing to do. But it’s not.

      Having a little confidence about what’s comin’ around the bend is something like a boomerang. It changes nothing “out there”. It changes you. In this case it sets us up for some enjoyment.

      • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

        Have faith is a good sentiment. I’ve been thinking we all need a “pep rally/think good thoughts/don’t freak out/sit back and enjoy the awesome ride” post on Friday morning.

  5. Leigh says:

    You know it’s interesting, with TV.

    It used to be that I would get so, so tied up in a show and it’s characters and its mythology and its everything. So tied up. Completely.

    And then the end of season 4 of Doctor Who happened, and it destroyed my fanbrain a little, and I vowed never to let my expectations get that high again; never to let myself get so nitpicky and crazy over a show. I really needed to let myself just enjoy television. Because really, that’s what television is here for. This kind of TV is made to be enjoyed. It’s an escape from real life, which is crazy enough.

    Yes, there have been problems in Chuck. My roommate and I have been doing a straight rewatch, and there are definitely problems.

    But I find that I don’t care. Because these characters are so wonderful, and these plots are so fun and the dialogue so snappy. Because it’s all so exciting, I just don’t care. This show has done nothing so heinous as to make me stop caring or stop watching. I know that I’ve seen on this sight people get bitter or cynical about this show and the direction it’s taken. I’ve seen people complain that it got too dark at one point, but I just don’t see those things. Maybe I’m not paying close enough attention or maybe I watch differently than most fans, I don’t know.

    For me, the characters are consistent 98.9% of the time, the plots are fun, though they don’t always go in the directions I hope, and it’s a thrilling, inventive, silly hour of Telly on my screen every week.

    *shrugs* I can’t make myself sweat the inconsistencies.

    • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

      Doctor Who’s season 4 finale is fantastic, if you ignore absolutely everything. Like planets in the sky and no sun. Pulling Earth with the TARDIS made Superman spinning the Earth backwards look like child’s play. But if you ignore all that, it was fun. After all, Doctor Who continuity is like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.

      I never thought of Chuck S3.0 as dark until I started following this blog more closely. I still don’t think it was dark. Parts of it were a depressing grey, as apposed to the bright emerald and gold it normally is. The contrast was stark, but it still was lighter than most shows.

    • joe says:

      I have the same reaction during re-watches, Leigh. Don’t know about you, but I’m always surprised by something – usually some connections between episodes – that I had missed before.

      One example I can think of, off the top of my head, was how Castle was introduced. There’s a scene early in S2; in First Date, I think, where Chuck is in the O-O. Sarah and Casey are coming from the freezer, Chuck asks “What’s back there?” and Casey just puts him off. It’s just a throw-away scene, but in actuality, the audience is shown the entrance to Castle. We just didn’t know it for a little while.

      Those kinds of details have kept it fresh.

  6. MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

    “I still think American Hero is a terrible episode largely because, while I eventually saw what they were trying to do, it was so poorly plotted and presented that it seemed like they were trying to tell us that Shaw had suddenly become the leading man and deserved the happy life with Sarah and she with him”

    The setup was so over the top I took it two different ways:
    – Shaw is really good at convincing the brass he is a hero despite repeated failures as a spy over the previous episodes. Showing the naïveté of the brass helped set up his cons in Other Guy and Subway.
    – They were showing that despite all ‘evidence’ of Shaw being a great guy, Sarah still loved Chuck more. Even before Casey reveled the Red Test secret, Chuck’s picture was on her night stand. She was going to go with Chuck.

    I’m not saying it was a great episode by any means, because the Shaw build-up was painful to watch and having a bomber run in LA was just plain stupid. But the humor (Morgan getting shocked, Awesome going through the window, Ellie’s jail tirade, and the super stalkers) solidly puts the episode in the middle for me. The Casey reveal scene featured one of Sarah’s first smiles in months. The “Down River” scene was a top 10(ish) Charah moment.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Even a bad episode of Chuck is pretty good, so don’t read too much into my contention. But to me it was one of the weakest Chuck ever presented.

      • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

        I always saw American Hero as the episode where the brakes were applied. Other Guy was where the truck was turned. Honeymooners was where the truck was flooring it, going the other direction. Some people appreciate that it all started by applying the brakes, but others complain that the brakes squealed and the seat belt locked. Some people like the turn, but others complain that the truck banked too hard. Almost everyone is happy with the other direction. (Although there are still a few that complain about the speed limit and potholes. They will never be completely happy unless we build a time machine and trade the inexpensive truck for a brand new Porsche.)

      • thinkling says:

        I confess that I have always like American Hero. On the surface it had some fantastic comic relief and a great Ellie speech. As for its value to the story, Chuck completed his journey from man to spy without losing himself, proving that he was the real hero, not Shaw. Sarah saw it and resumed her journey to real girl. I’d say it was more that just the breaking point. Things did actually start to turn, but they still had 20 more minutes to milk the wt/wt, so things had to turn slowly. 😉

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Thinkling, I have to admit that it improved once I rewatched a few times and saw what they were doing with it, but the first watch left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and to some extent I think first impressions are important since they are our visceral reaction to what’s presented rather than a studied consideration. Both are important and should be considered and I think are valid for deciding how well TPTB told you their story.

    • Faith says:

      I liked it. It was the moment when I finally started to feel like the show I loved was returning.

      Damn, I’m doing it again. ARGHHH! Heh.

    • joe says:

      That part of S3 always felt like it was stretched out. I could imagine that, had S3 been 13 episodes we would still have scene Paris and a bit of The Honeymooners (if only them getting on the train to use that Euro-pass like Chuck told Ellie he wanted to do). But I think we would have seen at least 2 less episodes of Shaw.

      I fear that Morgan would not have learned about the Intersect until later (if at all), but the season as a whole would have moved as fast as the last 5 of S2. At least, close to it.

      • MyNameIsJeffNImLost says:

        You’re right. Other Guy would have been very different if it was the finale, and the pacing of the entire arc might have been different.

        That’s always a problem with the TV show medium of telling stories. The TV arcs are usually designed around cliffhangers, finales, premieres, and sweeps months. Those don’t always fit with the best highs and lows of a show.

        The problem is even more noticeable in shows like Burn Notice, where the arc is just a few minutes in each episode, designed around a 10 episode half-season. It makes the arc investigation work really drag. In that show, I care more about the client of the week, so it doesn’t bother me. It’s still noticeable, though.

      • atcDave says:

        Agree entirely about Burn Notice Jeff; the weekly cases work far better than the main arc.

        We’ll never know for sure how S3 would have played different if it ended at 13 (as we feared it would for quite some time!), but I’m awfully glad that didn’t happen. For me the show suddenly got 1000% better at Honeymooners. That was when the show realized the potential I’d seen since 1.03!

  7. Ernie, thanks for articulating my thoughts and feelings about Chuck so very well. I’ve watched this show for the last five years because I became invested in the characters. I fell for them sometime between Chuck fixing Sarah’s phone and defusing a bomb with internet porn. I related to them in a way I’ve related to few shows in my life – I think Northern Exposure might have been the last. The characters were that good, the chemistry so strong that I was able to overlook the ridiculous notion that all the governments secrets that were housed in a computer the size of a room could fit in a mans head – and how exactly did the retrieval software get implanted there too? I don’t think the human brain comes with a sophisticated version of Google. And how about the CIA operating on US soil? We could go on and on – there are examples that span all five seasons, maybe every episode if we were so inclined to look for them (I am not). But that has never been the point for me – the plot, the details have been the vehicle to move the characters story along. Do they take liberties, yup. Do I care? Nope. I enjoy the characters that much. Yes even during season three, when I complained about feeling the pain the characters were portraying – and wasn’t that the point?
    I understand the anger & frustration that fans experience when their expectations aren’t met Elliott Larson said: “Anger always comes from frustrated expectations” – but the key point is, it’s ones own expectations that create the frustration and anger. My expectation is that I will watch something that entertains me, that continues to deliver satisfying character stories. For me, they have for the last five years.
    I’m going to really miss that.

