Arguably, the arc is over. Crown Victoria is, in some ways, a stand alone episode. But I’ve always considered it the end of the season one arc because the plot is secondary to the emotional fall out of the episodes we’ve just seen. So let’s discuss this nominal Christmas episode from late in the first season.
I know I’m in a minority for not being a huge fan of this arc, and I’m very pleased that we are finally to the last episode of it. True story, Crown Victoria is the closest my wife and I ever came to quitting the show.
It was at about the 7 minute mark, as Chuck and Sarah are exiting the briefing from Casey’s apartment my wife said to me “pause it a second.” She said she really hadn’t enjoyed the show at all for several weeks, and maybe it was time to delete it. I agreed to not having enjoyed the show for a while, but I reminded her of how much we had liked most of the first few episodes, and suggested we give it until the end of this episode to make a final decision. Honestly, the only longer down stretch of the show for me is the misery arc itself; which essentially plays like a threefold re-run of these episodes. And by that point I was so invested in the show there was no chance of deleting it. But all things considered, Crown Victoria is a pretty ideal ending for what we just sat through. I really loath the first 30 minutes; but then I truly love the end, pretty much from Sarah’s “do you ever want a normal life?” to the end I love this episode. At the flip of a switch it goes from doing everything wrong to doing everything right.
The contrasts in Crown Vic are far stronger than in the previous episodes to me. I’m really not a fan of the seduction mission trope regardless, and the one we get in Crown Vic is particularly unappealing as Sarah rubs it in Chuck’s face, all in the name of “professionalism”. (I get already the girl has some problems…) And, I would say this episode may feature Morgan at his most unbearable. I am very pleased with how his character grew later, but it is no wonder to me that many viewers developed a dislike for him that they never got over. My favorite part of these first thirty minutes is the outrageous orange peal finish we see on Casey’s car, I’m sure its done regular work on the WB lot for 25 years and has probably been repainted 5 times! (at least I don’t remember factory finishes from the mid-80s looking so bad).
I would much rather talk about what goes right here in the final 15 minutes. It all turns around the moment Sarah decides to trust Chuck. And I would add, this is something S1 did far better than the later regurgitation of this story in S3. I think the misery here was brief enough, and better conceived, better executed, and still novel enough that the pay-off is completely worth it. Sarah is faced with a decision, and because she knowsChuck truly is trustworthy, she goes against orders to help him save Morgan’s life.
I cheered out loud when Sarah jumped over that counter, and in that instant all was right in the Chuck-verse. And everything plays out perfectly from there. Casey will not abandon his team, Chuck and Sarah create an awkward distraction, that funny round prop that was usually used as an explosive or detonator makes a cameo as a GPS locator, Casey’s Crown Vic goes boom, we get a very sweet Chuck and Sarah make-up scene, and just a bit of ominous as Casey’s imminent kill order is brought up again.
A couple of those things do require deeper comments. We have another first here of Sarah going against orders to help Chuck. This is a small breach, of the sort she could no doubt rationalize and compartmentalize. She can tell herself its all about serving the greater good, catching a bad guy, and saving innocent lives. And we know from her actions in the Pilot and the flashback parts of Baby (hey, its all canon now!) that she has long been willing to bend or adapt orders to serve the mission and/or her conscience. But this is a clear, if minor, incident of going rogue to help Chuck. We will see a far stronger incident in just two more weeks. So our strengthening suspicion Agent Walker is well compromised will soon be clearly confirmed.
This is completely one of my favorite parts of this show. I love seeing Sarah deal with her own shifting loyalties over the course of the first two seasons. Of course I never mean any disrespect for those individuals who make great sacrifice to serve the greater good; but I find it beautiful and inspiring to see one such hero find love and purpose in something more approachable. And it pleases me all the way through to see Sarah grapple with understanding this change within herself for quite some time yet.
The make-up scene is a great example of what I always like best about Chuck; Chuck and Sarah are both basically decent people who care about each other.
The depth and conditions of that affection will be more thoroughly explored in S2. But here we have a perfect scene of reconciliation, and Sarah affirming her belief in Chuck’s character and abilities. Then Chuck letting her off the hook as he wisely realizes a good friendship is the most he can expect from her for now. I would say I think that decision is the foundation of how Chuck and Sarah can be so strong together once they sort out their stupidity in 3.13. Another true story, my wife and I were friends for six years before we started dating; but once we got together it was one year dating, nine months engaged, 15+ years married, really with no major hiccups. I’m a big fan of the value of a good friendship! And at the end of Crown Vic I was the happiest I’d been with this show since Alma Mater at least.
Casey’s kill order makes a very effective sort of cliffie for me. I like the idea of leaving something interesting and dire hanging before a short break (six weeks before Undercover Lover ran) but leaving the main characters in a happy place. I will always imagine if the writer’s strike hadn’t shortened S1 that the story would have played out far differently than we saw in 2.01. And there can be no doubt that there was a certain darkness to Chuck at times. The balance of that darkness with adventure and fun in these first two seasons was often pitch perfect. I will always say tipping that balance too far towards the dark in S3 was among their major story telling fubars, at least for my satisfaction. While swinging too far the other way seems to have alienated a different group of viewers in S4. But for right now, the writers are really hitting their stride. This may not be an episode I’ll ever sit down and watch by itself, but as a finale to this first real arc I think it is very satisfactory. And I’m ready to be very happy and well entertained by the next seven (!) episodes.
