The second episode of Chuck is still mostly introduction. We met all the characters in the Pilot, but now we get to see how they’ll interact with other, and they’ll sort through some trust issues. This episode doesn’t usually measure up as well in the various “favorite episode” polls I’ve seen; but it’s still very important for getting things going, and I happen to love it regardless. We’ll discuss it more after the jump.
I’m not sure why I like this episode so much. It goes against several things I normally find important; in particular, I tend to dislike internal dissent/distrust sort of themes. Perhaps it doesn’t bother me here because it is so early in the group’s association. Perhaps too, it seems so obvious to me this is a temporary, almost unique situation. And of course, there’s the pure (tragic?) comedy that Chuck would ever trust Casey over Sarah.
Okay, I know there comes a dark period later when Chuck may have been wise to trust Casey more, but that is a ways off yet, and is more personal than professional. But as Sarah herself informs Chuck, she comes with baggage. So Chuck is trying to get the hang of his new life; deciding who to trust while keeping important secrets from friends and family. I think the emotional up note this episode ended on was a huge part of what I loved about it. Of course we also learned a lot about the challenges Chuck would face in the future.
Like the Pilot, this is done with a signature style and humor that is pure Chuck. And who can forget an awesome Sarah/Casey fight scene and an awesome SUV explosion. These are all the sort of elements I look for in a show! Extra things to like? Big Mike’s inspirational talk to the new guy, magic tricks and Morgan’s comedic timing, and a bathroom “make up” scene (the look on Sarah’s face as the bathroom door closes makes me laugh every time!).
We also learn a lot that will be important over time. Things like how the Intersect will work, how much certain bad guys will value it, that Casey should only be trusted as long as it’s his job to be trustworthy (obviously, we’ll discuss this more in-depth later!), and that Sarah is really quite idealistic. For me, this is the perfect mix of serialized vs episodic story elements; we got a completely self-contained main story, with lots of details and background that will matter more over time.
This is a great formula for getting me invested in a show.
Ernie Floats a Theory or Two
Chuck Versus The Helicopter was (eventually) the source of an epiphany for me. I remember how fun I thought it was when first watching. The team dynamics were a bit up in the air, and while they were still using Casey as a villain we got our first external threat to the team, and got to see Casey as a potential good-guy. Sarah was still mysterious, and after his flash in the pilot and not really knowing her yet Chuck is amusingly flustered in her presence. So how about another date? As Dave mentioned the second episode, also written by the co-creators gives us a pretty clever plot that allows us to see more about how the intersect works and how valuable it is. It also established the excuse for a really small CIA protection detail and team. Any outsider was not to be trusted. Actually trust was pretty thin within the team too. We saw in the pilot that Sarah had a lot more of a relationship with Bryce than she let on, and I suppose we were supposed to think she was potentially working with Bryce because of that, but I never really bought that line. It was well executed in the episode with the necessary doubt sowed in both Casey and Chuck, and Casey and Sarah’s fight for his trust and loyalty, and then their actual fight were all fun to watch. I remember even now how great I thought the fight scenes and pyrotechnics were for a one-hour network TV show. And the pace and the dialog were snappy and fun, and I found myself taking Chuck’s plight and Sarah’s frustration and Casey’s suspicions seriously. OK, I was never really convinced Sarah was a traitor or that Casey was going to kill or hurt either of them, but I bought the premise as one they’d sufficiently set up for the characters to believe and it made watching so much fun.
The epiphany? Chuck, in production as a regular series had tons of plot holes for the sake of comedy and drama being easier. I don’t think I dwelt on this fact much at first, but the more I re-watched and started to notice things, like Alan Sepinwall’s “plot hole of the week” and the more I blogged about the show, the more I realized taking the spy-world too seriously is a mistake. Accept the premise that it is dangerous both physically and psychologically for those in it, but don’t try to make it “real”. Even though, and especially early on, Yvonne is playing Sarah pretty straight as the dramatic anchor, the plot rarely takes the spy-world very seriously. For example, both Sarah and Casey think the other is a traitor or a danger to Chuck to the point that they come to blows. Casey gets his ass handed to him, then makes good his escape. The first place either of the super-spies would go is to grab Chuck, because that’s the first place either a bodyguard or a traitor would go, and any bodyguard would know they had to secure him before the traitor did. Did they both think Chuck would simply finish out his shift and go to dinner unmolested with a traitor on the loose? Then after “the soufflé incident” we’re supposed to believe Casey simply stands by and lets Sarah the rogue agent get Chuck alone in the bathroom for something he knows full well isn’t makeup sex? It all rests on a pretty thin premise that the greatest danger spies face is blowing their cover by acting unusual in front of a group of harmless civilians. But that’s the premise Schwedak are establishing, and they are also asking for a lot of latitude to make the show they want. It is there from the beginning, spy-lite and paper-thin plots with holes you can drive a truck through. It was only in season 4 that I really learned how to watch the show, as a series of scenes that you should accept on an emotional level, and allow your impressions to form the story by connecting them, even if the plot doesn’t always seem to. Seen that way Helicopter functions perfectly as a more in-depth introduction to the world Schwedak started constructing in the pilot. We see Chuck’s apprehension that he can function in this new world, his reaction to his trusting nature being tested, and his forgiving nature. We see Sarah’s need to feel in control and her reaction when she can’t be. Chuck is a new wildcard in her life, and when she realizes she and Chuck are in this for the long haul as opposed to a few days or weeks, she realizes she’s going to have to play this one different, more like a real girlfriend, if she’s going to make it work. We see why Casey is a bit of a burnout, and how in his own way he poses one of the greatest threats to the team.
