Wookie is the first episode of Chuck that I have profoundly mixed feelings about. The first three episodes had me gushing uncontrollably. But Wookie leaves me thinking critically. There are elements I love that are very special to me. And there are elements that I really dislike and can hardly bear to watch again.
Perhaps some of my compatriots here at Chuck This will bring more clarity, or more strongly conflicted feelings to the discussion. Join me after the jump as I try to sort out a very mixed reaction.
How to sort out the good and the bad of Wookie? I suppose the easiest thing is to start with the four main characters. I’ll say this was a dynamite episode for Sarah, mixed for Carina, and horrible for Chuck and Morgan. I’ll start with Carina as I think discussing her is simplest and not horribly emotional to me.
She is fun and funny and brings a sort of unpredictable energy to the proceedings like a live grenade. But her humor is often sleazy and trashy in a way I don’t actually enjoy watching. I would have preferred if more of her humor was less overtly sexual in nature. It was bad enough I really didn’t enjoy this episode at all on initial viewing, but then I noticed what was good.
The one absolute good that comes from having Carina around is the contrast it provides to Sarah. Now I must acknowledge Sarah has one clearly ugly moment at the beginning of the episode. She suggests to Chuck he can ask her questions, and she then proceeds to lie in her answer. She has previously been clear with Chuck that certain personal information is off limits, but then sets up a situation where it is hard, if not impossible, for Chuck to know when she’s being honest. I’ll go into Chuck’s reaction more below. But on a much brighter note, from the first scene Sarah and Carina share, Sarah really shines. She comes across as stable and mature in comparison. She is aware of things like duty and risk assessment. She cares about Chuck’s feelings and even Morgan’s. And to the end of the series one of my favorite moments will be when Carina explains to Chuck about the life of the spy, and Chuck is able to counter with “Sarah’s not like that.” He already knows enough truth about her to know she isn’t motivated by the adrenaline rush or careerism that drives Carina. He even knows enough to cite a specific mission that forces Carina agree. And a lot of the good about Sarah will hang on Carina’s response.
We often talk about how much Sarah changed over the course of the series (and boy did she, I re-watched Baby right after Wookie!); but we need to remember most of that change was personal, relational and emotional. Her character or moral fiber was already set. Even if she was known as an enforcer, tough and uncompromising; it seems she also cared about her team-mates and mission. She may have liked being independent and self-reliant, but we shouldn’t read that as selfish or self-serving.
I’ll deal with Morgan next as its simpler. I never found Morgan more annoying and creepy than he was in this episode. That doesn’t mean I don’t see any humor in his behavior, but he often comes too close to this nerd’s worst nightmares that I don’t really enjoy watching it. He is awkward in the most painful ways imaginable and has no clue about what’s actually going on around him. Later, his unexpected success with Carina may be a source of some humor at a bad time for other parts of the show. But for now, he’s awkward in a way that can only be called cringe worthy.
Which leads to Chuck. Keep in mind, whenever I am critical of Chuck, it starts with the fact I identified with him so strongly at the very start. The character of Chuck can frustrate and annoy me in ways few other television characters can, simply because I have often identified with him so strongly. So Wookie kind of breaks from anything I can relate to when we see Chuck getting jealous and petty where he has no rights. We viewers may be pretty sure when Sarah says “I like you Chuck” in the Pilot that she is being honest. But as far as Chuck is concerned; she was playing him on the first date, and is now posing as his girlfriend. A fake girlfriend who has clearly told him he doesn’t even know her real name. He simply has to know he has no sort of claim on her. So although I get Chuck being hurt when he discovers Sarah has lied to him about her relationship with Bryce, it actually really angers me that Chuck would think he is entitled to anything more. Perhaps the good part of Chuck is that he simply expects honesty from those he deals with; but it is a very bad part that he would act out so childishly when he discovers an ugly truth. I would add to this strong visceral reaction of mine, that this is a return to the trust issues that should have been laid to rest just two episodes ago. In particular, I don’t get how Chuck can not see Sarah is in his corner, even if she does occasionally act in ways he doesn’t understand.