The Five Stages – Joe’s Take
Dave, I’m not going to write much this week, but let me say this. I too was surprised at how good this episode plays after so many viewings. In particular, the humor is spot on, like when Morgan echos Chuck’s inner voice.
Morgan: She’s a liar, not to be trusted!
Chuck: What’s that?
Morgan: Women! Man, they’re so elusive, so unknowable, okay? They wrap you in this wool sweater of lies, and it keeps you warm but it makes your neck all itchy.
Chuck: Who are we talking about exactly?
Morgan: Anna! By the way, never trust a woman who’s name is a palindrome.
Well, maybe not about the palindrome. But Morgan is speaking for Chuck here.
Did you notice what Agent Walker’s been doing? She’s been dying.
- Stage 1: She denies feeling anything for Chuck in The Truth
- Stage 2: She angrily fights with him about this kiss. “Stop saying ‘kiss,’ okay?… What happened was a mistake, one I will not make again!”
- Stage 3: Out of nowhere, she bargains with Casey.
Casey: Bang up job, Walker. And I’m gonna give you one last chance to come clean. Did you or did you not compromise yourself with the Intersect?
Sarah: Do you ever just want to have a normal life? – have a family? Children?
I’m not sure we really see the grief part, but the way Sarah wakes up the morning after Bryce leaves, the way Sarah failed to decide which call to answer, that looks like something Agent Walker, that wild-card assassin, isn’t used to. Agent Walker looks emotionally hung over.
And then she does a reset on her relationship with Chuck. Nice try, Sarah. Treating Chuck like a business acquaintance, like someone she will treat only on a peer basis, isn’t going to cut it. Her deliberate attempt to treat Chuck unemotionally does only one thing. It drives her to brush off Casey’s question and think about the real heart of the matter. “Do you ever just want to have a normal life?” Sarah is actually thinking about ending Agent Walker.
But not yet. Chuck starts to be so incompetent as Charles Carmichael that Agent Walker is called on to save the day. Chuck even blows it as the Intersect, or so it seems.
No, Chuck, the useless spy was actually right. Moreover, he’s determined to go against orders to save his friends, even if Casey has to pay the price (uh, his Crown Vic pays the price…). Is that something Agent Walker would do?
Probably not. Orders are orders. Sarah, though, is another story. I do believe we just saw the first sign of acceptance, the fifth stage, timed perfectly for the end of the first season. There will be more signs, we know, but you called it, Dave. Sarah’s recognition, the one that leads directly to a reconciliation, is a key moment. I cheered too when Sarah jumped over that counter.
There’s an interesting B-story going on, with Anna and Morgan. He’s about to make a fool of himself in front of Anna’s parents as only Morgan can. This time, on Lester’s advice, he’s going to be someone different to impress them. That never works. What’s easily missed is Anna, also not being herself. Where are those outrageous heels, too-short skirts and garish make up??? They are no where to be seen while her parents are in town.
No, Anna and Morgan are not themselves, and that obscures the fact that Chuck and Sarah aren’t either. Like I said, Morgan’s been speaking for Chuck all the while.
Chuck is not Charles, and Sarah is not that cold, emotionless agent any longer. The Agent and Charles may be roles that they play, and in fact, both will become very good at it. But for the first time, both Chuck and Sarah know that it’s just a role they play; it’s not them. Not really.
Some really good points there Joe. I did like Morgan’s “palindrome” scene, very funny, sort of a surreal viewpoint. Really makes me wonder if Morgan is that odd or if he knows he’s being funny?! I also really like how bent Anna is. I missed her the last three seasons. Objectively, I always consider Alex to be the better woman, and better for Morgan. She’s better for Morgan’s growth too. But Anna was much funnier. Morgan’s maturing process, and settling in with a better, more mature (but younger!) woman seems to mirror the changes Chuck (and Sarah) go through in many ways and I think is another thing that leads to a more relaxed and happy feel for much of the last two seasons.
I do feel like, even though I didn’t really enjoy watching this arc, it did accomplish some good and important things for Chuck and Sarah. As you mention Joe, Sarah is fully at conflict with herself over the changes taking place in her. At the end of Crown Victoria, Sarah is still kidding herself about a reset, but she has made some peace with herself about it all while she is truly more compromised than ever. I would add, I think something is off with Casey’s question about “compromising” yourself that he asks Sarah; and for the record I believe I know exactly what’s off, the situation and dialogue is constructed like it is because the writers are more concerned with what they want to physically show than they are with the real issues. So the question is simply phrased wrong. It should never be about any physical act that an agent can do. Seriously, Sarah could have been sleeping with Chuck from the Pilot and no one with the government should care. The issue should be in where her loyalties lie. Casey (and the government) would want to be sure Sarah can be counted on to keep her primary loyalty and focus on the mission, and not on Chuck’s best interests. Obviously, as long as Chuck is the only Intersect, those interests will overlap a lot, but not perfectly. They need to keep him safe and cooperative, but not necessarily completely happy. I think it speaks well of Sarah’s character that she has always treated Chuck with some measure of respect and doesn’t resort to manipulation (I believe early in Seduction is the only exception, at least professionally. She clearly manipulates a little as a jealous “cover” girlfriend on occasion). So I think the real question should have been “are you compromised with the asset?” And I completely believe at this point in the story, Agent Walker would answer “no”, and she would believe it. But she’s kidding herself. She’s been at least a little compromised from the very start, and she even confessed to it much later in Other Guy. But I think she comes out of this arc far more compromised than even she knows, and we will see proof of it in spectacular fashion in two episodes time.