I usually consider Chuck vs the Truth to kick off the first real multi-episode arc of the first season of Chuck, and I think of it as running through Crown Victoria (1.11). These episodes interconnect closely on an emotional level. Thematically, I suppose you could start and end that arc an episode earlier; as Alma Mater starts Bryce’s back story, and Nemesis ties up the Bryce/Fulcrum story line for season one. But I always consider the emotional continuity stronger here; and the earthquakes that begin in Truth with have continuing aftershocks until we reach a resolution in Crown Victoria. So what can we say about the beginning of the first season’s emotional ride? We will discuss it after the jump.
Truth is an episode that typically polls very well. Many seem to consider it the second or third best of S1. So I know I’m out of step when I classify it as a weaker episode. As I’ve said when calling episodes “average” these last few weeks, I still enjoy Truth quite a lot. There are no S1 episodes that I dislike. And I would add, Truth is very funny, possibly the single funniest episode of S1.
I also really like the later part of the episode, from about the point where Chuck and Sarah start talking in bed until the end, I think Truth is wonderful. I love that they try to discuss their issues (gee, Sarah starts the discussion), I love all the scenes in the hospital, I love chasing down Reardon Paine, while the whole team is loaded up on Pentathol, very funny stuff. I even, sort of, like Chuck dumping Sarah because he needs something real. This strikes as legitimate drama and an exploration of Sarah’s fundamental conflict of interest. Maybe I should say I respect and appreciate the ending even more than “like” it.
So why do I consider Truth a weaker episode? Two reasons, that apparently few viewers agree with. First is the easy one, way too much dumb sex humor. Yeah I know, I’m far more conservative on such things than most viewers. This is a purely subjective issue, but it absolutely affects my enjoyment of the episode.
The second issue is bigger and harder to explain, but it partly involves too much “stupid stick” for Chuck. It is also related to me seeing no appeal or attraction in the whole Chuck/Lou thing. At this point in the series I identified strongly with Chuck, well I find Lou’s foul language very unappealing. And although she says the right thing about slime balls who would cheat on their girlfriends; she then negates whatever wisdom she may have shown by indicating she would be interested in Chuck if he got rid of the girlfriend! Doesn’t it occur to her if he’s so faithless to Sarah he would likely be faithless to her too? And she practically encourages him to do so! Although I do see Chuck’s perspective that Sarah is not a real relationship, and even if she might be his first choice, if she’s not really available he wants someone who is. But Lou just presents herself as a very trashy alternative from my perspective. So although I understand Chuck’s frustration, I don’t see the appeal of Lou. This part of the episode leaves me with a foul aftertaste. Even when it ends on a strong note, I can’t ever be very enthused about the set-up.
The Buy More sub plot is particularly underwhelming. But again, I don’t generally find humor in the cheating/adultery themes. Rarely, such mis-communications can be funny, and the rage of Harry Tang almost makes it work. But I think Big Mike’s final statement on the matter sours me on the whole sub-plot enough I’m not really amused.
As far as the big picture goes, I think episodes both before and after this one are more important. Truth could have had a more important legacy if Chuck didn’t repeat the whole Lou experience with Hannah (another civilian he tried to build a relationship with based on lies). And given that Chuck’s lying problem will peak in S3, that issue has no lasting impact here.
I think if that issue had been dealt with earlier, and Hannah hadn’t happened, I would view this episode in a far better light, possibly even considering it one of the great ones.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! There’s a lot of really good stuff in “Chuck vs the Truth”, especially towards the end. But overall, I think it falls short of well, all seven episodes that came before it. I know you all will disagree with me strongly and that’s fine. One thing I’ve learned in four years actively commenting about Chuck is that we all have different tastes. Sometimes we’ll find more to agree about on the good and bad of things, but this time I know I’m in a small minority.
Joe vs. The Petite Brunettes
Heh! Dave I couldn’t disagree with you more, and yet, I agree with just about everything you said! How’s that for standing with neither foot firmly on the fence?!