  8. herder says:

    Wow, a really long thought provoking essay inspires long and literate replies, I knew that there was a reason that I love this place. Very interesting and meaty post, for myself when the various parts work I don’t sweat the small stuff, when the tune isn’t so smooth that’s when I notice the cracks. After last week’s near hysteria, Bullet Train seemed to put most things in perspective and I find that I’m counting the hours until Friday’s finale, both parts of it, and yes all 69 hours until it airs.

    When the show works, when it runs on emotion and sensation (words and music) and clicks it is better than anything on tv, but that is a fine line to run with the attendant risks that when it doesn’t hit that sweet spot the flaws – I think mainly brought about by the lack of budget – can be jarring. Add to that the difficulty of finding that sweet spot for a sufficiently large portion of the viewing public who have an inclination to watch a show about a guy who has a computer in his brain and the miracle is that it has lasted as long as it has and been as consistently good as it has been (subject to lulls in seasons 3 and 4 for one part of the fandom or another – but strangely not for both ) is a unique accomplishment.

    The rule of cool is as good a way as any of explaining why something so contradictory and implausable, sort of how a bumble bee can fly, works so well. Nice essay.

  9. thinkling says:

    First of all, great post Ernie … thoughtful, timely … spot on.

    You’re absolutely right about the red test and other assumptions that cause us trouble. There are things we know and things we think we know. Those are very different things. When I see something that contradicts what I think I know, I go back and verify what we’ve actually seen on screen, versus things we may have erroneously inferred. Most of the time I’ve assumed some things that weren’t presented. We all make some assumptions that we have to retract later on. There are no problems with Sarah’s time line with the red test or Cat Squad or partnering with Bryce … or with the mission in Budapest. It’s only complicated because we’ve assumed that the red test is an initiation for all spies (the concept only exists in fiction –mostly Bond– and is a test for 00 status) or that only rookie spies have handlers (not true) or that Bryce and Sarah were partnered for years without interruption (no proof of that in canon). Because the writers leave out things we want to know, or when they are intentionally vague, we fill in the gaps. Pretty soon our spackle becomes canon in our own minds, when in fact it is only fanon.

    I’m guessing the writers leave gaps or are sometimes intentionally vague, so that they have wiggle room for exposition later down the road. We never knew about Sarah’s mom. I’m sure that was intentional. Had some casual remark been made earlier, their story of Sarah’s mom would have been constrained by something incidental to the story. As it was, with Sarah’s mom a complete mystery, they had free reign to create that back story in a relevant exciting way. I had assumed she was not as sweet and wonderful and normal a mom as she turned out to be, but I had assumed wrong, and really there wasn’t any foolproof evidence for my assumptions. Baby challenge a number of assumptions, but there aren’t any contradictions that can’t be harmonized with actual facts presented. Only one (end of NS) is a stretch, but even that can be explained.

    True, there are sometimes errors that can’t be explained, but like many have said that’s no why I watch. I love the characters and their story. If there are some hiccups in the plot it doesn’t bother me much.

  10. Jason says:

    Ernie – I must admit, I am starting to wind down on my Chuck adventure. I have always enjoyed the guessing forward versus the explaining backward part of the blogging adventure. I have not read or watched near everything posted this week, either here or on the internet in general, but I did read your post. I hope this pleasantly surprises you, I generally agree with what you wrote, OK except when you tried to justify season 3 with the rule of cool, but hey, what would you expect.

    I’d like to respond with these points regarding the show with where it is at right now.

