I’m hoping the second part of this Arc will be a little more “feel good”, and a little less volatile than the previous part was. This time we’ll be looking at another three episodes from the later part of Season Three:
Chuck vs The Honeymooners
Chuck vs The Role Models
Chuck vs The Tooth
We’ll dive right in, after the jump.
For many of us, Honeymooners is when Chuck first became the show we’d always hoped it would be (yeah, that means me!). We were finally done with wt/wt. The show could now shed its soap opera baggage and go off in some fun directions with considerably fewer dark clouds. Of course that never means no drama or tension. But the writers of Chuck now went off were few shows have dared go before by fundamentally changing the central relationship for good. Really, the show was just past its half way point (not that we knew it at the time!) and it just reinvented itself.
So how well did these first new steps work? Let’s look back at these three episodes and see what worked and what didn’t. Obviously, like everything I write this will be heavy in opinion. I also tend to analyze more from an entertainment perspective than an internal story perspective. So feel free to offer your own opinions and insights. Hopefully, these episodes will generate less anger and hostility than some have!
This is kind of my default for “all time favorite” episode. It certainly has some serious competition, and on any given day I may favor some other episode. But Honeymooners is most often what I consider the best of the best. No doubt it was a huge breath of fresh air after a pretty dark season before it, but even on its own merits I think they hit the balance of humor, romance, and action exactly to my liking. I remember when this first ran my wife commenting at the opening credits that Sarah had already smiled more than the whole season before. I don’t mean to suggest that I never enjoy a more intense sort of drama or action, but all that smiling is infectious, and I find it impossible not to have a great time right along with the characters. Add to the smiles, an amazing performance by a drunken Texan Sarah, The Charlses unsanctioned mission, and a couple of outrageous handcuffed fight scenes and there’s just a whole lot to love in this episode. And did I mention my all time favorite moment of television romance for the final scene?
There were some important character moments for Chuck and Sarah apart from just pure happiness too. Initially, they decide the lessen learned from the previous incidents was that it was time to leave the spy world behind and run off together. By the end, they’ve actually learned to communicate a little bit, and decide to try to have it all; the relationship and the profession. Interesting that in the end of the series, they will abandon the spy life again, but more on their own terms and without abandoning everything else too.
I think it helps that we saw a very effective pairing of Morgan and Casey. For the rest of the series they would be the spy world’s odd couple. In spite of Casey’s constant insults we knew from quite early on that some real respect had developed between these two. Perhaps Casey never saw Morgan as a true equal, but he did learn to trust Morgan and value some of his skills. Most significantly Morgan’s knowledge of Chuck (!), and utterly stupid bravery. Both factors would prove to be useful on many occasions.
Throw in a nice scene for Casey/Sarah and Chuck/Morgan conversations and this episode really hits on the full TeamB dynamic at its best. I particularly like here how we see Casey and Sarah interact with quite a bit of respect and friendship.
The Ellie and Devon leaving for Africa story adds little, except for a really wonderful Jeffster unplugged performance. And Ellie finally learning Chuck and Sarah are “back” together.
Role Models may fail to achieve the near perfection of the previous episode, but that may say more about setting impossible standards than anything wrong with the episode itself. Fittingly, the episode starts with a Hart to Hart homage, which is the stuff of Morgan’s nightmares. I think it’s safe to describe this episode as nearly pure fluff. Chuck and Sarah will wrestle with a few issues like what the future holds for them as spies, and if Sarah will officially move in or not. Much of this felt like filler (I mean, last week they were running away together, this week Sarah isn’t sure if she wants to move in?); now you all know I’m a pretty conservative guy, I would tend to put the moving in stuff after the wedding stuff… But this feels sort of silly after almost running away from everything to be together. Me thinks the point to this episode had more to do with making us comfortable with the new reality for Chuck and Sarah than any particular growth or moving issues.
Which is not to say it wasn’t a fun episode! We meet a veteran spy couple with a funny habit of saying “30 years” when they obviously mean to say “50 years”.
And we get a real sample of the one undeniable asset Morgan will bring to teamB; bravery to the point of utter stupidity. We can’t forget the guest appearance of possibly the best S3 villain, which leads directly to the only girly scream ever to come from Sarah Walker. Majestic indeed.
Apart from the tiger, I think my favorite part of the episode is the rather silly 30 foot rule. Sarah really tries to honor Chuck’s request, which they both later regret. This episode is also the full duration of the Woodcomb’s African adventure. We’re not clear exactly how much time elapsed, possibly a couple weeks. But before long, Ellie and Devon are on their way home with faux malaria and a new Ring contact.
For me, this discussion ends on a bit of a down note. While not a bad episode, Chuck vs The Tooth brought back lying Chuck. I really found this an unappealing development for my once favorite character, and I was hugely pleased when the lying stopped with the beginning of S4. Much of the tone of this episode was darker than the previous two, more like the front episodes of this season. We learn that Chuck may be loosing his marbles, which will later become a recurring theme for Intersect hosts.
There actually is a lot to like here though. Right from Chuck and Sarah’s happy domestic scene at the start of the episode. We’ve always known Sarah was a woman of action, not words. Well we see that played out graphically here, Sarah will go to great lengths for Chuck, but telling him she loves him requires more than she can initially give. This leads to some awesome scenes both in Castle and at the home of Dr. Dreyfuss. (“I need him to be better”).
But its completely in her character that she comes to rescue Chuck with guns blazing (“I’ll always come back for you”) before he finally hears an “I love you.”
Chuck is on a darker path at this point, with the Intersect doing something to his sub-conscious. Some of his bizarro actions during this episode are quite funny, but not really my kind of funny so I’m glad nothing like this was ever done again. When Sarah finally gets to her key three words at the end of the episode, Chuck decides to withhold Doc Dreyfuss’ prognosis concerning the Intersect and his health. While I can sympathize with not wanting to spoil a moment, it irks me to no end that this sub-plot carried through to the season finale. For all this I did like Chuck’s final dream; really a well done way to end this episode, although I was really hoping for the return of the tiger… (oh imagine the tiger with the Intersect! Now that would be a fun villain? Is that too silly even for Chuck?)
Morgan also has a sad story in this episode. There was some anticipation around the return of Anna, but what we saw of her was actually very sad. For two seasons Anna was a fun bit of extra color among the Buy Morons, and her devotion to Morgan was often both sweet an inexplicable. But here we see her as shallow and unworthy. Morgan has grown-up and moved on in ways Anna hasn’t. He can do better, and soon will.
Finally, Ellie and Devon’s return means the Ring’s plan to locate Orion can finally get into gear. So Ellie’s story in this episode will see ugly consequences of Chuck’s continued lies to her. It’s not too hard to see that if Ellie had known what was really going on in Chuck’s life she would have been far less vulnerable to the sort of deception that got her.
I’m glad we got to this back arc for season three. From Other Guy (3.13) on I found it much easier to enjoy the show again. I still have some complaints with these later episodes (mainly just Tooth from this grouping), but they are minor compared to the episodes that came before. And I really felt like the show hit its stride in Season Four and really became the sort of show I had hoped it would ever since the Pilot. But that really makes these episodes interesting in a developmental sort of way. Not to mention, one special time (Honeymooners) when I really think they got everything perfect.