Well, please let me explain. Oh yeah, this is a great episode [Joe does a fist pump!] and few of Chuck’s victories seem as completely satisfying as Chuck’s here in Truth. What victory am I talking about? How about, Chuck’s smart idea about how to get Reardon Payne – a real spy-coup!
Chuck: [Into the bug] Found the codes! Can’t believe where Mason Whitney hid them. I’m gonna keep them on the lady doctor ’till we can move them safely.
Casey: [Angrily] Now the bad guy’s gonna come to us! … not bad, Bartowski. Do that ever again and I’ll kill ya.
Chuck’s spy-craft is getting good! He explicitly defies Casey, gets away with it and traps Reardon Paine (Kevin Weisman), the ex-gymnast bad-guy-for-hire. Not only that, Chuck gets the girl. Face it, Chuck gets both of them.
Yeah, well, about that…
Girl On Top
Naw. I’ll get back to that little problem in a minute. But first, I want to extol some of the other virtues of this episode. It starts with Scooter (Chris Dotson), of course! Truly an underused comedic character.
Scooter: [Hears knock while counting register receipts] Uh-uh. You know the rules, Walker. Not while the green’s out of the machine!
Sarah: [Exasperated] Your parents did a real number on you, didn’t they?
Scooter: Yes. They. Did.
Ah, we miss you, Scooter!
And of course, Harry Tang (C.S. Lee). You’re absolutely right about Chuck playing a bit fast and loose with the characters’ morals occasionally, Dave. I can’t argue with that at all. But the over-the-top silly intensity of Harry and Poppy Tang with a dash of Big Mike included renders it harmless, in my estimation. This is Harry’s swan song – off to Hawaii he goes, never to be seen again except in fan-fiction. Pity. I miss him too. The way I want to remember him, though, is exactly the way we leave him here in Truth; red-face angry and completely aware of everything going on around him, even as he remains absolutely clueless!
The Opposite of a Truth
Dave, there are actually two 800 lb. gorillas stomping and raging through this episode, and I’m having trouble writing about one without writing about the other, they’re so intertwined. So I won’t try to separate them.
The first is the concept of “the truth”, which we’ve discussed endlessly here in Chuck This!, and the other is the idea of the potential love interest, the secondary character that comes along to distract Chuck and/or Sarah. In Truth, we have both, placed front and center in the story.
About “the truth” – scare quotes intended – we all came to hate it when Chuck or Sarah withheld the truth from anybody, or worse, lied outright. Gee – it caused some fans to give up on the show entirely. Don’t they (TPTB, writers, actors) know that it’s the most important thing in a relationship? Don’t they know that lying is poison?
Don’t hate me now, but I think that we were all a little hard on Sarah (for the Mauser incident), on Chuck (for not telling Sarah what Dr. Dreyfus told him about his condition in S3) and on the writers in general for their handling of “the truth.” It’s not so easy a concept, and it’s certainly not so straight forward. [Joe sees the rotten tomatoes being prepared!]. Here’s what I mean.
Ellie’s telling the truth when she tells Devon to knock it off with the porno-shorts and to stop thinking everything is awesome. She also tells everyone the truth when she says that words taste like peaches and when she relates that she knows Chuck is a big boy now because he’s dating a big, big girl.
She has to be speaking the truth because of the pentathol. But the latter is a meaningless truth, the former is the truth used as a weapon. Neither has to be spoken and both may easily do more harm than good. The truth is supremely important, yes. But that does not mean that it can be spoken thoughtlessly, and it doesn’t mean telling the truth won’t have bad consequences.
By now, Chuck realizes that Sarah’s world is full of lies and deceit. She cannot often speak the truth freely, and often doesn’t know what the truth is. What answer should she give now if Beckman or Graham asks “Do you love Chuck?” I have a lot more sympathy now for Sarah’s patented answer – “It’s complicated.”