This is one of those things that just presses all of my buttons exactly wrong. It rings false to me, at least it rings false if I’m going to continue to relate to Chuck. Now it does set up a couple of beautiful moments. First the previously mentioned talk between Chuck and Carina. This may be an “aha” moment for Chuck, and it reflects very strongly on Sarah when we see her character contrasted with Carina’s. This will remain a touchstone moment of the entire series to me, it speaks so much to who Sarah was even before Chuck. The other moment it sets up is the very sweet end scene. Perhaps I should call it bittersweet, because although Chuck and Sarah make up and end in a good place, we see Sarah’s conflict raging and her current inability to let Chuck in any more personally than he already is. I wish the writer (Alison Adler) had found a more elegant way of arriving at these significant moments, but both scenes are wonderful on their own merits.
So what can be said about Wookie in the greater context? Well obviously, it introduced Carina and gave us an early glimpse into Sarah’s pre-Chuck character. Those two things alone mean it will always be important. In fact, those issues are big enough that I like the episode considerably better than I did when it first ran; I think it’s an important episode for Chuck mythology. I would also add a look at what makes Chuck a hero in the end; as I’ve said before, Chuck is a moral hero.
He will always try to do the right thing. So we know he will charge to Sarah’s rescue in the end, whether he has any realistic prospect of being able to help or not.
But the parts I don’t like, raunchy humor and stupid jealous Chuck will always keep it from being a favorite.
Chuck Versus The Wookie is an episode that has only gotten better for me on re-watch. I remember on first viewing thinking it a bit of a letdown after Chuck Versus The Tango, but frankly for me that’s a ridiculous standard to hold most episodes to, at least for me. The humor is far more subtle and the character interactions seem so innocent and casual, but Carina will turn both Chuck and Sarah’s still forming relationship upside down, even while she puts it on a far firmer foundation than was there before.
Where Chuck Versus The Tango established the parallel scenes and the montage as a big part of how the Chuck team wanted to tell their story Chuck Versus The Wookie established the unspoken context, the ominous background of one world intruding on another, and Sarah responding to it. Family game night might seem all fun and games, and Sarah even seems to enjoy flirting with Chuck a bit, having fun with their shared secret, but she is also jumpy, on edge. Something seems off, but she’s not sure what.
In the courtyard, the unknown menace looks on, and we see that the visual presentation once again tells more story than the dialog. There are multiple things going on, ominous rumblings that what is about to happen will threaten the team. Sarah is reacting to finding out that Chuck has a visceral reaction to Bryce, the nicest guy in the world hates Bryce Larkin, her former boyfriend. This could be a problem for her. How can Chuck trust someone who was perhaps in love with a man who he hates. Certainly he’d lose some trust, if not respect, so as Dave mentions, Sarah overcompensates. I’ll get into this later, but Sarah offers something she can’t and doesn’t intend to follow through on, mutual trust and respect. She is offering to treat Chuck as her equal, and to allow him to get to know her. Some unknown phantom menace looks on, and knows this will be useful.
Sarah was jumpy for a reason, and as we find even when the threat isn’t a lethal one, spies play rough. Keep that in mind. Also consider this. This episode is the first of a series where Chuck starts to learn what spies are really like. Carina is just the first wakeup call.
We also are treated to, for the first time, a window into who Sarah Walker is, and was. Carina may be a friend, but that seems a loose term where spies are concerned. Spies play rough, and Carina, though sympathetic to some extent clearly isn’t above letting Sarah know she thinks her propensity for romantic entanglements at work make her sloppy. And vulnerable. And she isn’t above using that for her own purposes.
Sarah seems to think herself different, and she is in some ways, but one of the wonderful things Chuck does with their two worlds and parallel stories, is shed some light on that. Carin is willing to use even her friends and their weaknesses for her own purposes. So is Sarah. She just tells herself it’s not her doing the using.