    First, much has been written and discussed this week, including by TPTB, about the multi-genre thing. You talked about it, I think Schwartz may have said the mashup of genre’s was what he and Fedak liked the most about Chuck (along with Chuck and Sarah). But he added that the multi genre probably prevented the show from being a hit. From what I have read, it is clear that TPTB realize that they ‘crossed the line’ in s3. I think they know they crossed the line again with the amnesia thing too,. What failed with the mashup in S3, was there was no big payoff for nearly 12 episodes in terms of Chuck and Sarah, there was no steps forward, just steps backward to use Fedak’s language. Would you not agree, that is far too long?

    Second, I quit posting for the 8th thru 10th eps this season, for what I think the very reason you wrote this piece. I was amazed at how the discussion for the show was manufactured negatively (seemingly by a handful of bloggers) for the baby episode. I realized, that I reacted much the same way to the Santa Suit ep, just because Shaw returned (note, that poll at Chucktv, nearly 40% of a 1000 plus responder checked the box that had both WTF and hate for the shaw return, so it was not just me). Santa was a great ep using your ‘Rule of Cool’, as was ‘Baby’, as where most eps of Chuck since the pilot.

    Third, on season 3, I can’t speak for Thinkling or Dave or Faith or others, but for me, those of you who liked season 3, will never quite get how deeply I disliked it. I did not manufacture the dislike, it was not a conscious decision. The dislike was deep, it was real, and it has persisted. For some reason, you seem to have made it your personal mission to save fans, when I just want season 3 to go away. So some of the darts that get thrown at you, are because you keep wearing that bullseye shirt, I just wish you’d put that darned shirt in the closet.

    Lastly, I don’t think this amnesia thing is even going to generate 1% of the furor that season 3 did, maybe nearly none at all, or say less than baby or santa suit did or even bullet train did? The drama is not going to be contrived, it is going to be heartfelt, and it is going to get paid off on screen, no explanations needed, in a very convincing final goodbye. I join the chorus of can’t waits (even if I skip 5×12’s misery – haha, there I go again), Friday should be a great night for most all fans, if they want it to be! Nicely written Ernie!

    • Faith says:

      You know I agree wholeheartedly with you about season 3. The emotions were deep, are deep and it’s persistent. Which is not to say when it’s all said and done I didn’t give it a chance. I’ve learned so much and changed so much of what I think and thought of all that went on because I’ve had open minded discussions with others (namely Ernie and BigKev) who liked it or understood it better than I did. But you know at the end of the day it goes back to that emotion, that feeling I talked about before that just cannot be forgotten. It’s really all about how I felt when I experienced it and as I reexperience it.

      But I think there’s an important distinction here: I’m-you and I are using a subjective perspective to criticize a subjectively negative effect. There are many in this fandom who uses their subjective perspective as an objective barometer and belittle others who actually enjoy the show. I hate that. That’s what have caused you to turn away since Baby and that is a shame.

  11. JC says:

    Ernie first off, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I admit I’ve nitpicked over minute details and have been unnecessarily harsh when it comes to the writing on the show. Mostly do to frustration But there’s also people not just here but on other Chuck boards who fanwank all the plotholes and inconsistencies the show has. And IMO that’s just as bad,

    I’ve always felt the show was a live action comic book with all the over the top action and plots. I love those things and accept how ridiculously awesome they are. My main issues is when it comes at the expense of a logical story, consistent writing or throwing characters under the bus. Its happened way too much these last three seasons for my taste and IMO has hurt the show more than anything. If you’re going to do an arc focused on mythology or a characters backstory don’t throw out previous ones to make it fit. Work around what you wrote beforehand or give your audience some kind of explanation about why it changed. I can only speak for myself but its hard to get invested when what see will get forgotten about next season or even the next episode.

    If you read the retrospective with Sepinwall they talk so much about budget and blowing shit up is what made S2 so great. That boggles my mind, because for me it was all about the characters. They were likable, real and I cared what happened to them. Sure they had ups and down but I understood them and their actions. I can’t say that for these last couple seasons although S5 is very close to hitting highs of S1.

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