The next arc we look at is a little more artificial than the previous two. The Make-up then Break-up arc goes from the end of S1 through the first three of S2. These are four very strong episodes. For myself, it was somewhere in this stretch when Chuck became my favorite show ever. Marlin was such a strong S1 finale, that for me, completely made up for my dissatisfaction with the previous arc. I knew going into the long break (1/2008 until 9/2008) that Chuck was my favorite show currently on the air; but by the time this arc was over it had risen to something quite a bit more. Any list of Chuck’s best episodes ever that I could write gets quite long, quite fast. But all four of these episodes would belong on it. I think I would add Undercover Lover, Cougars, and Tom Sawyer to any favorites list, which makes this an amazing seven episode run of episodes I completely adore.
You all know I can’t spit the words out like some of my more capable colleagues here at ChuckThis, but I can share a few lasting impressions, and thoughts about character growth from the “Make-up, then Break-up Arc”!
Gee, that was good. Okay, maybe I should say a little more than that. Marlin was an unintended season finale, that I think actually worked out quite well. There was no dire cliffhanger, but going into the long hiatus we knew that Sarah had crossed a line. She still might be lying to Chuck and herself, but there was no question to us, the audience, that Sarah was compromised in the truest sense of the word. This wasn’t just about stealing a kiss when she thought they were doomed; Sarah was willing to go against orders, and her agency’s best interests for Chuck. In case there’s any confusion here, that is exactly what the CIA would want to avoid by re-assigning agents who grow too close to their assets or marks. I know some have brought up the idea she couldn’t protect Chuck if she were involved with him, of course that is utter non-sense. But the CIA doesn’t want her to just be a body guard, they want her to be their agent when Chuck’s and The Agencies interests conflict. We see clearly at the end of Marlin that the CIA has already lost that fight, Sarah is now more Chuck’s agent than anyone else’s. And what a beautiful finale that made.
I hate to boil this review down to just the last 5 minutes; Marlin is funny from beginning to end with a cleaned out Buy More and a search for Big Mike’s fish. But the ending is dynamite. I love Sarah’s hero pose at the end; she may be on the outside looking in at the family (and it is soooo sweet to know in hindsight this isn’t as unattainable for her as she may have thought), but she is also watching over them. Casey warned that she won’t be able to keep Chuck in place for long, but Sarah remains firmly between Casey and the family; anyone coming for Chuck will have go through her first, and we know that isn’t easy!
First Date kicked off a long awaited S2 and may be the single strongest episode of this arc (but I do hate to play favorites…) Perhaps the most obvious change of the new season was the coming of the Orange Orange. It seems to me something changed in the look of the show too. I don’t know if there was a deliberate change in lighting or camera technique, but S2 feels brighter to me somehow. But there were still some dark themes to explore, starting with Casey’s kill order in 2.01, and continuing with bucket loads of angst between Chuck and Sarah until “take off your watch…”; yet somehow this is the season when many of us completely fell in love with this show and kicked off a save the show campaign that made history. I think the strongest impression of this episode will always be the awesome stunt sequence from the climax; from Chuck dangling upside down, to Mr. Colt’s “it’s just not worth it”, to Casey’s awesome catch on the fire escape, to Sarah’s anguished “NOOO!”
and duel with the very imposing baddie. My other favorite impression of this episode is Chuck using cleverness to overcome the odds, specifically talking his way into swiping the cipher and making a run for it. I always felt this sort of story was undermined by the Intersect 2.0 of S3 and S4; maybe not always, but we often seemed to get Chuck flashing and punching his way out of problems in the next couple seasons, while we more often saw brains before and after. I know that wasn’t always true, but the 2.0 always seemed like a bit of a cheat to me.
Moving on to Seduction we get the first appearance of every Chucksters’ favorite Lothario, Roan Montgomery. I guess my main impression here is of a very funny episode.