The only question Chuck asks himself is if he wants to be a part of that. And that brings Lou, the sandwich girl, into the picture.
Dave, I really, really like Lou! (Yeah, yeah. Me and my petite brunettes. I know, I know!). Where a relationship with Sarah is complicated, Chuck sees that a relationship with Lou is simple. When Chuck is in over his head with Sarah, always depending on her to rescue him from danger and from his own screw-ups, Chuck is in his element with Lou, able to fix her phone and help her calm those voices in her head. Perhaps most importantly, where we see a certain coarseness in Lou, Dave, Chuck sees honesty. He sees truth, not necessary deceptions.
It’s not unimportant that when Sarah finally makes it to Chuck’s bed, he ends up angry. I would be angry too, because he sees nothing real about what they’re doing and Sarah says so. What’s surprising is that Sarah is just as angry and testy.
Why should that be? They’re doing it “for the cover.” I think I know. For the first time, Sarah’s frustrated and angry because their cover is a fake cover too.
Didya get that? The first time I saw the episode, I didn’t understand. I was still trying to figure out if Sarah really cared or not, and I decided that she simply didn’t know if she did. This time, I slapped my forehead and said “Of course she knows!” There was no “real” relationship; there could not be one. But for Sarah the cover relationship isn’t a real cover either. It’s a pretend-cover to hide her true feelings, not a real cover to protect the asset. That is the truth.
“The longer we go, the longer we keep trying to fool people into believing that we’re a real couple, the person I keep fooling the most is me.”
Maybe I was distracted for some reason, the first time I saw The Truth.” Maybe I got called away or just wasn’t paying attention or just plain missed it. For the longest time, I simply did not know that Sarah had been trained to be resistant to the effects of the truth serum. For months I was laboring under the impression that Sarah was forced to speak truthfully when she said “no”, that they had no future together. I thought Sarah was playing cover-girlfriend all along and was not going to change her mind for a long time, if ever. What I should have known was that there was a bigger truth involved.
That mistake made the character almost inexplicable. Sarah Walker was a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma, which was perfectly in keeping with what TPTB wanted us to think about her anyway. But the happy side effect was that I understood Chuck a whole lot better. My limited knowledge was exactly what he had. Chuck’s attraction to Lou (and later, his return to Jill) becomes a very understandable reaction to the world Sarah lived in. It scares him.
But it’s not a reaction to Sarah. Dave, this may very well be the first time C&S use the supply closet and a sleepover for cover. But really, it’s really the first time we see them use the cover for cover.
This episode still polls very high as a fan favorite and I think I know why. It’s because the opposite of a truth is not always a lie. It’s often a bigger truth. If we watch carefully, we get to see, not the truth about Chuck and Sarah, but the bigger truth for the first time.
Joe I agree with much of that, and I appreciate you summing up the “truth” of the matter between Chuck and Sarah. As I indicated above, parts of this episode are great. I think where it fails for me, and what will always keep it from being a favorite, is two things. First is my total dislike of love triangles. This is a hard wired bias with me; I can’t help but roll my eyes and want to go screaming from the room whenever this tired cliche is re-used. The fact I see some legitimate issues to explore here is probably why I don’t more aggressively dislike this episode for it. And the second issue ties in closely to the first, that is my visceral dislike of Lou. Perhaps if I had found Lou more likable it would have been enough to overcome my feelings on the triangular cliche.
Reading your comments, I think our very different reactions to Lou may sum up our different reactions to this episode. In fact, I would guess if we had Hannah in this episode instead of Lou I might have liked it quite a lot. Unfortunately, when Hannah did actually appear, they were completely recycling ideas and issues from this arc, so I felt two story lines were damaged instead of possibly only one.
And yeah, I expect every single comment to follow will side with you and against me on this!
Chuck Firsts in Chuck Versus The Truth
First inappropriate use of a supply closet … “for cover”
First sleepover … “for cover”