Those scenes, the Weinerliscious fight, the dinner-party full of suspicion and odd behavior, though seemingly disconnected, both work, and both reinforce the larger story. Both are cool for their own reasons and deliver the action or the comedy we crave and the show is known for, so The Rule of Cool has delivered. As I mentioned before, for the next 5 seasons Chuck will live and die by The Rule of Cool.
Some great thoughts there Ernie. I think you’re exactly right about not ever believing there would be serious threats from among the main characters. I think even from the original previews before the Pilot ran we largely had the idea that Sarah was Chuck’s partner and protector. Add to that a fairly lighthearted tone, and I think its easy to have the expectation that the distrust was for laughs, and would be a passing thing. Sarah in particular was painted as a pretty sympathetic, if mysterious, character from the start. Casey was a little darker, I even remember not really believing he’d become a loyal member of the team until about Beefcake. Or at least, I didn’t really care for him except as a funny thug until then. But even so, I never believed he would actually be a traitor or ever hurt Chuck. All of that may be why the internal tension/distrust theme didn’t really set off any alarm bells for me; often that’s the sort of thing that will lead to me deleting a show incomplete.
And very well put about the “rule of cool” here. I have often discussed, and occasionally even watched the show with more casual viewers. And one thing that always stands out to me (I’m sure you’ll be shocked), is that casual viewers don’t take the show as seriously as we tend to. Apart from the “duh” aspect of that, it is very important (and occasionally difficult) to remember that the spy plots in particular are not really a very important part of the show. They exist to provide some propulsion to the story; but I think Chuck is really about the adventure, the action, and the humor; and the only really “serious” part of the show is human/emotional angle. When we find ourselves worrying too much about General Beckman’s decision-making process or if Sarah was a CAT before or after her red test, we’re losing sight of what the show is really about. In a perfect world there would have been more time, staff, money and screen time to make some of the more obvious plot holes and continuity problems go away. But given that this was a weekly network TV show, and not some eccentric billionaire’s experiment in creating the perfect story, I think they generally made time, budget and story decisions very well.
True Lies and Deceptions – Joe’s Take
Spot on, guys. I don’t think anyone thought that Casey and Sarah would actually be at each other’s throats for very long, or that neither could be trusted. And, oh yes, this was the episode that firmly established that the glue holding Team Bartowski together would be trust. Either that, or there would be no team. The magic here in Helicopter was that we could honestly come away thinking that failure was a possibility. Certainly, Chuck could.
At the end of the pilot episode, you’ll remember Chuck was in control. He realized that Casey and Sarah needed him at least as much as he needed them. But in Helicopter Chuck starts to have his doubts.
Sarah: What the hell were you thinking? Chuck, the secrets you know are incredibly important. You compromise everything when you stop trusting me.
Chuck: I thought it was okay…
Sarah: No, it is not “okay”. How could you think I was the double, huh? You know I am not Bryce. Bryce betrayed everything I believe in, and if you ever accuse me of that again then I will walk away, mission over, we all go back to Washington. And you do not want that to happen, Chuck. That, you should trust me on.
Sarah’s threat rings true in my ears even today. As far as Chuck was concerned there was no guarantee that Sarah would be around to help him – to save him – if he didn’t trust her. That’s the one condition she places on him. It’s the one condition that we can all understand.
But that doesn’t mean Chuck will understand. All throughout, he is wondering who to believe. Casey? Sarah? His own queezy gut? I know that when I first saw the episode, I was wondering too. After all, it was possible that the super-hot super-spy was not what she seemed. Sarah tells us up front that “Sarah Walker” is not her real name (or, at least, we shouldn’t believe that it is), so check your naiveté at the door, please. Things are not as they seem, and deceptions are everywhere (“including in my words,” Sarah is telling him).
Another vision of us
We were the challengers of the unknown
This is the ground that Chuck is just now realizing he must navigate, and the stakes are high. Already one Dr. Zarnow (played by John Fleck) is revealed to be a deadly enemy, one who fooled the NSA, CIA, Casey and Sarah. Chuck’s real-life nemesis, Harry Tang (the unforgettable C.S Lee) is small potatoes after that. The trouble is, Harry only serves to remind Chuck that without Sarah, Casey and the Intersect, he’s pretty much a non-entity, stationed forever behind a nerd-herd desk. The stakes are not just about life and death; the stakes are about Chuck’s place in this world.
Sarah remains mysterious in this episode to Chuck and to us. Her anger when Chuck risks his life (foolishly, in her estimation) is equaled by her anger when she discusses Bryce, saying that he is a rogue spy. Emphasis on the word “rogue.” But there, quiet in her room, Sarah takes a moment to go over the photos still in her phone – her and Bryce in Cabo. Passion is passion. If it’s displayed in anger, it can also be displayed in other ways. Yes, there was something there between Sarah and Bryce, for sure, and we wouldn’t know how much for a while. But that one picture of Sarah and Bryce together tells us, the viewers, that there is something more to Sarah Walker than she’s telling Chuck.
Sarah: Some people want to be heroes, and others have to be asked. So, Chuck? Are you ready?
Chuck’s on a new path; he’s been diverted from his course by the Intersect. What I know now, but didn’t then, is that Sarah’s been diverted from hers just as much.
“Be safe,” you say
Whatever the mess you are, you’re mine, okay?
If that is the custom
The New Pornographers – Challengers