I don’t know, but I suspect my fellow ChuckThis authors occasionally suffer from the kind of writer’s block I presently am. I usually start off these recap/reviews by picking a theme or a metaphor that I then use to structure the piece. It’s a place to start, and once that start is started you can see where it goes, though I usually have a general idea of the destination in mind. But this week it isn’t a lack of ideas that is stalling me, it’s how to choose one. This week’s Reader’s Digest Rewatch brings us to my second favorite arc of season 2. Maybe my favorite. It’s hard to tell, but let’s just agree that season 2 both started and ended with some of the funniest, most entertaining, exciting and just plain fun television ever made. We’ve separated the final 6 of season 2 into two arcs, The Search for Orion Arc, which is comprised of Chuck Versus The Predator, Chuck Versus The Broken Heart and Chuck Versus The Dream Job, and the Defeat of Fulcrum Arc, comprised of Chuck Versus The First Kill, Chuck Versus The Colonel and Chuck Versus The Ring, but in reality they could function as one, it’s just that there may be too much awesome for one review. In just this arc we meet two of Chuck’s best villains, one of it’s most beloved and best guest stars, see Chuck go rogue, see Casey get tranq’ed and all with some really awesome musical montages. So where to start? Well after the jump obviously.
Found and Lost
Found and lost seems to be a theme in this arc, and in each episode. Or at least that’s the story I’ll stick with. First there’s Chuck, he has found a purpose after his suburban fiasco with Sarah. It is never going to work for them if he’s the intersect and she’s his handler. The job will always manage to get in the way as long as they are living the life of spies, so having stumbled on a crucial lead, Orion, Chuck is determined to remove the one obstacle to him moving forward with his life, the intersect. He’s found a sense of confidence, and a sense of purpose he’s never had before, and while he may not understand the road it is leading him down, he knows it’s long past time to leave the Buy More, as evidenced by his speech to Ellie in the season opener. He’s not sure what he wants to do, or be, but he knows it can’t happen while he’s trapped in a life he doesn’t control. We’ll see that control chafe at him as never before, and his response, to the sound of Luisa’s Bones, is one of the most amazing moments of growth for Chuck in the entire series.
Sarah has found something special in Chuck, a real best friend who cares about her, and who could be something more if things worked out. But while Sarah may dare to dream, she also has a job to do, take care of Chuck, which comes pretty natural to her, but it also entails controlling him and keeping him from becoming a liability, which means bunker-time or worse. Sarah will see her faith in her ability to protect Chuck and her ability to maintain his friendship tested, and nearly broken like never before, but it leads her to a conclusion we see played out in the series finale, she loves him, and she can’t bear the thought of losing him, but she doesn’t yet know what to do about it. In many ways Sarah is as stuck as Chuck in a life she can’t really control either, but Sarah’s evidence of how she becomes stronger through the adversity of this arc will be mostly handled by Joe in the next arc.
Just Another Day At The Office
Well some people have interesting workplaces. For Team B, it could be sewers or a fancy soiree where one evil bad guy tries to sell another evil bad guy a weapon, depends on the week. For Orion a typical day at the office means abandoning it and blowing it up, and for the BuyMorons, it means free TP.
So what goes on in those first dull moments of typical days at the office?
Chuck has found Orion, Orion has found Chuck, Sarah has found out Chuck is spying without her, Jeff and Lester have found another way to endanger the lives of everyone around them and Morgan has found Jeff’s office surprisingly comfortable. Oh, and Sarah found herself unwittingly in the little boy’s room (hilarious reactions). And Vincent is apparently the last spy to find the Buy More, the spy world’s worst kept secret.
So the various misadventures and missions are on, the Buy More, tonight. I have to say this was one of my favorite setups of all time. They manage to make a Buy More heist work like one of those bedroom farce comedies with people mistaking each other for someone else and making some veeery disturbing admissions. Kudos to Yvonne for selling an appropriate level of revulsion even while wearing a ski mask.
This episode remains at the top of my list for several reasons, but one has to be it is the first time General Beckman interacts directly with Team B. Bonita Friedericy manages to add another level to an often marginalized character when she can interact directly with the cast, and in this episode Chuck’s dilemma, and Sarah’s, and their strengths, are played out marvelously with Beckman as the personification of the obstacles between them. She saw that Sarah might place Chuck’s interests above the government’s, but that Sarah has a unique ability to connect with Chuck and keep him focused. That focus however is something of a double edged sword to Beckman. For Sarah the scene perfectly shows how she understands both her dilemma and the government’s, but that she knows that Chuck has to trust her, to have someone on his side, and the government needs to understand his limits for the powerhouse that is Team B, the only team to effectively hit back at Fulcrum, to work.
The damage is done. Chuck isn’t sure he can trust Sarah and Casey. Sarah isn’t sure she can control Chuck, which at this point is her substitute for trust. She sees him pulling away when she manages to disappoint him, and she wants to re-assure him that she’s on his side, but he’s seen the game she plays, or more accurately the tightrope she walks between conflicting loyalties, and while he might want to trust her he knows that doing so places her in an impossible position, so he protects her the only way he knows.
