Intro to Chuck 101
I have a question.
Which three episodes of Chuck would you recommend to a friend who had never seen the show? Which three are the best to bring a new viewer into the fold?
I was thinking about this the other day and discovered one thing. The episodes that might make a best introduction aren’t necessarily my favorites. That’s a whole different list!
So this is what I decided.
Probably the least controversial pick for this mission would be the pilot, Chuck vs. The Intersect. By virtue of necessity this is where everyone is introduced and everything is set in motion, including the romance between Chuck and Sarah. It’s hard to imagine a better way to bring someone into the Chuck universe.
But wouldn’t Chuck vs. The Alma Mater to the same thing – introduce the back story? And wouldn’t Chuck vs. The Marlin show precisely the relationship between Chuck and Sarah in a way that explains why it’s the very heart of the show? Maybe. And they might be good choices. But both of those episodes show the characters, particularly Chuck and Sarah, after they’ve strongly influenced each other already. Those episodes can’t quite show us where they came from in the same way as the pilot, and that’s the rationale upon which I made my decision.
Now the job gets tougher! If the goal was to have someone enjoy the show as much as I, it’s very tempting to shortcut the process by putting my favorite episodes (or at least, my favorite scenes) on a silver platter. But then, what would they have to look forward to? It’s better, I think, to show them how the characters mature and grow and become concerned with the bigger picture.
There are about 147 episodes in Season 2 alone that accomplish that. Chuck becomes a hero in Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer. Sarah becomes vulnerable in Chuck vs. The Best Friend. She becomes human in Chuck vs. the Delorean and committed to Chuck’s cause in Chuck vs. Santa Claus.
And of course, Chuck himself grows up in the course of the season. It takes a while, but there’s one point where he finally stops his futile pining after the unattainable Sarah Walker and decides that there’s something more important he must do. Unfortunately for my musings, that one spot covers four episodes.
I’m talking about Chuck’s discovery that Orion invented the Intersect, can get it out of his head, and that once it’s gone he’s “…gonna live the life that I want with the girl that I love. Because I’m not gonna let this thing rob me of that. I won’t.” (in Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon), the subsequent discovery that his father is alive (in Chuck vs. The Broken Heart) and the discovery that his father is Orion (in Chuck vs. The Dream Job). Chuck vs. The Predator, on of my personal favorites, is in that group too. It is much more than an afterthought, but cements Chuck’s personal mission.
So which do I choose? Why, none of those, of course! I would introduce someone to the show by having them watch Chuck vs. The First Kill.
You remember. It’s a relatively light-weight episode. It’s the one where Chuck gets his college girlfriend, Jill, who left him for Bryce Larkin and broke his heart, out of a federal prison to help him find his father. It’s the episode where Chuck’s spy-craft is reduced to the ridiculous (and embarrassing) maneuver called “The Morgan” and an equally ridiculous fight scene in a Fulcrum lair.
So what’s to recommend it, then? One thing. I said above that Chuck has decided Sarah is unattainable, at least, for the moment. And perhaps she is to anyone who would spend his days orbiting her endlessly, making affectionate goo-goo eyes like a schoolboy. But from the moment Chuck gets perspective, from the moment his partner realizes that Chuck would sacrifice everything, including a relationship with her, to do the right thing, that’s the moment Sarah realizes she would do anything for him.
Sarah: Take off your watch.
Chuck: [Whispers] Why?
Sarah: [in his ear] Because it’s all a lie. Your dad is still out there. Beckman sent me to get you to bring you back to Castle. They’re gonna take you underground. We have to run.
As amazing it was, we don’t need to see the dingy motel in Barstow; what Barstow represents to us is inevitable. We don’t need to hear Sarah tell Chuck “It’s real,” because we know it is. We don’t need to see Chuck’s journey, because we are watching their journey now, together. After that last scene in Chuck vs. The First Kill, we can’t wait for Chuck and Sarah to get together, even if we have no idea how they will accomplish that feat. We just want to see it happen and any new viewer will want to also.
My final choice is the hardest yet. I’d love to show prospective Chuck fans the incredible release and fun that we all had with Chuck vs. The Honeymooners and the incredible bond between the two in Chuck vs. Phase Three. I’d want them to see their engagement in Chuck vs. The Push Mix and how Chuck and Sarah made it to the alter and planned their future in Chuck vs. The Cliffhanger.
But Phase Three is almost all about Sarah, and really, most of season three is about Chuck’s travails as he comes to grips with the bigger issues he faced in Season 2. Seeing them engaged and married almost removes the incentive to see everything else, and would lose all emotional impact for lack of the build-up.
For my last introductory choice, I pick another transitional episode at the end of Season 3. Sarah became totally committed to Chuck at the end of Season 2 when she realized that he would sacrifice his own happiness for his friends and family, even if it meant losing her. But at the end of Season 3, Chuck decides that the only thing that mattered was Sarah, and happiness has little to do with it. In Chuck vs. The Subway and in Chuck vs. The Ring Pt. 2, he will leave, return, fight the Intersect and die, all for Sarah. (So, I cheated. It was a two-parter!)
The best thing is, the story is not done when the Buy More explodes; there’s plenty more for the new view to see and enjoy, and the season finale leads you right to it. Indeed, although it was many months later, we only had to wait three more episodes to see Chuck on one knee, showing Sarah a ring. Fake out! “I didn’t think we were there yet!” Chuck says. But we did. So did Sarah.
Showing those three/four episodes, Chuck vs. The Intersect, Chuck vs. The First Kill and Chuck vs. The Subway/The Ring Pt. 2 gives the first time viewer much of the flavor of Chuck, puts the adventure and comedy in proper perspective to the romance and still leaves them wanting more. At least, I think it does! Certainly choosing only three episodes to introduce the show means that almost all my favorite episodes, scenes, moments, action sequences and music get left out. But the exercise did make me consider and appreciate many other episodes in a different light, and I’m sure there are important facets and threads important to the show that I’ve omitted. There are many incredible guest-star performances, Scott Bakula’s, Tim Dalton’s and Linda Hamilton’s especially, that get completely left out.
So what say you, fans? Let me know what choices you would make!