I was always curious about why Sarah thought Carina double dating Morgan was a good , no great idea, then it struck me. Morgan was her way to (ahem) block Carina. With an infatuated Morgan around Carina couldn’t get Chuck alone, and with an infatuated Morgan around, Chuck would never respond to any advances Carina might make. Sarah uses people too. She uses Morgan’s infatuation and Chuck’s loyalty to supposedly control the Carina wildcard. But it ends up shedding an unflattering light on her, and who she is.
The double date, while a lot of fun and funny is a pretty interesting scene. I think both Chuck and Sarah see a less flattering version of themselves, and each other, reflected in Carina and Morgan. Carina treats Morgan as disposable and thinks nothing of the long-term impact her “thrill” might have on his life. Morgan is far too willing and eager to believe his miraculous good luck. Parallel conversations bear this out. Chuck sees the obvious manipulation and can’t help but doubt, even while clearly experiencing real feelings (as evidenced by his response to Sarah caressing his neck). Sarah, for her part, while she claims to be “good here” (a statement with so many potential levels of meaning) can’t help herself, and can’t avoid seeing what Carina does (and she mimics at a different level) as wrong.
And then Chuck sets himself up for the industrial strength version. I’ve written about this before, but Chuck’s inadvertent disclosure of his level of knowledge about Carina starts an avalanche. The looks exchanged, or more accurately, the reactions tell the story. Carina’s reaction (kudos Mini Anden) is a sort of “I knew it” realization that Chuck is not what he seems, and is the key to the team. Sarah’s reaction is multilayered. She realizes immediately Chuck has slipped up, and that Carina has noticed. As far as Carina is concerned, as we find out later, Chuck has put himself in play, and spies play rough. Sarah must realize this at some level, but she also seems concerned that Chuck could know so much about a spy so effortlessly.
That knowledge, and the gaps she knows exist, are all Carina needs to launch her plan. Doubt, the one thing a handler can’t allow in an asset, and Sarah inadvertantly confirms that Chuck is an asset, and that she is playing a cover for him, whatever his clearance, will be key. Carina knows exactly how to use that.
Jealousy? Sure, there is some of that. But the truth is worse, for both Chuck and Sarah. It is worse than Sarah lying about the extent of her relationship with Bryce, and it is worse than Chuck being jealous. A diamond is tossed to Carina for one very simple reason. It is the only way Chuck has to punish Sarah for her lies and manipulation, and he needs to punish her after her lies are exposed. Jealousy is there as a part of it, but it is more about respect, about seeing reflected in Morgan and Carina, and by analogy he and Sarah another Jill situation, where a woman he loves, and respects, and whose friendship he cherishes, treats him cheaply.
It is a moment of growth for both our heroes. Chuck foolishly trades one manipulator, who cares about him and his situation, for one who doesn’t. Chuck learns trust might have to happen at another level, that he might need to see the woman Sarah is rather than listen to her, or ask her. Sarah, for her part, it is the first cracks in her defenses, where she sees that there are consequences to those rough games spies play, and not everyone is ready to play at their level. And maybe, just maybe, it is nice to have someone see a real part of you, and know who you are.
No olives on the pizza. Trivial. Right? But in any normal situation, with normal people, someone who hated olives would say so when the pizza was ordered, wouldn’t they? But she’s a spy, and that would be something real. They probably didn’t intend it that way, but it is remarkable to think about the characterization, and the interaction. Sarah knows, at some level, what she likes and hates, even if it’s just olives at this point, but she can’t bring herself to articulate it. Chuck learns who she is, and brings a bit of who Sarah really is into his world.
And we see, she wants that.
Chuck Firsts in Chuck Versus The Wookie
Chuck Meets Dianne … and Graham
Scooter, Sarah’s boss.
Sarah’s desire to physically hurt Scooter, her boss.
Introduction to Morgan’s Grape Soda addiction.
The first of many Chuck visits to Sarah’s apartment. (Picking her up for a date in the pilot doesn’t count.)