Beckman* of course trusts nobody, bringing us to …
Orion was found and lost in a single episode (or, was he…?) but he left Chuck with a legacy. The schematics for a new intersect, the one that can get the present one out of his head and free him from the government’s control. Speaking of which…
To her credit Beckman actually seems a bit embarrassed at the intrusion, in his bedroom if not his life in general. The intrusion into his life however is about to get a lot worse. If Sarah is compromised then Beckman can’t trust her to represent the government’s best interest, which may not align with Chuck’s, and clearly Chuck expects, or at least asks for Sarah to intercede on his behalf. But if Chuck is coddled, if Sarah is overprotective, the government will never have the intersect they want. Since they can’t put the intersect into a spy they need to make the man with it into one. Something not likely to happen with an overprotective handler and a lovesick asset.
In one of Chuck’s more amusing stunt castings we meet Agent Alex Forest, the 49B, an evil robot of an agent who, superficial resemblance to Sarah aside, is actually Casey’s doppelgänger, and perhaps the original Agent Tranquenstein.
If Beckman was an exceptionally well done personification of a government that feels no obligation to Chuck to free him from his service, Forest is the personification of a CIA that feels no obligation to make that service bearable and as safe as possible for an untrained spy. Chuck, his family, their relationships and their safety are of only marginal concern to Forest. What matters is the mission. And as she doesn’t see Chuck as irreplaceable (remember she didn’t find out about the intersect) he won’t be coddled.
It was lucky for both the CIA and Chuck that it was Sarah that walked into the Buy More that fated morning, because we see that both Chuck and the CIA could make things a lot harder for each other, without much provocation, making the most valuable intelligence asset in the world, useless. Though to be fair, Forest is the one firmly grasping the stupid stick while Chuck only asks the status quo be maintained.
So Sarah loses Chuck, again, but unlike in Chuck Versus The Marlin it’s her doing the leaving. I find it interesting that she does. The parting gift she was to leave him with shows us she’d decided breaking the rules for Chuck wasn’t a mistake she regretted, but we never do find out what her parting words to Chuck would have been. But she does leave, at least until she thinks Chuck might be in trouble. It is an interesting window into her thoughts at this point, especially since the finale gave us her confession of being in love, but out of control that seems to happen in this time frame.
Sarah is selfless, and not all in a good way. She follows orders, but more than that, she has little sense of self, who she is and what she wants out of life. What path she’s on is largely dictated by others telling her who to be when to leave and where to go next. She certainly seems to view her time with Chuck as just another brief stay before it’s on to the next town, or the next identity, just as she’s done all her life. It is only in those rare moments when she thinks all is lost and nothing matters anymore that she can be pushed to act on what she wants. To keep Chuck safe, and to be with him. It is also interesting that those actions always seem to point them toward a life on the run as fugitives, a life she knows. The only real life she knows. Loss, she seems to know very well. If Chuck is safe, her being with him is apparently a secondary concern. Leaving is just the inevitable end to one of the few happy times in her life.
To Chuck losing Sarah is worse than another woman he loves leaving him, though that is a big part. It’s worse than the future he hoped for being denied, it’s the loss of hope itself. It’s the loss of his ability to protect his family from his double life. And it is the woman he loves being taken from him because the CIA thinks he’d be a better intersect, easier to control, without her.
To his credit he doesn’t take it lightly.
Thanks to Agent Forest’s firm grasp on the stupid stick and Sarah’s almost scary intuition when it comes to Chuck, the clash of wills is minimal, and Beckman relents, allowing her best team to function on their terms, for the most part. For now.
For Chuck however, the damage has been done. The wall he’d managed to maintain, with Sarah’s help, to keep his family out of his spy life has crumbled. The damage done by Forest to Ellie’s trust in the men she loves is heartbreaking for Chuck to witness, knowing that he is both the cause, and that he could make it go away if he told her the truth, but at what cost? It’s another existential spy crisis, and like the last time, Sarah is his only confidant, the only one who will listen, but now he sees at what cost and risk she’s done this for him.
Sarah and the CIA are lucky it was Chuck who got the intersect. His willingness to serve at the cost to not just himself, but to his family and friends, and his capacity to forgive and hold Sarah blameless, but his insistence on limits or calling to account those who go to far makes for the moral center of Team B as we’ll see so often in the seasons to follow, but for now Sarah has to play the hand she was dealt. She can’t undo the damage done, but she can maybe help heal the family in another way.
And so it’s off to a hilltop east of Barstow to meet the man whose absence made Ellie grow up way too fast, but whose presence she still wants for the most important day of her life.