Chuck overhearing Sarah’s denial of interest in him is a little painful, but as Roan later assures, “the lady doth protest too much”. And there’s always one scorching hot kiss if Chuck really has any doubts… Easily my least favorite part of this episode is the ending cliffie, which leads directly to —
Break Up. I have to start by saying I think I like this episode a lot more than most of my fellow ‘shippers seem to. In fact, I like it even more than the episode immediately before (Seduction). So let me start by getting my gripes out of the way; Bryce staying with Sarah and saying its for the cover is stupid. This is stupid angst games played by the writers that truly makes no sense for the characters or setting. Sarah is on a long term, deep cover mission as Chuck’s girlfriend. She is surrounded by Chuck’s friends, family, and co-workers; and Bryce says he’s protecting his cover by staying with Sarah??? Sorry, I really hate stupid stick moments and this is a biggie. Its one of those moments when the puppet strings are showing. It’s even worse because those of us who’ve watched the discs have seen the deleted Chuck/Sarah dinner scene that could have replaced the sad-sack Chuck going home to Ellie and Devon scene we got. The deleted dinner scene is more fun and makes more sense on every level, but this is a clear case where they chose a scene purely because it ratcheted up tension. Okay, I still mean it when I say I love this episode. First big impression, Chuck and Sarah are wonderful together. I love the Chuck/Bryce/Sarah at the Hotel leading to the “red isn’t really my color” comment.
Sarah is just mouth dropping beautiful in that scene, and then she looks crushed. So perfect, so sweet. Even better, I love when Sarah takes out her frustrations on Bryce at the event (“you’re a little rusty…”). Chuck and Sarah at the hospital is another perfect scene, just the right amount of sweet and funny. The Break-up scene itself is important, but it never struck me as very painful to watch (well, maybe a little). Chuck’s declaration of wanting something normal will be an irregularly recurring theme almost to the end of the show; but I think significantly, by the end of S5, Sarah seems to want it more. And this was truly a non-break up anyway. They are still stuck working together, neither their feelings nor circumstance have changed in any way. Early S2 Sarah was planning to leave when this job was over anyway, at least that is still everyone’s expectation. I like to think she couldn’t have actually done it, but she and Chuck clearly thought she could. Maybe if she had spoken first she would have said something Chuck wanted to hear, but I don’t believe Sarah was ready for anything life changing yet; at least not without being forced into it (by which I mean, I think would have taken Chuck and run if she’d known about the kill order in 2.01).
I can’t go away from these impressions without mentioning one huge reason why I love Break-Up. I think Von Hayes may be one of my favorite baddies in the entire series. From the funny lines like “were you dropped on your head from a great height as a child?” or “on three or after three?” to the pure anguish of “you have no idea how little leg room there is!” Von Hayes probably made me laugh with more lines in a short appearance than any other baddie in the series. Roark and Volkoff were both great villains, but they had substantially more time to establish their character, quirks, and villianousness (?). I really liked Von Hayes (although I am glad they never brought him back).
This arc shows some growth from several characters. Starting with Morgan, he is starting to show some progress from the total slacker we saw in S1; possibly because in First Date Chuck forces it on him by abandoning Morgan and making him do Chuck’s job (selecting the new Assistant Manager). I’m not going to claim Morgan’s process was in any way “good”, but I think Morgan of S2 will take more initiative than Morgan of S1. Of course really meaningful Morgan change won’t happen until S3.
Likewise we some Casey growth. Nothing Earth shattering, but at the end of First Date we see Casey will now kill Chuck only reluctantly (hey, its progress!). He’s still quick with the insults, that will never change, but traces of humanity are starting to pop up.
Chuck is taking more charge in the spy world, often to Sarah’s dismay. I never love Chuck more than when he comes up with a stratagem that works, often to his own amazement. The compound bluff in First Date, and arranging the swap for the cipher in Break-Up being two excellent examples here. To the end of the show Chuck will be good at this sort of thing.
As a (non) couple, Chuck and Sarah are quite close throughout this arc. No doubt that is high on my list of reasons for loving these four so much. Sarah seems content to be close to Chuck too, and not so worried about Agency doctrine. In seduction she still rejects Chuck’s vacation plans, but clearly the walls have never been lower. We know Chuck and Sarah still have a long ways to go before they take that major step, and the expectation here always is that Sarah will leave with the job. But Sarah has grown very close to Chuck and clearly enjoys his company very much. Even the (non) break-up at the end of 2.03 will not change that for the next couple episodes. It undoubtedly has some impact on how Chuck reacts with the return of Jill; but it still strikes me as more of a statement of intentions than a break up. If we’re paying close attention, every one of Chuck’s stated reasons for the break-up will be addressed and corrected by the time they’re married, most of them by the end of this season. Of course its another lie at its core anyway, Chuck thinks he’s protecting Sarah. There may have been a shred of truth about Chuck wanting a normal life, but we all knew long ago he was ready to settle for extraordinary.