While Sarah wants to help Chuck help Ellie she doesn’t realize that she has become the pawn in several players games. Orion has found a way back into his son’s life, and a way to thwart the CIA’s plans for him, and Beckman has finally compromised Sarah, with the slightly veiled threat that Sarah could resume her position, and she hoped Forest wouldn’t be needed too soon. The message is clear, protect him your way, make him work your way, but if I don’t get my working intersect, I’ll take him from you again. Beckman’s decision wasn’t a license to indulge Chuck, it was double secret probation for Sarah.
Dreams. Of What You Had. And What You Lost.
Still, for a few wonderful moments it is nice to see Sarah enjoying the fact that she doesn’t have to hide her real feelings anymore, even if it has been made clear she can’t fully act on them. But she can do what she’s always done, build Chuck’s confidence, let him see what he is capable of.
Unfortunately that kind of backfires on her. Even Sarah sometimes underestimates Chuck.
The last thing Chuck needed to see was what his life could be if he weren’t the intersect when he’s just seen that the government’s policy is to make sure he remains the intersect, and Casey and Sarah are under orders to make sure that happens.
The dream job. His name, his resume, his qualifications, and it adds up to a dream job, not the Buy More. For a few minutes, Chuck sees his life. A sister who is proud of him, a job that challenges and excites him, and a way to make a difference, to matter, without the lying and the bullets and the hurting those he loves. He already has parts of that job, he just can’t share it with anyone, most notably the family he wants to see that their support and love is not wasted on a loser. RI seems to offer something more, the complete package, but once again he’s forced to dash his own and his family’s dreams for him for the greater good.
And it was all for nothing. The software was released.
Incidentally on re-watch, the scene between Ellie and Stephen watching Chuck, one glowing with such pride knowing exactly what he was doing and the other seeing Chuck throw away another opportunity of a lifetime for someone who wasn’t worth it, while hilarious, also perfectly framed Chuck’s dilemma. Stephen defending Chuck is amazing, you can see it in his eyes and in the fervor, he wants to tell Ellie what a hero Chuck is, and how everything he does is to protect them all. But in Orion we see Chuck’s possible destiny, losing everything he ever had, his future, his family, everything. He says as much to Chuck, don’t become me. Fight to keep it, no matter what.
But first we see Chuck reach the same conclusion on his own.
I referred to a montage with Luisa’s Bones where Chuck shows growth unparalleled in the series. It isn’t the one most people think it is. It’s the first one. Yeah, there was a first one, not in the armory gearing up, the one where the actual growth happened. Chuck returns to the Buy More, and seeing the future the government has planned for him, same job, same lies, same distance from those he loves, goes rogue. Completely.
While it won’t necessarily end well, this time, this is one of Chuck’s finest moments. His determination to have this done, no matter the cost is what feeds into the drama of the montage most people remember. I like that one too, I just like the first one better. It’s more Chuck.
It is a testament to Chuck’s honesty and trusting nature, and his loyalty, that he goes to his team first. And it is heartbreaking to see them fail him. Sarah has a lot of conflicting motivations. Obey orders, and she denies Chuck his future, and both of them any hope of being together the way they want. Disobey orders, and Beckman brings Forest back. Get the intersect out, and Chuck has his life back, and she’s not a part of it. Chuck isn’t giving her options.
Casey plays out the dilemma a bit more … un-conflicted?
Chuck’s mission is the beginning of a long journey, because the failure of his partners to back him will have lasting consequences. Sarah has lost Chuck’s trust. Casey has lost his ability to intimidate Chuck. Chuck has found, and lost both his father, and his path out of the spy life, and the government’s reaction (or lack of it) leads Chuck to take a path where whatever it takes, no matter the cost, seems reasonable.
It may take a while for it to be official, but from this episode on, Chuck is a spy. Like his father before him.
* I know I usually go on about Dianne’s first attempt to get Chuck into her specially prepared love bunker**, but after the heartbreak of Chuck Versus The Santa Suit, where TPTB threw away 4 years of sizzling Duck chemistry and tension, I just don’t have the strength to go there yet.
** No that is not a euphemism, it’s a real bunker.
P.S. Some stuff I liked.
I know I usually concentrate on the characters and their serialized stories and growth, but in an effort to expand my range I just wanted to mention a few of those perfect moments that really make this show work on another level for me.
* Chuck the team leader confronting Barkley and silencing that turncoat Lester.
* Sarah ending up in “the little boy’s room” and her reaction.
* Sarah’s reaction to Jeff’s, uh, problem with fear.
* Casey taking out Emmitt; “That felt good. What? I had to do that.”
* Sarah being told to stay in the van.
* The scariest wind machine entrance the Buy More has ever experienced and the change in the bachelor party-goers faces.
* Chuck freaking out in his father’s trailer.
* Chuck and Ellie moment; “It’s easier just to hate him.” We don’t get to see how much Ellie relies on Chuck enough, this was a nice reminder.
* Casey and Sarah at the nerd convention.
* Sarah: “Casey, where’s Chuck?” Casey: “In a world of pain!”
As a closing note, my apologies for this being later than the nominal schedule. But with Chuck over, other priorities are sometimes going to conflict as I try to remember there is life after Chuck. 😉